The Student Guide to Informational Interviews

When it comes to landing that coveted job after college, you are told countless times you need to be networking. You are told to network, but are unsure of who to network with.

Informational Interview

Where do you start?

You don't just go up to someone you don't know and ask for a job. Instead, establish connections with professionals in the field by going out and seeking their advice, insight, and opinion. Deep down people generally will want to help by providing their advice, especially when it comes to an aspiring college student such as yourself.

“It’s all about who you know”

This saying has been used as an excuse by frustrated job seekers for years. While true to an extent, you need to take the initiative and get yourself in front of the right people. This is how you get your foot in the door. Build your network and get valuable career advice by conducting an informational interview.

What is an Informational Interview?

An informational interview is a meeting in which you set up with a professional to ask for career and industry advice.

In an informational interview, you become the interviewer; asking questions and finding answers about a certain career, directly from the source. It’s about gaining knowledge and networking to gain contacts in the industry you can reach out to for guidance.

“Best results are often achieved well before you need a job, by consistently networking so that when you find yourself job-hunting you have a large network to work with.” - Erik Qualman

The term "informational interviewing" was invented by Richard Nelson Bolles, author of the best-selling career book, What Color Is Your Parachute? The author refers to the process as "trying on jobs to see if they fit you." Check out the book here.

Setting up an Informational Interview

Make an appointment with a professional in the community to gain insights into the prospective career you are seeking after college. Here you’ll be able to get an insider’s point of view in an information gathering session. No one else will be able to give you a better sense of a career than someone currently working in that position.

“If you want to go somewhere, it is best to find someone who has already been there.” - Robert Kiyosaki

Who to connect with:

What is your intended career? What are you considering? Find a professional in this career field you can meet with to conduct an informational interview. Identify companies that align with your career and find individuals within that organization who hold positions similar to the ones you are seeking. Maybe you already have a professional in the field in mind.

Where to find people to interview:

  1. Access the alumni database to find a contact in the industry.
  2. Ask the career center if there is someone they can recommend.
  3. Tap one of your connections on LinkedIN.
  4. Have a friend, co-worker, or professor refer or introduce you to someone in the field.

These meetings are usually set up through personal referral or an initial phone call or email. If you don’t like the idea of cold calling or emailing, you could set this meeting up in-person at the next career fair.

Don’t be shy. Have the guts to take the initiative when it comes to your career. Don’t be afraid of someone saying no.

Whether or not you know someone in the career field you are considering, feel free to reach out, ask questions, and get advice. It’s always great to have some type of mentor who can help lead you down the right path.

Remember: People will want to help you if you take the time to reach out in an honest way.

Planning out a Informational Interview

Schedule a 15-20 minute in-person or over the phone informational interview with a professional in the field of work you hope to get into after college. This meeting will help ensure you’re on track for your career and help you decide if the specific job is right for you.

Prepare for an informational interview by coming in with a list of questions specific to the job.

Example Questions to ask in an Informational Interview:

  • What's a typical day at work like?
  • What steps would you recommend I take to prepare to enter this field?
  • How relevant to the job is your undergraduate major?
  • What skills are most critical to have for this position?
  • What aspects of the job do you find most challenging or fascinating?
  • What are some positives and negatives of this career?
  • What kind of background or training is desirable for this work? Are there certain classes or training programs you would recommend?

After the Interview

Pro Tip: A key question to ask at the end of the interview is, "Do you know anyone else I can talk to about this career?" This gives them a chance to refer you to other influential professionals in the field and helps you expand your network.

Don't forget to follow up after the meeting with a thank you letter or email. This helps solidify the contact and honestly thanks them for taking time out of their day to meet with you.

Benefits of doing an Informational Interview

Informational interviews give insight into what it's like working in your prospective career. You obtain a great deal of information about your career field and the skills needed to do the job effectively. They can even lead to further career experiences, like job shadowing and internships, or even a real job offer.

An informational interview is not a time to ask for a job. Interestingly enough, one out of every 12 informational interviews results in a job offer. These meetings also help you get your foot in the door for any job openings in the future. By conducting informational interviews, you can tap into the hidden job market (jobs openings that are unadvertised).

Because the vast majority of jobs are never advertised, you will uncover job openings that never make it to the job-board posting, want ad, or employment office.

Since you're not actually interviewing for a job, the experience will be less stressful and you'll be able to relax and focus on getting the most out of the informational session.

It’s a learning experience. Not only does it give you a deep understanding of what many professionals do on a daily basis, it’s a way to earn some great business contacts. Talking and meeting with professionals can also enhance your interview skills; this practice gets you comfortable in those types of situations.

“The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work.” - Robert Kiyosaki

Informational Interview Resources

If you need additional guidance or further direction on setting up your informational interview, find more here.

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