How to Conduct Informational Interviews

After narrowing your career options (usually 2-4), gathering “first-hand” information from people in the careers of interest is essential. Informational interviewing is a very effective method of learning more about these careers.

Informational interviewing is quite simple, and most people will be willing to talk to you about themselves and their careers. It is an invaluable method of gaining the information you won’t find on won’t or in written resources about career areas you are interested in. Informational interviewing is a crucial way of “reality testing” jobs” you are considering.

Informational interviewing can help you to:

  • Understand where you might use your skills, what those jobs are, and the environments that best suit you.
  • “Screen out” those occupations that would not be a”good fit or companies in which you wouldn’t want to work.
  • Learn about the people with whom you would like to work.
  • Develop contacts and rapport with people who have the power to hire you in the future.
  • Learn the vocabulary that pertains to your field of interest.
  • Discover internship and volunteer opportunities.
  • Find out about unadvertised or “hidden” jobs, which comprise approximately 80% of the jobs available at any given time.

Conducting informational interviews can lead to numerous remarkable outcomes. Some of our clients have discovered job and internship opportunities through these interviews. For instance, one individual aspiring to become a sports statistician had the chance to conduct an informational interview with the LA Dodgers sports statistician right in the stadium. In another instance, a client who met with a financial planner during an informational interview received a job offer from the planner’s firm.

Steps for Informational Interviewing:

1. Identify contacts.

There are four recommended strategies for finding people who are in jobs that are of interest to you.

First, begin your informational interviewing with people you know or referrals from your current contacts. While you may not know people directly who are doing jobs that are of interest, you will typically know people who could refer you to people in careers you would like to learn more about. This strategy is the easiest and least intimidating way to get started. The Identifying Contacts worksheet can help to stimulate your thinking about who you know.

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The second recommended resource for identifying contacts is LinkedIn.com. LinkedIn is the best online professional directory, with over 85 million members in more than 200 countries. People use LinkedIn for networking with people for advice, researching companies, and job search activities. Here are the steps needed to find people for informational interviews using LinkedIn.

The third resource to use is associations. There are associations for most career areas. For example, if you were interested in finding out more about becoming a speech pathologist, you could google “speech pathologist association,” and you would find the first result of your search would be the American Speechassociation’sring Association, which has more than 173,000 members. Most associations will have local chapter groups with a list of board members and contact information. If you can’t find this, you can usually find the national list of board members. These members are typically very interested in talking to people interested in their professional field. Also, the association’s websites typically have links telling you more about their career area.

Fourth, you can always contact an organization directly. For example, you could get a hospital or clinic that offers speech pathology services and ask to speak to one of their speech pathologists. Most people will gladly help you when it only involves a little bit of their time. Most people also enjoy talking about themselves and their work and will feel good about you asking for their advice.

Additional resources for finding contacts include business directories, Chambers of Commerce, newspaper articles, teachers, alums, fraternity or sorority membership lists, magazines, TV, radio, books, etc.

Most people will be glad to do an informational interview with you. People generally like talking about themselves, giving advice, and helping others.

2. Set up the informational interviews.

You will set up most, if not all, of your informational interviews over the telephone or by email. Ideally, you will want to conduct the information interview in person or online (i.e., via Zoom or Google Meet). If this is not possible, you can conduct the informational interview by phone. Seeing the work environment and meeting the person face-to-face are big pluses in informational interviewing.

When asking for a 30-minute informational interview, it’s important to be clear, concise, and respectful of the other person’s time. Here’s an example you can use by email:

Subject: Request for 30-Minute Informational Interview

Dear [Recipient’s Name],

I hope this message finds you well. My name is [Your Name], and I am exploring careers that best fit my interests, skills, and personality traits.

I am currently exploring opportunities and gaining insights into [related industry or career path], and I would appreciate your guidance. Would you be willing to schedule a 30-minute informational interview with me? We could meet at your convenience in person, through a virtual platform, or by phone.

I am particularly interested in learning more about [mention a specific aspect of their work or industry] and how you navigated your career path. Your insights would be incredibly beneficial as I consider potential career directions.

Please let me know if you are available for a brief conversation next week or two. I understand your time is valuable, and I assure you that I will respect the agreed-upon time frame.

Thank you for considering my request. I look forward to speaking with you and learning from your experiences.

Best regards,

[Your Full Name]

[Your Contact Information]

If setting up an informational interview by phone or in person, here is a script you can adapt:

Hello, Mr. Smith. Thank you for taking my call. My name is [Your Name], and I am exploring careers that best fit my interests, skills, and personality traits.

I am currently exploring opportunities and gaining insights into [related industry or career path], and your expertise would provide valuable guidance. Would you be willing to schedule a 30-minute informational interview with me? We could meet at your convenience in person, via a virtual platform, or by phone. What dates and times would you be available in the next week or two?

If an administrative assistant refuses to let you talk to the person you want to contact, ask if you may ask them the questions you need answered. The administrative assistant may have the answers. If not, chances are that she/he will suggest that you talk to the person you requested to speak to in the first place!

Please note you need to be persistent in this day and age of voicemail. When leaving a voice mail message, be professional and leave your full name, phone number (speak slowly), and a request for them to return your call. Do not ask questions or leave a detailed message. Do not take it personally if you don’t receive a callback. Instead, be persistent and call them back up to three times, with a couple of days between calls. If you still don’t receive a call after three messages, it is time to move on to your next contact.

3. Prepare for the interview.

Before doing an informational interview, you can research the career area using the Career Fit Test resources and other online resources. For example, you can google “a day in the life of a [career of interest]. When you get results, click on “videos,” and you should be able to view a few people describing their work.

The purpose of the informational interview is to obtain information not available online.

Research the person you will speak with by Googling their name and looking them up on LinkedIn. Read as much as you can about them and their background. Doing this will allow you to develop rapport and help you to ask better questions. They will be impressed by what you know about them.

To prepare for your informational interview:

  • Develop a list of questions in prioritized order to get your most important questions answered if you run out of time.
  • Please see the list of suggested questions below. You should always ask at least the first six questions.
  • Be intentional about asking questions to help you determine how well your “design” fits this specific career area.

4. Professionally conduct yourself during the interview.

Whether your informational interview is on the phone or in person, you want to make a good first impression. If the interview is in person, or you will be on screen, dress as though it were a job interview. Establish rapport with the interviewee, showing interest and enthusiasm about their career. Ask your prepared questions and any others that result from the discussion. Do not go over the time you have requested without asking permission. For example, if you are at the end of the 30 minutes and have a good rapport with the person, you could say, “Thank you for the time you have given me. I do have a couple of other questions. Do you have a few more minutes you could spend with me?”

Take good notes during the informational interview. You are there to gather information, and you want to make sure you have a record of what you have learned from the person you interviewed.

Important note: Do not bring a resume with you. You are there only for information. You can always send a resume later with your thank you note or letter if your contact requests one and you determine you want to pursue that career direction.

5. After the informational interview.

Ensure you get the correct spelling of your contact’s name, address, etc., during your informational interview so that you can stay in contact. Request a business card.

Send a brief thank-you note within a day of your informational interview. Include your full name, address, phone number, and email address if the person ever wants to contact you.

Keep a record of your informational interviews, listing all contacts’ names, addresses, and phone numbers. Also, list pertinent information gathered from each contact. You never know what information will become important later in your exploration or job search.

Remember to connect with the person on LinkedIn. This will allow you another method of following their work and staying in contact.

6. Look up the person you interviewed on LinkedIn and request they link to you.

Remember to personalize your request and to thank them again for their time.

7. Ask the right questions to maximize your informational interviews.

*1. What are a typical day’s (or week’s) activities?

*2. How did you get involved in this field? What steps would you suggest for someone like me if I pursue a career in this field?

*3. What do you enjoy most about your work?

*4. What do you enjoy least about your work?

*5. What is the current salary range in this profession? For entry-level? After five years?

*6. Could you suggest two or three other people with whom I could discuss this type of work?

7. What are your major job responsibilities?

8. What are the biggest challenges in your job?

9. What is the typical working environment for someone in this field?

10. With what type of people do you work?

11. What are the usual entry-level positions in this field? Are there other ways in which people enter the field?

12. What is the typical career path for this profession? [What are the opportunities for advancement?]

13. What educational background or training is most appropriate for this field?

14. Is additional education (beyond a bachelor’s degree, training, or certification) necessary for advancement?

15. Are there unique skills (such as computer programming, report writing, desktop publishing, etc.) that one can acquire that would be helpful?

16. Are there internships, volunteer work, or part-time employment opportunities that would be useful in preparing for this field?

17. What personal qualities should a person possess if he/she is considering this field?

18. How important is relocation? At first? Later on? Is travel involved in this field?

19. What significant problems does the profession as a whole face?

20. What trends do you see in this profession or career field?

* Indicates questions you should ask in each of your informational interviews.

8. Self-employment informational interview questions.

Conducting an informational interview for self-employment can help you gather valuable insights and advice from someone with experience in the field. Here are some questions you might consider asking during such an interview:

  1. Tell me about your background and how you started your self-employment journey. What motivated you to pursue self-employment?
  2. Could you provide an overview of your self-employed business? How would you describe the products or services you offer?
  3. What were your biggest challenges when starting your own business? Can you share any specific lessons you’ve learned along the way?
  4. What skills or qualities do you believe are crucial for success in self-employment?
  5. How did you develop or acquire these skills?
  6. What does a typical day or week look like for you in your self-employed role?
  7. How do you manage your time effectively?
  8. How do you acquire clients or customers for your business?
  9. What marketing strategies have been most effective for you?
  10. How did you handle the financial aspects of starting and maintaining your business?
  11. What advice do you have for managing finances and budgeting in self-employment?
  12. How important has networking been in your journey, and what strategies do you use for building professional relationships?
  13. Have you found any particular communities or groups beneficial for your self-employed endeavors?
  14. How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance in self-employment?
  15. What challenges, if any, have you faced in this regard?
  16. What are your plans and goals for your self-employed business?
  17. Are there any trends or changes in the industry that you are preparing for?
  18. Are there any specific resources, books, or tools you found particularly helpful in your journey?
  19. How do you stay updated on industry trends and developments?
  20. How did you navigate your business’s legal or regulatory requirements?
  21. Are there any important legal considerations someone starting their own business should know?

Remember to tailor these questions to the specific context and industry of the person you’re interviewing. Additionally, be open to follow-up questions and steer the conversation based on the interviewee’s insights.

Summary

In addition to informational interviews, you can ask to “shadow” one of your contacts on the job for part of a day. This allows you to observe the working environment and better “reality test” how well the job would fit you.

While informational interviewing and shadowing someone on the job may be enough to make good career decisions, you can use decision-making strategies that give additional confidence that you are making the right decision.