Your guide to informational interviews

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

The best information about a career field comes from people working in that field. An informational interview is an informal conversation with someone working in a field that interests you. It allows you to grasp the realities of working within this field and get tips on how to plan for a specific career. It also allows you to expand your network and get better at job interviews.

How to identify people to interview

  • Start with people you already know. Ask your family, friends, or teachers if they know anyone in the career field you’re exploring.
  • Use LinkedIn or your college’s alumni network to find people. Research professional organizations.
  • Follow up with people you met during job fairs. 
  • You may feel awkward reaching out to people you don’t know. However, most people enjoy sharing their experience and giving advice. Still, be prepared for some rejection.

How to initiate contact

Contact people by email. Mention how you got their name. Make it clear that you are only looking for information, not a job. Be specific about the type of questions you have. Ask for a 30-minute appointment at their convenience.

How to prepare for the interview

  • Prepare a brief introduction for yourself. Keep it short (3 minutes max).
  • Do some background research. Read the person’s LinkedIn profile. Look for any interests or background that you might have in common with the person. Look up the industry and the company on the Internet. Get up to date on the industry’s news and trends. Find out about the company’s products and services, locations and the names of key executives. Read the latest press releases You do not want to ask questions you can Google search.
  • Prepare a list of questions beforehand (see typical questions below). You probably won’t have time to ask all the questions you have prepared, so target the ones that will be most useful to your career planning.

How to conduct the interview

  • Dress well. You want to look professional.
  • Be enthusiastic. Make a good impression.
  • Bring a resume in case the person asks for it.
  • Arrive a few minutes early.
  • Thank the person for his or her willingness to meet with you.
  • Re-emphasize that you are there to gather information about his or her career field.
  • Introduce yourself briefly. Describe your background and what you’re looking for.
  • Ask about time constraints.
  • Lead the conversation with questions. Show that you’ve done your homework. Organize your questions by categories.
  • Let the person do most of the talking. The interview is not about you.
  • Listen carefully to what the person is saying and take notes.
  • Respect the person’s time. Limit the meeting to the agreed-upon timeframe.
  • Ask for other referrals to gain different perspectives.
  • Don’t ask for a job!

Don’t forget to follow up

  • Thank the person for their time via email. Describe how the person was helpful to you.
  • Report back if you have followed up on any advice.
  • Keep the person posted on any concrete outcome in your career planning.

Typical questions to prepare

  • How did you get into this field of work?
  • How did you get this position?
  • Why did you choose to work for this company?
  • What do you like most about this company?
  • What tasks do you perform during a typical day, week, month, year?
  • What projects are you working on?
  • What are your primary responsibilities?
  • What are the toughest problems and decisions you face? What creates the most stress?
  • What do you enjoy most about your occupation? 
  • What’s not so great about it? 
  • What are the most rewarding aspects of your work? The most challenging?
  • Are there aspects of your work that are repetitious?
  • What is most dissatisfying about your work? Is this typical of the field?
  • If you could change anything about your job, what would it be?
  • What didn’t you know before you got into this industry that you wish someone had told you?
  • What are the different salary ranges?
  • What is a typical entry-level salary in this field?
  • What are the salary ranges for higher levels in this occupation?
  • What is a typical career path in this field or company?
  • What is the highest-level job one can hold in this career?
  • In what ways is your occupation changing?
  • What do you see happening in this field over the next few years?
  • What are the advancement opportunities in your company, and to what position? How rapidly do people move to the next level in this career?
  • What is the average length of time for an employee to stay in your job?
  • What was your career path from college to present?
  • What do you wish you had done differently when you first started working/at your company?
  • What do you wish you’d known before you began your career?
  • If you could do things all over again, would you choose the same career path? Why? What would you change?
  • How did you get where you are?
  • What are your long-term goals?
  • If your job progresses as you like, what will be the next step in your career?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What types of training does this company offer those who enter this field?
  • What abilities or personal qualities do you believe contribute most to success in this occupation?
  • What skills are most important to acquire for a position in this field?
  • How did you learn these skills?
  • How well did your college experience prepare you for this job?
  • What was your major in college?
  • What courses have proved to be the most valuable to you in your work?
  • What courses do you wish you had taken that might have prepared you for the career?
  • What do you feel is the best educational preparation for this career?
  • What courses should I be taking to gain the skills necessary for this occupation?
  • What are the educational requirements for this occupation?
  • What degree or certificate do employers look for?
  • Does your work relate to any work experiences you had beforehand?
  • What kind of work/internship experience do employers expect in a job applicant?
  • If you were entering this career today, would you change your preparation in any way?
  • What kinds of experience, paid or unpaid, would you encourage for anybody entering this field?
  • What are the typical entry-level job titles and functions?
  • What entry-level jobs offer the best opportunities for learning?
  • What is the best way to obtain a position that will get me started in this occupation?
  • What are some related occupations?
  • What other fields or jobs would you suggest I research further before I make a final decision?
  • What job search advice would you give to someone in my situation?
  • What experiences, skills, or personality traits does your company look for in new hires?
  • If I wanted to obtain a job here, who would the best person to contact? What would be the best way to learn about job vacancies?
  • What is the typical job-interview process at the company? How many interviews do candidates generally pass before being offered a position?
  • What advice would you give me about how to best prepare for interviews?
  • What areas of the company would be most interested in hiring people with my background?
  • Do you have any recommendations for people I should talk to or resources I should explore? Do I have your permission to use your name when contacting those people?
  • Do you think I left out important questions that would be helpful to plan my career?
  • Do you mind if we stay in touch?

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