The Center for Life Beyond Reed

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Informational Interviewing

Networking can serve as a valuable strategy at each and every stage of your career development. What is it? Networking is simply connecting with people, your most valuable resources at every phase of your pursuits. People can help you assess your skills and interests; explore industries and work functions and their jargon, and the trends in specific fields. People can help you focus your career and your job options. In talking with people, you learn information, get advice, and benefit from referrals. Since nearly 80 percent of all jobs are never advertised, by networking, you learn about opportunities that otherwise would go unnoticed. The more contacts you make, the more likely you are to uncover the hidden job market.

Types of Networking

When you're networking for information, advice, referrals and possible job leads, it is likely that you will gain information one of the following ways: (1) make purposeful personal contact by phone, email, business letter, online networking sites, or in person; (2) attend at a function or an event designed for "schmoozing" or mingling with other professionals; or (3) learn of the opportunity by happenstance. In all cases, you'll want to be ready. You may be surprised, for example, at the number of internships secured on flights back to school after holiday break through conversations with the stranger in the next seat. So, whether you are working a room for a social event, initiating a purposeful personal contact with someone, or seizing an opportunity that presents itself, use the tips that follow.

Making Personal Contact


Before you make personal contacts, do some homework. Begin with yourself. What is your purpose? Do you have a career or industry focus, or are you seeking contacts who might serve as resources to help you discover your interests and desires? 

Follow your hunches about the industries and work functions that most interest you. Do some background research to enrich any conversation or exchange you have with the people who are in a given line of work. Continue your homework after you define your purpose. Research industries and/or work functions by beginning to build your network of contacts, which includes learning as much as you can about the people you contact. In the Center for Life Beyond Reed, we have a variety of resources to help you.

Start to build your network by listing your natural acquaintances and contacts:

  • Family and their friends
  • Friends and their families
  • Reed Alumni Career Network
  • Volunteer affiliations (e.g. clubs, organizations, church, so on)
  • Professors, advisers, coaches
  • Former or present work colleagues
  • Professionals

Ask yourself whom you know and add anyone who comes to mind to your list. In connecting with your natural network, you want to hear their best advice, and you want to know if they know other people more closely affiliated with your interests. Let them know your interests and aspirations. The more people who know your interests, the greater the chance that doors will open for you. Your chances of being in the right place at the right time are increased when many people have you in their minds. It's sometimes called "managing your luck."


Dear Dr. Griffin,

Professor D. Owl suggested that I contact you regarding your research. I graduate soon from Reed College with a degree in political science and philosophy. I worked this past summer as a legal researcher for a law firm in Anchorage, Alaska, and am now back in Portland to finish my studies. I hope to find a job with a local civil rights organization or public policy group. Would you have a few minutes to share any advice or ideas with me?

*Elevator speech: who, what, why in 30 seconds. 
Hello (person's name). My name is (your name). I was referred to you by (referral name). I am interested in learning more about (material science, web development, whatever). I wonder if you would have a moment to share with me any advice, ideas, leads, and referrals.

*(Taken from The Foolproof Job-Search Workbook, by Donald Asher, a Reed alumnus, who has given us permission to use it).


You can make the initial contact by phone, email, or a formal letter of interest in which you ask for 20 to 30 minutes or so of someone's time. The most expedient method to set up an informational interview is by phone or email. Consider which method of contact is appropriate for each situation.

Be clear and concise.  Tell the person who you are, what your purpose is, why and how you came upon him or her. A typical contact might sound like this: "Hello, this is Chris College. I received your name from the Reed Alumni Career Network. I am interested in social services and I note you have extensive experience in the field. Would you have 20 or 30 minutes to meet with me sometime so that I might learn more about how you got started, trends in the field, and specific information on your organization?"

You may wonder if people will take time away from their busy schedules to talk with you. They will for several reasons: you have been referred to them by someone they know; meeting with you and others helps keep them informed, up-to-date and well-connected; experts love to share their expertise; and people like to help others because they find it rewarding.

Before the Interview

For the formal informational interview you should do your homework ahead of time. Research the industry, the organization and the person you are interviewing beforeyou ask for an interview. Prepare your questions in advance, and make them genuine so that you make a connection with the person. Dress professionally and bring copies of your resume, but distribute them only upon request.

During the Interview

Arrive 10-15 minutes before your appointment.

During the interview, you are in charge. Restate your purpose and the reason for your visit. Adhere to the original time request of 20-30 minutes. Ask open-ended questions (see below for suggestions), and ask for referrals to other appropriate individuals in the field or in related organizations. Take notes and get a business card from the person.

This is not the time to hand over your resume and ask for a job or internship, although you may have your resume at hand if the person asks to see it. Follow up the next day with a hard copy thank you note or letter, and at that time you can send a resume if appropriate. It is important to understand the difference between an informational interview (during which you are seeking information, ideas, and/or referrals) and a job interview.

What to Say and Ask
First things first: "Thank you for taking time out of your day to meet with me."

Second, restate your purpose: "As I indicated on the phone (in my letter), I am in the process of gathering information and advice about the field of (targeted field). (Name) suggested that I should contact you."

It is also important to state plainly and simply, "I am not here to ask you for a job; I am here to ask you for information."

Your questions will yield more information if they are open-ended enough to engage the person in conversation. Following are possible questions:

        •     Please tell me about your background and how you came to hold your current position. The conversation should lend itself to inquiries about educational background as well as the steps in this person's career path. You will be learning how at least one person got to where you think you may want to go.
        •     What general skills are required in this line of work? This should yield particular contexts in which general transferable skills (which can be products of your liberal arts education) are employed. It also invites the follow up...
        •     What specific or technical skills have you acquired in your work?Besides yielding what you need to have in the skills department, this question might be followed by an inquiry into the types of training the employer provides.
        •     What do you like most about your work (or the field)? This question might get at how the person articulates the intrinsic rewards of the work.  These are the intangibles, the things that make the person tick and bring joy in his or her work.
        •     Are there any responsibilities you would rather give away? This is a diplomatic attempt at uncovering aspects of the work that the person does not appreciate.
        •     What are some of the challenges of your job?....that the organization faces?...that impact the field? These questions are designed to give you clear information regarding the stresses, demands, and probably the opportunities in this line of work. Much work is created to address problems, and these questions will help you begin to articulate how you might be part of the solution to those problems.
        •     What is the outlook for entry-level professionals in the field? Part of this line of inquiry includes "what is a typical entry-level position in the field (or in this organization)?" and should unveil how someone can get a chance to start.
        •     What are the short- and long-term goals of your organization or department? Here, you attempt to get a clearer and current picture of the organization. You should have done enough research ahead of time to know some basics about the products or services and even the general philosophy of the organization. This will take your knowledge a step further.
        •     Are there others in this field with whom you would suggest I talk?Follow this with, "may I say you referred me?" Make sure you get the correct spelling of the name.
        •     I remain very interested in this line of work and will certainly pursue further leads for information and perhaps employment.  Do you have any final advice to give me regarding a career in this field?  What do you recommend for my next step? This statement begins the closure of the interview. It should be heartfelt; otherwise, do not use it. The question allows the person to comment freely, accept or reject the mantle of mentor, and tie up any loose ends.

Finally, ask for permission to stay in touch to let him or her know how your search for information is going, and to learn of potential developments (e.g., May I keep in contact with you to report my progress?).  If you are granted this permission, follow through!

After the Interview

Send a hard copy (snail mail) thank you note or letter immediately and keep the person informed of your progress. This is both courteous and prudent. By keeping in touch you nurture the relationship and strengthen your ability to get new leads for future follow up contacts.  Sending someone an article you think might interest them is a genuine technique that demonstrates reciprocity; you’re giving back after they’ve given their time and advice.

After the interview, take some time to evaluate your style of interviewing and the information you received. Summarize the information in writing and date it. Your journal should include specific points that were made in the interview and when or if you will follow up.  If you make several contacts during a week, your notes and summaries will be extremely important as you review what you have learned.

Arrange appointments with new referrals.

Remember, the network can work for you or against you. The impression you leave can make or break your chances of being remembered and referred to emerging opportunities.

Etiquette notes:  Always be courteous.  Networking must be undertaken with the utmost professionalism.   Consult with a counselor in the Center for Life Beyond Reed if you have any doubts about what constitutes courtesy and professionalism. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

·In your initial requests, try to acknowledge their busy schedule and how much you appreciate any time they can spare, at their convenience.  Offering times in the next week or two is a good practice.

·When faced with a situation where the person you're trying to contact does not respond, take the time to follow up on your request, as many as 4 times.  In general, the more direct approach yields the better outcome, so a phone call is typically more effective then an email request. 


Much of this information is also available as a part of a larger handout on networking, available in the Center for Life Beyond Reed office or downloadable here. The networking handout also includes more information on whom to contact and other tips.

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