If you’re looking for a job, please don’t ask me for an ‘informational interview’

Note: This blog post also ran in the Society of Professional Journalism’s “Journalism and the World” blog. Click here to see the original post.

I interviewed a man for a job today who was Canadian-born Chinese, with decent Chinese skills and some decent journalism experience for city magazines here in China, and a business degree as well.

A perfect candidate — employers should be falling all over themselves to offer him jobs.

But it took me a while to figure out he was job hunting – in his initial contact with me, he kind of beat around the bush and said he was just calling for “information.”

Apparently, someone gave him some bad advice about setting up informational interviews.

Now, I have nothing against informational interviews. If someone calls me up because they want to know what a job in journalism is like, no problem. I’ll take time to talk to them.

And if someone wants to interview me about my company — sure, I could use some press.

And I love job seekers. Here in Shanghai, turnover is the single biggest problem for every manager and we’re all recruiting, all the time. I never pass up a chance to meet with a job seeker, unless they’re completely and obviously wrong for the job (say, a conflict of interest) in which case I steer them in some other direction.

But someone who beats around the bush — that doesn’t make me happy. It feels like they’re wasting my time. I found out that this guy was job hunting pretty quickly, though, when he sent me his resume — and I immediately invited him over for lunch.

But another person called yesterday requesting an “informational interview about my company.” What the hell is that? Did she want to profile us for a story? No. did she want to know what it was like to work as a journalist? Probably not. She introduced herself as a working journalist. Was she looking for a job? I asked her right out, and she said no.

Was she too shy to say she was job hunting? Well, the last thing I need in my office is shy reporters.

Come on, guys. I’m hiring. Everyone in Shanghai is hiring. And if they’re not, they’ll be hiring in a month, when all their current staffers quit. We’re seeing astronomical growth rates here.

If you’re looking for a job, say so. I’m happy to hear from you. I’ll even buy you lunch, or take you out for drinks. Seriously. And if you’re good and you’re willing to work cheap, I’ll find something for you to do even if I don’t happen to have a job opening right this moment. (Who wouldn’t?)

I don’t mind if you only stay for a short time — I’ve gotten used to the turnover issues. It’s just a fact of life in Shanghai.

So a few people have been using my company to find out whether they want to be journalists or not, or to learn how to write business stories for US publications before striking off on their own. That’s fine. A couple of people have gone on to PR, and another is planning to. That’s fine, too.

My basic point is that you don’t have to lie to me when looking for a job. If you are a reasonable fit for the work — if you’ll do a good job for me at a pay rate that makes you good for the company, then I’ll hire you.

My personal philosophy is that if you can’t be honest with a future boss, then you’re probably not going to be happy working for them.

Signing off in Shanghai,