An informational interview can serve to 1) build your base of networking contacts, 2) allow you to conduct research on your academic major, and 3) identify potential career options.
What Is an Informational Interview?
Many times, it is imperative to look beyond the traditional scope of job and internship postings. Often, you’ll need to tap into the “hidden job market,” that mysterious place where employers use networking and word of mouth to find worthy candidates. Here is where informational interviewing comes into play. At its core, it’s a personal meeting or connection with an employer where you are leading the conversation in order to find out more about that person’s career path and their organization’s principles and core beliefs. This conversation can take place in a variety of ways: face-to-face, phone, email or Skype. Regardless of the manner in which it’s conducted, the process allows you to make a positive impression on a company representative outside of the confines of a traditional job interview. Furthermore, you are investing time in building relationships that could lead to future career opportunities. Be sure to have a list of questions ready and prepared. Conduct your research ahead of time and look to get specific feedback in the area in which you are most interested. Take notes and follow up afterwards with a short thank you email.
What It’s Not
These meetings should not be used as opportunities to plead for a certain position. It is likely that the person with whom you are meeting is taking time out of his/her schedule to offer advice and give you feedback. Be sure not to take advantage of that person’s generosity by being too pushy. Remember the adage: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
How to Maximize the Conversation
Identify who you are and what you want. It sounds simple, but it is vital to have a clear representation of your image. Develop a plan for what you want to communicate in terms of your future goals, strengths/weaknesses, and skill sets. Be confident in your accomplishments and genuine in your desires to learn more. It would be helpful to develop your “Elevator Speech” ahead of time.
Approach an informational interview with the following points in mind:
- Conduct research: Learn what you can about their educational background, areas of specialty, past careers or sources of inspiration.
- Seek a conversation: Let your contact know how you identified them and humbly state you are seeking career information and would like to know more about the career. Ask for a short time limit (“Would you have time for a 15 minute conversation?”)
- Ask for referrals: At the end, ask to remain in contact. Ask your contact if there are other colleagues you can connect with to learn more about the field. Be sure to express your gratitude after the meeting and follow up with a thank-you note or email.
How to Start the Conversation
Consider asking the following questions to start a conversation:
- Can you tell me about your career path and how you got here?
- What do you do in a typical day?
- Who was your mentor in this field?
- What aspects of this job do you like or dislike?
- Would you recommend any specific courses to take?
- Are there any additional certifications or training you would recommend?
Some Potential Contacts for an Informational Interview
- Faculty members
- Past supervisors or co-workers
- Friends and/or family members
- Contacts you’ve made at UNT career fairs
- Social Media followers and influencers
- UNT Alumni
- LinkedIn Alumni