Informational interviewing can be one of the most valuable strategies in gathering information and establishing contacts as you begin or continue to build plans for the future. Like all other facets of career planning, informational interviewing requires preparation and focus. Informational interviews are not the place to ask for a position, but rather to seek information, advice, feedback, and referrals.
Reasons to conduct informational interviews:
- Explore career options and clarify your career goals.
- Find out what entry level roles are available in your field.
- Develop your professional network
- Gain detailed knowledge of the organization in your chosen field.
- Learn the jargon and important issues in the field.
- Assess your qualifications in the field.
- Discover work opportunities that are not advertised.
- Build confidence in your interviewing skills.
Reaching Out: Whom to Tap
Identifying whom to talk to is often the biggest stumbling block. Your network is usually larger than you realize. Start with BU alumni. Ask faculty and staff for ideas. Also talk to family, relatives, friends, and neighbors. You never know whom someone might know.
Making Contact: Things to Keep in Mind
No matter how you initiate contact—phone or email—make sure to adopt a professional manner. Introduce yourself and name the person who referred you or how you found them. Be specific about why you’re reaching out, and how they can help. We recommend first reaching out by email. If you’re connecting by phone, be enthusiastic and clearly identify yourself. Face-to-face meetings are best, but phone interviews are also beneficial.
- Start with an email. Introduce yourself and tell them why you’re contacting them. Be professional in both what you say and how you write. Use correct grammar and be sure to proofread your message. If making contact through a referral, mention the other person’s name.
1. Introductory email with a personal referral: Let’s say you’ve identified someone you want to talk to through a classmate. You’ve decided to reach out to that person by email. Here is something you might send:
Dear Ms. Smith,
My name is ____________, I am a sophomore at BU majoring in sociology. Susan Wilson suggested that I get in touch with you. I’m considering a career in urban planning and would be interested in any information and advice you could share with me. Might you have time to meet with me?
2. Introductory email without a personal referral: Here is something you might send if you don’t have a personal referral:
Dear Mr. Jones,
My name is ______, a student at BU. I’m very interested in a career in mobile app development, and have started some research in this area. I’ve read your blog and I understand you’ve been involved in the field for some time. I would be interested in your perspective about careers in app development. If it is convenient for you, could we arrange an appointment to talk briefly?
- Be specific about what you’re looking for and how they can help. But remember this is not to ask for an internship or job.
- Let them know how much time you’re asking for. Keep it to 60 minutes at maximum, but take whatever time they can give you even if only 20 or 30 minutes.
- Arrange a mutually convenient time. Try to arrange a face-to-face meeting. If this is not possible, you might need to have the conversation over the phone.
You could also request an informational interview by letter. Use proper business format and include the same information as in an introductory email. Indicate that you will call them to follow up and arrange a mutually convenient time. As with an email, this will be the first impression you make, so proofread carefully.
If you can’t get an email address for the person, you can make your initial request by phone with the same rules outlined above. In addition, have your questions ready so that you are prepared to do the interview on the spot, if they invite you to, and they sound like they really have the time. You want to be sure you have their attention.
Word to the Wise:
Keep track of whom you have contacted, so that if they call you, you’ll know exactly who they are, how you got their name, which organization they’re from, as well as when you contacted them, what the outcome was, and what follow-up steps you’ve taken.
Navigating the Interview: Helpful Tips
Before the Interview
- The person you are meeting with probably has limited time available, so use it wisely. Determine beforehand what you want to learn from the contact.
- Learn as much as you can about the industry, the organization, and the person you’ll be meeting with. Think of your key questions, and write them down in a logical order. If the conversation doesn’t follow the order of your questions, that’s OK; just try to keep track of what you’ve already covered.
- Dress professionally. Bring copies of your resume, but only distribute it if requested or if asking for resume feedback.
- Arrive 10–15 minutes before your appointment.
During the Interview
- Restate your purpose and why you’re talking with this particular person.
- Be prepared to initiate and guide the conversation since you are, in essence, the interviewer.
- Adhere to the original time request of 30-60 minutes (or whatever was agreed upon when you made the appointment).
- Ask for 2–3 referrals to additional professionals.
- Ask for names of related professional organizations.
- Keep in mind that this is an information-gathering and advice-seeking conversation, not an employment interview. Let them bring up any talk of job vacancies.
- Let the individual you are interviewing bring up any discussion of specific opportunities.
After the Interview
- Send a thank-you note by email or letter (business format) and keep the person you’ve interviewed posted on your progress.
- Send them a request to connect on LinkedIn, but be sure you customize the message and reference your conversation.
- Consider your style of interviewing. What worked and what would you have done differently?
- Evaluate the information you received. How does it relate to your plans?
So, what should I ask?
Open-ended questions tend to yield the most information. Below are some examples of topics to help you prepare.
About the Field
- Most enjoyable or rewarding aspects of the job or career field
- General skills needed to be successful in the field (e.g., excellent communication, team player, organization)
- Specific skills needed to do the job (e.g., technical, languages, writing)
- Recommendations for training or education required to perform this kind of work
- Negative aspects of field, for example, “What would you change if you could?” or “What is your least favorite part of your work?”
- Typical entry-level positions in the field and the outlook for entry-level professionals
- Alternative methods to gain entrance to the field (e.g., part-time position, mid-career change, volunteer work, or other kinds of training)
- The future of this field in terms of new and expanding opportunities
- Additional information that may be helpful (e.g., critique of resume, job-seeking tactics, names of other professionals in the field)
About the Organization
- Short- and long-term goals of the organization such as growth, new products or services, and expansion of facilities
- Philosophy of the organization, types of training, and professional development programs available
- The various positions they have held between entry-level and present job and why they made those choices (note: check out their career path in advance on their LinkedIn profile)
- Description of their present job (as defined in the job description as well as beyond)
- Typical career path from entry-level to top management or desired career goal