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Informational Interviews
Interviews

“Find someone who does what you want to do, then go talk to them.”

That is the essence of what an informational interview is: one-on-one communication that helps you learn about different industries and potential careers. Informational interviews are one of the best ways to network. They are the ultimate in business communication because you are “trying on jobs for size to see if they fit you,” according to Richard Nelson Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute? and the person who coined the term “informational interview.” [1]

An informational interview is exactly what it sounds like; it’s an opportunity to learn about a particular profession, industry, or job. [2] That means that if you are interested in sales, you might meet with an account manager for a software company and talk to her about what it’s like to be in sales.

Or, if you think you want to pursue a job in advertising, you could meet with someone who works at an advertising agency. This gives you the chance to learn the inside story about what it takes to start a career and work in your target industry.

It’s impossible to know exactly what career you want to pursue without getting some one-on-one information.



What does the job entail?

Will you be working with people out in the field or sitting at a desk?

What kinds of opportunities are available for personal development?

What kind of skills and experience do you need?

Is this really a career you will enjoy?

What’s the best part of the job?

What’s the worst part of the job?


All these are excellent questions to ask during an informational interview.

Ask for Information

Informational interviews are an excellent source of information and insight. In fact, you can gain knowledge through informational interviews that you might not be able to gain in any other way.

It’s important to note that informational interviews are not the place to look for an internship or job. [3] A job or an internship could result from an informational interview because it is a time to make an impression on someone, demonstrate your skills, and network.

It’s best to keep in mind that when you ask for an informational interview, you are asking for someone to take the time to share insights and information with you.

If you ask the interviewer for a job, you misled the interviewer about the purpose of the meeting. [4]

Informational Interviews Made Easy

Informational interviews are an excellent way to gather real-world information about your possible career direction. Here’s a guide to everything you need to know to get the most out of informational interviews using the tenets of journalism: why, who, when and where.

Why bother going on an informational interview?


You can learn about a particular industry. [5]

You get to know key people in the industry. [6]

You can learn about jobs that are open. [7]

You can learn about specific organizations. [8]

You can ask for referrals. [9]

You can hone your interviewing skills.

You can get insider information. [10]

Identify people who do what you want to do or do something that you think is interesting.

Think of speakers you may have heard at events.
Talk to friends and family to get ideas.
Talk to your professors about people in the industry.
Visit the local career center.
Use online networking to find people.
Read local business journals. [11]

When:


It’s always a good time to meet and learn from experienced people in the industry in which you are interested. However, you should actively pursue informational interviews.

Keep in mind that every contact you make is a selling opportunity for your personal brand. It’s never too soon to prepare your résumé even as you are building your experience with internships and other jobs.

Where:
Your interviewee will most likely suggest a location for your meeting. Some informational interviews might take place by phone. The objective is to connect, learn, and network.

Whatever the location, always prepare and dress for each informational interview as if it were a job interview. Always send a thank-you note to your interviewer for his time. That way, you leave a lasting impression and demonstrate your good etiquette.

How to Ask?
Informational interviews are usually twenty to thirty minutes long and can take place in person or by phone.

It’s always best to request an informational interview in person because you have the opportunity to communicate verbally as well as nonverbally. Although it’s appropriate to send a letter or e-mail to request an informational interview, it’s best to call each person to request the interview or talk to him or her in person. If you use your communication skills, a personal conversation will be much more persuasive than a passive e-mail or letter.

A telephone conversation should include an introduction along with the reason you are calling. Be clear that you are seeking information; don’t frame your request as a veiled strategy for a job offer.

If you are honest about learning about the industry, most people will take the time to help you.

What to Wear and Bring?
Just like any sales call, business meeting, or job interview, you should always be prepared for an informational interview.

Treat it as if it were a job interview and dress in a conservative, professional suit. [12]

Some things the interview “fashion police” would tell you to avoid: too much aftershave or cologne, low-cut blouse or short skirt, wrinkled anything, and athletic-looking shoes or sandals.

Men should wear a white or light shirt, conservative tie, and dark-colored suit.

Women should wear a skirt or pants with a blazer, or a suit in a dark color.

Come prepared as if it were a job interview, even if you already know the person with whom you are interviewing. That means doing research on the industry, company, and person before you arrive. Visit the company’s Web site as well as those of competitors, research the industry on databases such as Hoovers.com, and do a search on Google to learn more about the person with whom you are interviewing.

Also, look her up on LinkedIn, Plaxo.com, Ryze.com, or other professional social networking Web sites to learn more about her professional background before your meeting.

Now prepare for the questions. Unlike a regular job interview, you have requested this meeting so you should be prepared to ask the questions.

Keep the questions focused on learning about how your interviewer broke into the business and what he can share as a result of his experience. Take the time to print out your questions so you are organized during the interview. Put your questions and spare copies of your résumé in a professional portfolio or folder. Don’t be afraid to refer to your questions and take notes during the interview; it’s an excellent nonverbal cue that you think what the interviewer has to say is important.

Here are some questions you might consider:



How did you decide to go into this field?

What was your first job?

How did you get to your current position?

What was your favorite job?

What is the best thing about your current job?

What is your least favorite part of your job?

What is the single most important attribute someone needs to have to be successful in this industry?

What is the typical salary range for an entry-level job in this industry?

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?

What is the outlook for the industry? [14]

Bring extra copies of your résumé printed on twenty-four-pound paper.

It is best not to use regular paper as it is lightweight and doesn’t provide strong nonverbal communication about your brand.

You never know when the person with whom you are meeting will ask for an extra copy of your résumé. And, even if she already has a copy, she may not have it handy. [13]

This is also the perfect opportunity to bring samples of your work.

If you have had an internship, bring clean samples of any projects you worked on; the same is true for any student organizations, volunteer work, or community service that you have done.

You should also include a few key class projects to demonstrate your versatility.

In addition also be ready to talk about your brand positioning points. Use your communication skills to make your experience and interest come alive in the interview.

It’s a good idea to offer to show the samples of your work while you are talking about why you are interested in pursuing a career path in the industry.

Nonprofit Selling

Wrap up your informational interview by asking for your interviewee’s business card.

Also, ask for the names of some other people that you might be able to talk to and learn from. For example, “I really enjoyed our conversation today, and I learned so much about the industry. You have helped me realize that I would like to pursue a career in sales. Can you give me the names of some other people I might be able to learn from?”

Keep in Touch

What about after the informational interview? Keep in touch. People who take the time to help students also want to know what is going on with the young job-seeking population. Send an e-mail or touch base by phone at least every four to six weeks.

It’s a great way to develop a relationship and network, even after you land your internship or job. Part of networking is providing exchange, and keeping in touch is your part of the bargain.

When you keep in touch, your interviewer might be able to help you in the future; or better yet, you might be able to help her and return the favor.

KEY TAKEAWAYS


An informational interview is an underused career search method that includes a meeting with a professional to learn more about pursuing a career in a specific industry, profession, or job.

You go on informational interviews to learn what it’s like to work in a particular industry, company or job.

It can help you to connect and network with people in the industry, and hone your interviewing skills.

One thing you should never do on an informational interview is ask for a job or internship.

If the opportunity presents itself and your interviewer asks if you might be interested, it’s appropriate to say yes. However, you should not be the one to initiate dialogue about the possibility of a position with the company. You should ask anyone who is in the industry or profession that you would like to pursue. It’s a good idea to use your networking skills to identify people with whom you can have an informational interview. Professionals such as guest speakers in class, prominent executives, and those in local professional organizations are ideal people to ask for an informational interview.

It’s best to request an informational interview in person or by phone because you increase your chances for a positive response. You can also request an informational interview by letter or e-mail.

Prepare for an informational interview as if it were a job interview, even if you already know the person. Research the company, bring extra copies of your résumé and samples of your work, and prepare questions that you would like to discuss.

Exercises

Write down a list of six to eight questions that you would like to ask on each informational interview. Which questions would you ask on all informational interviews? Which questions would be specific to a particular interview? Why?


How would you answer the following question on an informational interview: “Why do you want to pursue a career in (name of industry)?”

Bibliography

[1] “Informational Interviewing Tutorial: Background Information about Informational Interviews,” Quintessential Careers,http://www.quintcareers.com/information_background.html (accessed July 12, 2009).


[2] “Informational Interviewing Tutorial: Background Information about Informational Interviews,” Quintessential Careers,http://www.quintcareers.com/information_background.html (accessed July 12, 2009).

[3] “Informational Interviewing Tutorial: Never Ask for a Job,” Quintessential Careers,http://www.quintcareers.com/information_job.html (accessed July 12, 2009).


[4] “Informational Interviewing Tutorial: Never Ask for a Job,” Quintessential Careers,http://www.quintcareers.com/information_job.html (accessed July 12, 2009).


[5] “Informational Interviewing Tutorial: Potential Results of Informational Interviews,” Quintessential Careers, http://www.quintcareers.com/information_results.html (accessed July 12, 1009).
[6] “Informational Interviewing Tutorial: Potential Results of Informational Interviews,” Quintessential Careers, http://www.quintcareers.com/information_results.html (accessed July 12, 1009).


[7] “Informational Interviewing Tutorial: Potential Results of Informational Interviews,” Quintessential Careers, http://www.quintcareers.com/information_results.html (accessed July 12, 1009).


[8] “Informational Interviewing Tutorial: Potential Results of Informational Interviews,” Quintessential Careers, http://www.quintcareers.com/information_results.html (accessed July 12, 1009).


[9] “Informational Interview Questions,” Career Choice Guide,http://www.careerchoiceguide.com/informational-interview-questions.html (accessed July 20, 2009).
[10] Kate Lorenz, “How Does an Informational Interview Work?” CareerBuilder,http://www.careerbuilder.com/Article/CB-481-Getting-Ahead-How-Does-an-Informational-Interview-Work (accessed July 20, 2009).


[11] “Informational Interview Tutorial: Identify People to Interview for Informational Interviews,” Quintessential Careers,http://www.quintcareers.com/information_people.html (accessed July 12, 2009).


[12] Katharine Hansen, “Informational Interviewing Do’s and Don’ts,” Quintessential Careers, http://www.quintcareers.com/informational_interviewing-dos-donts.html(accessed July 20, 2009).


[13] Kate Lorenz, “How Does An Informational Interview Work?” CareerBuilder,http://www.careerbuilder.com/Article/CB-481-Getting-Ahead-How-Does-an-Informational-Interview-Work (accessed July 20, 2009).


[14] “Informational Interview Questions,” Career Choice Guide,http://www.careerchoiceguide.com/informational-interview-questions.html (accessed July 20, 2009).

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