Often the most current information about a career field, especially in a specific geographic location, may not be available online or in books. The best information comes from people who are actually working in that career field.
An informational interview is an informal conversation with someone working in an area that interests you who will give you information and advice. It is an effective research tool in addition to reading books, exploring the Internet and examining job descriptions. It is not a job interview, and the objective is not to find job openings.
You may feel awkward making arrangements to talk with people you don't know about their work. However, most people actually enjoy taking a few moments out of their day to reflect on their professional life and to give advice to someone with an interest in their field.
- Get firsthand, relevant information about the realities of working within a particular field, industry or position. This kind of information is not always available online.
- Find out about career paths you did not know existed.
- Get tips about how to prepare for and enter a given career.
- Learn what it’s like to work at a specific organization.
- Gain insider knowledge that can help you in writing your resume, interviewing, and more.
- Initiate a professional relationship and expand your network of contacts in a specific career field; meet people who may forward job leads to you in the future.
Six Steps for Informational Interviewing
Research Career Fields
Identify people to interview
- Pursue your own contacts. People you already know, even if they aren't in fields of interest to you, can lead you to people who are. This includes family, friends, teaching assistants, professors and former employers.
- Identify Cal alumni to contact; they often take a special interest in "giving back" to Cal students. Utilize the @cal Career Network and LinkedIn to find them.
- Review the Book of Lists, a directory of leading employers in major urban areas, available at the Thomas J. Long Business Library.
- Contact members of professional or trade associations.
Prepare for the interview
- Develop a brief introduction of yourself and your hopes for the meeting.
- Plan open-ended questions to ask.
- Contact the person by email or phone (see sample telephone script below).
- Mention how you got his or her name.
- Ask whether it’s a good time to talk for a few minutes.
- Emphasize that you are looking for information, not a job.
- Ask for a convenient time to have a 20-30 minute appointment.
- Be ready to ask questions on the spot if the person says it is a good time for him/her and that s/he won’t be readily available otherwise.
Conduct the informational interview
- Dress neatly and appropriately, as you would for a job interview.
- Arrive on time or a few minutes early.
- Restate that your objective is to get information and advice, not a job.
- Give a brief overview of yourself and your education and/or work background.
- Be prepared to direct the interview, but also let the conversation flow naturally, and encourage the interviewee to do most of the talking.
- Take notes if you'd like.
- Respect the person's time. Limit the meeting to the agreed-upon timeframe.
- Ask the person if you may contact them again in the future with other questions.
- Ask for names of other people to meet so as to gain different perspectives.
Note: You can bring a resume, but don’t take it out right away or your interviewee may think you are actually fishing for a job. You may wish to ask for input about it at some point in the interview, but first make sure you’ve established a comfortable rapport with the person.
- Keep records. Right after the interview write down what you learned, what more you'd like to know and your impressons of how this industry, field or position would fit with your lifestyle, interests, skills and future plans.
- Send a thank-you note within 1-2 days to express your appreciation for the time and information given. Based on whether the informational interview was relatively informal or more businesslike, this may be a brief handwritten note, an email, or a business letter. (Example, pdf, "page 33").
- Keep in touch with the person, especially if you had a particularly nice interaction; let him or her know that you followed up on their advice and how things are going as a result. This relationship could become an important part of your network.