Informational interviews are in-person or phone meetings you conduct with professionals in a particular field to discuss their skills, background, career path, and insights about that field. You should seek understanding of the skills, experiences, and academic background essential to that field. You might discover if the profession requires an advanced degree or certain levels of prior work experience. Informational interviews provide you with an insider’s perspective that will benefit your continued job search and professional growth.
You can initiate contact with an interesting individual in several ways. Whether you already know the professional, have a personal recommendation, or are cold-calling, consider sending an email or formal letter sharing your resume, expressing interest in meeting face-to-face or over the phone, and learning from their experience. Make sure to convey your goal is to gather information that will stimulate your job search and build professional relationships. Take a look at our sample letter as one way you might initiate contact:
Dear Ms. Talbot,
I found your name through the American University Alumni Online Community. I am a senior at American University majoring in literature. My particular interest is in grant writing to benefit organizations working to advocate for children in need. I already gained some grant writing experience through an internship at Planned Parenthood of the Metropolitan Area and, as the first step in my job search, I would like to speak with practitioners in my field of interest to gain more insight. I find your work in non-profits especially interesting. Would you have time to meet with me in the upcoming two weeks to chat over coffee? I am free mornings on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
I have enclosed my resume for your background review and hope you have time to meet. I can be reached at this e-mail address or at (202) 123-4567. Thank you for considering my request.
Before you pick up the phone, use these examples to help clarify what you plan to say.
If someone referred you to the professional: “Good morning. My name is Jessica Edwards and I’m calling on the recommendation of Cheryl Stevenson. She told me at the Mid-Atlantic Marketing Conference that you’d be able to give me some valuable insight on the [your area of interest]. Do you have a moment?”
If your contact does not know you: “Good Morning. We have not met. However, I’m calling you because I’m currently in a career transition and I am researching how to best move into the [your area of interest] by talking to key people in the industry. Before I formally search for a position, I am looking for advice and insights on this field. Do you have a moment?”
7 tips for Initial Success
Demonstrate a positive attitude.
Pronounce the person’s name correctly.
Make sure this is the right person to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask, “Would you be the best person for me to speak to regarding this topic?”
Communicate your referral, if you have one, to establish something in common immediately.
Indicate the person you contacted is valuable to you.
Be direct and state clearly that you are looking for advice or information, not asking for a job.
Always ask if the individual has a moment to speak with you or if you should call back at a more convenient time.
Make the Most of the Interview
Send your resume advance. Most employers prefer to know your background ahead of time. Indicate this is an informational interview, and remind the person when you will meet.
Plan on your discussion lasting 20 minutes and arrive prepared with questions. Make the most of your time and only ask questions for which you can’t find answers on your own.
Request feedback on your resume. Every field has its own jargon; ask how you might change your resume to make it sound like other documents written by professionals in the field.
You might also consider the following questions to get you started:
How did you start in this line of work? What has been your career path?
What was your academic preparation?
What skills do you need to be successful in this job?
What types of positions do people with my major have in your organization?
What classes might I take now to be better prepared for a career in this field?
I am thinking of changing my major; what other fields match the skills and interests that people in this line of work generally possess?
Have you made a career change?
If yes, how did you make it?
How is your organization structured?
What are the most important issues affecting your organization?
What are the hiring procedures at your organization when vacancies occur?
What are the salary ranges and benefits for a given position?
What magazines, newspapers, or journals do you read to keep up with your field?
What associations or professional membership organizations do you find useful?
Let one interview lead to another. Request referrals to other individuals you might contact. A referral in this manner is the best way to network. Your phone call or e-mail to the next person will be more warmly received when someone that person knows refers you.
Write a thank-you note within two days of meeting or talking to a contact (the sooner, the more memorable). Then, maintain contact with the professionals you meet by calling or e-mailing periodically. Report your progress and ask their advice.