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Tips for a Successful Informational Interview

An informational interview is a useful way to get up-to-date, accurate facts about an industry, occupation, organization, or educational program.

Informational interviewing is based on the idea that if you want to find out what it’s like to be a graphic artist, ask a graphic artist! Likewise, if you want to find out what it’s like to work for a company, talk to company employees. Do you want to take a post–secondary or training program? Talk to someone who finished the program.

Talking to someone with first-hand experience can give you an edge in finding opportunities and marketing yourself. The experience can also expand your network, inspire you to keep pursuing your goals, and introduce you to career options that you might not have thought about.

Note that an informational interview is not the same as a cold call. You would not use an informational interview to ask for a job.

Do your homework

Before you set up an informational interview, figure out exactly what you want to learn. That means doing some research on the occupation, industry sector, organization, or educational program.

Find out all you can. This way, you can make a positive impression by asking thoughtful questions—and not asking ones whose answers can easily be found online.

Prepare your questions

Once you’ve done your research, write down a list of specific questions. Choose questions that line up well with the purpose of your informational interview. If you need ideas for what questions to use, look through Deciding What Questions to Ask [pdf].

Decide which questions are most important and plan to ask them first, in case you don’t get time to ask them all.

Plan what to say

Think of your talking points. These include what you want to say about yourself, why you have contacted the individual, and what you want to learn from the interview. Plan what to say for each of these points:

  • Brief introduction of yourself and information about your background, if appropriate
  • How you found out about the person you’re interviewing. For example, referral, website, job ad, newsletter or other publication, business pages, etc.
  • Something you know about the occupation, industry, or company that might catch the contact’s attention
  • The interview questions that you prepared
  • Wrap up and thank you

You might want to prepare a script and practice it with a friend before you start contacting people. But avoid memorizing it—you want the interview to flow naturally. Also, you may need to change some of your talking points or script depending on the person you’ve chosen and what you want to find out from that person.

Identify potential interviewees

Identify people with experience in the occupation, industry, organization, or educational program that interests you. Start with the people you know—your network. They could be relatives, friends, co-workers, teachers, or someone you volunteered with.

If you don’t know anyone  with experience, ask the people in your network to refer you to someone they know. You may also be able to find someone to interview through a professional, trade, or industry association.

Find out about the person you’ll be talking to. Search the person’s name online, or search for information on the company’s website. If someone has referred you, ask that contact for background on the interviewee.

Set up the interview

With your questions and talking points ready and your interviewee identified, it’s time to make contact.

  • Make initial contact by email or phone. Briefly explain what you want—tell them the main purpose of your interview—and ask for 10 to 15 minutes of the person’s time. 
    • If your initial contact is by phone, be ready to do the interview immediately in case your contact says that now is a good time.
    • If your initial contact is by email, keep it short and to the point. Use a subject heading that won’t be mistaken for junk mail. For example, “Graduating social worker seeks information.”
    • Ask how they would like the interview to be conducted—by email, by phone, or in person.
  • If the person turns you down, ask if there is someone they can recommend who might be open to answering your questions.

Conduct the interview

  • Email, call, or arrive on time.
  • Have your questions and a copy of your resumé in front of you.
  • Dress appropriately even when you connect by phone. When you dress professionally, you’ll sound and act professional.
  • Speak slowly and clearly.
  • Take detailed notes. Write down the date, the person’s full name and contact information, what you learned, and the names and phone numbers of any referrals.
  • Take only the 10-15 minutes you requested.
  • Don’t ask for a job or promote yourself as a potential employee. It’s unprofessional and may reflect poorly on you and the person who referred you.
  • Thank the person.

Follow up after the interview

Following up with your contact after the interview leaves a good impression.

  • Within a day or 2, send a card or email saying thank you for the person’s time and help. Your contact may be in a position to influence future hiring decisions. Your courtesy will be remembered.
  • 2 or 3 weeks later, phone to let your contact know that you have finished your research and are interested in pursuing this career. Then ask if they may have heard about work opportunities or thought of something else that might help you.

Use informational interviews to learn more about your career choices and to get insider information on your work options. Armed with this information, you can make good decisions about where to take your career.

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