What is informational interviewing?
There is no way of knowing with 100% certainty what a new profession might be like, but informational interviewing is a proven way to learn more. Informational interviews are initiated and conducted by you to obtain information from people working in the field. An informational interview is often low-key and informal and is not a job interview.
Follow these steps:
1. Identify people to interview
Your current contacts. People you know, even if they aren’t in your field of interest, can often lead you to people who are. Ask family, friends, and acquaintances if they know anyone who works in that field.
College or university. Most universities and colleges maintain an alumni database. Check with your school’s alumni office. Reconnect with past instructors.
Social media. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, WeChat, What’s App, and other social media sources can be great ways to connect with all kinds of people.
Community resources. Check with career-service offices and your local library. Talk with people you see on a regular basis: other parents or teachers at your kid’s school, your barber or hair stylist, your neighbors, etc.
Company/organization websites. Identify companies or organizations in your field of interest, and find phone numbers or emails of people doing the type of work you want to do.
Professional organizations. Do a search to see if there is a professional organization for your field of interest. Hint, the board of directors is usually a good starting place!
Still having problems identifying someone? You might need to broaden the area before narrowing it again. For example, if you are interested in becoming a firefighter and can’t find one to talk with, ask your Aunt Sue, the police officer, if she knows any firefighters. Chances are pretty good that she does.
Determine your primary purpose. Are you curious about the day-to-day activities; the work climate in a particular field; and the steps for getting into that field? New to town and trying to get the lay of the land in your current field? Do you want to know more about a specific company?
Write your questions. Write out 5-10 questions that meet your informational needs; the number will depend on the length of the interview. Ask open-ended questions; leave time and anticipate the person will talk about topics that you may have not asked about.
Do your homework. Learn much as you can about the types of positions and the organization, so you can ask questions that websites can’t answer.
3. Initiate contact
Call or email. Contact the person you want to interview. Mention how you got their name.
Request the interview. Ask for a convenient time to have a 20-30 minute appointment and if they prefer an in-person or phone appointment.
Emphasize what you want. Make sure they understand you want to set up an informational interview, not a job interview.
Be ready. The person may say they have time while you are on the phone with them so be ready to ask questions on the spot.
If the person you contact is not able to talk with you, ask if they can refer you to someone else in the field.
4. Conduct the interview
Dress professionally. Dress as you would for an interview.
Respect your interviewee’s time. Arrive on time or a few minutes early. Limit the meeting to the agreed-upon time frame.
Have your questions ready. Make sure you are organized and that your questions are clear. Ask follow up questions as necessary and take notes.
You’re in charge. You need to initiate and keep the conversation going.
Before concluding. Be sure to ask for names of other people and if you may follow up with additional questions.
5. Follow up
Reflect. Go over your notes after the interview.
Keep a record. Maintain a list of people you’ve talked with, what you learned, and what else you still would like to know.
Send a thank-you. Whether by email or card, send a thank you within 1-2 days of the interview, perhaps noting one or two points you found particularly helpful.
Reach out. If your interviewee recommended others to talk with, make sure you reach out to them and ask for time to meet. Then repeat the above steps!
We recommend talking with 3 or more people in your field of interest to get a comprehensive view of what the work is like and how it might vary depending on the setting.
Select 5-10 questions that are appropriate for your target career and stage of decision-making. You may want to combine some questions—or create your own.
- What credentials, educational degrees, licenses, etc. are required for entry?
- How did you get started in this field? Is that typical? How have entry requirements changed?
- What kind of work experience provides a good background?
- What is the profile of someone who is successful in this field?
- Are there volunteer opportunities that would help someone qualify for a position in this field?
- What do you like most and least about your job?
- What do you spend most of your time doing in a typical work day/week?
- What problems/decisions are you likely to face on a given day?
- What do you wish you had known prior to entering this field?
- Where do you see yourself going from here?
- How much flexibility do you have in terms of dress, vacation, place of residence, and work hours?
- What obligations does your work place upon your personal time?
- Does your company offer flex or comp time? Tuition reimbursement? Other benefits?
- Who determines what tasks you will work on and how you structure your time?
- How would you characterize your working relations and environment (formal, informal, etc.)?
- Do you primarily work alone or collaborate with others?
- How are decisions made? What is the company’s management philosophy?
- What are the criteria on which your performance is evaluated?
Career field/industry questions
- What trends are emerging in this field?
- What are the most important areas in this field/industry?
- Is relocation ever necessary?
- How often do people in this field change jobs?
- What are the salary ranges for various levels in this field?
- What professional development or training opportunities are there?
- What are related fields or paths?
- Is it realistic for me to plan on working in this field?
- What professional associations or organizations might be useful to contact for information or join?
- What steps would you advise someone to take in order to start and build a career in your field?
- How does one hear about job openings in this field?
Next steps questions
- What other people do you think I would benefit from talking with? May I use your name when I contact them?
- If I have any further questions, may I stay in contact with you?
Prefer a print copy of our informational interview handout? Download and print it: Informational Interviewing
Benefits of informational interviewing
- Acquire firsthand, relevant information about working within a specific field of interest and/or a specific organization of interest to you
- Clarify your career goals
- Learn about career paths related to your field of interest
- Gain insider knowledge and advice from professionals in the field
- Develop and expand your professional network in your field of interest
A few guidelines
- Never ask for a job
- Be prepared and respectful
- Get names of other people to contact
- Don’t offer your resume unless asked for it
Why would anyone want to talk to me?
Believe it or not, people who are happily employed enjoy talking about their field and may even feel honored that someone wants to know about what they do.