What is an Informational Interview?
The purpose of informational interviews is to ask for advice and insight, not a job. However, you need not pretend that you are not interested in employment if asked. These conversations, with various professionals, can teach you about:
- Relating your major to specific careers
- Preparing for a specific career
- Identifying relevant industries
- Targeting a specific company
- Making a career change and learning how to enter a new field
All of this information can help you make appropriate career decisions, find information about specific
opportunities, and market yourself more effectively when kicking off a job search. In addition to gathering information, you are building a professional network, consisting of contacts with whom you have developed relationships over time. Many jobs are filled by word-of-mouth and networking rather than formal advertising, so the larger your network, the greater your opportunities.
Why It’s Not As Scary as You Think
- Most people like to give advice and feel good helping others. Moreover, people often enjoy talking about themselves, which is what an informational interview gives them a chance to do.
- Most successful professionals have conducted informational interviews when they were starting out, and many will be willing to return the favor.
- The worst case scenario is that your contact is too busy to meet with you, or never returns your follow up call.
How Do You Find People To Interview?
Do you know someone who works in your field of interest, or who might have contacts in that field? Ask family, friends, classmates, former and present co-workers, and supervisors if they know anyone working in a field related to your interests.
Also consider the following:
- Northeastern Alumni Directory – via Husky Nation on myNEU or through the Alumni Relations website
- Faculty members – who might know potential contacts or have knowledge of organizations that are hiring
- Professional oganizations – many of which have student memberships
- Workshops, seminars, conferences – to meet participants and presenters in your related field
- Online networking – LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter
- Web and print material – professional journals, newsletters and websites can help you identify people who are active in the field
Always try to obtain the name of at least one additional contact during each informational interview by asking, “Is there anyone else you could recommend that I might speak with?”
How Do You Contact Someone for An Informational Interview?
- If you do not know the person, it is more considerate to make the initial contact via email to avoid the possibility of contacting them at an awkward time.
- Explain who you are, why you are contacting this person, and how you found their name.
- Give a very brief description of your work/education history and why you’re interested in speaking to him/her.
- Request a 20-30 minute meeting to get information and advice about his/her career field or organization.
- If you already know the person, you can first contact the person by phone.
Prepare For Your Meeting
- Your goals for this meeting are to get information and advice you can’t find online and to make a great impression. Being well-informed about the field shows respect for the person’s time and makes the meeting more productive.
- View the organization’s web site, research the career and industry online and on professional organization websites.
- Most importantly, prepare a written list of questions in advance.
Possible Questions To Ask
Decide what specifically you would like to find out from this person. Good questions stimulate the conversation.
Job content - what are the nuts and bolts?
- Could you describe a typical work day or work week?
- What part of your job do you find most satisfying/challenging?
- What abilities or personal qualities do you believe contribute most to success in this job?
- Do you happen to know the entry-level salary range for this profession/industry?
Career path - how did your career develop?
- What is the typical career path in this field?
- How did you get your present job?
- Can you tell me about typical entry level opportunities in this field?
Preparation - what does it take?
- What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in starting out in this field?
- Do you have any special words of warning or encouragement as a result of your experience?
- Are there any professional associations and/or journals that you would recommend?
- Are there any job hunting strategies that you would suggest to enter this field?
- Is there anyone else you can recommend I speak with for additional information?
- Would you mind if I sent you my resume to review?
- May I send you a LinkedIn connection request?
- Arrive on time, in an outfit appropriate to the organization, with questions ready. Show your interest and enthusiasm.
- Most people enjoy an opportunity to share their expericence and offer assistance. Make it clear you find the conversation interesting and useful.
- Do not ask for a job. You asked for advice and information when you contacted them. By asking for a job, you risk embarrassment and ruined credibility. Bring a resume but present it only if asked.
- Keep track of the time. Stay longer only if invited to do so.
- Before leaving, ask for a business card and for a referral to someone else in the field.
After The Interview
Jot down some notes after your meeting (name of the contact, date, particularly useful information, etc.) so you remember what you talked about and to help you write the thank-you note. Write a thank-you note after each informational interview. These notes can be sent via regular mail or email.
- Express your appreciation for the assistance you received and mention one or two specifically helpful points.
- If you obtained an additional person to contact, let the original person know how that contact went
Your informational interviews will generate additional contacts and possibly job opportunities, especially if you keep in touch with your contacts. The people you meet are potential members of your future professional network.When you have found your position, selected your major, or chosen your career path, notify people you’ve spoken with; they will want to hear what happened to you. Notifying them also keeps your network alive!