Informational interviewing is a great tool for developing a network of professionals in your field who may be able to assist in your job search. However, it’s important to remember that contacts most often agree to provide information and advice, not job leads.
Reasons to Schedule an Informational Interview
Schedule an informational interview to receive:
- Information on your field to help you refine and clarify your career objectives
- Details about employers and career paths, as well as required experience and training within your field
- Advice based on a professional’s own career experiences
- Facts about a specific community, or suggestions on more general issues, such as career changing or alternative work options
- Referrals to additional contacts for more information and advice
Identifying Professionals to Contact
Take an inventory of all the people you know who are in your field of interest or who know someone in your field. For example, faculty, internship supervisors, classmates, past and present co-workers, work associates and supervisors, family, friends, and acquaintances.
Attend workshops, seminars, and conferences of professional associations to meet people (participants and presenters) who may be able to provide you with information. Read professional journals, newsletters, and newspaper articles to identify those who are actively involved in the field.
Call specific organizations to gather names of people who are working in the field you’re exploring. It may be beneficial to speak with both entry-level professionals as well as those higher in the organization.
Contact professionals by email or phone depending on your knowledge of the individual and organization. An email may be better if you’re not being referred by a mutual acquaintance.
Whether by phone or email, clearly state who you are, why you wish to talk with them, for how long, and the general kind of information you’re requesting. You may request a brief (20-minute) phone or in-person meeting. It’s best to set up informational interviews with 2 or more professionals to receive a well-rounded picture of the field.
Research the professional's field and organization prior to your meeting. Research and preparation helps you ask thoughtful questions and present a professional image.
Since it’s up to you to structure the interview, develop a list of questions to use as a guide during your informational interview. The questions should be open-ended, giving the individual an opportunity to provide you with as much information as possible.
- Arrive for the meeting on time.
- Be enthusiastic, well prepared, and professionally dressed.
- In the opening minutes of the interview, restate your purpose in contacting the individual. For example, "I came to talk with you because I’m pursuing a career in ________ and wish to learn more about the field (organization/community).” or "I’m a student at Lesley University studying _________. I’m interested in learning more about career opportunities in ________." This sets the tone and encourages an easy flow of information.
- Most people interviewed will respond willingly to your questions and are happy to be put in the role of advisor. Convey that you value the individual's input, but remember that you’re hearing only one professional's opinion.
- To protect the credibility of the informational interview, it’s important not to misuse the contact's assistance by asking for a job during the interview. Near the end of a successful meeting, it may be appropriate to ask about job opportunities or referrals to other professionals, but do not ask for a job. Use tact and discretion.
- Be sensitive to the professional's schedule. Keep to the agreed upon time unless you’re invited to stay longer.
Follow up each meeting with a thank you email expressing gratitude for the help you received. If the interview went extremely well and the individual agreed to keep you in mind regarding future opportunities, remind them that you appreciate the assistance.
Keep detailed records on your interviews, such as date of meeting, what transpired, and additional contact names.
Sample Questions to Ask
Use these questions as a general guide. You may want to add to this list based on your specific field or interests. Remember that questions should be open ended in nature (using words such as "what and "how"), allowing the individual as much latitude in responding to your questions as possible.
- What’s your background (both academic and work experience) and how did it lead you to this position?
- How would you describe your day-to-day job responsibilities?
- What’s the most rewarding part of your work?
- What’s the most frustrating or challenging aspect of your work?
- What do you wish you had known about this field or organization before you entered it?
- In your opinion, what is the best way to get started in this field?
- What special knowledge, skills, or personal characteristics are needed (in this field, organization, or position)?
- Can you describe your organization's culture, values, and expectations?
- What do career paths look like in this field or organization?
- Is the field growing? If so, in what areas? What are the biggest issues facing this field or organization?
- What strategies would you suggest for those looking for a position in the field?
- What does the future look like for professionals entering the field?
- Can you suggest others I might contact regarding things we have discussed today? May I use your name when contacting them?