The Informational Interview

Are you in the process of making career choices or beginning a job hunt but are unsure about what option is the right fit for you?

The informational interview is an important part of the career exploration process because it

  • provides you with an insider’s view of a specific line of work or academic program
  • builds your network
  • gives you the chance to practice your interviewing skills
  • narrows your list of potential options

Simply put, the informational interview helps you decide what it is you want to do next.

Not a Job Interview

The informational interview is an appointment you schedule with a professional who can provide insightful information about a specific field or organization you’re considering; as such, it’s neither a job interview nor a roundabout way of getting job leads. As its name implies, the informational interview is quite simply a way of gathering information to help you make an informed decision about your next career move.

How do I identify potential contacts?

Begin by asking friends, colleagues, faculty, and your LinkedIn network (or other online networks) for referrals—to see who may know people in positions you’re interested in. Ask them if they would be willing to make introductions for you. You can also check with UNL Career Services or Nebraska Alumni Association personnel for recommendations about who you might contact to set up an interview. In short, be proactive in finding contacts.

How do I connect?

Once you’ve identified potential contacts, you can connect with them by phone, email, or letter; in each case, you’ll need to (a) quickly summarize your background and why you’d like to schedule an informational interview with them; (b) request a short meeting by phone or in person; and (c) ask if they’d like to receive a copy of your resume before the meeting. If they ask, clearly tell them that you’re not looking for a job at this point and that you want to interview them because you’re simply researching various careers to make an informed decision.

Follow the contact’s lead: Does he or she prefer a phone conversation or a face-to-face meeting? And be respectful of each contact’s time. Informational interviews vary in length but, in general, last 20-30 minutes, depending on how much contacts want to talk about their company or department and what it is they do.

Although a face-to-face interview is ideal, be prepared to conduct the interview over the phone, just in case the contact decides it would be best to do it now—when you first connect with him or her via telephone.

How do I prepare for the interview?

Before the interview, find out as much as much as possible about the contact’s organization, company, or department through your network connections, print media, and online resources.

Decide on the questions you’ll want to ask during the interview. Type your own list and have it on hand, both during the face-to-face interview and the telephone interview. Although you’ll develop many of your own, here are a few potential interview questions to get you started:

  • How did you get started in this field? What training, education, or related experiences helped you find a position in this field?
  • What are your responsibilities and what do you do on a daily basis; what skills/abilities are critical to your success?
  • Without considering your salary, what do you find most rewarding about your job?
  • What do you find least rewarding about your job?
  • How would you describe the work environment in your department/organization? Is there an emphasis on teamwork or do employees work independently most of the time? How would you describe the culture?
  • Is there a typical career progression in your company?
  • What is the typical entry-level salary? Are there fringe benefits, other forms of compensation (401K, commissions, bonuses)?
  • I hope you’ve had a chance to review the resume I emailed to you. Do you think my background and experience are well-suited for this line of work? What other experiences do you recommend; what would help make my resume stronger?
  • What are the most critical factors used to hire individuals in this career area?
  • Do you know other individuals who would provide helpful information about this field? Can I use your name when contacting them?
  • Do you have any advice for me?

What happens during the interview?

Be professional, dress professionally. Arrive early. Be enthusiastic, and positive. Do contribute to the conversation when appropriate. The questions you formulate should serve as a guide, but the informational interview is more than just you asking questions; you need to view it as a relaxed, enjoyable conversation between two individuals.

And remember, you are the interviewer, so you’ll need to take the lead and ask open-ended questions. On the one hand, if the person you’re interviewing is talkative, don’t worry if the interview takes longer than 20-30 minutes. Many people enjoy talking about what it is they do, so attend to both verbal and nonverbal signals before ending the interview. On the other hand, never overstay your welcome.

What do I do when it’s over?

Record notes of what you learned and what else you still need to know about the department or organization. List comments and new referrals for the future.

Send a personalized thank-you note to the contact person. Express your appreciation for his or her time and interest.