An informational interview is a networking method in which you talk to people about their work during a brief meeting. You will find that, when you show an interest in their specific field, most people enjoy talking about themselves and their job, and most are happy to offer advice. Additionally. every person you speak to can lead you to other contacts, expanding your network of professional connections.
- 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.
- Be polite and confident when asking for a contact’s time. The worst thing they can say is “No.” But most will say “Yes.”
- Do some research before the meeting so you can ask focused questions during your limited time. Read about the field and browse the website 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.
- Develop a 20-30 second sound bite to introduce yourself. For 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 learn about your experiences working for a policy maker in Washington.” Consider getting business cards with your name, contact info, interest areas, and LinkedIn address to distribute when networking. Don’t forget to ask for your contact’s business card as well, and to thank them for their time.
- Share any information or connections you have that might be helpful to your contact, do so. Networking should be mutually beneficial. Offering value to your contact is great way to start a professional relationship.
- Most informational meetings are fairly short -- 15-20 minutes. Remember that your contact has a job to do, and be sure not to overstay your welcome.
- Limit the amount of time you spend talking about yourself. Ask your contacts to talk about themselves, their fields, and their work. Avoid asking them to do things for you -- such as to read or circulate your resume, or to find information for you that you could probably find yourself. If they offer to do such things for you, accept graciously.
- Mail a handwritten thank you note to your contact, preferably 1-2 days after your meeting.
- Keep a record of your networking activities—when your conversations took place, suggestions the contacts made, and any follow-up actions you took.
- Maintain your networking relationships by emailing or phoning periodically, especially if you have good news or helpful information to share.
- What do you like best and least about your job or your field?
- Can you describe a typical day or week? Does your work change during the year?
- What qualities make someone successful in your work? (Listen carefully for the skill words in their answers. You’ll want to put those terms on your resume.)
- How did you learn how to do your work? On the job? At a previous job? Through formal training?
- What was your major and how does it relate to your job today? Was graduate school necessary to qualify you for your job?
- 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?
- What professional or trade journals do people in your line of work read to keep current with your industry?
- What advice would you give to someone starting out in this field today?
- Can you suggest two or three other people I might contact? May I use your name as a reference when I contact them?
In addition to listening, you should keep your eyes open and take note of the following to help you decide if the workplace and the field are right for you.
People and Atmosphere:
- How are people dressed (formally, informally, uniformly)?
- How diverse is the workplace (age, gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation)?
- How do the staff members address each other? Is there a firm hierarchy?
- Is the atmosphere calm? Stressful? Fast-paced?
- Do people appear to enjoy working there?
- How were you treated when you arrived?
- Did your contacts talk with you freely or did they seem restricted?
- How did you get there? How long did it take? 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? Is air quality good?
- What equipment do you see? Who is using it?
Your Gut Feelings:
Trust your gut instincts. On the way home from the informational interview, ask yourself:
- “How do I feel about what I saw and heard?”
- “Can I imagine myself working in that setting and/or doing those tasks?”
- “How has this informational interview changed, or added to, my initial impressions of this job?”