The most current and specific information about a career field may not be available online. The most helpful information can come from people who are actually working in that field.
An informational interview is an informal conversation you can have with someone working in an area of interest to you. It is an effective research tool and is best done after preliminary online research. It is not a job interview, and the objective is not to find job openings.
You may feel awkward reaching out to people you don't know. However, most people actually enjoy taking a bit of time out of their day to reflect on their professional life and give advice to someone interested in their field.
- Get firsthand, relevant information about the realities of working within a particular field, industry or position.
- Find out about career paths you did not know existed.
- Get tips and insider knowledge about how to prepare for and land your first career position.
- Learn what it’s like to work at a specific organization.
- 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 of 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 Berkeley 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.
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, or through LinkedIn.
- Mention how you got his or her name.
- Emphasize that you are looking for information, not a job.
- If you reach the person by phone, ask whether it’s a good time to talk for a few minutes.
- If the person is not available when you call, 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.
- If meeting in person, arrive on time or a few minutes early.
- Bring your list of questions and take notes if you like.
- 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.
- 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. At some point you may wish to ask for input about it, but first establish a comfortable rapport with the person.
- Keep records. Write down what you learned, what more you'd like to know, and next steps you plan to take.
- 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. See the sample thank you letter below.
- Keep in touch with the person, especially if you had a particularly nice interaction; let them know that you followed up on their advice and the outcome. This person could become an important part of your network.