An informational interview is a meeting, initiated by you, with an individual who has experience or knowledge in your area of interest. It should be undertaken with utmost care and professionalism.
You can make the initial contact by phone, email or a formal letter of interest in which you ask for 20 to 30 minutes or so of someone’s time. The most expedient method is by phone or email, but you will have to consider which is appropriate for each situation. You may find people via linkedin, internet, or professional associations.
Be clear and concise.
Tell the person who you are, what your purpose is, why and how you came upon him or her.
Before the Interview
For the formal informational interview you should do your homework ahead of time. Information on the industry, the organisation, even the person you are interviewing should be obtained before you ask for an interview. Prepare your questions in advance, but do not make them so “canned” that you fail to connect genuinely with the person. Dress professionally and bring copies of your resume, but distribute them only upon request.
Questions to ask.
Following are possible questions:
• Could you tell me about your background and how you came to hold your current position?
The conversation should lend itself to inquiries about educational background as well as the steps in this
person’s career path. You will be learning how at least one person got to where you think you may want to go.
• What general skills are required in this line of work?
This should yield particular contexts in which general transferable skills (which can be products of your liberal arts education) are employed. It also invites the follow up…
• What specific or technical skills have you acquired in your work?
• What do you like most about your work ?
This question might get at how the person articulates the intrinsic rewards of the work. These are the intangibles, the things that make the person tick and bring joy in his or her work.
• Are there any responsibilities you would rather give away?
This is a diplomatic attempt at uncovering aspects of the work that the person does not appreciate.
• What are some of the challenges of your job?….that the organization faces?…that impact the field?
These questions are designed to give you clear information regarding the stresses, demands, and probably the opportunities in this line of work. Much work is created to address problems, and these questions will help you begin to articulate how you might be part of the solution to those problems.
• What is the outlook for entry-level professionals in the field?
Part of this line of inquiry includes “what is a typical entry-level position in the field (or in this organization)?” and should unveil how someone can get a chance to start.
• What are the short- and long-term goals of your organization or department?
Here, you are attempting to get a clearer and current picture of the organization. You should have done enough research ahead of time to know some basics about the products or services and even the general philosophy of the organization. This will take your knowledge a step further.
• Are there others in this field with whom you would suggest I talk?
Follow this with, “may I say you referred me?” Make sure you get the correct spelling of the name.
• I remain very interested in this line of work and will certainly pursue further leads for information and perhaps employment. Do you have any final advice to give me regarding a career in this field? What do you recommend for my next step?