Informational interviewing is a conversation with someone knowledgeable in a specific career field or industry for the purpose of career exploration and network building. These conversations provide an opportunity to gather career-related information and advice that is typically not available from written or Internet sources. Informational interviewing also allows you create contacts and build relationships with people in your career field.
An informational interview can be a face-to-face conversation at a workplace, an in-depth telephone conversation or a brief exchange about a specific issue.
While contacts and relationships with valuable networking sources are some of the most effective ways to find a professional position, do not confuse an informational interview with a job interview. Informational interviewing should NEVER be used as a guise for asking for a job. If you feel you have established rapport with someone, it is reasonable to recontact the person when you have narrowed your focus and begun your job search.
Informational interviewing requires time, energy and a positive and appreciative attitude. However, the investment repays itself many times over by generating invaluable information, skills and contacts in a process you can use throughout your life.
ALL STUDENTS can benefit from informational interviews. For undecided students, informational interviews can help in choosing a major or minor, as well as with overall career decision-making. For students who have already begun to focus on a specific career, informational interviews can provide detailed information needed to make more specific decisions in a major or career field (e.g., deciding what professional area to focus on with a degree in political science) and start creating a personal networking list.
Who Should I Interview?
Anyone who is knowledgeable about a certain career field and/or can provide networking sources is a good informational interview source. This is a very small world, and chances are you know more people that are good sources of information than you think. First, brainstorm people you already know: friends, roommates, classmates, family members, professors and past supervisors. Even the person who cuts your hair can be a potential contact, if they’re connected to others who are in positions or organizations that interest you! You may or may not discover any “first degree” contacts that are connected to your interests, so the second step involves thinking of how you can reach people you don’t know that are in your career field. College or university alumni are great sources for information (in fact, the UNM Alumni Association maintains a “Career Mentors” program for this very purpose). Professional associations in your field can be extremely helpful in providing professional contacts, and many have mentor programs that connect students with professionals already working in the field. Attending their regional or national conferences is also an excellent way to make new contacts. In addition, consider contacting authors of articles in the press or professional journals that you have read and interest you.
Don’t be shy to ask for an informational interview. Many students feel they are imposing in asking, when in fact studies show that informational interviewing is something most people enjoy doing very much. From the perspective of the professional, you are not being asked to incur any financial cost, it is a relatively short time commitment, and most of all, it makes the person feel good. Not only is he or she helping someone else, but is being looked to as an “expert,” which makes most people feel important.
Geting Started: How to Prepare For an Informational Interview
Do Initial Research
You should conduct some initial research on the career field and/or industry before an informational interview. Remember, an informational interview is done to get information you can’t find in career literature, trade publications, company information or on the Internet. Therefore, ask questions that go beyond the obvious. This is your opportunity to get “the inside scoop.” Also, try to find out as much as possible about the professional and his or her organization, as you want to appear knowledgeable, informed and interested.
Develop Interview Questions
Through your initial research, you will develop questions you would like answered in the interview. Think about what you hope to learn and the kinds of questions that will elicit that information. Most people prefer to answer questions that require them to reflect on their work. Open-ended, evaluative questions are often an effective way to start the conversation.
The order and phrasing of your questions will depend on your own style and the flow of the conversation. It is recommended to develop a list of questions prior to the interview, but don’t be discouraged if you never make it to the list, or run out of time before having all of your prepared questions answered. This is part of the fun of the process!
Specific questions will depend on the stage of your career exploration. Customize questions to fit your personality, interests, values, career goals and other criteria that are important to you. Potential areas for questions can include:
You will undoubtedly have questions that you are dying to ask. However, if you are having difficulties generating specific questions, here is a list to get you started (adapted from the National Career Development Association’s Facilitating Career Development Student Manual – 2nd edition):
Asking for an Informational Interview
Write, Call or Email
Important Factors to Remember When Contacting a Perspective Informational Interviewer:
Be clear and direct about the goal of the interview
Always cite the person(s) who provided you with the
Stress that you will meet him or her at their convenience
Indicate how much time you will require
Informational Interviewing Etiquette
Confirm the Interview
Jot Down any Special Points
Stay Within Your Time Limit
Know How and When to Present Your Résumé
Send a Thank You Letter
Frequently Asked Questions
How many informational interviews are enough to get a
good representation of my career field?
I requested an informational interview and the person
suggested we speak over lunch. Who pays?
I did an informational interview with an alumni and he was not able to help me as much as I had thought. Do I still need to send a thank you letter since I will not be contacting him further?
YES. As with any type of career development contact, a thank you note is just common courtesy. Also, even if the professional is not in a position to help you now, you never know when you might run into him or her again and in what situation.