What Is An Informational Interview?
The purpose of informational interviews is to ask for advice and insight, not a job. These conversations, with professionals in your field, or a field that you're interested in, can teach you about:
- How your major/concentration relates to a specific career and/or industry
- Preparing for a specific career
- Companies and positions that might be a good fit
- 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.
Remember, although the purpose of these conversations is to get advice and suggestions and not to ask about a job, if the individual you're meeting with asks if you're interested in a specific job, that's terrific and there's no need to pretend that you're not interested.
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 responds to you.
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 for you to meet with
- Professional organizations – many of which have student memberships
- Workshops, seminars, conferences – to meet participants and presenters in your field of interest, or a 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
- Referrals – always try to get the name of at least one additional contact during each informational interview by asking, "Is there anyone else you would recommend that I 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 or inconvenient time.
- In the email, you'll generally want to explain who you are, why you are contacting this person, and how you found their name. Additionally, give a very brief description of your work/education history and why you’re interested in speaking to him/her, and then 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 him/her by phone.
Whether you make the initial contact by phone or email, if you haven't heard back in about two weeks, it is completely appropriate to follow-up. If you don't hear back after this second attempt, just move on to all of your other potential contacts.
Preparing For Your Meeting
- You should be ready to lead the meeting since you asked for the informational interview.
- Research the individual you're meeting with and look at the organization’s website. You should generally research the career and industry online so that you're up-to-date on issues, trends, etc.
- Prepare a written list of questions in advance. Remember, you're the one doing the interviewing!
- Keep in mind that your goals for this meeting are to get information and advice that you can't find online and to make a great first impression. Being well-informed about the individual and his/her field shows respect for their time and makes the meeting more productive.
Possible Questions To Ask
Decide what you would like to find out from this person. Good, open-ended 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?
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 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?
- When do companies in this industry typically do their entry-level hiring?
Is this a good fit?
- What are some of the top qualities that your company looks for in entry-level candidates?
- Do you happen to know the entry-level salary range for this profession/industry?
- Is there anyone else you can recommend I speak to 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 for the organization, and be ready with your elevator pitch and questions.
- Show your interest in, and enthusiasm for, the conversation.
- Do not ask for a job. Remember, you indicated that you were looking for advice and information when you contacted them. By asking for a job, you risk embarrassment and ruin 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 make sure to ask if they can recommend anyone else for you to speak to.
After The Interview - Saying Thank You and Staying In Touch
Jot down some notes after your meeting (name of your contact, date, and useful information or advice, 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 and email it within 24 hours.
- Express your appreciation for the assistance you received and mention one or two particular points.
Your informational interviews will generate additional contacts and may lead to job opportunities, especially if you keep in touch with your contacts. The people you meet are now members of your professional network, which you want to keep active!
Follow-up with each referral and/or new contact you receive from the people you informational interview with. When you request an informational interview with those new contacts, make sure to note who referred you (both in the subject line of the email and in the text). Once you have the informational interview, make sure to follow-up with your original contact to let them know how it went.
Try to stay in touch with your contacts every few months by sending a friendly email. For example, you could see how your contact is enjoying his/her summer, holiday, etc., and fill him/her in (briefly) on some relevant academic or professional updates that you have. You could also be in touch if you notice that they've written an article, or were recently promoted, etc.
And finally, when you get your position, select your major, or have chosen your career path, notify the people you’ve spoken with; they'll want to hear what happened and know how you are doing.