Informational Interviews

How They Can Help You Get the Inside Scoop on an Occupation

When choosing an occupation, it is imperative to be fully engaged in the career exploration stage of the career planning process. During this stage, gather as much information as possible about the occupations you are considering. Online and print resources will provide you with the basics—a job description, earnings, educational requirements, and job outlook—all essential data to have. As you get closer to making a final decision, informational interviews will help you learn even more.

What Is an Informational Interview?

An informational interview is a meeting between an individual who wants to learn about a specific career and one who has first-hand knowledge about it. This conversation provides the opportunity to ask questions that have answers you would probably not find published anywhere.

In addition to being a fantastic information-gathering vehicle, an informational interview also provides a way to start building your professional network. The people you talk to about their careers may be your very first contacts. There's something important to remember though. While you might be interviewing someone who has excellent connections in the field you aspire to enter, avoid the temptation to ask for a job. It would be misleading to do that since he or she agreed merely to provide you with information.

There's an added benefit of participating in informational interviews. They provide preparation for future job interviews. If you are a little skittish about the real thing, consider informational interviews practice in a non-threatening forum—a dress rehearsal of sorts.

Who Should You Interview?

Now that you know one of the best ways to learn about an occupation is through informational interviewing, it's time to find people with whom to meet. Look for individuals who are intimately familiar with the career that interests you. Since you are just starting out, your professional contacts are likely to be few, but you probably have some personal connections. Perhaps some of them know people who would be willing to talk to you.

Ask friends, relatives, fellow students, your teachers, and neighbors if they know anyone who works in your targeted field. People love to talk about themselves and what they do so it may not be as difficult to find someone as you might think.

Getting Ready

Don't underestimate the seriousness of an informational interview. It could very well be your first chance to impress someone who will be a future colleague or maybe even your boss. It is vital that you come across as very well-informed. Achieve that by doing your homework.

Gather information about the occupation if you haven't already. It will allow you to have an intelligent conversation. Learn about the interviewee's employer by doing company research. Finally, find out what you can about him or her. Look in local business journals and industry publications. Of course, bring up only things that are flattering such as a recent promotion or special recognition, and avoid anything negative.

Questions to Ask

As previously mentioned, you should research your career of interest in order to ask intelligent questions. Was there something mentioned in the occupational information you didn't fully understand? The informational interview provides an excellent opportunity to get that clarified. Here is a small sampling of questions you should ask:

  • Can you describe a typical day at work? What do you regularly do? What other tasks come up?
  • How many hours do you typically work in a day? A week?
  • Is there a lot of potential for growth in your field?
  • What can I do now to increase my chances of finding future employment?
  • What do you like about your career and what don't you like about it?
  • I know about the educational requirements but is there anything, in particular of which I should be aware, like which degree do most employers prefer and where can I get the best training?
  • Is there anything you wish you had known before you entered this field?

The Big Day

When you go on informational interviews, follow all the etiquette rules you would for regular job interviews. Thank the interviewee for meeting with you both at the beginning and end of the conversation. Don't forget to dress appropriately, arrive on time, and keep the interview to the scheduled length. If you haven't previously agreed on when to finish, ask the interviewee how much time he or she can spend with you before you get started.

In addition to expressing your gratitude in person, send a written thank you note afterward. Email is fine. The interviewee has taken time out of what is probably a hectic schedule to help you.