Informational Interviews

One of the best ways to learn more about a specific industry, job, or organization is by connecting with professionals who are actually in the field. The technical term for this type of interaction is called ‘Informational Interviewing’. Often the most current information about a career field, especially in a specific geographic location, may not be available in print or online resources. The best information comes from people who are actually working in that career field. An informational interview is an informal conversation with someone working in an area of interest to you who will give you information and advice.

You may feel awkward making arrangements to talk with people you don't know about their work. However, most people actually enjoy taking a few moments out of their day to reflect on their professional life and to give advice to someone with an interest in their field.

The Benefits…

  • Get firsthand and relevant information.
  • Find out about career paths you did not know existed.
  • Clarify your goals and consider how a particular career may match your interests, lifestyle and future plans.
  • Improve your communication skills by talking informally with an interested professional.
  • Develop job search skills. For example, networking and job interviewing become much easier when you have a good sense of what interests you and how your background and skills match the qualifications of a particular field, industry, or job.
  • Initiate a professional relationship and expand your network of contacts in a particular career field.

Five Steps for Informational Interviewing

1. Identify People to Interview

  • Pursue your own contacts. People you already know, even if they aren't in fields of interest to you, can lead you to people who are. Ask family, friends, and acquaintances (and their friends and family) if they might know someone who works in the job or career you are interested in.
  • Call organizations directly or visit their website for the name of someone working within a particular area of interest. Look for those who are doing work that interests you.  While the Human Resources Department of an organization may be helpful, in this context, you want to talk to people who are actually doing the work that interests you, not the Human Resource Department.
  • Read newspaper and magazine articles. Contact professional associations and ask if they are able to refer you to a member who could provide you with helpful information.
  • Do an online search for companies working in your industry of choice and locate people within those companies who might be willing to talk to you.
  • Search Linkedin for prospects.  Look under “Connections,” to “Find Alumni” for Western grads who are working in occupations and companies which interest you.

2. Initiate Contact

  • Contact the person by phone, email or letter, and mention how you got his or her name.
  • Emphasize that you are looking for information, not a job, and ask for a convenient time to have a 20-30 minute appointment.

Sample Phone Script

Hello. My name is Anoop Desai and I am a graduate student at Western University.

I received your name from my professor John Wilson. I am very interested in the biotechnology industry and would like to find out as much as I can about this field.

Would it be possible to schedule 20 or 30 minutes with you at your convenience to ask you a few questions and get your advice on how best to prepare to enter the field? 

Sample Email Message

Subject: Western student seeking your advice

Dear Mr. Leigh,

My name is Sally Mustang, and I am a third-year Western student who found your information in the LinkedIn Alumni database while I was researching the financial and banking industry.  Would you be open to a brief call or a meeting in person so that I can learn more about your career path? I am trying to learn more about finance roles within this industry, and your insights would be very helpful.

I am available to meet at your convenience in-person or over the phone on (specific dates and times over a 2-week window). Please feel free to suggest alternate times that work with your schedule.

I appreciate your consideration of my request for advice, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sally Mustang

Sample Linkedin Message

Hi Kevin. I'm a current Western student and found your profile as I was searching for A&H graduates working in consulting. I'm interested in connecting with you and learning more about your work and career post-graduation.

3. Prepare for the Interview

  • Do some initial research on the career field or employer using internet and print resources. Learn as much about the organization as possible through Internet home pages, trade magazines, and annual reports so that you can find out if you would really like to work for the organization or hold a specific position.
  • Develop an Elevator Pitch (also referred to as a 30-second overview of yourself), including your reasons for contacting this person, as a way to introduce yourself and define the context of the meeting.  Your introduction might include your name, education, your professional experience (paid, unpaid work, volunteer work), your future interests.
  • Think of questions you would like to ask during the interview.

Sample questions

These are some commonly asked informational interview questions, but remember, these are only sample questions. Create your own questions based on your own personal situation, the research that you have done, and the information you want to know.

  1. On a typical day in this position, what do you do?
  2. What are your main responsibilities as a...?
  3. What kinds of challenges are you working on?
  4. What kinds of decisions do you make?
  5. How does your position fit within the organization/industry?
  6. What are the challenging components of your job?
  7. What do you like best and least about your job?
  8. What training or education is required for this type of work?
  9. What qualities/characteristics does an individual need to thrive in this career field?
  10. What skills are required for a person in this position?
  11. Why did you choose to work for this organization?
  12. How did you get your job?
  13. What entry-level jobs are best for learning as much as possible?
  14. What advice would you have for someone wanting to enter this field?
  15. What opportunities for advancement/movement are there in this field/organization?
  16. How would you describe the work atmosphere?
  17. How does your job affect your general lifestyle?
  18. What is your best guess as to the future job trends and changes in this field?
  19. What current issues and trends in the field should I know about?
  20. What are some common career trajectories in this field?
  21. How is technology changing this field? How do you expect technology to influence this field in the future?
  22. How do you see jobs in this field changing in the future?
  23. Is there a demand for people in this occupation?
  24. What growth do you foresee in this organization?
  25. What other occupations in this industry are similar to yours?
  26. Have you considered working in any other industry? If so, which one(s)?
  27. What type of training do companies offer persons entering this field?
  28. Which professional journals and organizations would help me learn more about this field?
  29. What volunteer or internship opportunities exist in your organization?
  30. Could you suggest anyone else that works in this area that would be willing to talk to me? May I use your name when I contact them?

4. Conduct the Informational Interview

  • Dress neatly and appropriately as you would for a job interview.
  • Be on time or early (which will help familiarize yourself with the surroundings).
  • Restate that your objective is to get information and advice.  Don’t mention jobs.
  • Remember that you are the interviewer, so be prepared to start the conversation.
  • Listen well and be genuinely interested in what the person has to say.
  • Take notes if you'd like.
  • Respect the person's time. Keep the appointment length within the time span that you requested.
  • Keep in mind that this is an information interview, not an employment interview, and, as such, let the interviewee bring up any discussion of specific job vacancies.
  • Always ask for names of other people to talk to for additional information or a different perspective.
  • Ask for a business card and graciously thank them for their time and helpful advice.

5. Follow-up

  • Keep records. Right after the interview write down what you learned (including the suggestions or advice given to you), what more you'd like to know, and your reactions in terms of how this industry, field or position would "fit" with your lifestyle, interests, skills and future career plans.
  • Send a  thank you note within 1-2 days to express your appreciation for the time and information given. Based on your assessment of the nature of your informational interview, whether informal or more business-like, this may be a brief handwritten note or a business letter.
  • Keep in touch with the person.  Let him or her know that you followed up on their advice and how things are going as a result. This relationship could become an important part of your network.
  • Evaluate your interview.  Make note of what you would have done differently and make those changes for your next informational interviews.

Sample Thank You Letter Following an Informational Interview

Dear Ms. Banglesh

I appreciate you meeting with me yesterday to talk about your work as a graphic designer with BlackBerry. I now have a better understanding of this exciting field, particularly within a large global organization.

It was helpful to hear that I should focus on developing my portfolio to showcase my abilities and potential as an employee. It was also beneficial to know that organizations such as yours often offer internships for students. I have decided to do more research about a possible internship to enhance my skills and get more practical hands on experience. I will be contacting your colleague, Randy Mead, to make an appointment regarding internship opportunities at BlackBerry.

I very much appreciate having had the opportunity to meet with you. Your time and guidance were invaluable.

Thanks again,

Japreet Mustang

Final Tips

  • Be well prepared - do all of the preparation that you can so that you can make the most of this valuable opportunity to gather information.
  • Be professional - this is a great chance to make a good first impression, so be as professional and courteous as possible.
  • Come prepared to take notes - you will be given lots of valuable information, so make sure to write it all down so you don’t forget.
  • Do not be intimidated - most people love to talk about themselves so use this to your advantage.
  • Never ask for a job- this is an informational interview, not a job interview.
  • Enjoy your opportunity to be the "interviewer".

Additional Resources is a web-based resource featuring videos in which people tell their WorkStory.... what they do, what’s great about it and the path(s!) they took to get there.  Aimed at current students, recent grads, those new to the job market, and career changers, is intended to inform, to intrigue, and to inspire.