Are you a young adult on the cusp of making life-changing career decisions? Or perhaps you’ve already started your journey but find yourself in need of direction and clarity.
No matter where you are on your career trajectory, informational interviews can be an invaluable resource for you. These interviews allow you to tap into the wisdom of professionals who have experienced the path you’re eyeing, offering genuine insight and opening up opportunities for networking.
So, how do you set up and conduct a successful informational interview? Let’s dive in.
Identifying Potential Contacts for Informational Interviews
- Start with familiar faces. Your own contacts list, friends, family, and extended networks can be a treasure trove of potential interviewees.
- Your alma mater is a gold mine. Networking with college alums, professors, and even other students can be incredibly enlightening. Don’t forget your College Career Fairs and Alumni Association.
- Harness the power of social media. Those you follow on platforms like LinkedIn can be excellent resources.
How to do an Informational Interview
Explain that you’ve been exploring careers or that you are in a career guidance workshop where one of the assignments is to interview 4 to 5 people about their jobs. In a less formal setting, you can simply ask a few questions like the ones below as part of conversation or small talk!
When you come across people in social or work settings, it will soon become second nature to learn what people do and how they developed their careers. Most people like to talk about their jobs, so it’s fine to ask them questions such as:
- How did you get involved in this business/industry?
- Where did you begin your career?
- What do you like about your job?
- Where could I learn more about your industry?
Do Your Research
When you are doing a planned, more formal informational interview, you’ll want to prepare by learning about the company, checking out the interviewer’s LinkedIn profile or googling them, and making notes for yourself about what you want to cover in the interview.
Tip! If you search for information online, make sure that you’re learning about the right person, not someone else with the same name!
Pay Attention to Time and Place
Make sure that you’ve confirmed the appointment time and, when you connect with them, that you are in a comfortable setting without a lot of noise or distractions. Check your Zoom connection, review driving and parking directions, and be on time! Get rid of your gum, put your phone away, and absolutely no Zooming from your bedroom while wearing PJ’s!
The interviewee’s time is valuable. You’ll probably need about 15-20 minutes, and you don’t necessarily need to take them out for a meal or coffee; many people will be happy to have a short phone conversation, especially if you’re prepared with your questions and know what you’re trying to learn from them.
Questions to Ask During Your Interview
In some fields, you will have specific questions. In others, a more general approach works best. For example, if you wonder whether business school is better for your interests than law school, or whether someone interested in water conservation will have better opportunities with a degree in urban planning, natural resources, or public policy, ask those specific questions. In other cases, you’ll want more general information and decide to do more research.
If you’re unsure of what to ask, you may want to use some of the questions below.
What do you do? What are the duties/functions/responsibilities of your job?
You’ll get an in-depth look into the ins and outs of what the job is like by asking this type of question. Be sure to ask follow-up questions if they occur to you based on the person’s answers. Don’t be afraid to ask what something is if you don’t know. Showing curiosity is important.
How did you get your job? What jobs and experiences have led you to your present position?
Questions like this are good to ask early on because they give you insight into what types of preparation are important for this job. Again, follow-up questions will probably occur to you as you listen to their response.
Why did this type of work interest you, and how did you get started? How relevant was your major in getting your job?
This is a great way to learn about less obvious but appealing aspects of a career and gain ideas about starting out or potentially learning from others’ mistakes. This is important if you are early in the career exploration phase. In a field like engineering, for example, specialized majors matter.
Note: asking this question might lead to being asked about your chosen major, so be prepared to share a sentence or two about yourself.
How does a person progress in your field? What is a typical career path in this field?
Finding this out first-hand is especially useful and gives you a leg up if you are interested in applying for a job or internship at this organization – it shows you understand the bigger picture.
What is the most rewarding part of working in your industry? What is the most challenging?
This is a nice way of asking what they like and dislike about the field. It’s important to know not only what is great about a certain industry but what the drawbacks are. This can be another time to ask follow-up questions. If you are considering going into sales, but you’re worried about the competitive nature, ask about it!
Are there things you wish you had done differently when entering the industry? If so, what were they?
It’s important for everyone to make mistakes, but sometimes you can avoid some of your own by learning from others.
Are there any books or online courses you suggest for learning more about this field? Are there professional associations where I could learn more? Other advice?
Many professional organizations publish online newsletters and offer webinars where you can find out what skills are important to have if you pursue a career in their field.
There are numerous questions you can ask in an information interview, but the most important thing is to be conversational, ask thoughtful questions, and listen – all while not taking up too much of your interviewee’s time. Know the information you are looking for and prepare your questions in advance if possible. If they say something that really stands out to you, comment on that or ask more. Show you’re interested and have something to say.
After the Informational Interview
Organizing and Keeping Track
It’s essential to keep track of the contacts you make and what information you learn from them. This can be invaluable for follow-ups and future networking. Create your own note tracking system (or use this tracker template) and add details about:
- Who connected you to this person
- How you contacted them
- Dates involved – contact date, interview, follow-up thank you sent
- Add their contact info to your address book and/or LinkedIn as appropriate
Stay in Touch and Follow-up With the Interviewee
Your relationship with your interviewee shouldn’t end when the meeting does.
- Add them on LinkedIn
- Include them in your networking and interviewing lists
- Send a thoughtful thank you note
- This includes saying thank you, briefly referencing what you talked about, and letting them know you would love to keep in touch.
- Make this as personal as possible. You can mention one of their suggestions that you’re following up on. Or add an article or podcast link that relates to what you talked about to show you were listening to their suggestions.
- Be sure to spell their name correctly and spell-check your note.
- Proofread your message by reading it out loud before sending it.
- Follow-up occasionally with good reason
- When they’ve done something notable
- When you’ve done something notable
How Informational Interviews Can Affect Your Career
Someone I met recently thought she wanted to be a doctor, but during her junior year of college, she decided med school was going to take too long. She also realized that there was too much science for her comfort zone. Serendipitously, one of her conversations with a doctor who was a geneticist turned into an informational interview! During the course of that info interview, she learned that there was a one-year master’s program at a local university. Now she’s a genetics consultant! She works directly with patients gathering histories, as well as collaborates with the doctors who use her research and data to advise their patients.
A client was researching being an office manager either at a law firm or a medical practice. She had two informational interviews. One with a lawyer that led her to believe that she could make a lot of money, but would be working 60-70 hours a week. Another interview was with a doctor who was the head of a large medical practice. After hearing what they were looking for in employees, she realized she could do be their office manager with no more training and no additional schooling. The doctor said she wasn’t qualified because she had no experience working in a doctor’s office. However, she made her case using examples of her transferable skills and was hired as “assistant office manager.”
Help Your Interviewee Help You
When people email me requesting an informational interview, I always say yes, but I send them a few questions to answer in advance of the meeting so our time will be more productive. For example:
- How did they find my name?
- What are they hoping to learn?
- Where are they in their career path?
- What population do they hope to work with?
- Do they have any background in other consulting fields?
- What’s their time frame (new practice, stage of their education/training, etc.)?
As you prepare for informational interviews, think about the experience on the receiving end. Don’t get in the meeting and wing it! Make good use of your time together. Think in advance about what you want to learn. Let your interviewee know what you plan to ask so that they can prepare resources and make suggestions that are the most beneficial.
The Power of an Informational Interview
Informational interviews aren’t about directly seeking job opportunities. They’re about understanding different career paths, gaining insights, building connections, and setting yourself up for success. Imagine standing on the shoulders of giants – seeing farther and more clearly. That’s the power of an informational interview.
So, gear up, reach out, and dive into conversations that could impact your career.