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The informational interview

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This article describes an Informational Interview.

Requesting an Informational Interview

Informal networking is one of the best sources of job leads and opportunities. It gives you a way to investigate a specific career field and help you narrow your target job choices. And while you get advice on where you might find the best fit, you are broadening your network of contacts for future reference.

You can easily develop an impressive network. Look to this list for ideas of potential sources for contacts:

  • Professors, friends, relatives, and former employers - or any professionals these people recommend.
  • Local WorkSource office.
  • Members of professional associations.
  • People in the information business-resource center directors or librarians.
  • Human Resource directors, public relations officials, or public information specialists.
  • Community service agencies or area Chambers of Commerce.

Alumni which can be accessed through an appointment with your school's career consultant or through your alumni association's web site. Once you have identified potential contacts, ask for an informational interview. You can contact these people by phone, mail, or email:

By Phone
Before placing the call, it is a good idea to write an outline of what you would like to say on the phone. Not only will this make you feel more confident, it guarantees that you will ask all your questions, making you appear organized and professional. If you are calling someone by referral, make sure you state that person's name early in the phone call. Also say right away that you only need 20 to 30 minutes of their time. You should mention that you would prefer to meet in person instead of just by telephone. When scheduling an appointment by phone, keep these points in mind:

Offer a personal introduction.

  • Identify your purpose for seeking an appointment.
  • Arrange a mutually convenient time.

By Letter
Follow proper business format when writing the request letter and be sure to double check for spelling, grammar, and typing mistakes. Remember to conclude the letter with a specific action - such as a statement that you will call on a specific date to arrange a meeting time convenient for the person. This is usually a week after you mail the letter. Similar to calling for an interview, a letter requesting an appointment should include:

  • A personal introduction.
  • Your purpose for seeking the appointment.

Conducting the Informational Interview

Before the interview: (Also refer to the other sections on Interviewing in this tutorial)

  • Learn as much as you can about the organization.
  • Write down the questions that you want to ask.
  • If possible, learn something about the person you are interviewing.
  • Dress professionally.
  • Bring copies of your résumé (Distribute these only if they are requested).
  • Arrive 5 - 10 minutes before your appointment.

During the Informational Interview

  • Restate your purpose for speaking with this particular person.
  • You are the interviewer so be prepared to initiate the conversation.
  • Keep to the original time request of 20 - 30 minutes.
  • Ask for referrals to other individuals in the field or in related organizations.
  • Let the individual you are interviewing bring up the discussion of specific job vacancies.

After the interview:

  • Send a thank you note and keep the individual you have interviewed posted on your job hunting progress.
  • Evaluate your style of interviewing. Use what you have learned for when you conduct your job interviews.
  • Evaluate all the information you received.

What to Ask

Compose a list of questions you would like answered about a career field or organization. Your questions will yield the most information if you use open-ended questions to engage your contact in conversation. Listed below are sample questions to help you prepare for your interview.

Questions about the Career Field

  • What types of positions are most often found in your career field?
  • What skills will I need to perform responsibilities (such as organizing, supervising, writing)?
  • What specific skills do I need to do the job (academic, experiential, or others)?
  • What training or education is required to perform this kind of work?
  • What would you change if you could?
  • What is a typical entry-level position in this field?
  • What opportunities for advancement do employees have?
  • What are alternative methods to gain entrance to this field (e.g., part-time, mid-career change, volunteer work or other kinds of training?
  • What is the future of this field in terms of new and expanding opportunities?
  • What other information may be helpful (e.g., critique of résumé, job seeking tactics, names of other professionals in the field)?

Questions about the Organization

  • What are the short and long-term goals of the organization, such as growth, new products or services, and expansion of facilities?
  • What is the philosophy of the organization and the types of training programs available?
  • Do you have descriptions of the various positions you have held between your entry-level and present job?
  • Could you describe your current job (as defined in the job description as well as what is done beyond the job description)?
  • What is the typical career path from entry-level to top management?

Informational interviewing is an effective tool in your approach to career planning. It can be one of your most valuable strategies in gathering information and establishing contacts as you begin or continue to build plans for the future. Like all other components of career planning, informational interviewing requires planning and focus on your part. Consider each informational interview a valuable step towards beginning your career.


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