What Is an Informational Interview?
An informational interview is a meeting that you schedule with a person who works for a company or in a field that interests you. The purpose of such a meeting is to allow you to gather information for further exploration of that particular company or career field. An informational interview is not a job interview; rather it puts you in contact with a an experienced professional who can give you helpful information and a realistic idea of what it is like to work in a particular job and who maybe in a position to recommend you for a job and introduce you to further contacts.
Why do informational interviews?
Informational interviewing is an excellent way to get the “inside scoop” on an employer or a career field. Other benefits include:
- You will gain valuable information about a job you may wish to pursue. In many cases, you would not have access to the information if you did not get it through an information interview.
- You will learn the particulars of an organization or job—how you might fit in, what needs or problems there are, etc.
- You will get a realistic idea of what kind of salary range to expect in a particular job.
- You will enlarge your circle of “contacts.” Remember, many times it is who you know (or get to know) that gets your foot in the door.
- You will have the opportunity to ask for referrals. For example: “Would you suggest some other people I might contact about careers in this field?”
Where do I find people to interview?
It is best to have some kind of connection to the person you interview. Ask friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, employers/former employers, your friends’ parents, GC faculty and staff, people you know through church, your former teachers, lifelong friends of your parents, people you meet through athletic/sporting events, GC alumni, etc. the Office of Career and Personal Development not only has names of many employers, we also have connections with a wide range of alumni who are willing to assist you in exploring your career options.
How do I prepare for an Informational Interview?
Remember, most people enjoy talking about what they do, and how they got into the field, but it is very important that you do not waste their time! Be prepared and know what you want to ask before you arrive. Know your own interests, skills, values, and how they relate to the career field represented by the person with whom you will be talking. Know exactly what kind of information you want. If you need assistance in preparing for an informational interview, please contact the Career and Personal Development office.
How do I arrange the interview?
Generally, the most effective way to arrange an informational interview is to send the person an e-mail (or an old-fashioned letter) explaining what you have in mind and then follow-up with a phone call. If you have a mutual contact who suggested that you call this person, be sure to let them know that up front. For example: “Alice Smith, Director of Marketing at Advanced Home Care, suggested that I contact you.” You need to be certain that the person you are contacting knows Alice Smith. Explain that you would like to have a few minutes of their time to ask questions about the career field they work in and that you will be calling within the next few days. Attach a copy of your resume, but be certain that your request is clearly NOT for a job interview. Remember, an informational interview is not the same thing as an actual job interview.
How do you handle the actual interview?
- Plan to visit with the person for 30-45 minutes. Unless the person asks you to stay longer (or unless they are talking your ears off), do not stay longer than 45 minutes. Most people are very busy and have other appointments after you.
- Be sure to take a pen and pad of paper—you will want to write down names and other valuable information.
- Dress as if you were going on an actual job interview. First impressions are important.
- Arrive at your appointment a few minutes early. Be courteous to everyone you meet—the receptionist/secretary, etc.
- Take the initiative in conducting the interview. You asked to meet with the person, so you take the ball and run with it.
How should I follow up after the Interview?
Be sure to get the person’s business card so you will have a correct name, title, address, etc. Write a nice hand-written thank-you note (or send an e-mail if that seems more comfortable to you) thanking the person for their time. Send the note as quickly as possible after your meeting (the next day is best).
Suggested Questions to Ask in an Informational Interview
1. Questions about the person, his/her history, and his/her work activities
- What is your background and experience? What were the jobs you had that led to this one?
- What was your major in college?
- In the position you now hold, what do you do in a typical day?
- What are the most interesting aspects of your job? What do you like least?
- What skills do you use most often in your daily work?
- What kinds of people do you interact with on a daily basis? Describe what that’s like.
- How flexible are your work hours?
- What else would you like to be doing in this job?
- How is success measured in this job?
- What is the salary range for someone entering the field?
2. Questions about the organization
- How many years do people typically stay in this job?
- How would you describe the culture here?
- How are goals set and measured? How often?
- What type of training or development opportunities are common?
- What types of people do well here?
- What are the ideal qualities of someone who would be successful in this job here?
- What do you think your organization’s greatest strengths and weaknesses are?
- What are the organizations top priorities?
- What competitors/other organizations in the field do you admire? Why?
3. Advice for You
- What type of degree or training do I need to enter this field? What is the best way to obtain a position which will start me on a career in this field?
- Are there any specific courses a student might take that would be particularly beneficial in this field?
- Is there a demand for people in this field? Do you view this field as a growing one?
- What websites should I stay on top of to keep yo with industry trends? What professional organizations should I join?
- Are there any classes, internships or school projects I should consider doing to prepare myself?
- Given what you know about your field, what advice would you give?
- What do you wish someone had told you before taking this job or entering this field?
- How do you see the jobs in the field changing over the next two years? How do I prepare myself for these changes?
4. Last but not least
- Who else do you recommend I speak to in order to learn more about the field? May I use your name as a referral? (This is a MUST ask question – leads to contacts hwo tend to be very helpful in the field)
Do not ask these questions one after the other, but rather let the conversation flow naturally. Remember, the person will probably answer most of these questions without your having to ask.
Benefits for the Student
- Shadow A Professional
- Ask Questions
- Observe The Workplace
- Get An Inside Look
- Define Career Interests
Job shadowing takes informational interviews one step further. They allow one to spend time observing and “shadowing” a professional in a career or occupation of interest to you. It’s a GREAT way of exploring careers and experiencing first-hand the day-to-day activities of professionals without a long-term commitment. Experiences can be as little as half a day to as many as two days. While spending time with a professional, you will want to be sure to ask questions to maximize your learning while observing the “culture” in the workplace. Shadows can be done with a Greensboro College alumni or member of the Triad community who has a proven track record in his or her field.
Some examples of questions you may want to ask:
- How did you come to work in this field?
- What is your background, education and training?
- What is a typical day like?
- What do you like most about your job? Least?
- What skills and qualities would make one successful in this career?
- What advice do you have for someone interested in this type of career?
- Are there any websites I should look at or professional organizations I should know of and/or join?
- Can you refer me to anyone else I might speak with about this field or a similar career?
Read about real interviews with professionals at www.jobshadow.com
As with informational interviews, be certain to request a business card and follow up with a thank-you note or email as quickly as possible as after your shadow.