One of the best sources for gathering information about what’s happening in an occupation or an industry is to talk to people working in the field. This process is called informational interviewing.
An informational interview is an interview that you initiate and one where you ask the questions. The purpose is to obtain information, not to get a job.
These types of interviews are a useful and effective exercise in getting an insider’s perspective on your field of work from someone who already works in that area. An informational interview helps you to gather important information for your job hunt, offers an opportunity to learn about an organization and its culture and allows you to brush up on your experience and self confidence by asking effective and meaningful questions with professionals in your field.
Conducting an Informational Interview
1. Identify the Occupation or Industry You Wish to Learn About. Assess your own interests, abilities, values and skills as well as labour conditions and trends to identify the best fields to research.
2. Prepare for the Interview. Read all you can about the field prior to the interview. Decide on what information you would like to know and prepare a list of questions that you would like to have answered.
3. Identify People to Interview. Start with lists of people you already know in your chosen occupation or industry, such as friends, relatives, fellow students, current or former co-workers, supervisors, neighbours, etc. LinkedIn, professional organizations, organizational directories and public speakers are also good resource to consider.
4. Arrange the Interview. Contact the person to set up an interview either by telephone, a letter followed by a telephone call, or by having someone make an introduction on your behalf.
5. Conduct the Interview. Dress appropriately, arrive on time and be polite and professional. Refer to your list of prepared questions to stay on track, but allow for spontaneous discussion. Before leaving, ask your contact to suggest others who may also be helpful and ask permission to use your contact’s name to connect with these contacts.
6. Follow Up. Immediately following the interview, write some notes on what you learned and then, if necessary, adjust your job search, resume and career objectives based on this information. Be sure to send a thank-you note to your contact within a couple of days of the interview.
Questions to Ask in an Informational Interview
It’s important to plan ahead and figure out what questions you would like to ask during the informational interview. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
- Describe your job and what you do each day. What are the duties and responsibilities that are expected of you?
- What are the day-to-day problems that you handle?
- What interests you most about your job and how did you get started?
- What do you find most satisfying about your job? What do you find least satisfying?
- What other positions can you consider with the same background? Are there other job opportunities in this field or organization?
- What differentiates your organization from your competitors?
- What is the typical career path of an individual in your field (including progress and advancement opportunities)?
- What skills and talents are most essential to you in your job? How can I evaluate whether or not I have the necessary skills?
- How would you describe the working environment of your organization?
- What is the current demand for individuals in your position? What do you think future job prospects will be like?
- What is the average salary for individuals in your position?
- What are the personal qualities you feel will help an individual succeed in your position?
- What are the typical entry-level job titles and functions? What entry-level jobs are best for learning as much as possible?
- What professional publications, journals or organizations would help me learn more about this field?
- (If appropriate) Would you mind taking a look at my resume and offering some suggestions or advice?
The video below offers a brief sample of an informational interview conducted over the phone. While this sample is much shorter than most informational interviews, it offers some insight on the tone and flow of the conversation.