Informational interviewing is a specific networking tool for learning firsthand about a career path, employer, industry, or other career information. It is the process of conducting exploratory conversations with those in your career network who can give you career advice and introduce you to others who can help you define your goals. Unlike a job interview, an informational interview should be a low-stress situation where you decide whom to interview, what questions to ask, and how to evaluate what you learn. Informational interviewing helps to achieve several goals:
- Gather information to determine if a potential career or company is a good match for your skills and interests.
- Make a lasting impression and develop long-term relationships.
- Obtain referrals (contacts or opportunities), follow through on advice, and stay in touch.
Informational Interview: Step-by-Step
The Canvas Module on Networking will help you develop your informational interviewing skills. Here are some steps to get you started.
1. Arrange the Meeting
- Review your list of networking contacts to find people who represent a range of experiences and viewpoints, and whom you would like to meet by phone or in person.
- Call or message to arrange a conversation.
- If you set up a meeting by telephone, prepare a brief script saying who you are, how you identified him/her, why you are calling, and when you would like to meet.
- When writing, develop the introduction, reason for writing, and specify when you will call to arrange a visit (usually within one week).
- Make it clear that you are asking for information, not for a job.
- Make an appointment. This puts your conversation on a business-like basis and helps to eliminate interruptions.
- If you have been referred by someone, state that person's name early in the call or email and indicate the link between you and the individual, e.g., a Cornellian who shares a similar academic major, someone you have heard speak recently, or a professional with a shared enthusiasm for an issue.
- Be prepared to ask your questions when you call; they may want to talk right away. See sample introductions on Canvas and CUeLINKS.
2. Prepare for the Meeting
- Research your contact's career field, industry, and organization in order to prepare informed questions.
Invest some time and energy into preparing for your meeting. This preparation will help you to feel more confident and enjoy the process of networking.
Prepare questions that show you have done your homework. Plan a manageable agenda.
Organize your questions in advance so you can facilitate the meeting in a professional way. Be curious and ask questions that the person you are interviewing can easily answer.
DO: "What skills, work experience, and educational background are necessary for success as a financial analyst?"
DON’T: “Do you think I will be successful as an investment analyst?”
3. Select Questions
The questions you focus on will depend on where you are in your career development. Think about what you need to learn from your contacts, now? Plan carefully so that you make a good impression on the individuals you meet. You can find many ideas of informational interview discussion points by conducting an Internet search, or consider some of the following ones.
- Please tell me a little bit about your work.
- How did you decide to enter this field?
- What do you like most about your work? Least?
- What education or training is necessary for this type of work?
- Do you have an advanced degree? Is one required in this field?
- Is the field changing? In what ways?
- What are the greatest challenges you face in your job/organization?
- Are internships, volunteering, or other experiences helpful to getting a job in this field?
- What are the entry-level opportunities in this field? How can I learn about openings?
- What do you consider to be the growth areas in the field?
- What are some related careers I might consider?
- What is the typical career path in your line of work in this organization?
- What formal or on-the-job training does your organization provide?
- Considering my skills, interests, and academic background, where might you see me fitting into this organization or a similar one?
Lifestyle and work environment
- Generally, what is the work environment like here?
- How many hours do people work in a typical week?
- What obligations does your job place upon you outside the normal work week?
- How much flexibility do you have in terms of dress, hours of work, and vacation schedule?
- If you were back in college, would you do anything differently in terms of coursework or summer experiences?
- If you were just coming out of college and looking for this kind of work, how would you conduct your job search?
- Can you suggest others whom I could speak with about this field? May I use your name when I contact them? Should I make contact by e-mail, phone, LinkedIn, or letter?
- Do you have any additional advice for me?
4. Conduct a Successful Informational Interview
- Dress professionally (if the interview is in person or via video).
- Practice in advance to help you make a good first impression.
- Be attentive and enthusiastic.
- Maintain good posture and eye contact.
- Take notes during the meeting.
- Ask for names of additional people whom you should contact, or additional resources to explore.
- Respect the person’s time and end after the agreed-upon length of time.
- Thank the contact for their time and information.
5. Follow Up
- After the interview, write a brief note thanking the individual for their time.
- Keep your network contacts updated on your job search or academic progress so they will remember you.
Stay in touch with your contacts to keep the door open for future career networking and exchanges of professional information.