Informational interviewing is exactly what it sounds like -- interviews designed to gather information, ideally information you’ll need to assist or refine your career decision-making. The best way to learn what you really want in a career is to talk with the people in that career field. Because of the exploratory nature of informational interviews, they are particularly effective for college students, who are just embarking on the career development process.
Informational interviewing is not the same as interviewing for a job by any means, but it is probably the most effective form of networking there is. Networking being the key to any successful job search strategy, you’ll want to develop the necessary skills for conducting meaningful informational interviews, and these tips can help you get started.
If networking at its heart is defined as relationship building then start with those you already have a relationship with! These can be family, friends, neighbors, classmates, current or former co-workers, etc. This is your ;core network, and can be a receptive group of individuals who would be willing to connect you with others in their network. Alumni are a great resource for Emory students to connect with to set up informational interviews. The Association of Emory Alumni maintains the Emory Alumni Linked In Group; which is a group of Alumni, Parents and Friends of the University who are interested in giving back to the Emory Community specifically in this way. Professional Organizations are another method with which you could begin to identify potential candidates for informational interviewing. Professionals usually enjoy helping students out with career related information, especially if they really love what they do!
Occupational selection is a process that involves assessment of your interests, abilities, values, skills and labor market conditions and trends. If you’re uncertain of your current career aspirations, you may do well to begin the Self-Assessment process . If you already have some idea of the occupation you would like to further investigate, before you arrange an informational interview you’ll want to have spent some time researching it. Read all you can about the nature of the work (duties, tasks, skills, etc.) the work environment, and industry information. To assist you, The Career Center has a variety of online (i.e. Wet Feet, Vault Report, Hoovers, etc.) and print resources in the Career Resource Library to help you get started! The Woodruff Library is also a great resource for Emory students who are looking to do industry and occupational research. The importance of doing your research in advance of conducting an informational interview is that you will be able to prepare a focused list of questions and have an insight into a particular industry and/or occupation prior to having a conversation about it. The more knowledge you have, the more confident you will feel about your ability to communicate effectively and therefore you will convey your motivation and interest to the employer by acknowledging that the information the interviewee is giving you is important. Be sure to ask only those questions that are appropriate and important to you.
Never make the mistake of asking for a job during an informational interview!
Informational interviewing is not the same as job seeking. Employers who grant you an informational interview are under the impression that you’re on a fact-finding mission. The moment they discover you are using this opportunity for an ulterior motive (i.e. to obtain a position) they will feel betrayed and you will lose your credibility. However, if during the course of your informational interview you uncover an employment opportunity, wait until the interview has concluded and then in the course of following up (Ideally the following day) you may express your appreciation for their time and insights, confirm your continued interest in the career, and also inquire as to the appropriate procedures for formally applying for the opportunity you discovered.
Occasionally during the course of an informational interview the employer may discover that you’re a good match for an opportunity, they very well may make you an offer for an internship or job. Simply by presenting yourself as researching an occupation and asking good questions you’ve found the good fortune of being in the position to consider an employment offer. If you’re truly interested and feel it’s the right opportunity for you, by all means you can pursue it.
So you’ve done your research and have identified someone you think would be a good person to provide you the information you seek. The next step is to arrange a meeting with them. There are a couple of ways to make contact, regardless of which method you choose the key to being effective is to demonstrate appropriate etiquette. Remember these Professionals are taking time out of their busy work lives by volunteering their time to assist you. Therefore, you should request about 20 –30 minutes of their time to conduct the informational interview. Try to be as flexible as possible in scheduling a time to meet. Also ensure that you provide them information as to the best method and times to reach you. Keep in mind that what works best for you may not always work well for them due to their prior commitments.
Do Your Homework
As indicated earlier, doing your research is an absolute necessity to be truly effective in conducting a quality informational interview; you shouldn’t go into it blindly. When you are informed about an organization, you’ll be able to ask more intelligent and relevant questions. You can also demonstrate your thoughtfulness and preparedness should the interviewee have questions for you. Like a job interview, interviewing is a two way street. You’ll have an agenda of what you want to learn, and the interviewee may also have their own agenda, like perhaps sizing you up for a position in their organization. Because you will have already done your basic research, you won’t ask questions that could have easily been answered by doing your homework. Resources you may consider using to conduct your research prior to the interview include: Organization’s web site, Annual Reports, Company Literature or Library Reference Material. If you’re experiencing difficult in identifying these or other resources to use, come talk with a career counselor or work with one of the librarians in Woodruff.
Call To Confirm
Appropriate etiquette dictates that you should call and confirm your appointment with your contact person the day before your scheduled informational interview. If you have any questions regarding the location of their office, parking, etc. this is the time to ask. When you leave for the interview, ensure that you have left ample travel time to arrive at least 10 minutes early. Upon your arrival be polite and professional to everyone you may encounter. It’s also a good idea to carry a notebook, pen (or pencil) and have your prepared list of questions. This will assist you in documenting relevant information as well as keeping you on track as to what information you’re seeking. Staying on track is important to you, but it’s o.k. to allow for spontaneous discussion to occur.
You can never make a second first impression, so make your first one count. Dress professionally as if you were going for a regular job interview. Your appearance speaks volumes about you as an individual (and perhaps as a future employee?). You will want to leave a positive impression and be memorable for all of the right reasons.
Be Prepared To Take Notes
In valuing the interviewees time be direct and concise with your questions and answers. There will be times when you will want to take notes on important information you’ll want to remember (Names, Phone #’s, etc.), but you’re not going to need to write everything down. Ensure that you maintain good eye contact, show interest and are both positive and enthusiastic while engaged in dialogue during the interview.
Bring Your Resume
In fact, bring several copies with you. This will enable you to provide your contact more detailed information of your background. It’s quite possible they may ask for a copy to share with other colleagues or contacts that can further facilitate your career exploration. You may also ask the interviewee to critique the document for you toward the conclusion of the interview.
Once you have arrived introduce yourself to your interviewee and thank them for their willingness to meet with you. You may also choose to reemphasize that you are there to learn and gather information about their career field. Your homework on the career field or the employer will have given you some good ideas of questions that you’d like to ask.
Keep in mind that your time is limited, so you’ll want to prioritize your questions. Choose open-ended questions that will encourage dialog, as simple “yes” and “no” (i.e. closed questions) will not yield much information. Although you will have a prioritized list of questions you’ll want answers to, you may have spontaneous or clarifying questions pop into your stream of conscious, ask those as well as long as they are relevant to keeping the conversation focused on the persons job, career field, industry or employer.
Informational interviewing is like a balancing act, you’re there to gather information to assist you in your career development, but you don’t want the experience to become an interrogation of your interviewee. During the course of your conversation you’ll have moments to share things from your research and background, which you can just as long as you don’t find yourself dominating the conversation by talking about yourself, or what you know. Remember you’re there to learn!
If sharing is one side of the conversation, then listening is the other half. Being a good listener is a valued skill and one in which you will need to develop to really “hear” what’s being said. You must listen to the information to fully understand it. Be receptive and show that the information that is being provided is important to you.
At the conclusion of your interview ask the interviewee for their business card, after all you’ve just spent close to half an hour getting to know them, asking for their advice and sharing a bit about yourself. You’ll want to maintain this relationship and nurture it by staying in contact with them. Keeping them updated with progress on your research and career development is customary and central to building your contact network. Generally people who are willing to invest their time in you will have an interest in what your future holds and it makes them feel good to know they had a small part in your overall development. Other advantages of maintaining a professional networking relationship with those you have had informational interviews with is for generation of referrals to other networking contacts, employment leads, and for future consideration as a mentor. Referrals Professionals usually know others in their field or industry. One of the final questions you should ask is, “Whom else would you recommend that I speak with?” When asking for these referrals, be sure to gain permission to use the Interviewee name when making contact with these new leads. This is the art of successful networking!
Reflect On What You Have Learned
In evaluating the interview and making the best use of the acquired information, ask yourself the following questions:
- What did I learn from this interview (both positive and negative impressions)?
- How does what I learned fit with my own interests, abilities, goals, values, etc.?
- What do I still need to know?
- What plan of action can I make?
Maintaining a record of all the individuals you have interviewed and the main things you learned from the experiences is an effective way to organize, evaluate and analyze your occupational exploration. This process can enhance your ability to identify your dream job(s), assist in facilitating your job search, and build your network of contacts.
Within 24 to 48 hours after the conclusion of the informational interview, professional etiquette is to send a thank you letter or note. This little gesture will go a long way to maintain a positive networking relationship. Demonstrate to your new network contact that you genuinely appreciated their time and that they were helpful in assisting you. If you can, provide them something specific which made a difference for you. Ask the person to keep you in mind should they come across anything that may help further your career journey. Be sure to include your address and a phone number under your signature. The thank you note can be either a formal letter or a hand written note, depending upon your comfort level. Which ever you choose be sure that it’s sincere, legible and on appropriate stationary or resume quality paper. Emailing is acceptable, but doesn’t reflect that same level of appreciation, as does a hand written note or typed letter.
Some Final Tips
- If you ask for 20-30 minutes of a person’s time, stick to the limit.
- Take all information given with a grain of salt. Don’t settle for just one or two interviews about a given area of work; a broad information base is essential.
- Avoid impressions about an area of work based solely on whether the person interviewed was likeable or the surroundings attractive.
- When in an interview, ask what you want to know but really let the person talk because you might discover and acquire information about unanticipated areas of employment.
- Note your reactions on an objective level, but don’t ignore personal feelings; what you naturally gravitate toward or away from is very important.
- Find out if the interviewee has any insight on the qualifications necessary for a position such as the one you are discussing.
- Talking with people doesn’t have to be a formal process or one you practice only when job hunting. Chat with people casually -- on a plane or bus, while waiting in lines, at social gatherings, etc. Since most people enjoy talking about their work, curiosity can open many doors.