An informational interview is an informal conversation, usually lasting 20-30 minutes, with a person working in a career field that interests you. It is not a job interview, and its purpose is not to find job openings. Rather, it’s a way to explore a given field, and it can also give you an opportunity to get an inside look at an organization where you may want to work in the future.
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.
Benefits of Informational Interviewing
- Get firsthand, relevant information about the realities of working within a particular position, field, or industry.
- Find out about career paths you didn’t know existed.
- Get insider tips 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; meet people who may share job leads with you in the future.
Six Steps of Informational Interviewing
(1) Research career fields, industries and organizations
- Use online resources to research the career field, industry and/or organization you want to learn about.
(2) Identify people to interview
- Make use of your existing contacts, such as family, friends, GSIs, professors and former employers. Even if they aren’t working in fields that interest you, people you already know can lead you to people who are.
- 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.
(3) Prepare for the Interview
- Develop a brief introduction of yourself and your hopes for the meeting.
- Plan open-ended questions to ask.
(4) Initiate contact
- Contact the person by email or through LinkedIn.
- Mention how you got their name.
- Emphasize that you are looking for information, not a job.
(5) Conduct the informational interview
- Dress neatly and appropriately for the work setting you are exploring.
- 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 to ask for 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 if you may contact them again in the future with other questions.
- Ask for names of other people to contact in order to gather 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.
(6) Follow up
- 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 this sample email thank you note in a Google doc.
- 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.
Watch these videos for a comprehensive step-by-step overview of the informational interviewing process:
Informational Interviewing for Career Exploration – Part 1 of 3 – Purpose & Preparation
Informational Interviewing for Career Exploration – Part 2 of 3 – Requesting & Conducting the Meeting
Informational Interviewing for Career Exploration – Part 3 of 3 – Following up
Watch this video for a quick overview:
How to Conduct Informational Interviews – short video produced by Berkeley Career Engagement’s former Communications Assistant, Jazmin Nolasco