Informational Interviews

By Vicki Lind, MS and Gail Nicholson, MS, LPC

Informational interviews are an integral part of your career exploration process. They allow you to access a new field and its key players. The answers you get can help you shape a resume that targets the transferable skills most appropriate to your desired field. In this phase, it’s not essential that the person you’re interviewing has knowledge of direct job openings. However, if this is a quality exchange with you, he or she may be able to lead you to position openings after your search becomes more focused. He or she could be one degree of separation from the person who ends up hiring you.

The following guidelines will stimulate your thinking. Chose four or five that truly pique your interest- the whole list would take a few hours. Find a balance between thoughtful planning and allowing time for spontaneous exchanges.

  1. You’re most likely to get an informational interview if you’ve been referred by a mutual friend, colleague, or friend of a friend. This is called a “warmed” lead.

  2. When you make contact, tell the person that you value his or her time and will bring some specific questions with you. Ask if it would be helpful to send the questions in advance. Preparing questions will help you shape the interview to meet your needs.

  3. Start by suggesting a 20-minute interview at this person’s place of work.

  4. If someone says that they do not have time, ask if you can have 5 minutes now or later, when it is more convenient. Also, if that person can’t be of help, ask him or her to suggest someone else whom you might contact.

  5. Generally, you’ll want to bring a resume, or send it ahead if they prefer. Another option is to ask if you could send a resume as follow-up to the interview. This way you have a reason for a second contact and can adapt your resume to what you learned in the informational interview.

  6. You may not get answers to all of your questions. The purpose of an informational interview is to gather information and build rapport. If the person would be a valuable addition to your network, the rapport may be the most important component of the interview.

Possible Questions

  • Tell me about your career and how you became a ____________.

  • What degrees or training did you have when you entered this field? Is that typical? What degrees and skills help someone advance in this field?

  • Do you think that the organization is committed to sustainability? If so, in what ways?

  • What are its plans for sustainability in the future? Has time and money been allocated to carry them out?

  • Tell me about your typical workday. What are your most favorite/least favorite parts of the day? How much time is on the computer?

  • How much interacting with people? How much outside of the office?

  • Where is the field going? Where is the most growth in jobs expected?

  • Are there some specialties or job titles within this field or closely linked to it that I might explore?

  • Are there any specialized skills or knowledge for which there is increasing demand?

  • What are the entry, the mid-level, and the high salaries in the field?

  • Are there local professional organizations with open meetings that I might attend?

  • Journals that you recommend?

  • Could you give me the names of two or three people to whom I could talk further?

  • May I contact you again if I have any additional questions or when I begin my job search?

  • May I check back in with you in few weeks or months to see any new positions have opened up?

Follow up right away with a thank you in a format that is consistent with the culture of the organization. For example, a thank you to someone in a small conservation-minded non-profit might enjoy a hand-written note on a Sierra Club card; a person in a hip creative firm might prefer a witty e-mail. Hopefully, the thank you letter will be the first of many exchanges. Stay in touch and find ways to build on the connection. For example, if you see an article that might be of interest to the interviewer, you can send it along. You never know when someone will develop into a significant professional relationship.

Potential Informational Interviews:

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