The Power of Informational Interviews
"I think I'd like to go into teaching," states
the corporate accountant who has just been downsized. But
it has been 25 years since he sat in a high school math classroom,
so his dream job bears no resemblance to today's high tech
classroom of Millennial Generation students.
A high school junior thinks it would be cool to be a forensic
scientist, based only on what she sees in her favorite television
programs on crime scene investigations and solving cold cases.
Both of these individuals can use a powerful tool to learn
accurate and current information about those jobs: informational
Talking with people who are actually working in a job you
find interesting gives you firsthand information about that
career. This realistic preview can provide guidance about
college majors and increase your confidence in making college
and career decisions.
The practice of informational interviewing has been around
for many years, and yet most people have never taken advantage
of its power. It is a key skill of Career Literacy and
part of the "backwards planning" strategy Career
Vision promotes: Go to the source to find out about the job
and evaluate why it is or isn't a good fit for you before
making your career choice.
Most people are familiar with job interviews, where the hiring
manager controls the conversation and evaluates a person applying
for a specific position. Job interviews can be a high risk
and high pressure situation. The ultimate goal is to get a
The information interview is dramatically different. You
request a brief interview with a person who is working in
the kind of job that you think you might like to do. You research
the field and type of work so you prepare informed questions.
Finally, you direct the conversation by asking questions that
you want answered about the work, industry or company. An
informational interview is low risk, low pressure and typically
lasts 20 minutes or less. It is a short learning opportunity
and most business people are happy to take a few minutes for
a prepared individual. Your goal is to find out the best strategies
to prepare yourself for that type of position, to get into
a particular industry or work at that company. Sometimes the
outcome is a realization that this is not the right field
for you. It is much better to find this out before you invest
time and money in your schooling.
Richard Bolles originated the term "informational interviewing"
and has been advocating its importance for over 35 years in
his career best-seller "What Color Is Your Parachute?
A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career Changers."
He suggests starting with basic questions first, then as you
gain experience, customizing your queries to the specific
information you are seeking.
Here are some questions related to exploring a job:
1. How did you get into this kind of job?
2. What kinds of tasks do you do?
3. What do you like about your job?
4. What don't you like?
5. What kind of training or education did you need for this
6. Who else, doing this kind of work, would you recommend
that I go talk to?
Great questions, you say, but how can I find people who will
agree to talk with me? Start with asking family, friends,
colleagues and acquaintances if they know someone who is in
the job you are researching. Tap into your college or community
college career services offices or alumni networks. Next,
scope out the officers and committee heads listed on the websites
of professional associations related to the job you're researching.
Often these individuals are involved with the organization
because they like what they do and enjoy mentoring less experienced
people in the field. Expect a turndown of your request once
in awhile. However, know that it's often because of their
busy schedule, not your request. You might use the turndown
as an opportunity to ask if they know of someone else you
might talk to about the job.
Call your contact person and explain the purpose of the information
interview you are requesting. Be clear about the short time
frame, demonstrating respect for their commitments. It's best
to conduct informational interviews in person, although this
might not always be possible because of geographic distance.
At the interview, arrive on time, dress professionally and
be strict about sticking to the time you have requested with
them. Sometimes they will really engage and extend their time.
Let it be their decision. It goes without saying to thank
them for their time, and to follow it up with a thank you
note within 24-hours. When you make a decision based on your
research, be sure to let them know. They may offer to serve
as a further contact for you to help you find a job.
High school and college students who learn how to conduct
informational interviews will have a significant competitive
advantage. The people you interview may become part of your
personal network. If a student is interested in architecture
for example, then she might consider investigating what different
kinds of architect positions are available and set up information
interviews with a variety of architects to learn about different
requirements and abilities used in the field. These conversations
can guide high school course selection, college and major
decisions, internship opportunities, and part-time or summer
jobs. The network you build may influence future jobs and
career paths as well.
Informational interviewing is an important tool in helping
individuals of all ages gain a better understanding about
the knowledge, skills and abilities needed in different careers.
It also can broaden your perspective to look at possible career
paths. Whatever stage you are in your career, just beginning
the journey or a veteran, remember to invest the time when
you someone seeks your advice or expertise. An information
interview is a conversation that can be meaningful to both
and Resources: Informational Interviews
© Copyright 2006, Career Vision / Ball Foundation. Article
may be reprinted with permission.