An Introduction to Informational Interviewing


It’s that time of year!

 ... No, I don’t mean Lent. It’s the spring semester, and everyone’s thinking about what they’re doing when they graduate, or simply what they are doing this summer. College will be ending soon for all of us, and there is never a better time to start preparing for that than now.

So what should you be doing now? Have you ever heard of informational interviewing? I had not.

It’s a very basic tool that will help you in whatever field you wish to enter after graduation. Don’t stress about it, anyone can do it. Simply put, an informational interview is a conversation you have with a professional to gain information about the field. This is information that you would not be able to easily find, the inside scoop if you would. Such information can lead you to jobs that are not publicly advertised, teach you about career options that you would not have known about before, show you what would make you a better candidate, and help you make contacts.

What it is used for is simply enough, so who should you interview?

The easiest people are friends, family, and your immediate community. Does a professor you know have a history in the field you are looking into? Is there a connection through your school, parish, or a job you had back home? Honestly, ask around. Most people know people who know the right people. The point of this isn’t to get a job or land an amazing internship. You’re just gathering information.

Before the interview, you should learn as much about the topic as you possibly can. The point of this meeting is not to learn what you could easily have found on a website; you’re getting the inside scoop from someone who has worked in the field. It is a great idea to prepare a list of questions, even just so that you know ahead of time what information you want to get out of the meeting. However, don’t act like you’re sticking to a script! If the conversation is more human it will be enjoyable for you both, and you may even learn things that you did not know to ask about.

Bring a resume! Don’t expect to give it to them or pull it out but it is always good to be prepared.

Always be grateful to the people who agree to talk to you. Gratitude is a cheap gift to give but it goes a long way in relationships. The more that this person sees you are a good human being the better the conversation will go and the more information you will get out of it.

Network! Ask them if they know of other people you can contact to gain more information. Ask them where good entry level work is, and who has those positions. Ask them how they entered the business and worked to get where they are now. People love talking about themselves. Learning from someone who has already done what you’re hoping to do is one of the best ways to know the path to success.

Be sure to take notes during the interview. It is so easy to get caught up in the conversation, and then at the end of it have only remembered half of it, or all of it vaguely.

Listen to them! Even if they’re giving you more than you asked for you won’t learn anything by ignoring the parts of the conversation you think are unrelated. You haven’t worked in this field, they have. They are the martial arts master; you are simply the grasshopper.

Once it is all said and done, be sure to follow up with them. Our generation has forgotten the tradition of sending thank you cards, although an e-mail would probably suffice. If you are just sending them a thank you, be sure to get that to them punctually, but if you have more questions allowing for a week or two between interviews is a good idea.

When requesting an interview, be sure to give them a good idea of yourself: any applicable job history, interests, or education would suffice. Tell them the topic of what you want to ask them about, how you would like to conduct the interview (over the phone or in person), and when it could occur.

If this all seems like common sense then that’s good! Informational interviewing is simply a way to educate yourself about the possible paths into a field of work, and the most difficult part of it is having a conversation with someone, which is something you do multiple times a day.

It takes 10,000 hours to become a master of something, and given that you’ve been talking for at least 15 years of your life, which is 131,400 hours, I bet that you’ve already talked for 10,000 of those hours.

Don’t be scared, be courageous! It’s simple stuff.