Informational interviewing is one of the best ways to get good career information and start building your network of career contacts after graduation. It simply involves talking with people who have knowledge about a career field that interests you.
In a brief appointment, which usually lasts 20 to 30 minutes (maybe less if by phone), you ask questions to learn about such things as pros and cons of the work, the demands, the sources of satisfaction, the training required, the future outlook, how to get started in the field, and more. Informational Interviewing allows you to gain knowledge about the field from an "insider's" perspective. It can help you decide if you really want to pursue the career field, and give you valuable information and contacts for your job search.
Steps to Successful Information Interviewing:
Think of people who may be sources of career information or job leads. Expand this list of networking contacts as you talk about career ideas with your peers and anyone else you meet. Ask your family, friends, professors, doctor, minister, hair stylist - even the person next to you on the airplane - if they know of anyone doing the kind of work you want to explore.
Ask To Meet
Call or write to request a meeting. Explain how you got the person's name; if someone referred you, be sure to mention that. When contacting a Hampshire alum, identify yourself as a Hampshire student or fellow alum. Take a minute to describe your background, and then ask if you can make an appointment at this person's convenience to learn more about her/his career field. Some examples of how you might state your meeting objective are:
"I've read books and searched websites for information on journalism, and I really feel like it's time for me to talk with someone experienced in the field to get a real-world perspective."
"I'm planning to move to San Francisco and want to find out everything I can about the Bay area before I start an all-out search for a job in the health care field."
"I've often thought about pursuing a career in theater production, and I'd like to find out more about the field and how people generally get their start."
"As part of my career research, I'm talking to people in a variety of fields to find out what their jobs are actually like."
If contacting by letter (or email): Make the letter an example of your best writing. If your writing is careless, the person might respond but not feel comfortable referring you to others. Close your letter by saying that you'll follow up with a phone call - then be sure to do it. Don't put your questions in a letter and expect a written reply. That would be extra work for your contact. Besides, you're likely to gain more from a conversation.
If contacting by telephone: Begin by saying who you are and how you got the person's name, then ask if this is a good time to talk. If it's not, explain your reason for calling and ask when you might call back. If you sent an introductory letter/email and this is a follow-up call, ask if your letter was received and restate your reason for getting in touch.
If your contact can't talk or meet with you, thank her anyway. If it feels comfortable, ask if she can refer you to anyone else in the field, and if you might use her name when introducing yourself. Be prepared with your questions before you call, in case your contact happens to be free and you have a spontaneous opportunity for a telephone interview.
Phone Messages: Always give your phone number when leaving a message and remember to speak slowly and clearly. Make sure your own voicemail message is professional.
Confirmation: When you call to set up an in-person appointment, do not hesitate to clarify date, time, location, appropriate attire, and parking availability.
Plan to present yourself in a professional manner. Prepare a list of the questions most important to you (see the attached list of Potential Questions for some ideas). If you are meeting in person be prompt, dress appropriately for that business and be well groomed. Remember to bring driving directions, your questions, pen, paper and resume.
Start early - don't get caught in traffic. If this is a telephone interview, be sure to call on time. Making a good impression helps ensure that this person will remain a valuable networking contact in the future.
If you have a polished resume, bring it with you. Your contact may ask to see it, or you may have an opportunity to show it and get some feedback. Remember that if you do show your resume, it will be to get advice, not to ask directly for a job or internship.
Conduct the Interview Professionally
- Listen carefully and try to ask the questions most important to you. Be aware of your contact's time constraints.
- It is not appropriate to set up an informational interview, and then ask directly for an internship or job. You may ask for advice about how to get relevant experience, how to start your job search, or how to get appropriate training. If you positively impress contacts, they may refer or recommend you when they hear of job openings.
- At the close of the interview, thank your contact for his or her time. Don't forget to ask if s/he knows of other people who might help you with further information or different perspectives. Provided you make it clear that you're not trying to get a job through this particular interview, it is acceptable to ask in a general way if your contact knows of any job openings, or if s/he would keep you in mind upon learning of openings.
- Follow up if you want to be remembered.
- Always send a thank-you letter within two to three days of your visit. Although everyone knows they're supposed to do this, many people just don't bother, making those who do really stand out. Mention parts of your talk that you enjoyed and advice you found helpful. If possible, include what you plan to do with the information you received. For instance, you might be able to say that you have already set up another informational interview with someone recommended by this contact. Be sure your letter is written well: no typos, misspellings, incorrect grammar, etc. Your letter will make an impression, and you want that impression to be positive.
- Keep a record of all your contacts. You may need to speak with them again at another point in your job search. You can keep networking information on index cards, in a binder or even on your computer - whatever works best for you. Include such data as your contact's address, phone, email, dates of contact, advice offered, names and phone numbers of people they suggested you call, and the date you mailed your thank-you note.
- Finally, write again in a month or two restating how their advice helped you, and letting them know how your information gathering/job search is going.