An informational interview is an interview designed to allow you to learn more about a possible career path by talking to someone currently working in the field. Informational interviewing is, perhaps, the most valuable resource one can use in their career development. The informational interview gives you a first hand account and personal impressions from someone in the occupation, and the conversation is directed by the questions you ask. There are other benefits to an informational interview including: exploring careers and clarifying you career goal, expanding your professional network, building confidence in your interview skills, accessing the most up-to-date information about a particular career, and identifying your professional strengths and weaknesses. Informational interviews are much less stressful than a typical interview. Although it should still be regarded as a business meeting, it is still more informal. An information interview may be conducted in person or over the phone. When considering possible places or people to interview, don't limit yourself to only local companies or people. Informational interviews are valuable to all students, whether you have a major or not.
Before the interview
- Be prepared: Identify the industry or industries you would like to learn more about. If you are still undecided about a major, consider your interests, values, and skills when deciding possible industries. If you have a major, consider the companies you may want to work for. Decide what kind of information you would like to gain from the interview and prepare a list of questions you want to make sure are answered. Research the companies your interviewee may work for to find out as much information as you can.
- Identify people to interview: Start with a list of people you may already know in the field or company. You may be surprised how helpful your friends and neighbors can be. Check with fellow students, co-workers, supervisors, professional organizations, and the yellow pages of the phone book. There is no one you should try NOT to contact. The Career Center also has a database of working professionals that are eager to provide information and assistance to students. Once you have a name or names, remember to research the company they work for and find out as much as possible about the person you will be interviewing.
- Scheduling the interview: When scheduling an informational interview, always be professional. If it is someone you personally know, you still need to schedule a time to meet with them. If you have received the person's name from the Career Center, follow the contact procedure prescribed to you when you received the information. It is possible that your contact has requested to only be contacted by email, phone, or letter. If contacting someone you have found on your own through a friend, neighbor, professional organization, etc., it is preferred that you contact the person by letter or telephone.
- Prepare a list of questions: Ask only questions that are appropriate for the person you are interviewing. If you will be interviewing more than one person, it is possible that you will need a different list of questions for each person. Be sure the questions are important to you. You will show motivation and enthusiasm if the information your are receiving matters to you. Sample questions
What to take to the interview
- Professional look: Although the purpose of an information interview is not to get a job, you should always be prepared. Always dress appropriate for the company you will be visiting. Even if conducting your interview over the phone, you should at least change out of your pajamas. If you are too relaxed for your interview, you may come across an uninterested. Do not chew gum and leave your cell phone in the car. If you must have your cell phone for emergency purposes, be sure it is on vibrate or silent and always excuse yourself should you need to answer. If a phone call or text message is of obvious personal matter, ignore it until your interview is over.
- Your résumé: You never know what opportunities may be presented once your interview begins. At the very least, you may be able to ask the person you are interviewing to critique your résumé. You should always have an up-to-date résumé ready at all times.
- A small notebook and pen: Don't write everything that is said down. You may, however, be given names, phone numbers or other important information that you will want to remember. It is important not to put too much attention on your note taking as it may appear you are not interested in the information being given to you. You may, beforehand, get permission from your interviewee to record the interview. This will allow you to play the information back and avoid interrupting the flow of the interview to take notes.
- A blank note card and envelope: If you carry this with you, you will be able to write your thank you note immediately after the interview and drop it in the mail before going to your next destination.
During the interview
- Share information: Be sure to share information about yourself but be careful not to dominate the interview. The purpose, after all, is for you to gain information about the industry or company.
- Listen: Listening if half of the communication process. During an informational interview, not only will you be able to show your ability to ask questions and convey a message, it is also an opportunity to develop and show your skill of listening to what they are saying to you. You must listen to and understand the information being given to you. If you need clarification, ask more questions. It shows you are listening and that you are interested.
- DO NOT ASK FOR A JOB: Remember, the purpose of an informational interview is to gain information, not to get a job. It is possible your interview may turn into a job interview rather than an informational interview, but leave that choice up to the person you are interviewing.
- Build your professional network: This person has invested time into you by allowing you to visit them. Most employers are happy to help students out when they can. Ask your interviewee if it would be okay if you stayed in contact with them. Maybe you have other questions later on, maybe you would like them to take another look at your résumé, or maybe you would like a referral to another professional to gain more information about the industry. Ask for your interviewee's business card and if it would be okay to use their name when contacting someone you were referred to.
After the interview
- Send a Thank you card/letter: Just as with a job interview, sending a Thank You note or letter right after the interview is important. The person took time out of their day to answer your questions. Showing gratitude will also make your contact more willing to help you out in the future. Remember, the informational interview is still a business meeting. Let the person know how helpful they have been. To help personalize the note, mention something specific that was said, word for word. This will help show that you found the information helpful, interesting, and that you were listening.
- Assess the information received: Now that you have this information, do something with it. Keep a file that has the name and contact information for each person you interview. This can be used for future reference. If you took hand written notes, take time to organize them. This also gives you the opportunity to read the information again. When evaluating the information you received, remember to ask yourself what the information means to you. What did you get out of the interview (good or bad)? How does the information you gained about the industry or career path fit into your interests, values, and skills? Is there information that you would still like to receive? What should your next plan of action be?