It’s very common to experience feelings of uncertainty or even fear when you prepare for the beginning of what will be your career after college. An informational interview is an interview where you seek advice on a career or industry of interest, rather than a job position. It enables you to sit down with someone who is working in your area of interest and ask them questions about their career.
Informational interviews should be taken seriously because you will be making contact with a professional that may be able to help you in the future. You should be well prepared and professional.
Begin by visiting your university’s career center. Many times alumni will volunteer to speak with students, so ask an advisor if there’s anyone available from your industry of interest. You can also use LinkedIn alumni groups to locate alumni in your field. Busy professionals are often more willing to speak with someone they have something in common with.
If alumni groups leave you empty handed, turn to the web. Search for companies you want to eventually work. If the company is small or locally based, a phone call is usually well received. If it’s a larger company, use the best email contact you can find, preferably an email for a specific person in your department of interest.
By phone- Briefly introduce yourself and explain that you’re a student interested in learning more about the company and a career in the industry. Ask if it would be possible to set up a time for an informational interview with someone there.
By email- Use an appropriate but direct subject line such as, “(Their Name)-Informational Interview Request” or “Question from (Your University) Student” if their name is unknown. You want to get their attention. Close your email by thanking them for their time. Include your LinkedIn profile and contact information in the signature.
Regardless of how you make contact, be clear that you want to know more about their career, their experiences and their company. This is not the time to ask for a job or sell yourself; and doing so will likely turn off a future employer at this point. Explain to your interviewee that you will take no more than 30 minutes of their time.
Research the company more to gain a better understanding of its culture and history. If you are conducting the interview in person, you should select appropriate attire. Dress like you would for an actual interview. Write down your questions on a notepad in a portfolio. Here are a few to get you started:
- What skills do you find most useful in this position?
- What college courses helped you to best prepare for this job?
- What is your schedule like?
- What are the opportunities for advancement in this company/industry?
Take the portfolio with you to record the responses. You may also take a copy of your resume, just in case they ask for it.
If interviewing in person, plan to arrive five minutes early and behave as if you were on an actual job interview. Ask the interviewee if they are comfortable with you recording some notes regarding their responses.
When the interview is complete, thank the interviewer and ask if they have any other advice for you. Ask for a business card so you can follow up with a thank you email.
Informational interviews are one of the best ways to learn about a company and a particular industry. Conducting these interviews will enable you to make more confident career decisions, while making important professional contacts.