Converting an Informational Interview into a Job
Written by Colleen Coleman
An informational interview, sometimes called an informational or investigative conversation, is a 30-minute meeting or conversation in which you interview professionals to explore and research potential career paths. An informational interview will give you field-specific career information, help you develop your professional network, discover unadvertised internship and job opportunities, and help you determine what type of academic and extracurricular involvement would prepare you for a career in the field.
Even if you are fairly confident about your career path, it’s best to make an informational interview, rather than a job-shadow, your first point of contact with a professional. Unlike a job-shadow, an informational interview can be conducted remotely via phone or Skype. By conducting informational interviews during the preliminary stage of your career exploration, you also maximize your ability to identify which professionals would be the best job-shadow hosts.
To arrange and conduct successful informational interviews:
- Identify the people you want to interview.
Once you have an idea of the kinds of job titles people in the field have, make a list of a couple of people you want to interview. Ask family, friends, mentors, and other people in your community if they know anyone who has one of these jobs. You should also look for Hillsdale alumni who are working in the field you are exploring. To find alumni who might be willing to participate in an informational interview, search the Hillsdale College Alumni Network on LinkedIn. Finally, prioritize your list. This will help you with Step 3, when you go to present your requests for the interviews.
- Prepare a letter of inquiry.
Type up a brief letter in which you introduce yourself and explain why you are interested in their field. Let them know that you are a student at Hillsdale and be sure to mention how you attained their contact information (tell them the name of the friend or family member, or the name of the resource, such as LinkedIn). Keep the letter brief and professional. Tailor the letter to each professional you are interested in interviewing.
- Present your request(s).
Note that the ‘s’ is in parentheses—this is where you need to be careful. When you send a request for an interview to a professional, you need to be prepared to commit if they agree to your request. You do not want to have to inform them that you overcommitted and are no longer want to interview them. If you are trying to schedule informational interviews for a mid-semester break, it might be fine to send out more than one request. In general, only request as many interviews as you can commit to. For each informational interview, make sure you have at least 30 minutes to set aside for the interview itself and 20 minutes to write a thank-you note after the interview (Step 7). Present your requests according to the order of priority you assigned your list of professionals in Step 1.
- Arrange a time for the interview.
Once you have received a response to your request, arrange a time for the interview—an informational interview can be conducted over the phone, Skype, or in person. Provide the person you are interviewing with a list of times during which you would be available, and ask them which of your proposed times would work best with their schedule.
- Before the interview, prepare a list of good questions.
Asking good questions presupposes that you’ve thoroughly researched the professional and the company they work for online. You have not gone through the trouble of arranging this interview only to ask questions that you can find answers to on the company’s homepage. Form questions that are deeper and reflect your interests. Here are some examples to get you thinking: “How did you come to work in this field?”; “Could you describe your typical workday?”; “What are your daily responsibilities/duties?”; “What do you find most challenging about your job?”; “What do you find most enjoyable about your job?”; “How would you describe your work environment?” ; “What are the qualifications and educational requirements for this type of work?”; “What kinds of experience would you suggest that someone pursue to make them more marketable in this field?”; “Do you/does your company offer internships ?”; “Can you recommend any worthwhile professional journals, conferences/workshops, or professional associations that relate to your type of work?”; “Can you recommend any other people whom I might speak with to continue my research?”
- Conduct the interview.
During the interview, be professional and polite. If you are conducting an in-person interview, wear business attire. Ask your questions and take thorough notes. Close the interview by thanking the professional for their time.
- After the interview, follow up.
The professional you interviewed has sacrificed time to do you a favor. Immediately following the interview (within 24 hours), send an email to the professional thanking them for their time. Then, if you have their address, send a handwritten thank-you note.
If you are interested in shadowing any of the professionals you interviewed, you can request and schedule a job-shadow using the same steps you used to arrange the informational interview. A job-shadow gives you the opportunity to experience a work environment and culture firsthand. Once you have arranged a job-shadow, the same basic rules apply: prepare for your job-shadow by researching the company, come up with a list of good questions, during the actual interview be professional and take good notes, and follow-up with a thank-you email and a handwritten thank you note.