Informational Interviewing is a great networking tactic and good tool for learning more about the type of career you’d like to get into, a certain field or a geographical area. In conducting informational interviews, you ask professionals who work in your area of interest what it’s like to do the kind of work they do – what knowledge, skills and abilities are needed and how best to enter the field. Be sure to conduct yourself in a professional manner and subtly communicate your strengths in order to establish a new networking contact. The following steps will get you started on informational interviews.
1. Focus on Your Career Goals
Keeping your interests in mind will help you prepare for the interview and enable you to more readily share these interests with your contact.
2. Identify Contacts in Your Areas of Interest
Individuals can be identified through your personal list of contacts (network list) or through referrals from resources like faculty or the Center for Career Services. You’ll find that personal referrals are the most productive.
3. Approach the Contacts
There are several ways to approach contacts to request an informational interview – e-mail, telephone or letter.
When communicating with your contacts you should:
- Mention the name of the person who referred you: “Robin Butler, a mutual friend of ours, suggested that I talk to you because you’re knowledgeable about…”
- Tell the individual that you are trying to decide on a career and are doing research on occupations in their field: “I’m interested in learning more about ___ field.”
- Ask to set up a convenient time for an interview, preferably no more than 30 minutes: “At your convenience, I would like to talk to you for 20 to 30 minutes about…”
4. Prepare Yourself
Prepare yourself for the informational interview by doing the following:
- Send your resume to the contact only if he or she requests it.
- Research the contact’s occupation, company and industry.
- Formulate specific questions to ask before the interview.
5. Treat Your Contact Professionally
Making a good first impression will be critical if you want to return at a later time as a job hunter. During the interview, be sure to initiate the following:
- Immediately establish rapport with the contact and indicate an interest in his/her career.
- Ask if you may take notes before the interview begins.
- Ask prepared questions and any other questions that come to mind as a result of the discussion.
- Request the names of two other people in interview in the same industry.
- Thank the contact for the time they spent with you and highlight how they’ve been of assistance.
- Take a few moments immediately after the interview to consolidate and organize your notes.
6. Send Thank-You Letters
Immediately after the informational interview send a thank you note to the contact. Be specific about how the interview helped you gain insight into the industry or field. Check out the following samples for guidance: Sample Thank You Letter 1, Sample Thank You Letter 2.
After you’ve spoken with several individuals from different companies you will have completed an extensive information survey. You will also have enough information to make an educated decision about possible jobs and companies. By arming yourself with this information you will have a great advantage over those using traditional job-hunting methods.
APPROPRIATE QUESTIONS TO ASK DURING AN INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW:
- How did you get involved in this field?
- What major responsibilities do you have?
- What are your biggest challenges on the job?
- What do you enjoy most about your work?
- What do you enjoy least about your work?
- What did you do yesterday? What is a typical day like?
- What is the typical work environment for this field?
- What type of people do you work with?
- What are the usual entry-level positions in this field?
- What is the typical career path for this profession? Opportunities for advancement?
- What educational background is most appropriate for this field?
- Is additional education or training beyond a bachelor’s degree necessary for advancement?
- Are there special skills (computer programming, foreign languages, report writing, graphics, etc.) one should have?
- What personal qualities should a person possess if they are considering this field?
- How important is relocation? At first? Later on? Is travel involved?
- Do employers commonly use training programs? If not, what other opportunities are there for professional development?
- What is the current salary range for this position?
- Are there other “fringe benefits” associated with this type of work?
- What unique problems do professionals in this field face?
- What trends do you see taking place in this profession?
- Is there any other information I should have before pursuing a career in this industry?
- What advice do you have for someone like me who would like to enter this field?