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Set Up Informational Interviews

An informational interview is a meeting with an employer or professional within a specific industry.

These types of interviews are used to learn about the skills, training, and experience needed for an occupation. It's also a way to learn about a specific company or industry. This allows you to evaluate how well your skills and interests fit with a particular career or employer. Informational interview can also help you get job leads and develop key contacts to tap the hidden job market (jobs that aren't advertised).

Unlike a job interview, you are the interviewer in an informational interview and are expected to drive the interaction:

  • Keep your conversations friendly, but businesslike. Give a brief summary of your objectives. Then explain how your accomplishments support this objective.

  • Prepare plenty of questions to keep the conversation moving. Include questions about the occupation or business, but ask about other things too: Do they enjoy their work? How do they spend their day? Avoid questions that be answered with a simply a yes or no. See examples of common informational interview questions below.

  • Never ask for a job during an informational interview.

How to Set One Up

Ask everyone you know for potential contacts in a field, company, or job that interests you. The Business Search can also help you find potential employers to contact. The next step is to make contact by phone or e-mail. Here is a possible phone script:

"Mrs. Smith, Brad Johnson suggested I speak with you. My name is Steven Olson, and I am interested in the ________ field. I could use advice from someone who is in this field. Do you have any time this week when I could meet with you? I know you're busy, so I only need about 15 minutes of your time. I would really like to learn more about your company and the ________ field from someone like you."

You may want to explain a little about your own background and why their occupation appeals to you. Be sure that they do not get the impression that you are asking them for a job.

Tips for Successful Informational Interviews

  • If meeting in person, dress and act professionally.
  • Make a good impression. This person may provide additional leads or referrals that could lead to a job.
  • Keep it short. Limit your initial interview to 15 to 30 minutes based on how the conversation is going.
  • Feel free to schedule the interview with someone without hiring power. They often know more about day-to-day activities and have more specific information for you.
  • Bring a copy of your resume in case you have the opportunity to have it critiqued or leave it with the person.
  • Ask for names of other people to contact.
  • End the interview with an action plan. Ask the interviewee if you can contact him or her again.
  • Thank the person for taking the time to meet with you.
  • Remember to follow up with a thank-you note within 24 hours of the interview.

Sample Informational Interview Questions

To make best use of your interview time, know in advance what questions you are going to ask. For example, you might want to ask:

  • What is a day on this job really like?
  • What do you like about your job? Dislike?
  • Is your job typical of others in this field?
  • What's the corporate culture like here? (hours, salary, titles)
  • Which firms do you think are your toughest competitors, and how do they differ from your company?
  • How did you get into this field?
  • How do you stay current in your knowledge?
  • What kind of experience or training is required?
  • What are employers looking for? (skills, education, experience)
  • May I have a copy of a job description?
  • What is the potential for advancement?
  • What are current job prospects like?
  • Are there related fields I might want to look into if few jobs are available in my primary career goal?
  • What's the best way to find out about jobs in this field?
  • Can you refer me to someone else in this field?

Review a longer list of informational interview questions.

Source: Creative Job Search, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.