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Information Interview

Goals and Procedures

Click here to download and print Career Services Information Interviewing handout (pdf document).

Information interviewing can help two groups of individuals:

1. Those who want to learn more about a career to help them make an intelligent, informed career choice.

2. Those who are sure of their career choice and want to proactively build a network of contacts and discover where the "hidden jobs" are located.

The information below will help you arrange and conduct successful information interviews. For more information or assistance, contact a Career Services counselor.

Talking with someone already established in a particular profession is the best way to find out what working in that field would be like. No one else can give you a better sense of the challenges and opportunities, the specific and perhaps hidden demands, and the drawbacks and limitations that working in their profession may involve. What's more, in most fields, people who are already in established positions realize they have a professional responsibility to meet with aspiring newcomers and answer their questions. While they may have no qualms about turning down a request for a job interview, they likely will take the time to provide you with information. When setting up an informational interview, the first thing to mention is that you are not looking for a job, but are seeking information about a certain career field to help make an informed career decision. Of course having said that, you have an ethical responsibility not to violate this professional trust. You should confine your questions to gaining information about the company, the occupation and the field of interest. But, you will not violate any truth if you pursue the additional goals of:

Being Remembered - Because many jobs come up later, days and weeks after you have been there.

Being Welcomed Back - Because you may need to return for more information.

Being Referred on - Because 80% of the currently available jobs are in the "hidden job market." It is not so much what you know, but who you know. Building a network of contacts is the best way to find a job.

Before, during, and after every information interview, keep these nine general rules in mind:

1. Assume that most people in responsible positions will be willing to talk with others who are enthusiastic and interested in them, what they are doing, their job, and their company.

2. Be sure that he/she understands your true situation: You are looking for information to help you make a career decision. You are not doing a leisurely survey, but neither are you going to ask them for a job.

3. Ask for advice:
  • About your resume
  • About your campaign strategy
  • About how your skills and experiences fit their career field
  • On other people you could get information from
4. Talk about (or demonstrate) your skills: Know what your strengths are, be articulate. He/she cannot help you effectively if you do not explain (or show) what you can do!

5. Prepare adequately:
  • Know the institution or firm as well as possible before you go in.
  • Present your best self, not your limitations.
6. Get your contact involved:
  • Have them talk about themselves, ask advice.
  • One out of five will be interested in continuing to help you.
7. Your agenda (in order of priority) is:
  • Get the information for which you came.
  • Be remembered for your skills and abilities so that you will be thought of when a job or referral comes along.
  • Don't ask for a job, if you ask for a job you will most likely be refused.
8. After an informational interview:
  • Write down names, titles, addresses, and phone numbers.
  • Write down a brief summary of what you talked about.
  • Go over your interview in your "mind's eye" and write down the hard questions that threw you.
  • Try to think of what you can change to improve your approach.
9. Write a thank you letter immediately after every interview.

Arranging the Informational Interview
Do your research! Find organizations in your area who employ people in your field of interest. If at all possible, get the names of individuals who are currently working in your field of interest. Once you have the name of someone to contact, call and speak to that individual.

You may run into a gatekeeper (secretary), who will want to know who you are and the purpose of your call. Explain that you are not a job seeker, but rather someone who is in the process of making a career path decision. That the person's insights into their respective career field would be invaluable to you as you research the career in hopes of making a firm decision about your career choice.

The secretary might still conclude that you are a job seeker and refer you to personnel. If you find your call being transferred to the personnel office, try to make the best of it. Explain again that you are not a job applicant, but would like to talk to someone in your field of interest. The personnel manager may be able to refer you to someone appropriate.

Other Approaches
Another way to get the interview is to precede your call with a letter. Write a short note to the contact, indicating your interest in the occupational field and your interest in talking with them about it. Tell the contact that you will call within the next few days to see if you can arrange an informational interview at a time convenient for them.

The advantage of such a letter is that it serves as a preliminary introduction and helps explain your purpose. One thing is very important: do not ask the subject to call you! You must take the initiative and make the call to set up the informational interview!

You can also have a mutual acquaintance arrange an appointment for you. Make sure this go-between clearly understands the purpose of your request.

Conducting the Informational Interview
During the interview itself, it is important to remember that you are not asking for a job. Your purpose is to get information from someone who has real-world experience in the field. You are looking for information that will help you understand the day-to-day realities of the subject's line of work. If nothing else, this meeting will be the one in which you ask the questions. In an employment interview, it would be the other way around.

During the interview you will have 2 main goals:
  • Obtain specific information on what it is actually like to work in their field. Does it use your skills, and satisfy your interests? You need this information to help you decide if this is indeed the career for you!
  • Determine the needs and problems you might face if you were to choose this line of work. This will help you decide how well you can meet those needs. It can also help you when you become an active job-seeker. You will be better prepared to tell a prospective employer how you can meet those needs.
Normally, you should pursue these goals in order. If the job doesn't satisfy the first goal-it is not right for you- then there is little reason to pursue the second. It can be helpful then to arrange the order of your questions so you can consider goal number 1 first. It is also important that you recognize that they are two different goals and be careful not to get them confused.

It is a good idea to prepare a list of questions in advance. You don't need to take them with you, though it is probably a good idea, especially on your first few interviews. It helps you keep the discussion on track and assures that you come away with all the information you need. You will probably find that the interview departs from the "script" suggested by your list of questions. You want to get the answers to each of your questions of course, but you also want to stimulate discussion. A subject who talks freely can provide valuable insight on subjects you might not have even thought of. An open discussion might also give you the opportunity to mention your skills and interests. Remember, one of the goals of the informational interview is to be remembered. If you get the opportunity to sell yourself to the individual, he/she might think of you should a position open up in their firm or if they are called by a colleague for a referral.

The Closing Ceremony
Thank the subject for their time and assistance. Tell them that they have been most helpful and ask if it is all right to keep in touch. Ask if you could leave a copy of your resume in case they see or hear of a position that they feel might be right for a person with your skills and experiences. Also, ask them if they could suggest the names of several other people (colleagues, acquaintances) who they feel would be a further source of information about the field. Most people know other local members of their profession that they can refer you to. This can lead to an endless source of subjects to interview.

The Follow-up
After the interview, make a careful record of the results. Determine what you have learned and how it might affect your career decisions and job search process. Also, send a short thank you note to everyone who assists you. This kind of courtesy will help them remember you.

Example of a thank you note following an information interview:

March 23, 20xx

William Johnson
Publisher
Tri-City Times

Davenport, IA 65069

Dear Mr. Johnson:

Thank you so much for taking time from your busy schedule to answer my questions about a possible career in the newspaper profession. You gave me a wealth of information that I could never get from a course or textbook.

Based on what I learned from you, I feel that I am indeed on the right course. I certainly appreciated your insight and advice and look forward to meeting with Mr. Elton and Mr. John as you suggested. I will keep you informed of my progress in my career search.

Sincerely,

Your Name

Suggested Questions for an Informational Interview
  • In general, what is the nature of your work as a (name of occupation)?
  • How does your job fit into the overall operation of this organization?
  • How did you get into this field?
  • Why did you choose this profession?
  • What does the future look like for this profession?
  • Please describe a typical day on your job.
  • What do you like most about your job?
  • What do you like least about your job?
  • What skills and abilities have you found most important in your work?
  • How did you prepare yourself for this kind of work?
  • What advice would you have for someone starting out in this profession?
  • What other types of careers are related to this field?
  • What would you look for on a resume if you were screening candidates to interview for a starting position in your area? (this is where you could ask them to critique your resume to see if you would be considered a viable candidate for a position based on your current skills and experiences)
  • Could you suggest a couple of colleagues/acquaintances who you feel would be a further good source of information about the field? Could I use your name when I contact them?
  • Is there anything else that you feel I should know about this profession?


Information Data Sheet for an Information Interview Subject
Name:______________________________________ Title:_______________________________________________

Organization:_______________________________ Address:________________________________________________

Date Interviewed:___________________________ Phone Number:_________________________________

What parts of this person's work particularly interest you?

What skills does this person use that you have or feel that you could develop?

What other types of careers are related to this field?

What attracts you now about this kind of work?

What negative impressions to you have for this kind of work?

What advice about future job searching did the subject give you?



Other Possible interview subjects
:

Contact:___________________________________________ Organization:_________________________________

Address:____________________________________________ Phone:_____________________________________

Contact:_____________________________________________Organization:_________________________________________

Address:_____________________________________________Phone:___________________________________________