Although career information you find online and in print is helpful, you will benefit from also gathering some first-hand information from people in the career field before making a decision to pursue a particular career path. Informational interviewing& is a very effective method of learning more about a career of interest.

Informational interviewing really is quite simple, and most people will be very willing to talk to you about themselves and their careers. It is an invaluable method of gaining information you won't find on the Web or in written resources about career areas in which you are interested. Informational interviewing is a key way of "reality testing" jobs you are considering.

Informational interviewing can help you to:

  • Get a better idea of where you might use your skills, what those jobs are called, and the environments that best suit you.
  • "Screen out" those occupations that would not be a good fit or companies in which you wouldn't want to work.
  • Learn about the type of people with whom you would like to work.
  • Develop contacts and rapport with people who have the power to hire you in the future.
  • Learn the vocabulary that pertains to your field of interest.
  • Find out about "unadvertised" jobs, which comprise at least 80% of the jobs available at any given time.

Steps for Informational Interviewing

Identify contacts

Begin your informational interviewing with people you already know, or with people to whom you are referred by people you know. This is the easiest and least intimidating way to get started. (Later, when you are at an informational interviewing, you can get into cold calling.)

Use Linkedin is a powerful tool that will allow you to find people you would like to informational interview. Once you have created a profile, you can use the search box to find associations of people who work in the job area that is of interest to you. Ask to join the group and once approved you can post a request for an informational interview and/or introduce yourself to people in the group that you would like to speak with

Additional resources for finding contacts: the Yellow Pages, business directories, Chambers of Commerce, newspaper articles, companies that employ people who do what you want to do, teachers, alumni, fraternity or sorority membership lists, people you know professionally (bankers, doctors, etc.), professional organizations, magazines, TV, radio, books, etc.

Set up the informational interview

You will set up most, if not all, of your informational interviews over the telephone or by e-mail. (If possible, you want to conduct the informational interview in person. Seeing the work environment and meeting the person face-to-face are big pluses in informational interviewing. However, you can also very effectively do informational interviews by phone when distance or scheduling would not allow an in person interview.) You may want to use the following format when contacting people over the phone:

"Hello, my name is ______. I'm a freshman at Concordia University and I'd like to learn more about becoming a physical therapist. I understand that you do this type of work and I would greatly appreciate being able to set up a 20 minute appointment to learn about your work and the field of physical therapy in general. Would there be a time that could possibly work for you to help me with this?"

You may be asked whom you are representing. You reply, "Myself." When you are asked to state your business, do so clearly. Emphasize that you are seeking information; you are not looking for a job.

If a administrative assistant refuses to let you talk to the person you want to contact, ask if you may ask him or her the questions you need answered. The administrative assistant may have the answers. If not, chances are that she/he will then suggest that you talk to the person you requested to talk to in the first place!

Prepare for the interview

Prior to doing an informational interview, you will have researched the career area using the Internet and written resources. The purpose of the informational interview is to obtain information not available in those resources.

To prepare for your informational interview, develop a list of questions in prioritized order so that if you run out of time you will get your most important questions answered). (See the list of suggested questions below. You'll always want to ask at least the first six questions.) Be intentional about asking questions that will help you determine how well your "design" fits with this specific career area.

Conduct yourself in a professional manner during the interview

Dress for the informational interview as though it were a job interview. Establish rapport with the interviewee, showing interest and enthusiasm about his/her career. Ask your prepared questions and any others that result from the discussion. Do not go over the amount of time you have requested without asking permission. For example, if you are at the end of the 20 minutes you have requested, and you sense a good rapport with the person, you could say, I know we are at the end of our appointment time. Would you have time, however, to answer one more quick question?

Take good notes during the informational interview. You are there to gather information, and you want to make sure you have a record of what you have learned from the person you interviewed.

Important note: Do not bring a resume with you. You are there for information only. You can always send one later with your thank you note or letter if your contact requests one.

Send a thank-you note or letter

Make sure to get the correct spelling of your contact's name, address, etc. during your informational interview. (A business card is a simple way to accomplish this.) Send a brief thank-you letter (ideally by snail mail) within a day or two of your informational interview. Include your full name, address, phone number and e-mail address in case the person ever wants to get in touch with you. Keep a record of your informational interviews, listing names, addresses, and phone numbers of all contacts. Also list pertinent information gathered from each contact. You never know what information will become important later on in your exploration or job search.

Sample Questions for Informational Interviews

  • What are a typical day's (or, week's) activities? *
  • How did you get involved in this field? What steps would you suggest for someone like myself if I decide to pursue a career in this field? *
  • What do you enjoy most about your work? *
  • What do you enjoy least about your work? *
  • What is the current salary range in this profession? For entry level? After five years? *
  • Could you suggest two or three other people with whom I could talk about this type of work? *
  • Are you on (If they are ask if you can link to them.) *
  • What are your major job responsibilities?
  • What are the biggest challenges in your job?
  • What is the typical working environment for someone in this field?
  • With what type of people do you work?
  • What are the usual entry level positions in this field? Are there other ways in which people enter the field?
  • What is the typical career path for this profession? [What are the opportunities for advancement?]
  • What educational background or training is most appropriate for this field?
  • Is additional education (such as beyond a bachelor's degree, training, or certification) necessary for advancement?
  • Are there special skills (such as computer programming, report writing, desktop publishing, etc.) that one can acquire that would be helpful?
  • Are there internships, volunteer work, or part-time employment opportunities that would be useful in preparing for this field?
  • What personal qualities should a person possess if he/she is considering this field?
  • How important is relocation? At first? Later on? Is travel involved in this field?
  • What significant problems does the profession as a whole face?
  • What trends do you see taking place in this profession or career field?

* Indicates questions that should be asked in each of your informational interviews.

Article copyright by Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck, All rights reserved. The above information is intended for personal use only. No commercial use of this information is authorized without written permission.