The informational interview is a "dynamic conversation with a purpose." The purpose is to gain knowledge about an area of work or field of interest by talking with a person doing that work. As with any worthwhile endeavor, this technique requires some work on your part, but the benefits are outstanding. Developing this technique will expand your base of knowledge and sharpen various transferable skills which will be beneficial throughout your career.
- Gain self-confidence, since it is a comparatively low-stress situation
- Obtain current job market information
- Meet new and interesting people
- Make a network of contacts which may be helpful in the future
- Find out about jobs or career paths you did not know existed
- Enhance your communication skills
- Improve your social skills
- Learn how to manage a focused conversation
- Observe various work environments
- Learn which skills are necessary for particular occupations
- Refine your decision-making skills
Reasons Why the Informational Interview is Underutilized
- Hesitance to initiate contact with busy or "important" people
- Reluctance to ask other people for advice
- Lack of understanding regarding the amount of information needed to make meaningful, well thought-out decisions
Arranging the Interview
There are many sources available to help you pinpoint people to interview. Start with people resources: family, friends, acquaintances, faculty, alumni contacts, people who you have heard about through local events and the local news media, etc. In addition, there are written materials such as employer lists, Chamber of Commerce directories, newspaper articles, directories from various professional associations, etc. Once you have determined who you would like to interview, write them a short note explaining your desire to talk with them about their job and career choice. Indicate that you will follow up with a phone call in order to arrange a possible meeting time.
Questions to Ask
There are four basic questions you can use as a starting point:
- How did you become interested in this field of work?
- What do you like about this job?
- What are the negative aspects of this type of work?
- Could you suggest the names of a few other people who are also in this occupation with whom I might talk to?
Certainly there are many other questions which you could ask. Make sure you ask those questions which will get you the information you need. Other questions might include:
- Does this job go by any other titles in other organizations?
- What are the most important skills for this occupation?
- How would you describe your typical day?
- What personal attributes are important for this job?
- What are some current trends or controversies in this field?
- What are some suggested ways to enter this field?
- What other occupations are closely related to this type of work?
- Can you recommend any relevant magazines, journals, or other publication which I should read?
In order to make the best use of the information you gather, it is important to evaluate it by asking yourself questions such as:
- What did I learn from this interview (both positive and negative)?
- How does what I learned fit with my interests, abilities, goals, values, etc.?
- What additional information do I need?
Be sure to write a short thank-you note to the person you interviewed in a timely manner, that is, within two days. In addition, record the name, place of business, address, phone number and any highlights of your conversation for future reference. Remember, you are establishing a professional network!