What Is an Informational Interview?
An informational interview is when you get in touch with someone because you want to learn more about their career path or industry—not to talk to them about a specific job or internship posting. This is a great way to learn about different types of organizations and opportunities as you make decisions about the direction you’d like to take in your career.
Sometimes the idea of informational interviewing is strange to students and alumni. They wonder why anyone would want to take the time to talk with them. On the contrary, it is common practice for professionals to share what they’ve learned with those who are just starting out. And, many people enjoy talking about their work and their career to others.
Where to Find Contacts & How to Approach Them
Where might you find people to talk with? There are lots of places you can look for contacts—they may be part of your friends and family, they may be alumni of institutions you’ve attended, they may be people you’ve met at conferences (yes, even academic ones), or they may be people who you only know in passing. What matters is that they do work that seems of interest to you.
LinkedIn is a great source of contacts—and you can see who your connections might know. From there, you can ask someone who’s already your connection to introduce you to someone new. This may sound intimidating, but you will find that most people are willing to talk to you.
When you approach a contact for an informational interview, simply send a brief email with the following information:
- A sentence or two about who you are and why you are interested in them (e.g., “I am completing a graduate degree in history and am exploring career options in museums”)
- A sentence or two about how you found the contact (e.g., “my cousin James suggested that I get in touch with you” or “I’ve been interested in organization XYZ’s work for a long time, and saw on the website that you are the program director”)
- A request to meet (e.g., “I wonder if you would have a bit of time to have coffee with me so that I can learn more about your work and your organization”)
(See Penn Career Services’s guide for requesting an informational interview for another example.)
Informational interviewing is a means to gather information that will empower you to make good career choices. It will also help you to learn how hiring is done in a given field, what employers look for, and how you might best increase your chances of finding employment in the field. Sometimes, but not always, it leads directly to a job. It does require a little bit of patience on the part of the job seeker, but it is worth it.
Some Dos & Don’ts
- Set some goals for yourself. Talk to one new person a month (or more if you are actively searching for a position).
- Prepare for your informational interview. Think carefully about what you want to learn from this person.
- Some background research on the company, department, etc. so you ask interesting questions and understand the answers.
- Make sure you have a list of questions prepared.
- Dress professionally.
- Offer to pay (for coffee, for lunch). You may be a poor graduate student, but this person is helping you out.
- Keep the focus on them, not you, with a conversational tone.
- Follow up with a thank you note.
- Keep track of your contacts, and update them on your progress as appropriate.
- Bring your resume … but don’t get it out unless the person you are speaking with asks to see it.
- Ask for a job. This is the biggest “no” in informational interviews. If this person knows of an opportunity that she thinks might be appropriate for you, she will likely volunteer this information.
- Take rejection or lack of a response personally.
What you should take away from the meeting: their preparation for the job search, present job, lifestyle, other positions in the organization, job hunting strategies, nature of the organization, and ability to match your skills to the organization or position.
- “Mastering the Informational Interview” by Marci Alboher in The New York Times—This has a great list of sample questions to ask!
- “Coffee in 2002, a Job Offer in 2004″ by Susan Basalla May and Risa Nystrom McDonell in The Chronicle of Higher Education—this is an older article, but it illustrates perfectly the process and goals of informational interviewing
- “The Ultimate Guide to an Informational Interview” from LiveCareer
- “How to Do an Informational Interview” by Julie Vick and Jennifer Furlong in The Chronicle of Higher Education
- “Six Steps for Informational Interviewing” from UC Berkeley
- “How to Get the Most out of an Informational Interview” from the Harvard Business Review
- “5 Tips on How to Prepare for an Informational Interview with an Industry Professional” from the Cheeky Scientist