An informational interview is a conversation with someone who works in an area that you would like to know more about. Asking questions in the interview can help you gather information about the day-to-day realities of a job, career field, industry or company. Informational interviews can also develop your job search network. They are a powerful research tool that gives you an inside view and information that is hard to access through any other source.
Below are three key advantages of informational interviews.
1 Find out if a specific job is one you want to do.
In exploring careers, you compare your interests, values, needs and skills with a job or work environment you are considering. By asking questions in an informational interview, you can compare your perceptions about a particular job, career, workplace or employer with an insider’s reality. This can help you avoid spending time pursuing areas you may not like or in which you are unable to participate. If you decide to go further, you can find out through informational interviews what specific training or experience you will need to get hired.
2 Learn about the job’s demands and decide if you can realistically meet them.
One of the best ways to learn about the actual demands of a job is to talk to people who do it. Ideally, you would meet them at work so you can observe their physical work environment and learn how the job fits into it. Try to get a detailed understanding of what a job entails. Then, after you assess your work ability, you can decide if you can meet the job’s demands.
3 Connect with employers and potentially find employment.
Informational interviews are a highly effective way to build relationships and expand your professional network. Over 80% of jobs (the “hidden job market”) are found through these networks. Although it is not acceptable to ask for a job at an informational interview, you can make a good connection and first impression. The connection may lead to a job interview or to another connection that may result in a job. An informational interview feels less pressured than a job interview, and you are free to ask questions you might not otherwise ask. Topics might include, for example, flexible hours, likes and dislikes about a job, or what happens in a typical day. An employer may be more candid than in a job interview. For example, they may tell you what they would like in a candidate and about future job opportunities.
Preparing for an informational interview
1. Decide which job or career you want to research
Identify one occupation you want to learn about. Do as much research as you can about it before the informational interview. Consider your skills, interests, values, and needs. How do these relate to the job or career you are considering?
2. Decide which employers you want to research
Make a list of the top 10 organizations you would like to work for, and why. Choose one of these, and then perhaps choose an organization of lesser interest for a practice interview.
3. Research the employer
Use Google and the employer’s website. Learn about the organization’s strengths, culture, recent achievements, and news. Figure out its position in the field and its competitors. Using this information in the meeting will show your knowledge and interest.
4. Decide who you would like to interview in the organization
Through your family, friends, previous co-workers or professional community, get the names and phone numbers or emails of people you could approach. You may want to start with the one you find least intimidating. You can even ask whoever gave you each contact to ask them if they would be willing to speak to you.
5. Schedule an interview
Draft a script for a phone call or email to request a meeting. Start with a short, professional introduction and the reason for your call. Say that you are hoping they could tell you more about a job or career. Most people feel good sharing their knowledge and expertise to help others. Assure the person you will not take a lot of their time. Ask for a 15-minute meeting (the length of a typical coffee break), at a time convenient for them. Try to schedule the meeting in their workplace. Be prepared to do an informational interview on the spot should the person say that now is the best time to talk.
6. Draft an introduction to provide context for the meeting
In 15 to 30 seconds, introduce yourself and your reasons for contacting this person.
What to ask in an informational interview
Prepare 3 to 6 open-ended questions to ask. These might include:
- Can you tell me about your background and how you got into this field?
This may reveal the best way to enter the field, including non-traditional routes (i.e. the “back door”).
- Can you tell me what a typical day looks like?
Ask the person to be specific, and listen carefully to any needs you have. If the person does not give details, feel free to prompt them (for example, parts of the job that may be stressful or otherwise challenging for you).
- What do you find most satisfying (or like most) in your work? What do you find most challenging (or dislike most)?
This will tell you about the pros and cons of the job, the workplace and the industry.
- What are job opportunities in the field?
This will tell you if there are jobs available and how competitive the field is.
- How would someone like me get started in the field?
This could give you a starting point in your chosen field.
- Given my skills and experience, what opportunities do you see in the field that I might consider? What job titles could I apply for?
Asking these questions could give you insight into what options you could pursue in your chosen workplace or industry. Asking about job titles could facilitate a future job search by having keywords for which you can search.
- Which organizations hire people in this field?
This should generate leads.
- Can you recommend anyone else I might talk to?
Before leaving the meeting, always ask for the names of others you might speak to. Ask permission to use the name of the person you interviewed when approaching these new contacts.
- Would you mind if I contact you again if I have any other questions?
This leaves the door open for a follow-up conversation.
Tips for the meeting
- Dress as you would for a job interview
This is a professional meeting. You want to make a good first impression.
- Keep it brief
Informational interviews are short, an average of 15 minutes. It is important to respect the person’s time. Acknowledge when your time is up and leave it to the person to continue if they want.
Take time to observe the people and the environment in the person’s workplace. Can you see yourself working there or in this role?
- Approach the meeting as an exchange
Think about how you can help the person you interview. Listen for opportunities to offer something useful. For example, in your research, you may have gathered information and insights you can share. You want the person to be a resource in your career.
- Never ask for a job
The purpose of an informational interview is to gather information, to build your network, and to access the hidden job market. If an employer believes you are seeking a job, they may feel misled. If they tell you about a potential job, follow up later with your contact.
After the meeting
1 Send a thank you note
Write the person you interviewed within two days after your meeting. This shows you appreciate the knowledge they shared and their time. It also strengthens and reinforces your relationship. For more details, see the article General Thank You Letter Sample.
2 Reflect on what you learned in the interview and your next steps
Do the occupation and the work environment fit your interests, values, needs, and skills?
Do your perceptions about the job, career, workplace or employer match the insider’s reality?
Think about what you learned about the job’s demands and decide if you can realistically meet them.
Is the job or career one you want to do?
What specific training or experience will you need to get hired?
How do you want to proceed? For more details, see the article How an Informational Interview Can Help Your Career.
3 Follow up on any new leads
4 Stay in touch
You will want to keep in touch with the person, especially if the interaction went well. Look for information, leads or anything you could share with that person. They may become an important part of your network.
- Informational Interviewing Tutorial: A Key Networking Tool
- The Power of the Information Meeting when Searching for a Job
- Questions to Ask in an Informal Interview
Social networking is a very important part of job search. For helpful information on social networking, how it can be helpful to job search and things to consider see Cancer and Careers Online – Footprint-Guide to Linkedin.