Exploring Careers

Informational Interviewing

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.
  • 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.

So, what should I ask?

Open-ended questions tend to yield the most information. Below are some examples of topics to help you prepare.