Informational Interviews

What is it?

The idea of conducting an Informational Interview was first introduced by Richard Nelson Bolles in his career handbook "What Color Is Your Parachute?" He describes the process as allowing you to "try on jobs to see how they fit you." Oftentimes, people choose a career path without sitting down and talking to individuals already in the profession. Conducting an informational interview will allow you to have a conversation with a practicing professional and ask them questions about their job.   Informational interviews, however, do not have to be purely educational; you can also use them to make contacts and possibly uncover job openings. 

Start with people you already have connections with including:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Alumni
  • Professors
  • Internship or job supervisors

Arranging an Informational Interview

Most career professionals will advise you to begin the process by writing a letter or email of intrudction - check out a sample here. In the letter, indicate your interest in the individual's profession and organization as well as your desire to visit with him/her about it. You should also take the initiative in requesting to schedule an appointment; you should not expect the individual to take care of this for you.
 

Questions you Might Ask

Preparation

  • How did you choose this career?
  • What types of experience are essential?
  • What type of employment or internship would you recommend?
  • What kind of entry level opportunities exist in the field?
  • Is graduate school important for someone in this field?
Present Job
  • Describe a typical work day and week.
  • What skills or talents are most essential for effective job performance?
  • What are the toughest problems you must deal with?
  • What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Lifestyle
  • What obligations does your work place on your personal time?
  • How much flexibility do you have in terms of dress, hours of work, vacation time and place of residence?
Career & Future Alternatives
  • How rapidly is your field growing?
  • If your work was suddenly eliminated, what different types of work do you think you could do?
Job Hunting Strategies
  • How do people find out about these jobs in your industry? (Advertised online, word of mouth, conferences, professional publications, etc.)
  • What specific aspects of my background should I highlight or sell the most?
  • What organizations would you recommend I pursue joining?
  • Is there a certain person within this organization whom I should contact first?
  • May I use your name when I contact them?
Nature of Organization
  • What is the size of the organization?
  • What is the organizational structure?
  • What is the average length of time employees stay with the organization?
  • What type of formal or on-the-job training does the organization provide?
  • What new product lines and/or services are being developed?
  • How does this organization compare/differ with its competitors?
  • How would you define the office culture?
Matching/Selling Your Background to a Specific Organization
  • For which entry level positions would I be best suited?
  • What would be the appropriate way to pursue these positions?
  • Who is the person to whom I address my cover letter?
  • May I use your name when I contact them?
  • What is a reasonable salary range for entry level positions?

After the Interview

Send a thank you note immediately after the informational interview; email and regular mail are both acceptable methods. You should also keep a record of your interviews including name, title, address, date(s), and topic(s) of discussion. This will be helpful in remembering who told you what and how to get in touch with your contacts.