Informational Interviewing

What is it?

Informational interviewing is where you ask questions of a professional about their job. By asking questions of someone with first-hand experience in an industry or field of work, you can learn about the quality of work, employment outlook, or even salary. You can even ask about...interviews! It’s a great way to see if your “dream job” is a good fit for you.

If you're applying for a job at a company, you can ask an alum who works there questions like:

  • What kind of interview questions did they ask you? What was the hardest question?
  • What skills does this company value?
  • What do you like most about working for this company? What do you like least?
  • To whom should I talk next to learn more about this field/industry/position?
  • If I look for an internship or job in this field, where would you suggest I look?
  • What else do you think I need to know in order to make a good decision about working in this area?
  • Are there professional or networking groups that I can join to expand my knowledge of this field?

Alums enjoy answering questions and giving advice. It makes them feel good to help students because they went through the process just like you!

How do I find alums or other people to interview?

Find alums in your career field of interest on LinkedIn using the search tool but instead of contacting them directly via LinkedIn, take their name and/or company name and go to the online alumni directory.

You can search by major, company, career, geographic location, and graduation year. Template emails on three basic career-related topics–informational interviewing, networking for an internship search, and networking for a job search–are available on the right column of this webpage. You may adapt any of these emails to your particular situation or you may simply use them as a guide in writing your own email.

To find other people to interview, tell everyone you know that you are interested in investigating a particular profession or field and ask if they can refer you to anyone. Look for people who work in careers in your areas of interest, in specific jobs or organizations of interest, and share a common interest or lifestyle that appeals to you or in a work setting you like. Sources for contacts include:

  • Faculty
  • Family and Friends
  • Past employers or co-workers
  • Professional Organizations
  • Local Chamber of Commerce

Advice for Contacting Alumni

Informational interviews can be arranged by telephoning, emailing or writing a letter to your contact. Be specific in your request. Explain that you would like to speak with them for 20-30 minutes to learn about their occupation, industry, or organization. Offer to conduct the interview face-to-face, via telephone, email, or Skype. Alumni are great resources for researching and finding jobs or internship opportunities. They can offer information, ideas, advice, and maybe even names of other people to contact. However—this is the cardinal rule—don’t ask alums for a job! It puts them in an awkward position if they can’t help you and if they get inundated with student requests they are less likely to help other students. See examples on page 6 of the Informational Interviewing booklet attached to this page.

How to Set Up an Informational Interview

  • Decide what area(s) you are interested in learning more about.
  • Find contacts in the job industry/position/organization you are interested in.
  • Get in touch with your contact and ask to set up an informational interview.
  • Prepare questions to ask your contact.
  • Keep a record of who you talk to, as well as addresses, phone numbers, job titles, meeting date, and what you've learned.
  • Send an e-thank you note within 24 hours. Here is an example:

15 Spring Road
South Bend, IN 52101
May 22, 2015

Ms. Carrie Pool
Delaware Publishing
111 North Elm Street
Los Angelas, CA 92104

Dear Ms. Pool:

Thank you for taking the time to discuss the editorial position at the Los Angeles Times with me. After meeting with you and observing the company's operations, I am further convinced that my background and skills complement your needs.

I really appreciate the time you spent to acquaint me with the company, as well as our discussion of how the on-line publications has affected the newspaper industry. I enjoyed my visit and I feel I could learn a great deal from you, as well as contribute to the work you are doing.

I look forward to hearing from you. Again, thank you for your time and consideration.

Kyle Olsen

Note the reference to a specific topic of discussion from the interview. Your "Thank you" note should trigger a memory in the mind of your interviewer. Your letter should demonstrate consideration, the ability to work well with others, gratitude, and attention to detail.

Source: The information in this section was adapted with permission from the Carleton College Career Center website.