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Informational Interviewing

Informational interviewing is a more formal method of networking in which you talk to people about their work during an informational meeting. You will find that most people enjoy talking about themselves and offering advice. As a bonus, they may tell you about job or internship openings in their organization or elsewhere, or even offer to circulate your resume, although you should never request this. Every person you speak to can lead you to other contacts, expanding your network of professional connections. Reportedly, nearly 80% of jobs are found this way.

Information Interview Tips and Guidelines

Be confident and very polite in asking for a contact’s time. The worst thing they can say is “No.” Most will say “Yes.”

Schedule the interview by writing, emailing, or phoning the person you’d like to meet. Though best done face-to-face and at a person’s workplace, informational interviewing can also take place by phone when an in-person meeting is impractical.

Do your research before the meeting so you can ask more focused questions. Read about the field and browse the Web site of the organization where your contact works. Dress appropriately for the field and practice your best professional etiquette: stand for introductions and demonstrate a firm handshake, good eye contact, and active listening. Most informational meetings are fairly short—15-20 minutes—so don’t overstay your welcome.

Develop a 10-30 second “sound byte” to introduce yourself. Example: “Hello, my name is Dana Brown, and I’m a UMass Amherst junior majoring in government and biology. I’m interested in how government regulations affect health care issues such as stem cell research. I’d like to hear about your experience as a policy maker in Washington.” Consider getting networking cards with your name, contact info, and interest areas to distribute. Don’t forget to ask for your contact’s card as well.

Ask your contacts to talk about themselves, their fields, and their work. Limit the amount of time you spend talking about yourself. Avoid asking them to do things for you – such as read or circulate your resume, or find information for you. If they offer, accept graciously.

Questions to ask in an informational interview

(or anytime you are networking, formally or informally)

  • What do you like best and least about your job and/or your field?
  • How did you learn how to do your work? On the job? At a previous job? Through formal training? If you were starting out in your field today, would you train in the same way?
  • Can you describe a typical day or week? Does your work change during the year?
  • What makes someone successful in your work? (Listen carefully for the skill words in their answers. You’ll need those terms for your resume.)
  • As you look back on your experiences, is there anything you wish you’d known? Anything you would do differently?
  • Do people in your field belong to professional associations or organizations? Is there a local chapter? Do you think it would make sense for me to attend a meeting?
  • How do you keep current in your field? What should I be reading?
  • What advice do you have for someone starting out?
  • Do you have any job search strategies you’d like to share with me?
  • Can you suggest two or three other people I might contact? May I use your name if I contact them, just to explain how I got their name?

Trust your instincts as you observe the following to help you decide if this is the right field or workplace for you:

People and atmosphere:

  • How are people dressed (formally, informally, uniformly)?
  • How diverse is the work setting (age, gender, ethnicity, race)?
  • How do the staff members address each other? Is there a hierarchy?
  • Is the atmosphere calm? Stressful? Fast-paced?
  • How were you treated when you arrived?
  • Do people appear to enjoy working there?
  • Did your contacts talk with you freely or did they seem restricted?
  • Was your session interrupted by phone calls or other employees?

Physical environment:

  • How did you get there? Was there parking? Did you feel safe?
  • Are the employees working in offices, cubicles, or open spaces?
  • What is the noise level? How is the lighting?
  • What equipment do you see? Who is using it?

On the way home from your informational interview, ask yourself:

“How do I feel about what I saw and heard?” and then, “Why?”

“Can I imagine myself working in that setting and/or doing those tasks?”

“Did my first impression change after this informational interview?”

Keep a record of your networking activities—when your conversations took place, suggestions the contacts made, the dates you mailed your thank-you notes (preferably within two days), and any follow-up actions you took. If there’s any information you can provide that might be helpful, do so. Networking should be mutually beneficial.

Maintain your networking relationships by emailing or phoning periodically, especially if you have good news to share.