The informational interview is an information gathering session with a networking contact designed to help you choose or refine your career path by giving you the “insider” point of view.
About informational interviews
Asking current professionals questions about the path they have taken allows you to build your network and gain information on the skills necessary to succeed in that particular field. The experience also helps students learn about the realities of a specific job, increases confidence in talking with people, which can help identify personal strengths and weaknesses. Informational interviews can also help you:
- Evaluate whether the field is compatible with your interests, lifestyles and goals.
- Gain access to the hidden job market. Over 85% of quality jobs are secured through networking!
- Expand your network of contacts in your field of interest for future opportunities.
- Gain referrals to other professionals in the same field for additional networking.
Informational Interviews are not only for students ready to graduate, but are also appropriate for first year students through alumni. If you are in the process of choosing an academic major, making career choices, beginning a job search, they can be an excellent tool to explore your options and increase your knowledge.
Subject areas that can be discuss about the industry/organization during the informational interview:
- Work environment
- Ideal skill set/qualifications
- Industry trends
- Career path of Interviewee
- Career ladder or field
Preparing for an informational interview
In advance of the meeting, you should prepare as you would for a traditional interview. Conduct research and read about the career area or organization in which the person you are interviewing is affiliated with. Check the company/organizations web site and find out as much as you can about the work they do, and research the person you will be meeting with so that you can ask appropriate questions.
Develop a number of well thought out, open-ended questions to stimulate a meaningful discussion. Write these questions down neatly on a professional notepad, and bring them with you during your interview. This will also enable you to take valuable notes so that you can refer back to them after the interview. When meeting, dress appropriately for the field and practice professional etiquette.
Questions to ask
Avoid asking questions that are easily answerable by a quick scan of the person's bio or company website. Modify and supplement questions based on your advanced research, and leave them open ended in nature. Examples:
- How did you get started in this field?
- What aspect of your job do you find most engaging?
- What is your typical day (week) like at _____________ ?
- What do you enjoy most about what you do? What do you enjoy least?
- What kinds of skills and abilities are required for this type of work?
- What kinds of people are successful in this field (this organization)?
- What training or education is required for this type of work?
- Can you describe the work environment in your organization in terms of individual effort vs. teamwork, pressure, deadlines, workload, etc.?
- What publications are especially important for people in your field?
- If you were starting out now, how would you get into this field? What strategies would you use to get your foot in the door? What advice would you give to someone in my position?
If you are able to interview the person at their place of work, be prepared to observe many aspects of their workplace for additional information on the company:
- How are people dressed (formally, informally, uniformly)?
- How diverse is the work setting (age, gender, ethnicity, race)?
- How do the staff members address each other? Is there a hierarchy?
- Is the atmosphere calm? Stressful? Fast-paced?
- How were you treated when you arrived?
- Do people appear to enjoy working there?
- Do your contacts talk with you freely or did they seem restricted?
- Are the employees working in offices or cubicles or open spaces?
- What is the noise level? How is the lighting?
- What equipment do you see? Who is using it?
- Think about what you saw and how you felt in the work setting. Can you see yourself working there? Why or why not?
After the informational interview
Write a thank you note within two days of your meeting. Comment on how the meeting expanded your knowledge of the field or cite the follow-up steps you plan to take. For a meeting with an alumni, a handwritten note on a DePauw note card is a nice touch; for others, you may prefer an email.
Keep a record of your networking activities - when your conversations took place, suggestions the contacts made, the dates you mailed your thank you notes, and any follow-up steps you took. If there's any information you can provide to your contact that might be helpful, do so.
Maintain your networking relationships by emailing or phoning periodically. For example, you might send a link to an interesting news article or word of a conference that may appeal to your contact. Keep your networking connections updated on your progress, and always remember that networking is a skill for life!