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Careers Café

Landing the (information) interview

Liz Koblyk tells you exactly what to say to get your foot in the door.


Typically, when I talk with clients about information interviews, their reaction often goes something like this: “Sounds great! It’s too bad that nobody with an iota of sense would agree to meet with me.”

To that I say, “Ha!” There are, indeed, people out there who will respond favourably to your request to meet.

They will do so because they enjoy their work and love talking about it, because they find it flattering that you’ve come to them for advice, because they’ve been mentored themselves at some point and want to continue the tradition, or because they know that someone considering their field now could become a valuable ally down the road.

Granted, not everyone will meet with you — and that’s fine. Some will, and those people can share invaluable advice about careers you may not have heard of and ways to make yourself competitive for those careers.

You can increase the likelihood that people will meet with you by making clear requests.

Let your potential interviewees know what you want to talk about in advance.

Your request might include:

  • Your name
  • Reassurance that you’re not asking for a job
  • Clarification of what you do want: advice
  • How much time you’re hoping for

A request for a meeting might sound something like this:

“My name is X. Is this a good time to talk? I’m completing a PhD. in military history and am interested in finding out more about policy analysis. I’m not looking for a job; at this point, I’m just talking with people in the field to get a better understanding of what policy analysis jobs involve. Would you be willing to meet with me for 10 to 15 minutes at some point, to talk about what you do?”

The people you call might agree to talk with you right then and there — so have your questions prepared.  They also might ask a number of questions. They might want to know who you are, how you found them, what kind of information you’re hoping for, or whether this isn’t really a sneaky way to get a job interview.

In those cases, let them know:

  • more about you
  • how you found them and why you’re hoping to speak with them in particular
  • what gaps in your information you hope to fill in by meeting with them
  • that you are asking for advice rather than a job opportunity.

If you’re actively seeking employment, be honest. Point out that, although you are on the job market, you will ask only for advice rather than a job. If you have any plans to ask interviewees for a job during the meeting, be honest about that, too. That sort of meeting is called a networking interview (future blog post alert).

My next post will look at how to start an information interview and at some questions you might want to ask, in addition to those suggested in Jo VanEvery’s most recent post.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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