An informational interview is a scheduled meeting where you ask your contact questions you have prepared in advance. Contacts may be alumni, family friends, acquaintances of classmates or their families, or other professionals with whom you have been connected and work in your field(s) of interest. You can request an informational interview over the phone or email. Consider emailing the person first and then following up with a phone call.
Setting up the Interview
When you contact the person:
- Be sure to introduce yourself.
- Tell them how you learned about them or who referred you.
- Briefly explain why you would like to talk with them. Make it clear that you are not asking for a job. Ask to meet with them for 20 minutes in person or by telephone at their convenience.
Before the Interview
- Research and learn as much as you can about the organization.
- Write down the questions you want to ask. Prioritize them.
- If possible, learn something about the person - read their Linkedln profile, Google them, read online bios, etc.
- Dress professionally (if meeting in person).
- You may want to bring a copy of your resume for their suggestions.
- Arrive 10-15 minutes before your appointment.
Example Interview Request
"Hello, my name is Sammy Sagehen and I am a student at Pomona College. I am exploring possible careers in the ______ field and I found your name on the Linkedln Pomona Alumni group. I wonder if I might set up a short meeting at your convenience to learn about your experience and to see what suggestions you might have for someone interested in this field. Do you have some time to talk with me?"
During the Interview
- Since you called the meeting, be prepared to direct the conversation.
- Pay attention to time and adhere to the 20 minutes you requested.
- Begin by asking about their career experience, how they got started in the field and other related questions.
- Remember that this is an information -gathering and advice-seeking conversation, not a job interview.
These interviews can help you ...
- Learn things about a field you won't read in a book. Find out how things really work.
- Get specific suggestions on how to gain the knowledge and experience you need.
- Evaluate whether the career is compatible with your skills, interests, and goals.
- Narrow your options and target specific positions and companies.
- Learn the important issues in the field.
- Expand your network of contacts.
- Create a strategy for entering your field.
After the Interview
- Send a thank you note within 24 hours of your meeting and keep the person posted on your progress.
- Keep the door open for future contacts with this person.
- Evaluate your style of interviewing. What could you have done better? Use what you have learned when you conduct your next interview.
- Evaluate the information you received. How does it relate to your plans? Is this something you want to learn more about?
Questions to Ask in an Informational Interview
You will probably have time for 5-10 questions, so prioritize! Use open-ended questions to engage the person in a conversation. If time permits, you may have the opportunity to ask more specific personal, organization, and industry questions and/or for additional contacts with whom you could also conduct an informational interview. Consider the following sample questions when developing your list for your informational interview:
- How did you get started in this field? What has been your career path? Is this typical, and if not, what is?
- What are the entry-level positions in this career field?
- What skills, education, and experience are needed to enter this field?
- What are your major responsibilities? How do you spend a typical day/week?
- What are the positive and negative aspects of your work?
- What trends and developments do you see impacting career opportunities in this field?
- What is the culture or personality of your industry?
- What advice would you give to someone wanting to break into this field?
- Are there other people that you would suggest I talk with to learn more about this.
Write a thank you note to every person with whom you do an informational interview. It is appropriate to thank them for their time and also make a good impression. Whether you were interested in their industry or not, you may want them, at some point, to refer you to another contact or possibly for an internship/job. So here's how to make a good impression:
- If your contact referred you to someone, be sure you get in touch with their referral. Also, follow up with your original contact to let them know how the conversation went .
- Keep track of whom you talked to, when you talked to them, and when to follow up (Excel, Outlook).
- Check in with contacts on a regular basis; make it personalized (don't send mass emails to your contacts- people don't want to be part of the herd).
In general, treat contacts the way you would like to be treated and always approach them from an advice-seeking standpoint.