Guidelines for Informational Interviews

1. Understand the Objective

The primary objectives of informational interviewing are to…

  • investigate a specific career field.
  • assist in narrowing options.
  • obtain advice on where you might fit in.
  • learn the jargon and important issues in the field.
  • broaden your network of contacts for future reference.
  • create a strategy for entering your field of interest.

2. Identify an Occupation(s) for Informational Interviews

Identify one or more occupations you would like to investigate. Assess your own interests, abilities, values, and skills, and evaluate labor conditions and trends to identify the best fields to research. Read all you can about the field before the interview.

Decide what information you would like to obtain about the occupation/industry.

Prepare a list of questions that you would like to have answered. Find out as much information as you can about each place before setting up an interview.

3. Identify People to Interview for Informational Interviews

Start with lists of people you already know: friends, fellow students, present or former co-workers, supervisors, neighbors, etc. Professional organizations, the yellow pages from the phone book, organizational directories, and public speakers are also good resources. You may also call an organization and ask for the name of the person by job title. There’s no one in the world who you can’t try contacting. People like to help students out with job information. One student whose dream job was to run a Fortune 500 company called the president of Levi Strauss & Co., asked for an informational interview, and got it.

To find a working professional, go to your college career center or alumni office and ask for a list of people who are working in the field that interests you. Locate alumni, people you’ve read about, or people your parents know.

You should be prepared. Research the organization, person you’ll be speaking with, product produced by the organization, etc. If your contact is an alumnus/alumna, look him/her up in the Alumni Office’s biographical material, if available. Try easily-accessible periodicals, such as local and large metropolitan newspapers.

The more you know, the better you’ll be able to formulate questions pertaining to the organization and job. The more knowledge you have, the more confident you will feel about your ability to communicate effectively. Write to organizations for brochures and pamphlets for additional information. Ask yourself what it is you want to know and then figure out who has an investment in knowing that sort of information. Use the University library.

4. Never Ask for a Job

Don’t mix informational interviewing with job seeking. Employers will grant informational interviews when they firmly trust that you will not hit them up for a job. The minute you begin trying to get a job, the employer will feel misled. If you discover a job that you do want to apply for during the interview, wait until the informational interview is over. The next day, call the employer and tell your contact that the informational interview not only confirmed your interest in the field, but also made you aware of a position for which you would like to formally apply.

Sometimes the interviewee may offer you an internship or job. It’s happened on numerous occasions. Many people have conducted informational interviews and have done nothing but ask questions and yet have been offered employment. What do you do if they offer you an internship or job? If it sounds good, take it! Suddenly your life could change in an instant!

The typical job searcher is going around asking for a job instead of asking questions to find out more about the job and the employer. A job searcher needs to know the basics about the employer and what the company is about. The fact that you are seeking only information will help set you apart from the hundreds of others who are walking in to ask for jobs and being told no. Approach the employer with the attitude that you are seeking career advice. It is, therefore, usually a good idea to set up an informational interview with a resource person before there is an actual job opening in your area of interest. Most managers and supervisors feel uneasy or uncomfortable talking with a potential candidate when the organization is actively recruiting to fill the position. However, you may find it helpful for future reference to find out the name of the manager or the person who does the hiring. (Be sure the information you get is accurate!)

5. Prepare Ahead of Time for Your Interview

Ask only those questions that are appropriate and important to you. You will convey your motivation and interest to the employer by acknowledging that the information the interviewee is giving you is important.

  • What is your job like?
  • What happens during a typical day?
  • What do you do? What are the duties/functions/responsibilities of your job?
  • What kinds of problems do you deal with?
  • What kinds of decisions do you make?
  • What percentage of your time is spent doing what?
  • How does the time use vary? Are there busy and slow times or is the work activity fairly constant?
  • How did this type of work interest you and how did you get started?
  • How did you get your job? What jobs and experiences have led you to your present position?
  • Can you suggest some ways a student could obtain this necessary experience?
  • What are the most important personal satisfactions and dissatisfactions connected with your occupation? What part of this job do you personally find most satisfying? Most challenging?
  • What do you like and not like about working in this industry?
  • What things did you do before you entered this occupation?
  • Which have been most helpful?
  • What other jobs can you get with the same background?
  • What are the various jobs in this field or organization?
  • Why did you decide to work for this company?
  • What do you like most about this company?
  • How does your company differ from its competitors?
  • Why do customers choose this company?
  • Are you optimistic about the company’s future and your future with the company?
  • What does the company do to contribute to its employees’ professional development?
  • How does the company make use of technology for internal communication and outside marketing? (Use of e-mail, Internet, intranets, websites, video conferencing, etc.)
  • What sorts of changes are occurring in your occupation?
  • How does a person progress in your field? What is a typical career path in this field or organization?
  • What is the best way to enter this occupation?
  • What are the advancement opportunities?
  • What are the major qualifications for success in this occupation?
  • What were the keys to your career advancement? How did you get where you are and what are your long-range goals?
  • What are the skills that are most important for a position in this field?
  • What particular skills or talents are most essential to be effective in your job? How did you learn these skills? Did you enter this position through a formal training program? How can I evaluate whether or not I have the necessary skills for a position such as yours?
  • How would you describe the working atmosphere and the people with whom you work?
  • Is there a basic philosophy of the company or organization and, if so, what is it? (Is it a people-, service- or product-oriented business?)
  • What can you tell me about the corporate culture?
  • What is the average length of time for an employee to stay in the job you hold? Are there incentives or disincentives for staying in the same job?
  • Is there flexibility related to dress, work hours, vacation schedule, place of residence, etc.?
  • What work-related values are strongest in this type of work (security, high income, variety, independence)?
  • If your job progresses as you like, what would be the next step in your career?
  • If your work were suddenly eliminated, what kinds of work do you feel prepared to do?
  • With the information you have about my education, skills, and experience, what other fields or jobs would you suggest I research further before I make a final decision?
  • How is the economy affecting this industry?
  • What can you tell me about the employment outlook in your occupational field? How much demand is there for people in this occupation? How rapidly is the field growing? Can you estimate future job openings?
  • What obligations does your employer place have on you outside of the ordinary work week? What social obligations go along with a job in your occupation?
  • Are there other things you are expected to do outside work hours?
  • Are there organizations you are expected to join?
  • How has your job affected your lifestyle?
  • What are the salary ranges for various levels in this field? Is there a salary ceiling?
  • What are the major rewards aside from extrinsic rewards such as money, fringe benefits, travel, etc.?
  • From your perspective, what are the problems you see working in this field?
  • What assignments/projects can I expect to be assigned as an entry-level person in my career?
  • What are the major frustrations of this job?
  • What interests you least about the job or creates the most stress?
  • If you could do things all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? Why? What would you change?
  • What are the educational, requirements for this job? What other types of credentials or licenses are required? What types of training do companies offer persons entering this field? Is graduate school recommended? An MBA? Does the company encourage and pay for employees to pursue graduate degrees?
  • Does your work relate to any experiences or studies you had in college?
  • Is there anything you would do differently if you had the chance to be a student again?
  • How well did your college experience prepare you for this job?
  • What is the range for starting salaries in our field?
  • What courses have proved to be the most valuable to you in your work? What would you recommend for me?
  • How important are grades/GPA for obtaining a job in this field?
  • How do you think my university’s reputation is viewed when it comes to hiring?
  • How do you think graduation from a private (or public) university is viewed when it comes to hiring?
  • How did you prepare for this work? If you were entering this career today, would you change your preparation in any way to facilitate entry?
  • What abilities or personal qualities do you believe contribute most to success in this field/job?
  • What are the typical entry-level job titles and functions? What entry level jobs are best for learning as much as possible?
  • Who is the department head or supervisor for this job? Where do you and your supervisor fit into the organizational structure?
  • Who else do you know who is doing similar kinds of work or uses similar skills? What other kinds of organizations hire people to perform the functions you do here? Do you know of other people whom I might talk to who have similar jobs?
  • Do you have any advice for someone interested in this field/job? Are there any written materials you suggest I read? Which professional journals and organizations would help me learn more about this field?
  • What kinds of experience, paid or unpaid, would you encourage for anybody pursuing a career in this field?
  • What special advice do you have for a student seeking to qualify for this position?
  • Do you have any special world of warning or encouragement as a result of your experience?
  • These are my strongest assets (skills, areas of knowledge, personality traits and values):___________________________________. Where would they fit in this field? Where would they be helpful in this organization? Where might they fit in other fields? Where might they be helpful in other organizations?
  • How would you assess the experience I’ve had so far in terms of entering this field?

The whole interview could be spent finding answers to the dozen or so questions you decide to ask.  But as you practice and move further toward your target, questions will probably pop into your head spontaneously based on what you need to know.

Pay careful attention to what’s said by the person you interview. Ask questions when something isn’t clear. People are often happy to discuss their positions and willing to provide you with a wealth of information.

Try to keep the conversation friendly, brief, and focused on the contact person’s job and career field.

Back to the Self Assessment, Career Exploration and Planning page.