How to Conduct an Informational Interview

Tired of doing research on the Internet about careers and finding out the same old facts?

An informational interview is a fun and proactive way to learn more about a specific field or company. This is a conversation over the phone or in person where you are in charge of the interview. The goal of an informational interview is to gain valuable knowledge rather than getting the job. It is more than just a conversation with a professional, and should be treated as an actual interview.

Below are some commonly asked questions that may help clarify the best ways to conduct an informational interview.

Who should I speak with?

Make sure to reach out to someone who is actually doing the job; an assistant just won’t work. You may have to speak with the manager first.

How do I contact a person to interview? 

  • Reach out to friends, family, professors, colleagues, and past employers to see if they know someone who is in a field of interest.
  • Visit your institution’s career center to obtain a list of individuals and/or alumni who would be willing to speak with you.
  • Cold call. Use the Internet or phone book to find organizations that appeal to you. Try to connect with human resources first to see if they can refer you to someone.
  • Attend a local or regional professional association meeting in a specific field.

Does an informational interview require an appointment?

Typically. The majority of the time you will need to set up a time to speak with someone, this way you both can prepare.

Here are some tips for setting up the appointment:

  • Allow the interviewee to choose a time and place to meet or speak.
  • Ask if they would prefer you to conduct it over the phone or face to face.
  • Tell them how long it will last (typically around 15 minutes).

How do I make an appointment? 

A phone call is the best way to initially contact someone you would like to interview. It can be helpful to write a script to introduce yourself.

For example:

“Hello, my name is Deborah Smith and my aunt passed along your contact information. I am interested in learning more about the legal field. I have always wanted to become a lawyer, and I would like to find out more about what you do on a daily basis. Could we please set a time to speak about your position and organization in person or over the phone? I wouldn’t need more than fifteen minutes of your time.”

How do I prepare?

Treat this as a business appointment and conduct yourself in a professional manner. Make sure to research the company beforehand, and prepare questions you would like to ask. Don’t forget to bring a notepad and pen to take notes.

What types of questions should I ask?

Here are some examples:

  1. How did you get into your position? Did you have to get any special education or training?
  2. What three to five tasks do you do daily?
  3. What do you like about your job? If you could change something about your job, what would it be?
  4. What do you see happening in your field in the next 5-10 years?
  5. Do you recommend that I speak with anyone else or someone who does this or a similar type of work?

How do I follow-up after an informational interview?

Always get a business card or contact information from the individual you interview. This can be a vital person to add to your network. Make sure to follow up with a thank you card or email as soon as possible. This will also give the person you interviewed your contact information so they know how to reach you in the future.

Informational interviewing is a great resource and can be a critical investment in your future. It can also lead to job opportunities down the road, while helping you build your interpersonal skills.

Interested in learning more about informational interviewing? Check out About.com’s job searching section or pick up a copy of “What Color is Your Parachute” by Richard N. Bolles.

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