You may wonder if people will take time away from their busy schedules to talk with you. They will...for several reasons:
- You have been referred to them by someone they know
- Meeting with you and others helps keep them informed, up-to-date, and "well-connected"
- Experts love to share their expertise (provided you don't ask for too much help from them)
- People like to help others and find it rewarding
During the course of a given day, you have many opportunities to learn from people about their careers or jobs. You will find most people more than willing to talk about the subject at hand - themselves. The process of talking to people who have jobs that interest you is called informational interviewing. The following guidelines will help you with an informational interview.
Know What You Want to Accomplish
The primary objectives of informational interviewing are to:
- Investigate a specific career field
- Gain insights into a career field
- Obtain advice on where you might fit in
- Learn the jargon and important issues in the field
- Broaden your network of contacts for future reference
Conducting the Informational Interview
- Learn as much as you can about the organization
- Write down the questions that you wish to ask
- If possible, learn something about the person with whom you will be interviewing
- Dress professionally
- Bring copies of your resume (Distribute only upon request)
- Arrive 10-15 minutes before your appointment
- Restate your purpose and why you are talking with this particular person
- Be prepared to initiate the conversation, since you are the interviewer
- Adhere to the original time request of 20 - 30 minutes
- Ask for referrals to other appropriate individuals in the field or in related organizations
- Keep in mind that this is an information-gathering and advice-seeking interview, not an employment interview
- Let the individual you are interviewing bring up the discussion of specific job vacancies
- Send a thank-you note and keep the individual you have interviewed posted on your progress
- Keep the door open to future contacts with this person
- Evaluate your style of interviewing. What could you have done better? Use what you have learned when you conduct your next interview
- Evaluate the information you received. How does it relate to your plans?
What to Ask
Make a list of questions you would like answered about any field or organization. Your questions will yield the most information if you use open-ended question to engage your contact in conversation.
Sample Questions May Include:
- Describe your typical day.
- What jobs and experiences led you to your present employment?
- What are the general skills needed to perform responsibilities (e.g., organizing, supervising, writing)?
- What recommendations would you give someone for training or education required to perform this kind of work.
- If you could do things over, would you choose the same path? What would you change?
- Describe a typical entry-level position in the field
- What part of your job is most satisfying? Most challenging?
- What is the demand for people in this organization?
- Are there any alternative methods to gain entrance to the field (e.g., part-time, mid-career change, volunteer work or other kinds of training)?
- Which professional journals and organizations would help me to learn more about this field?
- What is developing/changing in this field? Company? Where do you see the greatest needs?
- What trends or challenges do you see surfacing in your specific industry?
- What advice would you give someone entering this field?
- Other information that may be helpful (e.g., critique of resume, job-seeking tactics, names of other professionals in the field).
Informational interviewing is an effective tool in your approach to career planning. It can be one of your most valued strategies in gathering information and establishing contacts as you begin/continue to build plans for the future. Like all other components of career planning, informational interviewing requires planning and focus on your part. Make the interview a benefit for you and your career.