What is an Informational Interview?

Informational interviewing/networking is essentially talking with people about their careers. It is a valuable career exploration technique which allows you to learn about career fields first hand. It can also be a good job search strategy because it allows you to gain insights into the hidden job market (jobs not normally advertised). In an informational interview you will be asking most of the questions. The process is not difficult since most people enjoy talking about their careers. Basically, this is your opportunity to get the "inside story" - the pros/cons, salary/wages, hiring practices, required preparation, etc.

Why is informational interviewing/networking important?

  • It allows you to gather current, first-hand information about your field(s) of interest and potential places of employment.
  • It helps to open avenues for internship/summer jobs
  • It helps you to make contacts and establish a "network" of people who may be able to help you get started and/or advance your career. 
  • It helps you with your career and academic decision-making by providing you with information about the skills you need to develop and the type of preparation required to enter a particular field.

Informational interview - Is that anything like a job interview?

  • Informational interviewing should not be confused with job interviewing. While there are some similarities in format, there is a world of difference in its goal and purpose. However, you should keep in mind that through informational interviewing you are developing a relationship that may lead to job interviews in the future so make every effort to establish a good first impression.

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Steps

Step 1: Locating Contacts

Informational interviewing involves meeting and talking with people in career fields of interest to you.

Worried that you don't know anyone working in that particular field? Career contacts can be found almost anywhere. People generally like to be asked for their advice and most people are flattered that you are interested in their careers as long as you are polite and respectful of their time. You may pursue contacts the CDC has available within the Alumni Directory and our database of Bucknell alumni and parents who are willing to be mentors. You can also follow up on suggestions from family, friends, or faculty members; connections can come from anywhere!

Step 2: Arranging an Interview

After you have identified the names of people you wish to interview, you will need to contact them to see if an appointment time can be scheduled. If you were talking with a possible contact you might simply ask that person if another meeting (informal) could be arranged. Otherwise, the preferred method of arranging an informational interview is to send an email and, if needed, follow up with a phone call.

In the email be sure to:

  • Introduce yourself and indicate how or where you found their name.
  • Explain why you are writing to them.
  • Provide them with a time frame of when you would like to meet; this can be as informal as grabbing some coffee together
  • Name a certain date that you will call to arrange for an appointment.

Make sure that your email has no typos and reflects proper English, no text abbreviations. It is best to express yourself in your own words and style. If you have questions, the CDC counselors will be happy to review a draft of the email with you.

Step 3: Conducting an Interview

Once you arrange an informational interview, the next step is to do your homework. Be sure that you thoroughly research both the organization and the career field before your interview. The resources of the CDC and Bertrand Library can help. Remember you will be doing the interviewing, so be sure to prepare questions which you want to ask. Check out the list of sample questions in this guide, however, you will want to relate them to your specific field and circumstance. Start by interviewing people with whom you feel more comfortable, like a friend or recent graduate. Keep the following in mind as elements of a successful interview:

  • Make a good first impression.
  • Establish rapport.
  • Get your most important questions answered first.
  • Ask your career contact if he/she knows of any other people in your field of interest who may be helpful to you.
  • Express your appreciation for the person's time and inquire if you can stay in touch with them.

Step 4: Follow-up to the Interview

After the interview, you will want to follow through immediately with a thank-you note. This is a courtesy which takes very little time but should not be overlooked! An email and/or a hand-written are acceptable.

Step 5: Evaluating an Interview

It is important that you take a few minutes after your interview to evaluate the information you have gathered. Keep track of the people you have contacted and what you may have learned from each. As a general rule, you will want to answer the following:

  • What are your impressions now of the career field?
  • What are the positive and negative aspects of the field?
  • Do my values, skills, and interests seem appropriate for the field
  • Did you gather names for additional contacts? If so, who?

Step 6: Repeat the process and continue to build your career network.

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Sample Questions

Preparation

  • What was your educational background? Undergraduate major?
  • How important is graduate school in your field?
  • What special preparation do you have that you regard as important for the job you are in now?
  • Could you recommend some courses that I should be taking now?
  • What kind of experience is necessary to enter the field?

Lifestyle

  • What types of hours do you work each week?
  • What level of demand is made upon the employee? To what degree is there pressure on the job?
  • Are there travel opportunities?
  • How much flexibility do you have in terms of dress, vacation time, hours worked?

Job Routine

  • How did you get started in the field?
  • What types of work do you do during a typical week?
  • What do you like most/least about your present position?
  • What major satisfactions do you derive from working in this field
  • What are some of the issues/problems that you must deal with in your work?
  • What skills or talents are most essential for your job?

Job Outlook

  • What is the employment outlook? What is the future of the field?
  • What opportunities are there for advancement? Is turnover high in your profession?
  • What types of employers hire people in your line of work?
  • Where do you see yourself headed? What are your career goals?

Job Hunting Advice

  • In hiring someone in this field, what "credentials" would you look for?
  • What entry-level jobs are best for learning as much as possible?
  • How would you suggest I conduct a job search in this field?

General Advice

  • If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
  • How well suited is my background for this type of work?
  • Do you know of others in the field with whom I might talk?

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Ideal Timetable for Informational Interviewing

  • Locate career contacts 3 to 4 weeks before interview
  • Send an email of inquiry 2 to 3 weeks before interview
  • Follow-up phone call (date and time specified in letter) 1 to 3 weeks before interview
  • Research and prepare 1 to 2 weeks before interview
  • Conduct the informational interview
  • Evaluate interview and plan next steps Immediately upon completion of interview
  • Follow-up with thank you within one week of informational interview

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