“An informational interview involves talking with people who are currently working in the field to gain a better understanding of an occupation or industry — and to build a network of contacts in that field.”
Richard Bolles, author the enduring classic book on job-hunting, What Color is Your Parachute, coined the term “Informational interviewing. He says, “The best and most up-to-date information is not to be found in print or digital; it is to be found in face-to-face conversation with people. This involves interviewing workers who are doing work a person thinks they might be interested in doing, in order to discover if they are on the right track.”
The University of Virginia Career Center provides an easily navigable planning tool here. Click here for a list of questions the ECO considers as a good starting point for your informational interviews.
Please keep in mind that your approach in contacting alumni/any contact should be well thought-out before your first correspondence. You are essentially building a relationship with someone and your initial approach will undoubtedly influence the future of that relationship.
Be sure you effectively communicate what you are asking for and first consider if it is an appropriate request. Although you are seeking information that may ultimately lead to a job, you never want to ask an alumnus for a job. Also consider how to communicate where you are in the process of your research. That is, are you seeking information because you found the alumnus on LinkedIn and her job path looks a lot like what you envision for yourself and you want to hear more? Are you exploring an industry? Are you contacting the alumnus because you are considering applying for an internship in the alumnus’s organization? Because you have already applied and have an upcoming interview? This information will help set expectations for your interviewee.
Be clear about where you are in your process and remember that our alumni are generally eager to help, but are also extremely busy and involved people.
Be Clear About What You Want to Accomplish
Typically the primary objectives of informational interviewing are to:
· Investigate a specific career field.
· Narrow career options.
· Obtain advice on where you might fit in an organization.
· Learn the jargon and important issues in the field.
· Broaden your network for future reference.
· Create a strategy for entering your field.
Before you arrange an interview, be sure to identify your objectives so you can tailor the interview to meet your needs. Ask the right questions to ensure that you get the information you need.
Find a Contact
Arranging the Informational Interview
Write an outline or script of what you intend to say. Preparation decreases anxiety and ensures that you cover all the necessary information. Additionally, the contact will perceive you as organized and professional.
When calling to schedule an appointment, three points should be covered:
· Offer a personal introduction.
· Identify your purpose for seeking an appointment.
· Arrange a mutually convenient meeting time.
If you are calling as the result of a referral, state the referral’s name early in the conversation. Follow this sample language:
“Hello [Name of contact]. My name is [your full name]. [Name of person who referred you] suggested that I call you because of your [expertise/knowledge/background/experience] in the field of [occupation, trade, industry, profession, company]. I’m looking for information and advice about careers in your field.”
If you call without a reference, state how you found their contact information (e.g., “I read about your work in…”; “I heard you speak at…”; “I know of your reputation through…”). Next state your purpose:
“I am interested in this field as a possible career (or your specific reasons). I’ve read and discussed it with others, but would like to gather more information. I would like very much to meet with you, at your convenience, for no more than 20-30 minutes, to ask you some questions. Would it be possible to arrange a time to speak?”
If you encounter difficulty reaching the contact, call before 9:00am or after 6:00pm. The individual may be answering his/her own telephone outside of normal business hours. Or leave a voicemail message. Be prepared by using a script for that as well. You may be answered by an assistant, be prepared with a tailored script for that situation as well.
By Email or Letter
Compose all emails and letters in business format and double check to ensure correct grammar and spelling. Similar to a phone call, a written request for an appointment should include:
· Personal introduction.
· Purpose for seeking appointment.
· Indicate in the concluding paragraph that you will call on a specific date (usually one week after you send the email/letter) to arrange a mutually-convenient appointment for both parties or ask if there is a good time to follow up with a call to arrange an appointment.
· Search the ECO Alumni and Friends Contact Spreadsheet in Collab
· Join the UVA Friends and Alumni LinkedIn Group
*Curated and written by the ECO.
*Material taken from GWU Center for Career Services and Richard Bolles.