Informational Interview

Informational interviewing is a method of networking designed to produce information about a particular career. An informational interview can help you to determine a career path, learn about a company or organization, and build your professional networking contacts. An informational interview is not a job interview; however, it allows you to build your network and may open up future job opportunities.

Reasons to Conduct Informational Interviews

  • Gain information on your career field and the skills necessary to succeed
  • Make contacts with managers, supervisors, and colleagues
  • Gain information on positions that are not being advertised
  • Learn about the realities of the job, as well as the needs of employers
  • Gain confidence in talking with people, which may result in lower stress in a formal interview setting
  • Identify your personal strengths and weaknesses in terms of the expectations of a specific job or company

Identify what you are seeking to gain from the informational interview. Are you trying to gain an entry into a specific company? Working on a broad career search? This process will help you to determine who to contact and how to approach them. A career counselor can help you to determine the answers to these questions.

Make a list of everyone you know who can help you get an introduction to a company or recommend a contact for you to talk with. Start with people you already know. Family, friends, faculty, previous employers, and members of groups you are associated with can all be potential sources. Although they may not be in your chosen career field, they may know people who are.

As an Oberlin student, you have access to an invaluable network of alumni, many of whom are very willing to share their career expertise. Oberlin College hosts an alumni directory called TAPPAN, as well as an active alumni group on LinkedIn. Students will need to meet with a Career Counselor in order to access TAPPAN.

Ideally, you will contact the person who you wish to interview through an introduction made by a mutual acquaintance. If you are contacting them without an introduction, email, phone, or even a social networking site such as LinkedIn or Twitter can be used for your initial connection. You should research the person in advance and try to determine the best method of contacting them.

  • Research the field, organization, and person you'll be meeting with before your meeting so you can ask focused questions. Scour the website of the organization where your contact works s/he may have a bio there. Use a Google or LexisNexis search to look up press releases, annual reports, and other details on the organization. Solid research demonstrates your initiative and interest in the field.
  • Dress appropriately for the field and practice your best professional etiquette. You may need to do research in advance to determine the best way to dress. When in doubt, dress more formally.
  • Although informational interviewing is a great way to practice for a formal job interview, the experience can be daunting itself. Consider practicing with a friend, family member, or career counselor beforehand. You can also prepare by getting into the habit of striking up conversations while traveling, at lectures, or meetings.

  • Stand for introductions, shake hands firmly, and smile. Maintain eye contact and listen attentively. Informational interviews are often short, 20-30 minutes to an hour max - so don't overstay your welcome.
  • Bring your resume to the interview. If you feel comfortable at the end of the conversation, ask the interviewee to critique your resume or offer to leave it with them. This can allow the professional an opportunity to see your skills and abilities without pressuring them to hire you.
  • Be ready at all times with a brief personal introduction. For example: "Hello, my name is Cory Brown, and I'm an Oberlin College junior majoring in politics and biology. I'm interested in how government regulations affect health care issues such as stem cell research. I'd like to hear about your experience as a policy maker in Washington." Adapt your introduction to the setting.
  • Ask for referrals! After speaking with an employer, ask for suggestions for other individuals or companies that you might contact.
  • Before you leave, ask for a business card.

You should carefully consider your questions beforehand, and craft them based on your goals for the informational interview. Avoid asking questions that are easily answerable by a quick scan of the person's bio or company website.

Below are some common questions that you can ask. You should modify and supplement these questions based on your advanced research on the person you interview and their company or organization. For more extensive list of questions, please see the book Informational Interviewing that is available in the Career Development Center.

  • What aspect of your job do you find most engaging?
  • How did you get started in this field?
  • What is your typical day (week) like at _____________ ?
  • What do you enjoy most about what you do? What do you enjoy least?
  • What kinds of skills and abilities are required for this type of work?
  • What kinds of people are successful in this field (this organization)?
  • What training or education is required for this type of work?
  • Can you describe the work environment in your organization in terms of individual effort vs. teamwork, pressure, deadlines, workload, etc.?
  • What publications are especially important for people in your field?
  • If you were starting out now, how would you get into this field? What strategies would you use to get your foot in the door? What advice would you give to someone in my position?

If you are able to interview the person at their place of work, be prepared to observe many aspects of their workplace for additional information on the company:

  • How are people dressed (formally, informally, uniformly)?
  • How diverse is the work setting (age, gender, ethnicity, race)?
  • How do the staff members address each other? Is there a hierarchy?
  • Is the atmosphere calm? Stressful? Fast-paced?
  • How were you treated when you arrived?
  • Do people appear to enjoy working there?
  • Do your contacts talk with you freely or did they seem restricted?
  • Are the employees working in offices or cubicles or open spaces?
  • What is the noise level? How is the lighting?
  • What equipment do you see? Who is using it?

  • Think about what you saw and how you felt in the work setting. Can you see yourself working there? Why or why not?
  • Write a thank you note within two days of your meeting. Comment on how the meeting expanded your knowledge of the field or cite the follow-up steps you plan to take. For a meeting with an alum, a handwritten note on a Oberlin note card is a nice touch; for others, you may prefer an email or word-processed note.
  • Keep a record of your networking activities - when your conversations took place, suggestions the contacts made, the dates you mailed your thank you notes, and any follow-up steps you took. If there's any information you can provide to your contact that might be helpful, do so.
  • Maintain your networking relationships by emailing or phoning periodically. For example, you might send a link to an interesting news article or word of a conference that may appeal to your contact. Keep your networking connections updated on your progress. Networking is a skill for life. Learn and enjoy!

Portions adapted from a CDO Smith College career guide, used with permission.