Informational Interviewing

Informational interviewing is designed to help you gather information, resources and support by talking to people.  

Purpose of Informational Interviewing

One of the most powerful methods of information gathering for exploring internal and external career options is informational interviewing. Informational interviews involve talking to people about their careers and what they do in their jobs. It’s about gathering information about a particular industry or occupation — it is not about asking for a job.

Benefits of informational interviewing:

  • Gaining a better understanding of a career field and the work it involves.
  • Learning about new and interesting careers.
  • Clarifying career goals.
  • Gaining a perspective on employment trends and opportunities.
  • Learning what skills are needed.
  • Gathering ideas for selecting relevant courses and degree programs.
  • Making contacts in the field in which one hopes to work.

Requesting an Informational Interview

Developing Contacts for Informational Interviews
  • Places to find names for interviews are family, friends, neighbors, advisors, current/former bosses, professional associations, service organizations, alumni groups and social networking websites (LinkedIn, Facebook).
  • Cultivate potential contacts from department websites, articles, business publications and books.
Asking for an Informational Interview
  • You can phone or email a person directly to set up the informational interview. An informational interview can be in person, over the phone or through email. If possible, an in-person informational interview is recommended.
  • State the purpose of your call by introducing yourself as an individual who is investigating career fields in this person's professional area.
  • Explain how you got the person's name.
  • Request a scheduled time for the person to either meet you in person or talk on the phone (usually for 20 to 30 minutes).
  • Be respectful of the person's work setting and ask if it is a good time to discuss scheduling an appointment. Offer to call back if necessary.
  • Remember to express appreciation.
  • You need to be ready for the possibility that not everybody is going to say yes. If your contact is not able to see you for an informational interview, respect their decision. Thank your contact for their time and ask if there is someone else they can refer you to for more information. Do not take such a rejection personally or use it as an excuse not to contact others for informational interviews.

Preparing for an Informational Interview

  • Know what type of information you are seeking. Prepare a list of questions. Review sample informational interviewing questions.
  • Learn as much as you can ahead of time about the career field, as well as the organization and the work role of the person you are interviewing.
  • Think through what you want to say about yourself. Be ready to answer questions about your areas of interests, previous experiences and future plans. If you are unsure about your future career goals, it is alright to say you are exploring your options, but you should be able to identify some general, tentative goals.
  • You may want to send a resume beforehand or have one ready in case it is requested.

Conducting an Informational Interview

  • Reiterate your reasons for meeting with this person.
  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Do not mistake informational interviewing for job search interviewing. Do not ask for a job.
  • Take brief notes during the interview and give the person you are interviewing your full attention. Do not be tied to your list of questions or your notes.
  • At the end of the interview ask for additional referrals, websites or professional associations.
  • Review your questions at the end of the interview to make sure you've addressed them.
  • Be respectful of the interviewer’s time.
  • Avoid overly personal questions. 
  • Do more listening than talking.

  • SAMPLE INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
  • Setting the stage/background

    • How long have you been working in this field/at the university/in this department?
    • How did you get into this occupation? 
    • What were the jobs you had previously that helped you get your current job? What steps did you take?
    • What did your supervisor/employer require in terms of skills and abilities?
    • What type of background was your supervisor/employer looking for?

     Job search process

    • How long did a job search process take for you? In what kind of job market?
    • What were some of the things you learned during that process?
    • What suggestions would you have for me in preparing myself for changes in my career?

     Present aspects of job

    • What is a typical day like for you?
    • What are the responsibilities of your job?
    • What are the most interesting aspects of your job?
    • What are the basic requirements for your job?
    • What courses/training/professional organizations would you recommend in order to get into this field?
    • What entry level jobs are helpful in transitioning into your occupation?
    • What is the best way to transition from my current job to a job in your department/occupation?
    • What are the salary ranges for various jobs in this department/occupation?
    • What aspects of a career in this field do you consider positive or negative?
    • Would a person with my current background fit into this field?
    • What are the most common challenges in this department/occupation?
    • Is travel/overtime/flexible schedules a part of the work environment in this industry?
    • How does your job compare with others in the same department?
    • Who are the experts in this field? Why are they considered experts?
    • What professional associations are there in this industry? In your occupation? 
    • What journals or magazines would you recommend I read?
    • Are there some websites that you suggest I explore?
    • Who else should I talk to about this occupation?

    Future

    • Where do you see a job like yours leading to within the university/within your department?
    • Are there other areas in your industry that you find yourself interested in/that relate to your areas of expertise?
    • How do you see jobs in this area changing over the next few years?
    • What can I do to prepare myself to keep up with these changes?

     

    It is not intended that you ask all of the above questions. Choose your questions wisely and modify them appropriately.  Remember, the person you are interviewing is extending a courtesy to you, and it is best to show respect for his/her time and willingness to share information; informational interview typically should last no more than 30 minutes, so plan accordingly.


Follow-up

  • If you made a commitment to send information such as an article, a reference or some other document, follow-up in a timely manner.   
  • Send a thank-you letter or email (see sample below) which contains:
    • Appreciation for time, referrals and information.
    • Compliments regarding knowledge, expertise and helpfulness.
    • Use of the information or how the meeting assisted you.
    • Interest in keeping in contact regarding your progress.

Sample:

Dear (Ms. or Mr.) _____:

Thank you for taking time to meet with me last Thursday to discuss a career in accounting. I was impressed by your comprehensive knowledge of the different aspects of this field. Additionally, your advice and information will help me … (select classes, attend conferences, further my website research, etc.) I appreciate the referral to Mr. Joseph Bates, Director of Financial Services, and have already called his office to arrange a time to meet briefly with him. I will let you know how our discussion goes.

I would like to stay in touch with you and keep you posted on my career research. Thank you again for your time and valuable assistance.

Sincerely,


Evaluating the Informational Interview

Whether the interview was successful or not, assess how well it went. Look for what went well (strengths) versus improvement needed for your next interview. You may choose to discuss the interview with a career counselor.

Since your main reason was information gathering, ask yourself a few questions, such as:

  • Does the person I just talked with use the skills I want to use?
  • Would I be qualified for his/her job?
  • How could I become qualified?
  • Do I understand what the job entails?
  • Would I enjoy working in this capacity?
  • Did I get additional ideas for alternatives?
  • Do I have an idea about salary ranges for the job?
  • What impression (positive or negative) do I now have about this area of work?
  • Would I enjoy working for this organization/department?
  • What are the goals (needs, concerns, problems, issues, etc.) of this area of work/organization?
  • How can I help meet those needs? Accomplish those goals?
  • Which of my personal assets could I offer?

Informational Interviewing Resources

Articles:
Books:
  • Connecting with Success: How to Build a Mentoring Network to Fast Forward Your Career, Kathleen Barton, 2001
  • A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market, Katharine Hansen, 2008 
  • Guerilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams, Kimm Alayne Walton, 2008
  • Make Your Contacts Count: Networking Know-How for Cash, Clients, and Career Success, Anne Baber & Lynne Waymon, 2001
  • Masters of Networking: Building Relationships for Your Pocketbook and Soul, Ivan R. Misner, 2000
  • Networlding Guidebook: Building Strategic Relationships through Networking, Melissa Giovagnoli, 2009
  • Power Networking, Second Edition: 59 Secrets for Personal & Professional Success, Donna Fisher, 2000
  • What Color Is Your Parachute?2010: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers, Richard Bolles, 2009
Websites: