Informational interviews

An informational interview is an appointment you schedule with someone in a specific industry or work setting that interests you, in order to gain “insider” information about it. Information interviews are one of the most effective ways to learn what you need to know when choosing a major or career, or beginning a job search. Often you can learn things you could not learn any other way.

What can you gain from an informational interview?

  • Up-to-date, firsthand information about an occupation or company
  • The chance to discuss how you might fit into a career or company with someone who knows
  • Insight into how people feel about their work and organization
  • The chance to make important contacts — potential employers — in a non-stressful situation
  • Information on the best way to approach a job search in a specific field
  • Self-confidence, through the experience of meeting with strangers — a critical element for successful career decision-making and job hunting.
  • Advice on how to gain relevant experience to make you a more qualified client.

Informational interview tips

  • Treat your informational interview like a formal job interview in terms of dress and etiquette.
  • Strive to make a good impression — your interview could produce leads or referrals leading to a job offer.
  • For more of an inside scoop, consider scheduling the interview with someone who doesn’t have hiring power.
  • Keep it short. Don’t ask any more questions than the person you’re interviewing can answer in 20 or 30 minutes. If the person extends it, that’s fine.
  • Bring a copy of your résumé and portfolio.
  • Ask for names of other people to contact, inside and outside the company.
  • Ask for permission to contact the person again.
  • Thank the person for taking the time to meet with you.
  • Follow up with a thank-you note within 24 hours.

How to conduct informational interviews

Brainstorm about people you know who may have contact with someone in your industry or organization of interest. Take the initiative to call that person and let him or her know what information you’re seeking.

Here are some other ways to find someone:

Almost anyone in an organization can be a good starting place. Often the person can refer you to people “up the line.” And it’s always good to get more than one perspective.

  • Call or visit the business in person to set up an informational interview. If you prefer to make contact via email or LinkedIn, be sure to indicate that you will follow up (and when).
  • If you are starting from scratch, call or visit the business and explain to the receptionist that you are researching career options and are hoping to meet with someone who does______ (a role or career you are interested in). Ask whom the receptionist would recommend you connect with. You may get transferred several times before finding the right person.
  • If you have a referral, indicate who recommended the connection and the reason you are reaching out.
  • Explain who you are and state your reason for calling: “I am a student at Seattle Pacific University and I am exploring careers in ____. I am interested in ____ and was hoping to talk to someone to learn more about it. Would you be willing to meet with me for a brief interview about what you do?”
  • Clarify that you are seeking information for career research purposes and not looking for a job or internship.
  • Set up an appointment to meet in person at a time and place that is convenient for the person you’ll be interviewing. Exchange contact information and request an address or directions if necessary. Follow up with an email to confirm the appointment.
  • Read about the occupation, industry, and company before you go. This should familiarize you with some of the terminology and ideas you will encounter.
  • Write out specific questions you want to ask. Think through the things that are important to you. What do you really want to know? Don’t ask a question if the answer could be found in printed or online material.
  • Be sure to present yourself professionally and dress appropriately.

Introduce yourself and state your purpose. Be prepared to share why you are excited about exploring the industry and learning more from the person’s perspective. A well-prepared introduction will help get the meeting flowing. Have your list of questions; refer to them and take notes. Time will go by quickly, so listen actively and take good notes. Honor the time limitations you initially set. After 20 minutes, offer to end the interview, but be prepared to stay if the person wants to spend more time with you.

Thank the person for his/her time and be sure to ask for a business card. Send an email to thank them for their time and within 24 hours, send a brief thank-you note. If appropriate, ask to connect with the person on LinkedIn.

  1. Be certain of the kind of information you are seeking: e.g., information about the industry, the company or organization, the specific or general occupation, or the career direction.
  2. Be sure to stick to the agreement you made with the person you’re interviewing, that this is an informational conversation only. You can ask how a person effectively begins a career with the company or ask what suggestions the person has for a job search, but don’t ask for a job or an interview.
  3. Ask whether the person would be willing to connect you with anyone else who might be able to offer advice.
  4. Remember this is a reciprocal relationship and you also have something to offer. Stay in the front of the person’s mind through sending “touching base” emails with industry-related articles or blog postings of interest, and updates about your progress in career exploration.

Informational interview questions

  1. How did you get into this field?
  2. What are the responsibilities of your job?
  3. What do you like most about your job? Least?
  4. What skills and experiences are most important in your field?
  5. What is your typical day like?
  6. What organizations and online groups do you recommend I belong to?
  7. What activities, classes, or other parts of your college experience best prepared you for your career?
  8. What is the best decision you made as an undergraduate to prepare for your professional life?
  9. Which personality traits or talents do the most successful people in this position share?
  10. If you were starting your career today, what would you do differently?
  11. What can I do to make myself more marketable?
  12. What are other related career fields?
  13. What would be a typical career path in this field?
  14. How did you obtain your first job?
  15. Would you be willing to review my résumé and offer your opinion and advice? (Ask this question only if you feel comfortable and the interview seems to be going well.)
  1. How would you describe the overall mission and goals of your organization?
  2. What are the core activities and services of this department?
  3. How would you describe your clients? What is important to them?
  4. Where do you see growth or change occurring in the organization?
  5. What are some typical entry-level job roles in this department?
  6. What qualities does your company look for in the people they hire?
  7. I've built a target list of organizations in this field to research. Would you be willing to look at my list and give me suggestions you might have?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Would I enjoy working for this company/doing this type of work?
  2. How do my personal assets meet the needs of this company/occupation?
  3. What other people/organizations should I contact?