Every good job and career decision you will ever make will be based on good information. One of the most productive ways to gather such information is to talk to people who are in the career field, organization or job you might want to pursue. Informational interviewing provides an opportunity to gather information and gain insights that will be valuable in your job search. It is a chance to gain knowledge about what organizations look for in candidates and to develop your career network.
Guidelines for Informational Interviewing
Your first thought may be: "Who can I talk with to learn about the ins and outs of pursuing a career in my field of interest?" The best career information comes from people who are active and knowledgeable in the field.
Your reaction to the above recommendation may be: "How can I expect these people to give me the time? I'm not even sure I want to be in their field. I am embarrassed to ask." Keep in mind that most people like to talk about themselves and their work, if approached properly and sensitively. If they are satisfied with their jobs, they enjoy sharing that enthusiasm with others. People who are not happy are often willing to "tell it like it is" to help others avoid the pitfalls they have encountered.
Be prepared before the interview by learning as much as possible about the career through research. Be prepared with specific questions you want to ask so you can use the person's valuable time productively. During the interview select the questions that are most appropriate to ask. Generally, the interview lasts about 20 or 30 minutes. Do not overstay your welcome.
You can initially contact people for informational interviews by telephone or email.
For each telephone request you make for an informational interview, remember all of these steps:
- Give your name.
- Ask for the person you want to interview.
- Give your name to the person and introduce yourself.
- Tell who referred you (if anyone).
- State that the purpose of your call is to request a half-hour meeting to seek advice and information about the career you are interested in exploring.
- Request a meeting with the person where he or she is employed.
- If the person does not have time to meet with you soon, ask for a good time to call back or a good time to schedule a meeting in the future.
- When you do schedule a meeting with the person, write down the time, date and location while you are talking. Don't wait until later to record this information.
For each email request you send, be sure to include:
- The name of the person you want to interview.
- Why you are writing.
- That you are not looking for a job (make this clear).
- What action you will take to arrange for the interview, such as a follow-up phone call.
Before Going on the Informational Interview
Prepare a list of questions to ask. Be ready to present a two to three minute summary about yourself. It is very important for you to present this profile about yourself so that the person can give you feedback about whether or not this career will be a good fit for you. Below are some questions you might find useful in the informational interview. Use these as a guide and add questions that are important to you.
- Why did you select this field?
- How long have you worked for this company?
- What was your undergraduate major? Minor?
- In what ways did your undergraduate studies prepare you for this career?
- Do you have a graduate degree or further professional education? If so, is it necessary for advancement in this field?
- What has your career path been from college to this current position?
- What are your major functions?
- What are your daily tasks and responsibilities?
- What do you enjoy most and find most rewarding about this work?
- What are the major frustrations?
- What types of decisions do you make?
- What are the problems you encounter?
- Where is your place in the organizational structure of the company?
- What are the average starting salaries and annual increases in this field?
- What professional organizations would you recommend joining?
- What books, journals, etc. would you recommend for a person interested in this career field?
- Is there travel involved in your work?
- What are the most important skills and/or personal qualities needed to succeed?
- Could you recommend other people for me to contact who could give me additional information or another view of this career?
- May I use your name when contacting them?
Follow-up is important after an informational interview. Write a thank you letter expressing your appreciation for the person's time, information and interest. One goal of informational interviewing is to generate an ongoing list of names of people to meet with in the career area you are investigating. If you decide you want to work in this field after you have gathered knowledge, you then have a network of contacts that could lead to employment.
Keep Accurate Records
Keep accurate records of your informational interviews. This will enable you to evaluate the career information you have received and measure it in relation to your own interests and needs. Develop a recording system that works for you. You might keep a notebook or use index cards to file the information for future review.