Career tips: Five steps for a great informational interview
We all daydream of careers and fields that interest us. Maybe we even picture ourselves there often. But how do we best gain the information necessary for our discernment and development?
Christina Longcor, a career counselor from SPU’s Center for Career and Calling, recommends that students — like you and me — pursue learning through informational interviews.
An informational interview is a professional conversation with a person in your area of interest, ranging from major to career choice. “It is a way to learn about everyday responsibilities, educational background of that person, related jobs, and just career advice,” she says.
Celene Haque ’18 majored in global development and political science and did many informational interviews during her time at SPU. Though the thought of interviews can be slightly nerve-wracking, Celene says, “When people agree to informational interview with you, it’s because they usually want to help you. They are taking time out of their day to talk to a student.”
From my conversations with both Christina and Celene, I was left with a few essential steps that might be of use for us.
1. Make the connection.
Brainstorming who might be able to connect you to the field you are interested in takes time, but is essential.
Think about companies or fields interesting to you. Does an engineering position at Amazon strike you? What about a job as a research technician at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center? Christina suggests tapping into your personal network, from distant relatives to friends of your parents. Brainstorming who might be able to connect you to the field you are interested in takes time, but is essential.
Phone calls and emails typically work well for your first contact. If sending an email, introduce yourself briefly and explain why you’re hoping to meet with them. Let them know you’d like to meet for around 20–30 minutes. Be upfront. Mention that you are interested in seeking advice and information about their field. Even if the job is not your perfect fit, you can learn so much from interviewing them.
If you are unsure of where to begin on your search, LinkedIn may be a perfect option. You can find people at companies and organizations of interest, as well as find if they may be connected to you, as well as SPU alumni. Celene notes, “If you cannot directly message a person, figure out if you have a second connection, because the person you might want to interview is a third connection.”
2. Set up the meeting.
Christina’s No. 1 suggestion is to have the meeting at the individual’s workplace, if you’re able.
Christina’s No. 1 suggestion is to have the meeting at the individual’s workplace, if you’re able. “You want to get a view of what it’s like in that company or organization,” she says. “Maybe you can even get a short tour, and meet other professionals in that company that you may be able to connect with.” Before the day of the meeting, follow up to confirm the date and time, and arrive on time with a great first impression.
3. Develop a plan.
Research the company and the person you will be meeting! It will help flow and conversation. Although the meeting is just a conversation, having a goal will help the flow of the meeting, as well as help you be considerate of the individual’s time. It is always smart to have a set of questions prepared for the meeting. Prepare at least five to 10 questions to ask the professional, like “What is your company culture like?”, “How did you get in this field?”, or “What did you wish you knew about this position?”
Sometimes the conversation takes off on its own, so don’t feel afraid to improvise.
4. Bring a notebook.
Of course, writing notes during your conversation will always be helpful for you as you reflect on the meeting. The first thing Celene does after an informational interview is get into her car and write all her notes.
5. Thank them and stay connected!
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, thoroughly thank the person you interviewed for the time and information.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, thoroughly thank the person you interviewed for the time and information. Christina suggests writing a thank you card, and maybe even including a small gift card. Make sure to exchange your contact information to stay connected. Don’t be shy to ask for additional contacts. Are there other related fields they might have contacts in? Does someone in the office do something interesting that came up during the interview? It is all about networking!
Informational interviews are incredibly useful tools to use in planning for your future career. Start now by making a short list of your interests and the people you know who are connected to these interests. Connect with them! Informational interviews will teach you so much about yourself and your passions.