The informational interview is a low-key, informal experience that can be your most valuable tool when making decisions about your career. You can accomplish several things when you go out on informational interviews:
- Build confidence for the “real” job interviews
- Provide opportunity to “network”
- Obtain information about career fields
- Gain insight into the hidden job market
- Make personal contacts with management level personnel
Identify people to interview
Start with lists of people you already know: friends, fellow students, present or former co-workers, supervisors, neighbors, etc. Professional organizations, the yellow pages, organizational directories are also good resources. To find a working professional, go to your college career center or alumni office and ask for a list of people who are working in the field that interests you.
Identify an occupation
Your first step is to identify one or more occupations you would like to investigate. Assess your own interests, abilities, values, and skills, and evaluate labor conditions and trends to identify the best fields to research. This can be done by using library resources, Oregon Labor Information System-OLMIS, Chamber of Commerce, US Dept of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook, O*Net, Oregon Blue Book, State of Oregon Telephone Directory, or even by word-of-mouth.
Do your homework
For an informational interview to be truly effective, you can’t just go into it blindly. Do some research about the company before the interview. A number of great resources are available for company research through company websites, annual reports, and other company literature. You can also use library resource material, Oregon Labor Information System-OLMIS, Chamber of Commerce, O*Net, Oregon Blue Book, State of Oregon Telephone Directory, college career centers, or even by word-of-mouth.
Scheduling the interview
Your initial contact should be made by telephone or letter. Try to schedule your interviews with managers and supervisors who have the authority to hire. Identify yourself and explain that you are researching careers in their field. Always remember to be flexible in your scheduling; employers have prior commitments!
Although there are many techniques to conducting the informational interview, the following is a good approach to use in person or by telephone:
“Hello, my name is ________________. I am conducting career research in this field (name the field). I would like to meet and talk with you for about 20-30 minutes so that I can find out more about your field of expertise.”
Emphasize that you are simply trying to get “first-hand” information and whatever they can share with you would be appreciated.
An introductory letter written much like a cover letter without the job pitch is a great way to get your name out there. Make sure to follow up the letter with a phone call to set up the informational interview. Never expect the person to phone you. Proofread all correspondence and save copies.
The day before the interview, call to confirm your appointment with the contact person. If you have questions regarding the location of the contact’s office, this is the time to ask. Plan to arrive 10 minutes early for your interview.
Dress as you would for a regular job interview. Because 90% of all jobs are never advertised you will uncover job openings that never make it to the paper. Be ready to make a good impression!
Prepare questions ahead of time
Before the interview, prepare a list of questions that you would like to have answered. Ask only those questions which are appropriate and most important to you. You will convey your motivation and interest to the employer by acknowledging that you have put some thought into your question.
Questions to ask about the occupation
- What do you do?
- What are the duties/functions/responsibilities of your job?
- What do you like best about your job?
- What skills, abilities, aptitudes and/or temperaments are needed?
- What qualifications are needed?
- How do people get most of their training?
- What is a typical day like?
- What kinds of decisions do you make?
- What kinds of problems do you deal with?
- What social obligations go along with a job in your occupation?
- Are there organizations you are expected to join outside work hours?
- What things did you do before you entered this occupation?
- What jobs and educational experiences have led to your present job?
- Why did you choose the type of work you are doing?
- Which have been most helpful?
- What other jobs can you get with the same background?
- What sorts of changes are occurring in your occupation?
- What are the advancement opportunities?
- How does a person progress in your field?
- What is the best way to enter this occupation?
- What are the qualifications for success in this particular occupation?
- What can you tell me about the employment outlook in your occupational field?
- How do you see your job changing over the next several years?
- Do you have any tips for building a successful career?
Questions to ask about the company and culture
- What are your major products or services?
- What entry level jobs exist?
- Is training provided?
- What are the advancement opportunities?
- Do you have an organization chart?
- What are the salary ranges?
- What is the benefits package?
- What is the long and short range outlook for the organization?
- What are the company goals for the next six months? The next year? Two years?
- What are the hiring needs of the company?
- What is the hiring procedure?
- What type of people are you looking for?
- Do they foster leadership and innovation?
- What does the organization value?
- Are the values clearly communicated?
Questions that might be asked of you
To help “get your foot in the door,” it will be helpful for you to have” brainstormed” some short, concise, informative answers to the following:
- Why are you interested in this type of work?
- Why do you feel you would be good at it?
- What interests you about this employer?
- How would you sum up your work history?
- What do you want from this contact and how will you use the information?
Be sure to introduce yourself, thank your contact for his or her willingness to meet with you, and emphasize that you are there to gather information about his or her career field. Use an informal dialogue during the interview. Change the questions to reflect who you are talking with— employee or supervisor.
Share some things about yourself… but do not dominate the interview by talking about yourself! Remember you are there to obtain information that will help you learn about careers so that you can be adequately prepared to compete for job openings. Be aware, however, that many informational interviews have turned into actual employment interviews.
Be prepared to take notes
Carry a small notebook and a pen. Be polite and professional. Refer to your list of prepared questions. Stay on track but allow for spontaneous discussion. Pretend you are a reporter. You don’t need to write down everything, but there will be names, phone numbers or other information that you will want to remember. Be direct and concise with your questions, and answers, and make good eye contact. Ask what specific characteristics or qualification they seek in employees.
Bring your resumé
Take a copy of your resumé along with you. Try to find out about specific characteristics or qualifications that employers seek when hiring. You may ask the resource person if they would consider reviewing your resumé.
Never ask for a job
Ask questions about the job and the employer, but never ask for a job. The information you receive will “set you apart” from others who are asking for jobs and being told “no.” You should approach potential employers with the attitude that you are seeking career advice.
Always ask for teferrals
People who are in the same kind of business usually know their competition. Ask if they would give the names of others to talk to in their field, and if you may say that they referred you. “Referrals open doors”.
You have taken the first important step in developing your career search strategy by sharing information about yourself, and talking with an individual who is employed in a career you are interested in.
Record, analyze and evaluate the information
Keep a list of all the people you have interviewed or plan to interview. Immediately following the interview, record the information you gathered. Include the main things that you gained from each interview. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What did I learn from this interview (both positive and negative impressions)?
- How does what I learned fit with my own interests, abilities, goals, values, etc.?
- What do I still need to know?
- What plan of action can I make?
Follow-up is important
After your initial interview ask if you can stay in contact. You have spent 20-30 minutes with this person, asking questions, getting advice and sharing a little about yourself. This is the first step in developing your contact “network”.
Most of your contacts will feel good about you staying in contact with them. They may not have a job for you, but they may know other agencies or people to which you may be referred. Ask for your contact’s business card and exchange one of your own if you have one.
Always send a thank you note
Be sure to send a Thank You card or letter within 24 hours of the interview. Thank You notes or letters are an effective way to keep in touch, and a good way to remind people of who you are. Include your address and phone number under your signature.
Some final hints
- If you ask for 20-30 minutes of a person’s time, stick to the limit.
- Take all the information with a grain of salt. Don’t settle for just one or two interviews about a given area of work.
- Avoid impressions about an area of work based solely on whether the person interviewed was likable or the surroundings attractive.
- Ask what you really want to know but let the other person talk.
- Note your reactions on an objective level, but don’t ignore personal feelings
- Find out if the interviewee has any insight on the qualifications necessary for a position such as the one you are discussing.
- Talking with people doesn’t have to be a formal process or one you practice only when job hunting. Chat with people casually—on a plane or bus, while waiting in line, at social gatherings. Most people enjoy talking about their work.
Capturing that dream
By building trust with someone in your field of interest, you have begun to develop a network of potential employers.
Although you are not asking for a job, these individuals are now aware of your interests. Remember, most of us are easily discouraged, but by establishing a network of contacts your chances of employment greatly increase.
Visit us on the main floor in Bldg. 2, Rm. 115