An informational interview is an interview you set up with someone who works in a job that interests you, and it can be a fantastic way to explore a possible new career. The point of the interview is not to ask for a job. Instead, you gather information about a specific type of job while building your network of business contacts.
Whenever I tell clients about informational interviews, I know they are skeptical. I'm sure plenty of them think it's something silly that career counselors tell people to do, but no one really does it.
Actually, that's not the case. An informational interview is an extremely useful tool for developing your network, learning about new careers and sometimes even finding job leads. It's also the best way I know for gaining in-depth, (mostly) unbiased inside information about a career.
People often worry that they'll have trouble setting up an informational interview saying, "People at work are busy. They won't have time to talk to me about their job." For the most part, this is not true. In my own experience setting up informational interviews for myself, clients and friends, I'd say about 8 out of 10 people asked are willing to participate in an informational interview. Those are pretty great results.
Who Should I Interview?
Normally you would arrange an informational interview with either a human resource professional in an industry that interests you, or with someone who does the type of job that interests you.
If you want to know about the routine tasks of the job, the responsibilities that might not be obvious to someone outside of the industry, and the positive and negative aspects of doing the job, your best bet is to talk to someone who does the job.
On the other hand, if you want to know about labor market trends in your field of interest, whether employers are hiring, what skills, experience and education you'll need to get a job in that industry and the typical career progression for someone in your field of interest then you'd typically be better off talking to a human resource (HR) professional who works in the industry that interests you.
HR professionals probably won't be able to tell you a lot about the day to day aspects of the job itself, and people who do the job often won't be able to tell you a lot about the labor market in their field of work. It's smart to interview a few different people in the same field so you'll have different perspectives to consider.
How Do I Find People to Interview?
First decide what industry or job interests you, then, I'd suggest asking people you know whether they have any contacts in that industry who you could call to request an informational interview. You can also look in business directories or on company websites to find the names and contact information for people you might want to interview and give those people a call. It's best to avoid using email initially when you're arranging an informational interview; calling is much more effective because phone calls are more personal, and they are not as easy to ignore as emails.
Ideally, you should arrange a time to meet with your contact in person. Occasionally you'll reach someone who will ask to do the interview right away, over the phone. It's not ideal (you get better information in person), but have some informational interview questions prepared for those situations because they can still be good opportunities to get some inside information about a career that interests you.
Be sure to go to the informational interview prepared to ask smart, well thought out questions. You'll find a link to sample informational interview questions at the bottom of the article. Be professional and dress to make a good impression. Do respect your contact's time; if you asked for a twenty minute meeting, keep the interview to twenty minutes (unless your contact clearly wants to continue talking).
I do understand that people can be nervous about arranging informational interviews, but they are really well worth the effort. Conducting informational interviews is a fantastic way to gather detailed career information, build your business contacts and find job leads. They are truly a powerful strategy for career planning and job search.
12 Great Informational Interview Questions