By Cheryl Pence Wolf, Beta Chapter, University of Florida; 2010-11 CSI Leadership Fellow
Informational Interviews can be a valuable source of information to help you gain insight into a career or specific job that may be the right fit for you. They can connect you directly with:
- People who work in a field you are considering
- Potential companies in which you may be interested
- Someone who can put you in touch with helpful contacts
Informational Interviews have several benefits, including:
- Discovering "first-hand” information about a career field. Reference books can provide facts about a job, such as salary and demand, but information interviews provide a personalized perspective of job and the organizational environment.
- Access to the "hidden” job market. Only 20% of all job openings are advertised! Direct contact and networking is essential to finding out about unadvertised job openings.
- Improvement of self-confidence and interviewing skills. Less stressful than a typical job interview, you can gain practice and confidence talking with potential employers in your field.
- Answers to tough questions. While you wouldn’t ask certain questions during a job interview (i.e. salary, vacation time, work-family balance), you can strategically gain important information and advice about the industry or company you are researching.
Steps to Set-up and Conduct an Informational Interview
You are encouraged to obtain more than one informational interview to gain a more well-rounded perspective of the career field you are exploring. The following steps explain how to set-up and conduct an informational interview. The more prepared you are for an information interview, the more you will get out of it! Some things you will want to consider include:
Create Your Dream Job
To get started, brainstorm all the jobs or companies that would interest you. That does NOT mean looking at the job ads and seeing what is available because research shows that 80% of available jobs are not advertised (aka "the hidden job market") because of time and expense. Think outside the box and create your own job description. What type of job do you want? With whom do you want to work? Where do you want to work? Basically, create your dream job list. The Occupational Outlook Handbook can be helpful in learning more about careers in counseling.
Next, identify potential employers that might provide a number of the things on your dream list. Also let your friends, family and professors know what kind of job you ideally would like to have in case they have ideas of where else or whom else you might contact. Then contact them. Most professionals enjoy informational interviews because they enjoy talking about themselves and their experiences. Find out the best times to call and be respectful to everyone you encounter. Make it clear that you’re not looking for a job, but that you are just trying to obtain information. Once you have contacted the individual, state your purpose. You might begin your conversation like this:
"Hi, Ms. Smith, my name is ___________, and I’m a University graduate student. I will soon be entering the counseling field and I am trying to find out as much as I can about my options. I have learned a lot about counseling in the classroom/internship, but I really feel it might help to talk to someone who works in an area of my interest. I would appreciate meeting with you to discuss your counseling career, if you have the time. The interview would only take approximately 30-45 minutes to complete. My schedule is flexible and I can meet with you at your convenience.”
Prepare Your Questions
The next step is preparing your questions. Based upon your goals for the interview and the results of your research of the area, prepare your questions for the interview. Use your time to ask the questions that are most important to you and leave out the irrelevant ones. Try to make them open-ended questions and keep the tone conversational, rather than simply rifling off questions. The suggestions below may give you some ideas:
- What is a typical day/week like in your job?
- How did you become interested in this occupation?
- What skills do you use in your job?
- What do you like and dislike about your job?
- What did you find most surprising about your field?
- What do you wish you had known about this job before you had started?
- If you had things to do over would you choose the same career path?
- How much do you work on your own?
- How much do you work with others?
- What is the work environment like (hours, atmosphere, people, etc)?
- Is there flexibility related to dress, hours, vacation, and places of residence in this field?
- What is a typical career path in this occupation?
- What are the related jobs in this field or organization?
- What type of person would be a good fit for this job?
- Would not be a good fit?
- What are typical entry level jobs in this profession and which ones are best for learning?
- What kind of experience and skills should I obtain so I will be best prepared for this job or field?
- What kind of academic/training preparation do you recommend for this occupation?
- What opportunities for advancement are there in this company?
- What is the average salary range for entry-level and seasoned professionals in this field?
- Can you suggest some ways a student could obtain the necessary and helpful experience?
- Who else in this field should I talk to?
- May I use your name when I contact them?
- Where else should I go for more information about this field?
Conduct the Informational Interview
While this is not a formal interview, you still want to look professional. You should dress according to their dress code (or at least business casual), arrive early for the interview and follow the proper etiquette for a job interview. Bring your questions and feel free to refer to them as necessary, but do not get lost in them; remember to maintain a more conversational tone. Take brief notes if desired.
Be Prepared for the Tables to Turn
While it’s not appropriate to ask for a job, informational interviews are an effective way to find job openings and elicit information about a prospective employer. Bring a copy of your resume, but only provide it if you are asked. If the interviewee is interested, they will ask for your resume or begin to ask questions that you should be prepared to answer. The following are suggestions of what you may encounter:
- How did you become interested in this field?
- How did you choose to go into counseling?
- What skills could you bring to this field/job?
- What have you learned from your other job experiences that lead you to this field?
To show your gratitude for their time, make sure you follow up by sending a thank you note within 24 hours after the interview. If you were given a referral, follow up soon after the informational interview; if there are any problems with the contact information, it will be easier to address while it’s fresh in their mind and they will realize that you are serious about your research.
The informational interview process can be fun, informative and highly successful in finding a career field or job that fits best with your interests. You may even be lucky enough to land your ideal job. When you know what you want and you go for it, people will start to believe in your dream and want to help you succeed. Best of luck with the process!