Following are some good reasons to conduct informational interviews:

  • To explore careers and clarify your career goals
  • To expand your professional network
  • To build confidence for your job interview
  • To access the most up-to-date career information
  • To identify your professional strengths and weaknesses

You gain valuable interviewing experience and you gain visibility. In short, informational interviewing prepares you for what’s in store and allows you the opportunity to network with others in your field of interest. Talking with family, friends or anyone with whom you feel comfortable should reduce the anxiety you may feel about interviewing.

Preparing for an Informational Interview

Doing Research Before the Interview

For an informational interview to be truly effective, you can’t just go into it blindly. A thorough agency/prospective employer research is an absolute necessity when you go on a regular job interview. You don’t have to do quite as much research for an informational interview but some degree of research will greatly enhance the quality of informational interviews. If you are informed about the agency/prospective employer, you will be able to ask more intelligent and relevant questions. You will respond thoughtfully to information and any questions the interview might put to you. You won’t ask questions that could easily have been answered by doing your homework. A number of great resources are available for agency/prospective employer research, many of them right at your fingertips on the Internet.

Confirming Your Appointment

Call on the day before the interview to confirm your appointment with the contact person. If you have questions regarding the location of the contact’s office, this is the time to ask. Plan to arrive 10 minutes early for the interview. Carry a small notebook and pen. Be polite and professional. Refer to your list of prepared questions; stay on track but allow for spontaneous discussion.

Dressing Appropriately for an Informational Interview

Be prepared to make a good impression and to be remembered by the employer. Dress as you would for a regular job interview.

Bringing a Resume to the Interview

Bring a copy of your resume along with you and be prepared to present a copy of it, if necessary. Try to find out about specific characteristics or qualifications that employers seek when hiring.

Taking Notes During the Interview

Pretend you are a reporter. You don’t need to write down everything but there may be names, phone numbers or other information that you may want to remember. Be enthusiastic and show interest. Employ an information dialogue during the interview. Be direct and concise with your questions and answers and do not ramble. Have good eye contact and posture. Be positive in your remarks and reflect a good sense of humor.

Questions to Ask at the Informational Interview

What is your job like?
  • A typical day?
  • What do you do? What are the duties/functions/responsibilities of your job?
  • What kinds of problems do you deal with?
  • What kinds of decisions do you make?
  • What percentage of your time is spent doing what?
  • How does the time use vary? Are there busy and slow times or is the work activity fairly constant?
How did this type of work interest you and how did you get started?
  • How did you get your job?
  • What jobs and experiences have led you to your present position?
What are the most important personal satisfactions and dissatisfactions connected with your occupation?
  • What part of this do you personally find most satisfying? Most challenging?
Why did you decide to work for this agency?
  • What do you like most about this agency?
  • Do you find your job exciting or boring? Why?
Are you optimistic about the agency’s future and your future with the agency?
  • What does the agency do to contribute to its employees’ professional development?
  • How does the agency make use of technology for internal communication and outside marketing? (Use of email, Internet, Intranet, World Wide Web page, video conferencing, etc.)
How does a person progress in your field? What is a typical career path in this field or organization?
  • What is the best way to enter this occupation?
  • What are the advancement opportunities?
  • What are the major qualifications for success in this occupation?
What were the keys to your career advancement?
  • How did you get where you are and what are your long-range goals?
  • What particular skills or talents are most essential to be effective in your job?
  • How did you learn these skills?
  • Did you enter this position through a formal training program?
  • How can I evaluate whether or not I have the necessary skills for a position such as yours?
How would you describe the working atmosphere and the people with who you work?
  • Is there a basic philosophy of the agency and if so, what is it? (Is it a people, service or product oriented business?)
  • What can you tell me about the business culture?
What is the average length of time for an employee to stay in the job you hold?
  • Are there incentives or disincentives for staying in the same job?
  • Is there flexibility related to dress, work hours, vacation schedule, place of residence, etc.?
What work-related values are strongest in this type of work (security, high income, variety, and independence)?
  • If your job progresses, as you like, what would be the next step in your career?
  • If your work were suddenly eliminated, what kinds of work do you feel prepared to do?
  • With the information you have about my education, skills and experience, what other field or jobs would you suggest I research further before I make a final decision?
How has your job affected your lifestyle/work?
  • From your perspective, what are the problems you see working in this field?
  • What are the major frustrations of this job?
  • What aspects of the job do you like least or create the most stress?
  • If you could do things all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? Why? What would you change?
What is the educational requirement for this job?
  • What other types of credential or licenses are required?
  • What types of training does the agency offer persons entering this field?
  • Is graduate school recommended?
  • Does the agency encourage and pay for employees to pursue graduate degrees?
Does your work relate to any experiences or studies you had in college?
  • How well did your college experience prepare you for this job?
  • What courses have proved to be most valuable to you in your work? What would you recommend for me?
  • How important are grades/GPA for obtaining a job in this field?
How did you prepare for this work?
  • If you were entering this career today, would you change your preparation in any way to facilitate entry?
  • What abilities or personal qualities do you believe contribute most to success in this field/job?
Who is the department head or supervisor for this job?
  • Where do you and your supervisor fit into the organization structure?
  • Who else do you know who is doing similar kinds of work or uses similar skills?
  • What other kinds of organizations hire people to perform the functions you do here?
  • Do you know of other people whom I might talk to who have similar jobs?
  • Do you have any advice for someone interested in this field/job?
  • Are there any written materials you suggest I read?
  • Which professional journals and organizations would help me learn more about this field?
What kinds of experience, paid or unpaid, would you encourage for anybody pursuing a career in this field?
  • What special advice do you have for a student seeking to qualify for this position?
  • These are my strongest assets (skills, areas of knowledge, personality traits and values: (list your assets here). Where would they fit in this field? Where would they be helpful in this organization? Where might they fit in other fields? Where might they be helpful in other organizations?
How would you assess the experience I’ve had so far in terms of entering this field?
  • (If you feel comfortable and it seems appropriate) Would you mind taking a look at my resume?

Helpful Hints About Informational Interviews

Share Information

Share something about yourself but do not dominate the interview by talking about yourself. You are there to get information that will help you learn the most about the occupation field so that you can be prepared to compete for a job. Be aware, however, that many informational interviews have turned into actual employment interviews. Don’t count on it, but it sometimes happen. If it seems you are being interviewed for a specific job, clarify with your employer so you can make sure you emphasize your functional/transferable skills and why you feel they related to this job.

Be A Good Listener

Listening is half of the communication. Besides being able to ask questions and convey a message, you need to develop the skill of really listening to what they tell you. Be receptive and show that the information is important to you. You must listen to it and understand it.

Build the Network at the Informational Interview

You have spent 20-30 minutes with this person, asking questions, getting advice and sharing a little about yourself. Thus, begins your contact network. The person has taken time to share with you. In other words, he or she has invested time in you. Most people like their investments to pay off. Most people will feel good about your staying in contact with them. You do not have to call or write every week. Just keep your interviewee informed on your research.

The interviewee may not have a job for you but may know of other employers or people to which you may be referred. If possible, keep these people informed about your progress. If you have done your job well, they will be interested in your final choices. Ask for your contact’s business card and exchange one of your own, if you have one.

Ask for Referrals at the Interview

People who are in the same kind of business usually know their competition. Before leaving, ask your contact to suggest names of others that might be helpful to you and ask permission to use your contact’s name when contacting these new contacts.

Send a "Thank You" Note

Be sure to send a thank-you card or letter within one to three days after the interview. This communication is an effective way to keep in touch and to be remembered by people. Let them know they were helpful and thank them for the time spent.

As a nice touch, quote something that the resource person said back to them, word for word. Ask the person to keep you in mind if they come across any other information that may be helpful to you in your career research. Include your address and phone number under your signature.

Record, Analyze and Evaluate the Informational Interview

For possible future reference, keep a list of all the people you have interview or plan to interview. You may even plan to keep a special notebook or cards with interview notes on your questions covered. Include the main things that you gained from each interview. This file will be a rich source of information as you conduct your occupational exploration.

Immediately following the interview, record the information you gathered. Now you know how to get the inside scoop on your dream job. This activity alone can lead to your dream job or connect you to a mentor, because employers are very impressed by students who have the savvy to analyze the experience.

In evaluating the interview and making the best use of the acquired information, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What did I learn from this interview (both positive and negative)?
  • How does it fit with my own interests, abilities, goals and values, etc.?
  • What do I still need to know?
  • What plan of action can I make?
More Helpful Hints
  • If you ask for 20-30 minutes of a person’s time, stick to the limit.
  • Take all the information given with a grain of salt. Don’t settle for just one or two interviews about a given area of work; a broad information base is essential.
  • Avoid impressions about an area of work based solely on whether the person interviewed was likeable or the surroundings attractive.
  • When in an interview, ask what you want to know but really let the person talk because you might discover and acquire information about unanticipated areas of employment.
  • Note your reactions on an objective level but don’t ignore personal feelings. What you naturally gravitate toward or away from is very important.
  • Find out if the interviewee has any insight on the qualifications necessary for a position such as the one that you are discussing.
  • Talking with people doesn’t have to be a formal process or one you practice only when job hunting. Chat with people casually – on a plane or bus, while waiting in lines, at social gatherings, etc. Since most people enjoy talking about their work, curiosity can open many doors.

Potential Results of Informational Interviews

You accomplish several things when you go out on an informational interview.
  • You obtain a great deal of information about your career field and the skills needed to do that job effectively. You gain a perspective of work that goes beyond the limitations of job titles, allowing you to see not only what skills are required for the job but also how you might fit into that work setting. Thus, you have greater flexibility in planning options.
  • You have the opportunity to make personal contacts among management-level personnel.
  • You gain insight into the hidden job market (employment opportunities that are not advertised).
  • You become aware of the needs of the employers and the realities of employment. First-hand and current information allows you to learn what happens on the job beyond the understanding provided through your coursework or other outside research. This exposure not only provides personal understanding but it could also result in your becoming a more impressive job candidate.
  • Because informational interviewing is comparatively low-stress, you gain confidence in talking with people while learning what you need to know. Informational interviewing provides an opportunity to meet with potential employers before the more stressful (for both parties) job interview.
  • Because you are only asking for information, you are in control of the interview; you decide which questions to ask. Later, evaluate the acquired information for personal use.
  • This opportunity will expose you to a variety of jobs and personalities of companies making the search for your "niche" that much easier.
  • It is an opportunity to learn where you might fit into a particular organization.