The informational interview is the job seeker’s equivalent of market research.
- Informational interviews are NOT job interviews! Job interviews are formal meetings for the purpose of evaluating and screening job applicants
- Informational Interviews can be planned or unplanned and can occur at conferences, meetings of professional associations, social events, in one-on-one meetings at your contact's workplace or while stranded in an airport
- Generally, the purpose of networking used in the context of the job search is to ask for information, not a job
- You can phone your contact directly, send an email asking for a meeting, or write an approach letter
- Information meetings are far more effective when conducted in person rather than over the phone or by email
- Phone meetings are necessary in long distance job searches, or when asking for a referral to someone more appropriate
- If initially you feel uncomfortable with the process, it is probably better to send an email or letter, then call to ask whether you can set up a meeting
- Do not expect your contact to call or write back. You retain the initiative and should call again
- If you reach voicemail or a receptionist, leave a clear message with your name, number, and the name of the person who referred you, saying you will call back the next day. You can ask a receptionist the best time to call again
- Always check whether the person has time to speak to you. Offer to call them back . . . don't expect them to call you.
- Write your own script ahead of time to help you feel more comfortable and in control of the situation
- Practice your script until it sounds natural and upbeat. Rehearse it with someone who can give you feedback
- Introduce yourself and explain how you got their name
- Ask if they are free to talk for a few minutes. If they're not, ask for the best time to call back and be sure you actually call then
- Tell them you are RESEARCHING the ________ field, and asking for ADVICE, not a job
- Ask for a 20-30 minute meeting at their convenience, preferably at their worksite. Assure them you know they are busy and you will be brief. OPTIONAL: You can offer to buy them a cup of coffee or take them to lunch, but this can be expensive; meeting them in their office is often more convenient for them and helpful for your research
- Be sure to get clear directions to their workplace
The process is the same through email or a letter, but it’s helpful to follow up with a phone call. It is usually best not to enclose a resume with an approach letter or email message, as it looks like you are applying for a job. Describe your experience in your note in a brief, natural way. If you do enclose your resume, mention in your note: "I have enclosed my resume so you will have some information on my background."
- Sample approach letters are available in the Networking section of the Career Planning Handbook
Practice Your Own "Thumbnail Sketch" Beforehand
- "I'd like to tell you a little more about my background, so you can give me advice on how I might plan my next steps . . . I have taken some time to think about my experience and education to this point, and feel my particular skills involve analysis (using my econ background and interest in solving complex strategic problems), communication and teamwork skills, and thinking on my feet. I am considering going to graduate school in _____, _____, or possibly ______ in a few years, but until then I want to get involved in this field (or possibly the name of an allied field) and clarify my career plans."
Begin the Meeting
- People tend to be very busy, so be sure you keep the meeting to the time you requested. Meetings in person, which are the most effective, should probably take no more than 30 minutes. Phone meetings should only last 10-15 minutes.
Introduce Yourself and State Your Purpose
- "Hello. It's a pleasure to meet you, and I really appreciate you taking the time to see me (or speak to me). As I said in my email, I am exploring various career fields and opportunities. I will be graduating in ____, and am especially interested in learning more about the __________ field. I am not looking for a job at this point, but am researching the field." Or "I am researching possibilities for summer internships to gain experience in the _______ field, and would appreciate your perspective as someone involved in the field."
- Talk about your background in brief, conversational terms
People enjoy talking about themselves.
- Sample Questions to ask during your interview
"You've been very generous with your time, and you've given me several new ideas to explore. I have a final request. The jobs you thought might be appropriate for someone with my skills and background sound interesting, and I'd like to find out more about these possibilities. Do you know anyone in these kinds of jobs who would be willing, like yourself, to provide me with additional advice and information?" Or, "Do you know anyone in (market research) at (Ajax Company) who could give me advice or would be willing to share their knowledge and give me ideas for additional contacts?"
"Thanks again for taking the time to talk with me. I've enjoyed our meeting it’s useful to hear about your experience. I will let you know how I'm doing." Or "This meeting has been so helpful; may I contact you in a few months when I have progressed further in my search?"Then ask for their business card.
- If you have a significant amount of experience in this or related fields, you may want to ask if they would be willing to look over your resume and comment on its clarity or appropriateness for this field. However, if you have limited work experience you might instead ask, "How would you recommend I list my community service, or class project on my resume?"
- You might ask if they would like a copy of your resume. However, you need to use your judgment at this point. It may seem like you are suddenly asking for a job, and you want to leave on a positive note. The relationship is more important than getting a resume into their hands.
Don’t forget to write or email a thank you note within a few days. Handwritten letters are rare and therefore get noticed. Be sure to include your address, phone, and email, so that your contact can get back in touch with you should they wish to do so.