How to Approach an Informational Interview By December 12, 2011

How to Approach an Informational Interview
By Alison Green
December 12, 2011
This will be news to some job seekers: "Informational interview” is not code for “sneaky way to get a job
Informational interviews are supposed to be used when you’re new to a field and seeking insight and
information from someone who’s already established in that field. They’re useful when you’re looking for
information that is more nuanced than what you’d find online, such as which information out there is
good and which is bad, the inside scoop on some of the big players, advice on a career paths within the
field, and so forth.
You typically get an informational interview by approaching someone connected to you in some way,
even if it’s a few degrees of separation (your uncle’s former coworker’s boyfriend or so forth), but you
can also sometimes get them from strangers (via LinkedIn or your alumni network, for instance), if you
approach them the right way.
However, all too often, job seekers ask for an informational interview when what they really want is a
back door entrance into a job interview. They’re not genuinely interested in learning about the field;
instead, they’re hoping to make contacts that they can quickly turn into a job opportunity.
Additionally, job-seekers—especially recent graduates—will sometimes ask for an informational
interview without any real plan for how they’ll use the opportunity. This often happens when someone
reads that informational interviews will be helpful in a job search, but doesn’t quite understand how they
work. Of course, taking up someone else’s time without a real need or plan for it is inconsiderate and
unlikely to make a good impression.
If you’ve set up an informational interview, here’s how to ensure you make a good impression:
1. Come prepared with questions. If you’re asking for an informational interview, you need to have a
clear idea of what types of information you’re seeking from that person. (And you should know that
before you make the request; don’t wait until the day of your meeting to figure it out!) Don’t expect the
person you’re meeting with to lead or steer the conversation.
2. If you ask for an informational interview and your target tells you that her schedule is crammed but
she’d be willing to answer your questions by email (since that’s faster and more convenient for some
people), you need to be ready to email thoughtful, substantive questions. Otherwise, you’ll look like you
were fishing for an interview and are uninterested now that it’s clear this won’t be one.
3. If you do get an informational interview, do not under any circumstances use it to pitch that person on
hiring you. Misrepresenting your reasons for meeting with someone is not a good way to get a job.
4. If you ask the person to have coffee with you, you’re expected to offer to pay. Remember, you’ve
invited the person, and they’re doing you a favor.
5. Send a thank-you note afterwards. This person gave you something of value: his or her time and
insights. You want to make it clear that you don’t take that for granted.
Career Guidance Plan-High Schools
There are many ways to use EUREKA as the primary tool for your school's career development program, whether the students access
the system in classrooms or labs, in small groups, or individually. These are suggestions of how to incorporate EUREKA activities
into a comprehensive career guidance plan.
9th Grade:
•OccUSort Answer all the questions.
•Career Paths View Career Paths of interest. Follow links to occupational descriptions and educational programs.
•Brief Occupations Research several occupations. Follow links to full occupational descriptions.
•Occupations Research occupation clusters and several occupations.
•Industries Research several industries of interest.
10th Grade:
•Take an Interest Inventory such as the Self-Directed Search. Use CrossWalks for a cross-reference table.
•Career Paths View Career Paths of interest. Link to occupational descriptions and educational programs.
•Occupations Research one to three occupations.
•Letter Writer Write letters to professional associations for each occupation.
•Majors/Programs Research field of study or major for each occupation.
•Colleges/Universities Compare three schools offering field of study for each occupation.
•Letter Writer Write letters to several schools.
11th Grade:
•OccUSort Answer some questions using ASVAB scores (optional).
•Occupations Research one occupation.
•Letter Writer Write letters requesting scholarship applications and information.
•Colleges/Universities Search for schools by using the Filter, contact admissions and fill out college applications.
•Job Search Draft resume and cover letters. Complete job application form.
12th Grade:
•MicroSkills Focus on Future Skills and Comparisons.
•Re-take Interest Inventory such as the Self-Directed Search. Use CrossWalks.
•Occupations Research one occupation.
Page2 CGP-High Schools
Colleges/Universities Complete applications.
Military Occupations Research occupations if applicable.
Job Search Use web links for Internet job search. Write resume and cover letters. View sample interview questions.
Suggestions for implementing the career guidance plan:
Save results of students´ EUREKA career exploration processes in Personal Portfolio to disk or in client folders on
the computer hard drive.
Use the above models in a computer lab setting with the entire class working together. Each grade level requires only
a few hours of time out of the regular curriculum for the entire school year. Integrating the set plan to compliment the
curriculum has been done successfully with Grades 9-11 English classes and Grade 12 Government class.
While the writing and research requirements of an English curriculum provide seamless linkage to career exploration
activities, be aware that many English teachers feel the pressure of numerous requests for class time away from their
regular curriculum. To utilize English classes in your career program, develop a plan with the English teachers to
integrate your career plan into their regular curriculum. Gaining teacher support in any discipline is easiest when you
provide teachers with EUREKA materials, assignment suggestions, and worksheets.
EUREKA is available in many school computer labs and readily accessible by all teachers and students. It is
important that teachers and staff do not rush ahead and assign work out-of-sequence that will later duplicate your
school's set plan. As with any duplicated instruction, students will lose interest if they have done the
assignment/process before. If your school has a required career guidance class, you may want to adjust the plan to
access most of the information during that time.
Expand your use of EUREKA by using Internet links throughout the system. If you are concerned about students'
access to the internet, links are viewed within the EUREKA screen. The user cannot type in other internet addresses.
If your school is developing a comprehensive career program, here are some key points to consider:
1. Make sure all students at each grade level receive group instruction according to a set plan. With only a few hours required out
of the year, teachers and administrators should be eager to support the set plan providing access to all. No one should be left
Page 3 CGP-High Schools
2. ESL students and students with special needs require additional time and possibly an altered plan. We recommend working in
smaller groups and, when using OccUSort. answer only some of the questions. Choose 5 to 10 questions that are most important or
relevant to that student.
3. We encourage teachers to use EUREKA as an additional part of their curriculum outside the suggested plan. Work should
compliment what has been done with students to date or it can include accessing information that is not a part of your school's set plan.
4. Information accessed during the set plan is designed to teach the student how to access career and school information and to support
the career exploration process. It is not designed to require the student to make a critical career/school decision. Additional guidance is
recommended. As their interests develop, students should use EUREKA in the Career Center, Library, or in computer labs to access
further information.
5. In a comprehensive guidance program, two or more career assessments can be used with the counseling staff as an integral part of
this process. Incorporate Career assessments by using CrossWalks to identify occupations that match the student's assessment results.
Career Paths
Career Information Glossary of Terms
Career Guidance Plan- Middle Schools
Middle Schools vary widely in how academic programs or student groupings influence the way a Career Information System is integrated
into the curriculum. The goal is to reach every student at each grade level while not duplicating or missing lessons for students. EUREKA
is used in classrooms, labs, small group settings and individually. These are suggestions of how to incorporate EUREKA activities in a
comprehensive career guidance plan.
6th Grade:
•OccUSort In a group setting, answer some questions (education level or wages) to prove the importance of these points.
•Career Paths View Career Paths Clusters.
•Brief Occupations Research occupational clusters and occupations in a group setting.
7th Grade:
•OccUSort Answer all questions. Write down responses that eliminate certain occupations.
•Career Paths View Career Paths of interest. Link to occupational descriptions and educational programs.
•Brief Occupations Research occupational clusters. Select five to eight occupations to explore.
8th Grade:
•Career Paths View Career Paths of interest and link to occupational descriptions and educational programs.
•Take a Personality Questionnaire Inventory such as Looking At Me and cross-reference occupations.
•Brief Occupations Research several occupations. Link to full occupational descriptions.
•Occupations Research three to five occupations focusing on Personal Characteristics, Skills, and High School Courses
•Letter Writer Write letters to professional associations.
•Industries Research three to five industries of interest.
Suggestions for implementing the career guidance plan:
•Results of EUREKA's career exploration process can be saved in Personal Portfolio and then saved to a disk or in student folders
on a computer hard drive.
•Expand your use of EUREKA by using Internet links throughout the system. If you are concerned about students' access to the
internet, links are viewed within the EUREKA screen. The user cannot type in other internet addresses.
Page 2 CGP-Middle Schools
•Use OccUSort to make a point by answering some of the questions as a group. Show students how they might limit themselves
by: 1) not working as a team, 2) not attending college, or 3) not using math skills in a future job. Click on the question you want
to answer, then show students how negative or limiting responses decrease the number of jobs available to them. Excellent for
orientation or the first week of classes. OccUSort is a "reality check" because it measures how work attitudes and preferences
limit occupational choices.
•Use Brief Occupations and the Occupations to review occupational clusters and occupations. Focus on Skills and Personal
Characteristics recommended for each occupation. Have students decide if they are willing to develop them and list how they
can improve in these areas. Students are still developing at this age so this exercise is for information gathering only. Middle
school students should review several occupations, not just one or two. Asking students to chose only one occupation may be
overwhelming at this stage in their development.
•Ask students to select one occupation they may be interested in for the following exercise only: Use a standard budget form and
ask students to create a budget based on a selected occupation's entry level pay. They can have a parent/guardian assist with
determining dollar amounts for rent, etc. This gives the parent/guardian an opportunity to see which occupation their son or
daughter selected and provides an opportunity for discussion.
•A theoretically based Interest Inventory is recommended to supplement the career guidance plan. While many Interest
Inventories are designed for older students and adults, the Self-Directed Search (SDS) Career Explorer is specifically designed
for middle school students. The SDS is used nationally, may be administered by non-counselors, and is based on the Holland
Personality Types.
•Use worksheets to help students focus on the topic at hand. It is a cognitive process when students write down summarized
information instead of printing it and will assist them in their learning and personal ownership of the information.
Suggestions for classroom integration:
•English classes can integrate career information seamlessly into literature study and writing skills. (Example: "What are the
careers of the main characters in this story?")
•If Technology classes are required for all students, EUREKA is a perfect addition to these classes.
•Math teachers may enjoy using OccUSort as described above, as well as creating budgets based on an occupation's entry level
•Teachers can use Super Search to identify occupations that recommend study in certain subject areas. (Example: Search for the
word "biology" in Majors/Programs.)
•Career Paths
•Career Information Glossary of Terms
Career Guidance Plan - Colleges
There are many ways to use EUREKA as part of a college's career development services, whether students access the system in
classrooms or labs, small groups, or individually. These are suggestions of how to incorporate EUREKA activities in community college
or university settings.
•MicroSkills Focus on Future Skills and Comparisons. Use Past Jobs if applicable.
•OccUSort Answer all questions or only relevant ones. Write down which responses eliminated certain occupations.
•Take an Interest Inventory such as the Self-Directed Search. Use CrossWalks for a cross-reference table.
Career Exploration
•Career Paths Focus on one to two Career Paths. Follow links to occupational descriptions and educational programs.
•Occupations Research occupational clusters and several occupations. Narrow search to one occupation.
•Letter Writer Write letters to professional associations.
•International Occupations Research international occupations if applicable.
•Industries Research industries of interest.
•Majors/Programs Research field of study or major for occupation of interest.
•Colleges/Universities Search for schools by using the Filter. Compare three schools offering major. Contact admissions and
complete applications.
•Letter Writer Write letters to admissions office and request scholarship applications.
•S.B.O. Take the Self-Employment Quiz. Write a business plan.
Job Search
•Job Search Write a resume and cover letter. Complete job application form. View sample interview questions. Use web links for
Internet job search.
•MicroSkills Use Past Jobs to identify skills for resume and cover letters.
Suggestions for using EUREKA with college students
EUREKA information about a student's career development process can be saved in the Personal Portfolio to disk or in student folders
on the computer hard drive.
Page 2 – CGP-Colleges
If your college has a career guidance course, the suggested plan above can be easily implemented and integrated into a career course
setting. The plan can also be integrated into Career Center workshops.
Expand your use of EUREKA by using Internet links throughout the system. If you are concerned about students' access to the
internet, links are viewed within the EUREKA screen. The user cannot type in other internet addresses.
Use Major Related Careers in Career Paths for a list of occupations related to college majors.
•Career Paths
•Career Information Glossary of Terms
(Be sure to write down your questions ahead of time and leave space between them for answers)
I. Job Duties & Responsibilities
‚What’s a typical day like for you?
‚Who do you report to?
‚How are you evaluated?
‚What do you like most about your job?
‚What gives you the most trouble? What part of your job do you dislike the most?
II. Skills, Experience, and/or Training Necessary for Entry
‚How did you get into this line of work? If you had it to do over, and knowing what you know now,
what would you do to break in to this field?
‚If you were in my position, what would you do to get into this field?
‚What are the best training sites (if applicable)? Best networking sites?
III. Needs and Values (company climate, setting, physical/mental demands, etc.)
‚ What do people in this field value and reward?
‚ Is there a specific “culture” in this field? Is there a specific “type” of person that’s drawn to or who
succeeds in this field? (fast-pace; being of service/philanthropy; cutthroat and competitive; world
peace and/or environmental concerns, etc.)
‚ Close supervision? Autonomy? Work alone? Work in teams? Specifics?
‚ Rate the level of stress in this work on a scale of 1 to 10. Please give some specific examples of the kinds
of stress. How often do they occur? How would you describe the pace?
‚ What are the requirements for using your memory in this work? Specific examples?
‚ Do you lift more than _____ pounds on this job? If so, how often? Is help available?
‚ Do you use your hands and/or wrists a lot in this work? Specific examples?
IV. Employment
‚ Describe the employment climate in this field? Growing? Shrinking? Trends?
‚ What is the turnover rate in this field? Is hiring seasonal? If so, when?
‚ What’s the best way to get hired in this field? (Networking/Social Media [and specific sites],
Recruiters, Want Ads, Internet Job Boards, Cold Calling, Trade Associations, Other)
‚ How did you get your job? If you were me, how would you go about breaking in?
‚ Any current openings with your company? (but be VERY sensitive/cautious about how you ask this-do not “low ball” your interviewee by requesting an informational interview and then flipping it into an
employment interview) Last hire? Expected next hire?
‚ Would you be willing to look over my resumé (perhaps later) and give me some feedback (commenting
in particular about its appropriateness and effectiveness in this field or industry)?
V. Compensation
‚ Salary ranges? (asking about “ranges” gives you and your interviewee some comfort room) Entry level?
Potential (and time to reach it)? Overtime?
‚ Benefits? (medical, dental, vision, child care, maternity/family leave, stock options, tuition, car, other)
‚ Job sharing? Telecommuting? Other hybrids?
And the last two questions you ask EVERYONE you interview, without fail:
1. Is there anything I should have asked you that I didn’t? Anything we missed?
2. Is there anyone else you’d recommend that I talk to? If so, may I mention your name?
Informational Interviews involve talking to people about their work. They are a very effective way to gather useful
information about a career or job that interests you from the most informative and reliable source there is: someone who
is actually doing the job. To get comfortable with the idea of interviewing people, you may want to start by interviewing
friends, family members, or anyone you know well. This may help you feel more comfortable with the interview process.
It’s an informal but structured interview of someone who is doing the kind of work you’re interested in and want to learn
more about. Informational interviews are most productive when done in person, at your interviewee’s workplace (a
picture really IS worth a thousand words). They’re the most effective way to do career research.
To find out more about a job that interests you.
To build a network of contacts that can help you locate the job you want.
To develop your skill and confidence for job interviews down the road.
To become a more impressive job candidate because you have done your homework.
To find out about jobs and career paths you didn’t know existed.
To deepen your understanding of the world of work in a variety of settings.
To have first-hand, current information vs. data from research that’s two or more years old or in a different location.
To learn to mentally connect talking to strangers about jobs as a low-stress experience, improving your job-related
communication skills.
9. Potential employers have a chance to meet you at your best, without the pressure and anxiety of an job interview.
10. To clarify your goals and re-define them each time you get more information.
11. To experience yourself growing beyond shyness or inhibition about talking to people.
12. To put your career into your schedule and make it a #1 priority for awhile.
13. To gain greater self-knowledge while looking for your “best-fit” job.
14. To take control of your future and to avoid being stuck in a job(s) that doesn’t fit you.
15. To find out what motivates you and to find out what you can live with or compromise on.
16. To get past Human Resource departments and talk to hiring managers who can give you more contacts in their
company or at other companies in the same or different industries.
17. To improve your listening, communication, and social skills.
18. To renew your belief in the that people are basically good and have an innate desire to be helpful.
19. To build pride in yourself for doing something hard (e.g. contacting strangers and asking for their time).
20. To learn a skill that you can use and that will serve you well your entire life.
21. Once you learn this skill, you can teach it to others who are important to you.
22.Everyone you establish a contact with will also be in a position to be looking for a job for you. If you make a good
impression (on time, well-dressed, prepared and organized, asking thoughtful questions), thank them (with a thank
you note!), communicate clearly about your abilities and goals, and stay in contact, you will make your job search more
efficient and productive. And, believe it or not, more enjoyable!
Initial Contact (usually by e-mail or phone)
1. Introduce yourself and mention the name of the person (if any) who referred you.
2. Explain that you’re doing some research about work that interests you so you can decide if this field is a good fit for
you. You are talking to knowledgeable people, experts in the field, to learn the details about this kind of work and
the companies where it is done.
3. Say you would like very much to meet for a brief interview at their workplace, for about 15 to 20 minutes maximum,
at their convenience in the next few days.
The Interview
Know beforehand what you want to ask. Take a note pad with questions written down with space in between to
write important points from their responses. Some sample questions are included in the Informational Interview
Format, but these are only suggestions. Be sure to think of other questions that are targeted specifically toward your
interests and needs, toward what YOU want to know. In the interview, ask the questions in your own words--it will
make you feel and seem more relaxed and genuine.
2. Be brief and to the point and respect your interviewee’s time! You’ve made a contract for 15-20 minutes, maximum.
At precisely 20 minutes, no matter how well the interview’s going (or how juicy it feels), remind your interviewee of
your commitment to take no more than 20 minutes of their time and be prepared to leave. By reminding them of your
commitment, and your willingness to hold to it, you make a very powerful statement about your integrity (and
manners). In the vast majority of cases, your interviewee will suggest that you continue but if they “allow” you to
leave, by all means do so after thanking them for their time.
Complete the Follow-up Sheet, using the guidelines in the sample provided immediately or as soon as possible after the
interview so the information is fresh in your mind. Feel free to add other information that you feel is important. Keep the
Follow-up Sheet attached to the Interview Format with your questions and responses.
2. Write a brief thank you note using the sample provided or one of your own. Say in your own words that you
appreciate the person taking time to talk with you and that you enjoyed and found the interview very helpful. Try to
state at least one specific piece of information that you learned or found helpful. Make sure to include your name,
address, phone number, and/or e-mail so that s/he can contact you in the future. Be sure to have the thank you note
in the mail no later than 24 hours after the interview.
3. Keep your Informational Interview Formats and Follow-up Sheets organized and in a place where you can get to
them quickly. You are building a file of the most useful information (and contacts!) about work that is best suited for
Remember that Informational Interviews are great opportunities to meet people who may be powerful contacts for you in
the future. Make a good impression and try to relax and enjoy the process along the way!
Phone calls are the most personal (and effective) ways to arrange informational interviews. However, it may
seem a little intimidating to make a phone call to a stranger. One way to help with that is to send an e-mail
request in advance, telling your target that you’ll be calling to follow-up.
Here are some examples of e-mail and phone scripts to help you get started. When you do call, be sure to state,
in the first minute, your name and your purpose. Remember, you are asking for a meeting only to gather
information, not to look for a job. Some sample scripts:
Advance e-Mail
(Put “Informational Interview?” in the Subject Line to avoid getting chewed by the spam filter)
“Dear __________: (mention referrer’s name if you have one) suggested I contact you about the possibility of an
informational interview. I’m researching careers to find a good fit for me. I’m very interested in (name of
job/career you’re researching) and I’m gathering information from experts doing the work—it’s the best way I
know to see if it’s a good match. I’ll be calling in the next few days to see if we can arrange a convenient time
to meet. If there is a best day/time/number for me to call, I’d appreciate a reply with that information. Thank
you very much—I’m looking forward to talking with you.”
Whether they reply or not, be sure to write down when you sent the e-mail and when you plan to follow-up.
Then be sure to follow-up! Nothing makes more of a positive impression than doing what you say you’ll do (or
a negative impression when you don’t). This also gives you a much more comfortable opener when you call—
it’s now a warm call instead of a cold call.
Phone Script
“Hello, Ms. ___________. My name is ______________ and I’m following up an e-mail I sent you a couple of days ago
about the possibility of an informational interview. Did you get it?
(Whether they did or didn’t): “As I mentioned, I’m researching careers to find a good fit for me. I’m very
interested in (name of job/career you’re researching) and I’m gathering information from experts doing the work. I’d
like to come by at a convenient time and ask you a few questions about your work. I promise not to take more
than 15 to 20 minutes of your time. Are you open to that?
(If they say “yes”, ask for a good date/time/location and arrange the interview. Do your very best to meet them
in person at their place of business [say, “A picture really is worth a thousand words”] and try not to let them
flip it if they say, “Well, I’ve got some time right now--what are your questions?”). Then say, “Would it help if
I e-mailed you some of my questions ahead of time so you could see the kind of information I’m interested in?”
(If yes): “I’ll do that as soon as I hang up. What’s the best e-mail to reach you?”
Alternate Scripts
“Hello, Ms. _______. My name is ______________ and I am a student in a career planning class at (name of school). I’m
working on a project that involves some research about (name of job you are researching). I’d like to come by at a
convenient time and ask you a few questions about your work. I promise not to take more than 15 to 20
minutes of your time. Are you open to that?”
“Hello, Mr. _______. My name is ________. (Name of referrer) referred me to you as a good person to ask about (job
you are researching) since I’m gathering information about careers. I’d like to come by and ask you a few
questions about your work. I promise not to take more than 15 to 20 minutes of your time. Are you open to
1. Keep a detailed follow-up sheet for each informational interview! You’ve worked hard to arrange and
complete the interview--make sure you record and save the hard-won information you’ve gotten. Be sure to
Date of interview
Name and title of contact
Phone (business & cell)/e-mail/fax
Topics discussed
New or alternate job titles/areas suggested
Date thank you note sent
Dates of follow-up with contact
Company name
Company address
Name of secretary/assistant
Unique information or insights
Additional contacts/leads (w/ name, title, company, phone,
Permission to use contact’s name?
Any additional information
Remember to write down this information immediately after your meeting while it is still fresh in your mind!
2. Follow-up every informational interview with a thank you note, which should be in the mail not later than 24
hours after the interview! Some say it is best to send a handwritten thank you note while others feel all business
correspondence should be typed in a follow-up e-mail. You decide, but whichever you choose, your thank you
should be neat, simple, and clear. Example:
Name of contact and title
Company name
Company address
City, State, Zip code
Dear Contact:
Thank you for taking time to meet with me today to talk about (field or job you are researching and the company they
work for). The information you gave me will be very useful in helping me decide whether this is the right field
for me. In particular, I found the information you gave me about (subject matter) to be very interesting and
helpful because (elaborate BRIEFLY).
Thank you again for your time and effort in helping me with my career research. With your permission, I’d like
to keep you posted about my progress and would also appreciate a contact if you think of anything or anyone
that might be of help.
Your name
Your address
Your phone/fax/e-mail