The Art of Conducting Successful Informational Interviews

One of the easiest and most effective ways to meet people in a professional field is to conduct informational interviews. Informational interviewing allows you to: meet key professionals, gather career information, investigate career options, get advice on job search techniques and get referrals to other professionals.

The art of informational interviewing is in knowing how to balance your hidden agenda (to locate a job) with the unique opportunity to learn firsthand about the demands of your field. Thus, never abuse your privilege by asking for a job, but execute your informational interviews skillfully, and a job may follow.

What Can an Informational Interview Accomplish?

• Expand your information regarding a specific career/job market

• Help to clarify your goals and serve as a reality check for some of your assumptions/perceptions

• Bring your career research to life by gaining first-hand, current information from someone in your field

• Establish the first link to eventual job targets and build your professional network

• May uncover hidden job opportunities

Who to Contact?

• Those who work in settings you like

• People in career areas you are interested in

• Those who work in specific jobs in specific organizations

What Motivates Professionals to Grant Informational Interviews?

The reasons are varied. Generally, most people enjoy sharing information about themselves and their jobs and, particularly, love giving advice. Some may simply believe in encouraging newcomers to their profession and others may be scoping out prospects for anticipated vacancies. It is common for professionals to exchange favors and information, so do not hesitate to call upon people.

How Do You Set Up Informational Interviews?

Personal referral is the most effective. Have a mutual acquaintance be the bridge to your contact. Telephone contact is the next best route if you do not have a personal referral. E-mails are also effective.  Send an e-mail requesting a brief informational interview (clearly indicating the purpose of the meeting, and communicating the fact that there is no job expectation).

Examples of How to Make the Contact:

Case 1: Let’s say you have identified someone you want to talk to. You ask around and discover that Susan in your physics class knows the person you are trying to contact. You have decided to call, but what do you say?

Hello, my name is ….  Susan Langford suggested that I call you. I am considering a career in urban planning and would be interested in any information or advice you could share with me. Could we set up a time for about 20 minutes, to talk about this?

Case 2: What if you do not have a personal referral, such as in this case:

“Ms. Darcy, I am, a student and  am very interested in a career in the travel industry. I have read your travel column in the paper and I understand you have been involved in this field for some time. I would be interested in your personal perspective about careers in travel. Could we arrange an appointment time next week?”

How Do You Prepare For Informational Interviews?

Prepare for your informational interviews just as you would for an actual job interview: polish your presentation and listening skills, and conduct preliminary research on the organization. You should outline an agenda that includes well-thought-out questions.

Learn as much as possible about the organization and something about the person you will be interviewing.   Dress professionally and bring a copy of your resume (to be presented upon request).

Always remember to send a thank you letter to every person who grants you time and to every individual who refers you to someone.

Sample Questions for the Informational Interview:

Know exactly what kind of information you want. The following are examples of possible topics of conversation for the interview. Use these as guidelines to come up with questions that are important to you.

• How did you prepare yourself for this profession?

• Knowing what you know now, would you take the same job again? Why or why not?

• What do you like most about it? Like least about it? What do you find most rewarding about your work?

• What skills or personal qualities are necessary in this career?

• What do you do in a typical day?

• What are your organization’s goals at this time?

• What, in your opinion, is the job outlook in this career area? What will affect its growth or decline?

• Where else could I find people involved in this activity? What other settings or industries do, (e.g. accountants) work in? Get referrals if appropriate.

• Are you active in any professional organizations in our field and which would you recommend?

How to Conduct an Informational Interview:

• Arrive 10-15 minutes early for your appointment.

• Be able to introduce yourself effectively in a minute or two.

• Be prepared to discuss your own interests, skills and values and how they relate to the career in which you have interest.

• Adhere to the original time request of 20-30 minutes.

• Ask for referrals to other appropriate individuals in the field.

• Stay true to your request for information – let the individual you are interviewing bring up specific job openings.

• Always follow-up with a thank you note.

• Keep the door open to remain in touch with this new member of your network.