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Meeting for coffee? How to make the most of the informational interview. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Meeting for coffee? How to make the most of the informational interview. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Informational interviews are a Washington rite of passage: Eager staffers-to-be go on dozens before landing their ideal job, and then spend the rest of their careers on the receiving end of lukewarm coffee conversations about someone else’s hopes and dreams.  

Hill Navigator is a strong proponent of this cycle: Whenever possible, allow someone to bend your ear over a latte.* But what happens if this leads to a job opportunity that isn’t the right fit? Hill Navigator discusses.

Q. I recently had a great informational interview and was pleased when contact followed up with a job posting and he offered to help me land an interview. Problem is, the job is not a good fit for me. How do you recommend that I politely say “thank you for your help” but decline the offer? I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the help and, of course, may want assistance in the future for other positions. It seems so awkward.
Thank you!

A. Ah, the whole “I want a job please, just not working for you” thing.  

The good news is you are early enough in the interview process that you don’t have to decline anything, except an interview. And declining to interview isn’t always necessary, even if the job is not for you. You never know what job opportunities are percolating, and many people have landed jobs after interviewing for alternative positions with an office.  

So here is my advice: Thank the contact, express your concern that the job may not be the right fit for you and ask the contact if he or she thinks you should still go ahead with the interview process. This puts the choice in the other hand. They will likely know whether the interview will be a waste of time (both for you and the interviewer) or if the interview is a good opportunity for you to learn more about the workplace and other options available.  

But if you provide your concerns and the contact still recommends you interview, you should do so, even if you remain concerned that this is not the right fit for you. Here’s one of the many not-so-secret aspects to job interviewing: The interviewer is just as concerned with finding the right fit as the applicant. And an interview isn’t always transactional. Ask questions, do some homework, take time to learn about the position and explain what you’re looking for.  

Hill Navigator has been in plenty of interviews, on both sides of the desk, where both parties have a great conversation but walk away knowing this isn’t the right fit. It’s what happens with adults; not all job interviews are the right ones for us. That’s normal, especially as you move up in your field and become more specialized.  

Worst case scenario? You wasted a morning and have to wear a suit on an otherwise hot summer day. If that is the worst thing you go through in the job hunt, consider yourself lucky.  

*Want to be really stellar? Pick up the tab for the job-seekers’ coffee, too. You’ll come across as classy, and the few bucks probably won’t make much of a dent in your big-city salary.

Have a question for Hill Navigator? Email or use our submission form. All queries will be treated anonymously. Follow Hill Navigator on Twitter and Facebook. Or, get Hill Navigator delivered to your inbox by signing up on the right hand sidebar under “SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL.” (Recommended!)

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