What is an informational interview?
An informational interview is a conversation you have with somebody who can provide you with information about a career, company, or industry. In this course of this conversation, you can gain valuable information about what careers may or may not appeal to you and how you can enter a profession. Topics of an informational interview may include how they got started, what they like about their job, what challenges come with the industry, entry-level prospects, companies that may be hiring, and what makes a strong candidate. This is only a sample of the types of topics you can discuss together! Read on for more information about conducting informational interviews.
How to get started
You can find people to interview through a variety of ways, including your existing network (people you already know) and your new network (people you have yet to meet), which you can find through the alumni directory, Switchboard, company websites, LinkedIn, referrals from your existing network, or events/activities/organizations you participate in. Think about who has an interesting job that you want to learn more about. Think about who works in an industry you want to explore. Think about who works at one of your dream companies. These individuals can provide useful advice.
Think about all the people you interact with on a daily basis – friends, classmates, professors, supervisors, family – these people make up your immediate network. There may also be people that you do not interact with daily but that are still part of your existing network, including former supervisors, high school teachers or advisors, family friends, etc. Although it may not always seem obvious to go to the people you already know and interact with for career advice, just think about all the knowledge that everyone in your existing network possesses.
- Reed has a strong alumni network and is filled with individuals eager to help other Reedies, so this is a great place to start if you are new to networking. Familiarize yourself with the Alumni Directory in IRIS and the alumni search on LinkedIn. The best way to learn about maximizing these resources is through making an appointment with an advisor at the Center for Life Beyond Reed in Handshake.
- Reed Switchboard is another method of networking with alumni. This does not require writing a formal email or reaching out to one specific individual (see the “Asking for an informational interview” section for more information); rather, you can ask a general question and see who responds. For example: “Does anybody have any recommendations for marketing agencies in Boston that may have internship opportunities?”
- Seeking out organizational contacts
- You are not limited to Reed alumni when it comes to growing your network. If you want to learn more about what it is like to have a certain job, or what it is like to work at a certain company, you can contact people in those roles and ask for advice (see the “Asking for an informational interview” section for more information).
- Becoming more involved in clubs and community events is another great way to network, as is involvement in professional associations (many of which have student memberships). If you want advice on how to seek out involvement opportunities, make an appointment with an advisor at CLBR. Also keep in mind that CLBR hosts opportunities throughout the year that will allow you to network with employers and alumni, so pay attention to our upcoming events or contact us directly!
- Always remember that even if somebody in your existing network does not have information on the career you are pursuing, they may know somebody who does! You can ask people you know if they know of anybody that you should talk to.
Asking for an informational interview
If you already know the person you want to interview, simply reach out and ask them! Make sure your goals are clear and you are specific about how you want to engage (phone, email, next week, etc.). If you do not already know the person, read on for advice on how to email them:
- Your email should be short and to the point, but provide enough context that the person knows why you are writing.
- Introduce yourself, including enough information that makes the connection clear (ex. if you are an English major looking for journalism contacts, it would be helpful to state that you are an English major).
- Indicate how you found their information (Reed Alumni Directory, staff bios on company web page, etc.).
- Briefly describe your goals and what you are hoping to achieve through contact with them (ex. “I am hoping to learn more about what a career in journalism is like”).
- Be specific about how you want to engage with them – you can ask to set up a brief phone call or you can ask if you can send a few questions over email.
- Thank the person for their consideration of your request.
- Do not email somebody you do not know out of the blue and ask them for a job or for connections. Instead, focus on building a relationship and gaining valuable information, and nurture the relationship so those opportunities can come organically.
- Sample email:
- It is possible that the individuals you contact do not get back to you right away, as they likely have busy work schedules. Wait one week and then follow up with a short and friendly email.
- If somebody responds, respond to them promptly (within 24 hours).
- You can schedule the informational interview to be in phone or in person, or you can also ask questions via email.
Conducting the interview
Once you have your contact secured, you can conduct an informational interview. If you are emailing questions to a new contact, it is as simple as writing a professional email with 3-5 questions included. The individual’s response will likely lead to more questions and keep the conversation moving forward.
If you are speaking on the phone or meeting someone in person for an informational interview, keep the following tips in mind:
- For phone calls: Pay attention to time zones! If you are connecting with somebody elsewhere in the U.S. or the world, make sure that you both understand what time zone you are referring to in your agreed upon time.
- Always show up or call the person on time. This is a person who is taking time out of their busy schedule to help you, so it is vital to show that you respect their time. You also never know when this individual might be involved in a hiring process, so everything you do goes into making a good impression!
- If the person calls you, be ready, and answer your phone by saying “Hello, this is [My Name].”
- Confirm the amount of time you have for the call/meeting before starting the conversation, emphasizing that you want to respect their time.
- It is your responsibility to come prepared with questions. The conversation may begin to flow more organically at some point, which is fine. But the individual will expect you to drive the conversation otherwise, so be ready. Think about questions that can only be answered by this person (which means you will want to avoid asking questions that can easily be answered by basic internet research). This is your chance to hear somebody else’s perspectives on a career path and to learn how they entered a field you may also want to enter. See the next section for a sample of questions you can ask.
- If meeting, bring a copy of your resume, but do not offer it unless it comes up in conversation.
- Make sure to get the individual’s business card and ask to stay in touch. Ask for their preferred mode of staying in touch (email, LinkedIn, etc.).
- Also ask the individual who are additional people that you can contact for information – this helps grow your network even more!
- Follow up with a thank-you email or thank-you card within 24 hours of your call/meeting.
Here are some examples of questions you can ask during an informational interview, although remember that the questions will need to be individually tailored based upon your goals.
- Can you tell me about your background and how you came to hold your current position?
- What general skills are required for this line of work?
- What specific or technical skills are required in your work?
- What do you like most about your work or the field?
- What are some of the challenges of your job? What are some challenges that the organization faces or that impact the field?
- What is the outlook for entry-level professionals in the field?
- What are the short or long-term goals of your organization or department?
- Are there others in the field with whom you suggest I talk? (If yes, follow-up with “May I say you referred me?”)
- Do you have any final advice to give me regarding a career in this field? What do you recommend for my next step?
Staying in touch
After the informational interview, make sure to thank your interviewee for their time within 24 hours. You can send a brief email to say thank you, or you can send a thank-you card. After that, it is important to stay connected and follow up on any action items that were discussed. For example, sometimes people will maintain regular contact through weekly/monthly conversations. They may refer you to somebody else for information. You may reach out again with more questions. They may send you a job posting. The key is that you want to nurture the relationship and show that you are invested in learning from them and grateful for their time, rather than only reaching out when you need something.
There are several things you can do to stay in contact:
- Connect on LinkedIn and comment on their posts
- Send LinkedIn messages to check in
- Check in at milestones (ex. congratulate them on a promotion or new job)
- If you come across an article relevant to what you discussed during your informational interview, send it their way
- Keep them informed of your progress
It is also very important to let people you have connected with know what you are up to. For example, if they gave you advice that helped you find an internship, they would be excited to know that! If somebody was happy to help you at some point in your search, they will be happy to hear updates from you.
Finally, if your informational interview goes well, consider asking your interviewee if they would be willing to host you for a job shadow! Read our guide on Job Shadows for more information about how to do this.