Overlooked Strategies for Job Seekers: The Informational Interview

Informational interviews are a valuable tool in conducting a job search, especially when you are either starting or changing careers. They allow you an inside view of a company, a job and a specific industry that is hard to get any other way.

First, an informational interview is specifically NOT a job interview. It involves talking with people who are currently working in the field so you can build a network of contacts and gain an understanding of a particular industry or occupation.

Your target for the interview is someone who is currently doing the kind of job you are seeking, not the manager of Human Resources (unless of course, you are seeking a job in Human Resources). The purpose of this interview is to:

  • Clarify your career goals.
  • Create and expand your network of contacts in the field –  gain visibility.
  • Get some great practice in interviewing.
  • Identify your own strengths and weaknesses.

Getting the Interview:

 Before you start scheduling interviews, do some homework. Identify the specific occupation you want to explore and some companies in which that occupation exists. Next identify some individuals you would like to interview. You can do this in various ways:

  •  Use your network of contacts. Ask them if they know anyone in that occupation.
  • Call companies directly. Go to their websites or to LinkedIn to identify individuals in your area of interest.
  • Contact professional or trade associations.
  • Read newspapers and magazines. Listen to the business news.
Next:
  • Write and practice a short (no more than 30 seconds) speech about yourself and your reasons for contacting this individual. You will use this as your introduction.
  • Prepare a list of questions to get the best information that you can. What do you really want to know?
Schedule Your Interview:

When you are ready to interview, you might approach your potential interviewee by phone, in person or by letter or email. How you make initial contact will depend on whether or not you know the individual. In any case, be careful not to give the person the impression that you are asking for a job. Politely ask for 15 or 20 minutes of her time and make it clear that you are asking for information and advice.

One advantage of a letter or email is that the interviewee has time to consider your request. If you decide to make your contact by letter or email, address it to a specific individual. Use the following guidelines to make it effective.

  • The first paragraph should contain a brief introduction of yourself and the purpose of your letter or email. Why are you writing to this individual and what do you want? Be straight forward. Tell the person you are looking for information and advice.
  • In the second paragraph provide a brief statement about your interests or experiences in the person’s career field or with the company.
  • In a final paragraph let the person know how and when you will contact them to schedule a time for an interview.

Be sure that you follow up with a phone call in the manner and at the time you have promised.

Prepare for the Interview:
  • Do some basic research on the company for which your potential Interviewee works. At least understand what the company does and its role in the marketplace.
  • Dress as you would for an employment interview.
  • Bring your questions, a pen, a small notebook for taking notes and your business cards. You may also bring your resume, but do not offer it unless asked. (Remember, this is not a job interview!)
What Should I Ask?

Include questions to address the following areas:

  • The career field and the industry
  • The interviewee’s specific job
  • How to best prepare for this job
  • The specific need of this company
  • Asking for general advice
  • Ask for referrals. “Who else do you know that I could speak with?”

Here is a list of potential questions for an informational interview.  Pick out a dozen or so that you want to ask. But as the conversation proceeds, there may be questions you will want to ask to follow up on what the person is telling you. Listen carefully and keep the conversation interactive.

200 Informational Interview Questions

Make sure to ask for a business card. As soon as the interview is complete, send a nice thank you note.