One of the best ways to get information about what actually happens in a particular job is to talk with someone currently working in the field. Appropriately used, informational interviewing can be a valuable source of occupational information. Informational interviewing is a strategy you can use to find out about specific careers and jobs, or opportunities within a particular organization. It provides an opportunity to inquire about factual data (like hours and salary range), skill and educational requirements, related occupations, typical career paths, and what is most and least satisfying about the work. You may even have the opportunity to observe the work environment and obtain information about pace and general working conditions. Informational interviewing is not an interview for a job. It can, however, help you focus your job search and develop relationships within the world of work.
Arranging an Informational Interview
There are many different ways to find people for informational interviews. You can ask friends, relatives and professors for contacts. You might also look for contacts in annual reports, professional journals, and local Chambers of Commerce. Tell everyone you know what you are interested in investigating, and ask if they can provide you with the name of one resource person. If you are having difficulty finding people to interview, the Career Development Office can provide you with names of alumnae you can contact. Once you have identified someone, your next step is to schedule the interview. Whether you do this by phone or email, be sure to explain how you obtained their name, why you are requesting the interview, and an estimation of the time you will need. Thirty minutes is usually adequate. Be sure to emphasize that you are not asking them for a job, but rather looking for information and advice. Most people are eager to talk about themselves, and thus will likely be open to your request. Don’t forget to ask for directions to the agreed upon meeting place.
Sample phone request for an interview:
“Hi, My name is Susan, and I’m a junior at St. Kate’s. I’m majoring in history, and am trying to clarify what I want to do with my degree. I saw in the alumnae database that you work at the Minnesota Historical Society, and thought you might be a good source of information. Might there be a time in the next few weeks when you could meet with me for 30 minutes or so?”
Preparing for the Interview
Preparation is essential. Research the organization where the individual works, and learn as much about his/her career field as possible. Career Development can help you find resources for this. Reflection and self-assessment are also necessary, in order to ascertain whether the job matches your skills, interests and values. Prepare a 3-5 minute summary about yourself, including information about your interests, work values, skills/abilities, work environment preferences, work style, etc. Prepare a list of questions that you will ask. (See samples below.) You should also be ready to wear appropriate professional attire. A suit may not be necessary, but you should look polished and pulled together. Prepare a copy of your resume to have with you, should you be asked for it.
Relax and enjoy the meeting. Be ready to ask your list of questions, but rest assured that most informational interviews rapidly take on a more conversational tone. Of course, remain professional at all times, and don’t be tempted to become too casual. Monitoring the time inconspicuously communicates respect for your interviewee. If time allows, you may want to ask for a rief tour of the work area. REMEMBER: It is not appropriate to ask for a job or internship. Informational interviews are for information gathering purposes only.
Sending a professional thank you note is an important courtesy. Don’t forget this small, yet important step in informational interviewing. You should also keep in touch and send periodic updates about your progress. If you follow up with a contact or piece of advice they gave you, let them know. Informational interviewing is really a form of networking, and allows you to build and develop your network of professional contacts. Finally, keep a record of whom you interviewed, and some brief notes summarizing your discussion. You may need this information in the future. Discussing your observations with a career counselor or other interested person may help you sort through the information that you obtain.
- Please describe a routine day or week in your job. Does this vary by employer?
- When and in what position did you start?
- What do you like about your job? What are the pressures, problems and frustrations of your work? Is this typical of the field/company?
- What recommendations do you have for someone who would like to enter this field? Academic preparation? Experience?
- What other types of organizations hire people in this field/profession?
- Tell me about your work schedule. How many hours do you routinely work? Are you on a set schedule? Does this position require irregular hours, weekends, evenings? How much control doyou have over your schedule?
- What entry-level jobs are best for learning as much as possible?
- How competitive is entry into this field? What is the outlook for future openings?
- What salary range can one expect at entry-level?
- Are there special considerations for women/minorities starting in this field?
- Are there employment restrictions for individuals within a certain age group?
- What characteristics, skills and education does a person need to effectively do the job?
- What are the advancement possibilities? Is additional education necessary?
- What are the personal rewards of the job?
- What professional publications are read by people in this field?
- What professional organizations do people in this field belong to?
- Who else might you suggest I talk to for additional information? May I use your name to introduce myself?