Informational Interviews

Informational interviews are one of the best tools that jobseekers can use to learn about specific jobs and industries. In these interviews, you speak to a real person working in your field, and you have the opportunity to ask questions that go beyond summaries on career and company websites. They provide excellent opportunities to find out the answers to any questions you couldn’t get from basic research.

Interview

An informational interview is a meeting that a jobseeker sets up with a professional working in his or her field of interest. The intent is not to find a job, but to ask the professional questions about the job and industry, so that the jobseeker can determine if he or she is interested in this career. Usually, these professionals also provide information about how to break into the field or the lifestyle that accompanies the job. It is a time for the jobseeker to ask any questions he or she may have, especially ones that he or she has not gotten answers for yet, while also allowing the jobseeker to expand his or her professional network.

Usually the best candidates for informational interviews are ones who have some personal connection to the jobseeker, since they will be more likely to make time for an interview. Ask professors, friends, and family if they have contacts in your field. You should also ask staff in your university career center if they are in touch with alumni of your university that are doing something similar to what you want. These are people who are already in your network and are more likely to help. If you can’t find someone with a personal connection, you can reach out to local professionals.

You can set up a meeting through emails, letters, or phone calls. When you make contact, remember to be polite and to let the professional know that you are setting up an informational interview, not asking for a job. Make sure to introduce yourself, let the professional know why you are calling, and how you were referred to him or her. Here is an example:

“Hello, Mrs. Green, I am a recent graduate of State University, and I am interested in a career in accounting. My professor, Mr. Wilson, referred me to you, since he said that you were an expert in the field. I wanted to see if it would be possible to set up a brief meeting with you to discuss your career and the field.”

Making contact is simple. Be direct, polite, and specific. While phone or internet meetings are appropriate, try to aim for a meeting in person, since it will help you build contacts. Meetings should only be between 15 and 30 minutes, so let your contacts know that meetings will be short.

Since your contact is busy, it is important that you stick to the timeframe you suggested. To make the most of your time, research the job or field you are asking about before your meeting. You do not want to waste time asking questions you can find the answer to with a quick web search. Researching also gives you a more thorough understanding of the field, so that you can speak intelligently about the job and show that you are serious. This dedication will go a long way with building professional contacts. You should also prepare a list of questions you need answered to keep you focused in the interview and ensure you get the necessary information.

When you meet for the interview, make sure to look professional. Dress like you would for an interview, since you want to show your contact that you are serious. Greet your contact with a handshake, and introduce yourself. Reiterate that you just want a few minutes of his or her time to ask questions about the job.

Once you begin the interview, be polite and friendly. Don’t expect your contact to know where to begin explaining, so you’ll want to use questions; however, let the interview be organic like a conversation. If your contact wants to talk about specific aspects of the job, let him or her. There may be factors that you didn’t know anything about before, and he or she may give you some great information. Make sure to listen intently, and feel free to take notes.

You can ask any question you have about the job as long as it is polite, but there are basic questions you definitely need to ask if you don’t have the answer already. Ask about how your contact started in the field, what career paths look like, what the lifestyle is like, what qualifications are necessary for the job, and if he or she has any advice for someone wanting to work in that field. After these, go on to any questions that arise from your research or the conversation.

After the interview, thank the contact for his or her time, and ask if you can contact him or her again with any further questions. You should make notes when you get home about what you learned for future reference. Follow up with your contact with a nice email or letter thanking him or her again. If you still have questions, or you want to learn about other jobs, reach out to other professionals for more information.

Tips

  • Don’t ask for a job in the informational interview. This will make you look desperate and rude, since you set up a meeting with the understanding that it was to ask questions about the job.
  • Stick to the timeframe you scheduled, since your contact is busy.
  • Don’t ask about pay. That can be considered rude. You can research that information online.
  • Do ask what you need to do to get into the field. You might learn about certifications or degrees you didn’t know about before.
  • Only set up the interview if you are serious about the job, otherwise you are wasting your contact’s time and your own.
  • Maintain a relationship with your contact after the interview, since he or she is in your field and may become a valuable mentor and part of your network.
  • Do leave him or her with your contact information in case he or she thinks of more information after the interview.
  • Ask about the daily workload of the job. You won’t get this information anywhere else, and that can be a huge factor in job satisfaction.
  • If your contact is rude or negative about his or her job, listen to the complaints, but also remember that it may just be his or her personal experience or the company he or she works for. Reach out to others in the field, and try talking to someone else before you make a decision.
  • Remember, you are trying to figure out what is the best fit for you, so if your contact sells the job well, but you know you won’t like an important aspect of the job, don’t feel pressured to pursue it. Reassess your career goals and conduct interviews with other professionals.
  • Your questions should be about the field, the job, and the company, so don’t focus just on one part of your contact’s career. It’s important to know where he or she started, and what his or her goals are, too.
  • Bring copies of your resume in case you are asked for it, but only give them to your contact if he or she asks for them.

Helpful Resources:

Peggy Carouthers

Author: Peggy Carouthers

In a previous life Peggy worked as a human resources and hiring manager for a major national retail chain. Her expertise is in job hunting, hiring, and HR. These days Peggy works as a writer, crafting content for a range of publications.
Peggy Carouthers