An informational interview is an arranged meeting with someone who works in a job, career field or organization that interests you. It has many benefits, including:
- Very effective technique for researching and screening careers, jobs or employers.
- Answers questions about what it’s like to work in a particular career field or job or for a specific organization.
- Increases your network of contacts (the majority of jobs are obtained through networking).
- Talking to industry professionals is a good way of finding out if a field really is a good fit for you.
- Helps prepare you for the job search.
Find People to Talk to
This may be easier than you think. People typically enjoy talking about their work and sharing their experiences. Start with your own network:
- ICC and UC Davis faculty and staff
- Friends and family members (don’t forget roommates and classmates and their family and friends)
- Directories, other print resources or through company website links and staff listing
- Cal Aggie Alumni Association Career Resource Network
- Professional Associations and Events
- ICC Events (info meetings, career fairs)
How to Initiate Contact
Be clear about your objective before you initiate contact. Set clear goals about what you want to gain from the informational interview. Once you have a contact’s name, you may contact this person by letter, email or telephone. Let this person know how you found out about him or her. When you contact someone, explain why you are doing so and be polite, positive and businesslike. Request a mutually convenient, thirty-minute face-to-face meeting . It’s best to prepare a draft or script. Following is a sample script that can be used for phone or email introductions.
“Hello, my name is Max Mustang. Alex Aggie suggested I call you. I am a senior majoring in English at UC Davis, and am interested in learning more about careers in technical writing. Alex recommended you as someone who is well respected in this field. I’m wondering if I might make a half-hour appointment with you sometime soon to seek your advice. Thank you!”
You can use a similar script for email requests.
Remember, you want insight into their job market; you are not asking them for a job.
How to Prepare
Do initial research on the career field or employer using the internet. Once you’ve done the research, develop a 30-second overview of yourself, including your reasons for contacting this person. Plan open-ended questions to keep the conversation flowing, instead of questions that require a “Yes” or “No” answer (see sample question section). Dress neatly and appropriately, just as you would for a job interview. Take multiple copies of your resume, a notepad and pen to take notes and a list of prioritized questions to ask.
How to Conduct the Informational Interview
Start by thanking your contact for taking the time to meet with you, then establish a rapport by engaging in a bit of small talk. After that give a short introduction of who you are and why you sought them out, then start with your prioritized questions. As a rule, you should not take more than a half hour of this person’s time, so you may not be able to ask all your questions. Remember, this is a conversation, not an interrogation, so let it flow.
Following are sample questions you might ask. Pick a few key ones:
Questions about the career:
- How did you become interested in this career?
- What is a typical workday like? What are your job responsibilities?
- What are the rewards, challenges and frustrations of working in this career?
- What entry-level jobs are available in this field?
- What experience is necessary to enter this career?
- What advice do you have for someone preparing to enter this career?
Questions about the organization/industry:
- How does your position fit within the organization/industry/career field?
- What is your work environment like?
- What is the economic forecast for this industry?
- What is unique to your organization? Who are your competitors?
Questions about future growth/salary information:
- What are the employment prospects for someone entering this field?
- What are some of the current issues and trends in this field?
- What is a typical starting salary or salary range in this field?
- Would you mind taking a quick look at my resume?
- How should I target my resume for your industry?
- Are there professional publications I should read or associations I should join?
- What other professionals in this field would you recom- mend I speak with for additional information? May I use your name when I contact them?
- May I keep in touch with you?
Don’t be afraid to ask your own questions. This is your chance to get the information you need from an industry professional.
Shortly after your interview, send a thank-you note or email. Let the person know how much you appreciated their time and advice. That person might think about alerting you in the future when a job opportunity arises in that organization...or he or she might refer your resume to colleagues in other organizations. Also, contact them occasionally to maintain a relationship.