Informational interviews are meetings—often in person, but sometimes over the phone—in which you “interview” a professional in your area of interest. Your primary goal is to learn about this person’s career field and his or her background and experiences. You can also ask questions about how to become a competitive candidate in this field.
In addition, an informational interview is a great way to expand your network by establishing a good connection with your interviewee. Make sure he or she knows that you are not asking for a job. In fact, it’s a good idea to say outright, “I’m not asking you for a job. I’d just like to learn about what you do.”
Some good reasons to conduct informational interviews:
- To get an insider’s perspective on a potential career path.
- To get valuable tips about how to gain entry into this field.
- To enlarge your circle of expert contacts in the area. (Remember, it’s often who you know that gets you the job.)
- To learn about a particular organization, how you might fit in and the employer’s challenges and needs.
Who Should I Contact?
Look for people who work in an organization or setting that appeals to you, or who have built a career in an area of interest to you. To find these individuals, you can:
- Ask friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, former employers.
- Contact faculty, the Career Center and UMBC alumni. (One way to contact alumni is via LinkedIn).
- Email or call community service agencies or professional associations.
- Read articles in newspapers, magazines and journals.
- Attend meetings for professional associations in your career interest.
Network with UMBC Alumni who have chosen to share their experiences to help current students.
How to Arrange the Interview
- Call or email to explain your request and obtain an appointment. Use a personal referral, if possible.
- Explain your request to schedule an appointment for gathering information about his/her career. Indicate clearly that you are not looking for a job, but conducting research to help you make better career decisions.
- Schedule a 30 to 60 minute appointment at his/her convenience.
- If your intent is to make a personal interview appointment, do not let your phone call turn into the actual interview. Be sure and ask for directions and parking information.
- Written requests for appointments are most effective if followed up by a telephone inquiry to confirm an appointment time.
- To learn more about professional correspondences for informational interviews, check out our samples. For more information about professional cover letters, check out Prepare Your Documents.
How to Prepare
- Review materials in the Career Center reception area (Math/Psych, Room 201), use FOCUS, Vault online career library or meet with a career specialist.
- Read about the field and the organization in which the person you’ll be interviewing is working.
- Know your own interests, skills, values and how they relate to the career field represented by the person you’re interviewing.
- Have specific questions in mind.
- Review information on interviews and sample informational interview questions.
Sample Informational Interview Questions
For more samples and interview advice, check out Ace the Interview.
- What skills and/or personal characteristics are important to this job?
- What is a typical day like?
- What do you like about your job?
- How competitive is this field?
- What should I do before I graduate to make myself marketable (e.g., internships, extracurricular activities, classes, etc.)?
- Are there any professional organizations you suggest I should join?
- What websites/journals/books should I read?
- Is there anyone else you would suggest I speak to?
Conducting the Informational Interview
- Dress as if it were an actual job interview, or at least in business-casual attire. First impressions are important.
- Arrive a few minutes early and be courteous to everyone that you meet.
- Once inside the organization, look around. What is the work environment like? Observe the dress style, communication patterns, sense of humor, etc. Is this a place where you would want to work?
- Take the initiative in conducting the interview. Remember, you are interviewing the employer. Ask open-ended questions which promote a discussion.
- Do not exceed your requested time, unless the other person indicates a willingness to continue the conversation.
- Ask if there’s anyone else you who might be willing to talk with you at a future date. Ask everyone you meet with for a business card.
- Record the information you obtained for future reference.
- Evaluate your experience. How did you manage in scheduling and conducting the information interview? How sufficiently did you prepare? Did you get the information you were looking for? What information do you still need? Do you need to interview more people in order to get more than one viewpoint?
- Send a thank-you note within 24 hours. You may decide to follow up now or later with a resume and an application. Compliment people’s knowledge, expertise, helpfulness and/or company, define how each person helped you, let him/her know which of their contacts you plan to meet and say you will keep them advised of your progress.
- Make appointments to interview the referrals.
Build Your Network