Job Search: Informational Interviewing

Informational interviews are conversations that you arrange with persons who have knowledge and experience in professions or jobs you wish to investigate. This strategy is useful throughout one's career. It is used by experienced professionals to research advancement opportunities or changes in their careers, as well as by people seeking first careers or career changes.

There are many reasons to do informational interviewing:

  • To gain insights and information from personal accounts of the work setting, knowledge and skill requirements, and current trends in the field
  • To develop your networking skills and "introduce" yourself to people in the profession
  • To help you identify how to prepare yourself and work toward a particular career goal
  • To increase motivation in working toward goals
  • To build confidence and experience in interacting with professionals

Where do I find people to interview?

  • Ask friends, family, neighbors, work colleagues, former teachers, old friends from college, or anyone else you know; they might know somebody who would be interested in helping you out
  • Look for people on campus who have jobs you might be interested in – you can even search the Berkeley website; many people are willing to help
  • Join staff organizations, participate in campus-wide committees, meet people at campus functions
  • For off campus jobs, call community service agencies and trade organizations (eg.: Rotary Club, business and professional organizations, women's organizations, the Chamber of Commerce, etc.)

Remember, people are generally interested in talking about what they do and how they do it. In fact, you may have ideas that will be interesting to them. But don't waste their time or your time: BE PREPARED! Being prepared means knowing exactly what kind of information you want. Generally, don't ask something routine that is readily available elsewhere. First find out something about the department and the person (you can use Google). Know your own interests, skills, and values, and how they relate to the person you are interviewing.

How do I arrange an interview?

  • Personal referral is the most effective. Have a mutual acquaintance be the bridge for your contact.
  • Telephoning is the next best route if you don't have a personal referral.
  • Letters or emails can work if they include a personal referral and are followed up by a telephone call.
  • If the person agrees to an interview, arrange a time and place that is convenient for both of you.
  • Make sure you arrive promptly and don't stay longer than the prearranged time unless the person suggests it.
  • If the answer is no, accept it.

What should I ask?

The idea is to ask about those things that are important to you, and to let the conversation flow naturally while making sure you get the information you need.

Sample Questions:

  1. Introduction:
    "Hello. May I speak with (name of person you want to interview)? Hi, this is (your name). I was referred to you by (name of person who referred you). I told him/her that I was interested in exploring (the career/job you are interested in). He/she said you would be a good source of information. I wonder if you have 10-12 minutes to talk right now? I'm not asking for a job at this point; I just want to explore career options that might be a good fit for me."
  2. What is your job like?
    • A typical day?
    • What do you do? What are the duties/functions/responsibilities of your job?
    • What kinds of problems do you deal with?
    • What kinds of decisions do you make?
    • What percentage of your time is spent doing what?
    • How does the time use vary? Are there busy and slow times or is the work activity fairly constant?
  3. How did this type of work interest you and how did you get started?
    • How did you get your job?
    • What jobs and experiences have led you to your present position?
  4. What are the most important personal satisfactions and dissatisfactions connected with your occupation?
  5. Why did you decide to work for this department?
    • What do you like most about this department?
    • Do you find your job exciting or boring? Why?
  6. How does a person progress in your field? What is a typical career path in this field or organization?
    • What is the best way to enter this occupation?
    • What are the advancement opportunities?
    • What are the major qualifications for success in this occupation?
  7. What were the keys to your career advancement?
    • How did you get where you are and what are your long-range goals?
    • What particular skills or talents are most essential to be effective in your job?
    • How did you learn these skills?
    • Did you enter this position through a formal training program?
    • How can I evaluate whether or not I have the necessary skills for a position such as yours?
  8. How would you describe the working atmosphere and the people with whom you work?
    • Is there a basic philosophy of the department and if so, what is it?
    • What can you tell me about the organizational culture?
  9. What is the average length of time for an employee to stay in the job you hold?
    • Are there incentives or disincentives for staying in the same job?
    • Is there flexibility related to dress, work hours, vacation schedule, etc.?
  10. What work-related values are strongest in this type of work (security, variety, and independence)?
    • If your job progresses, as you like, what would be the next step in your career?
    • If your work were suddenly eliminated, what kinds of work do you feel prepared to do?
    • With the information you have about my education, skills and experience, what other field or jobs would you suggest I research further before I make a final decision?
  11. How has your job affected your lifestyle/work?
    • From your perspective, what are the problems you see working in this field?
    • What are the major frustrations of this job?
    • What aspects of the job do you like least or create the most stress?
    • If you could do things all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? Why? What would you change?
  12. What is the educational requirement for this job?
    • What other types of credentials or licenses are required?
    • Is graduate school recommended?
  13. How did you prepare for this work?
    • If you were entering this career today, would you change your preparation in any way to facilitate entry?
    • What abilities or personal qualities do you believe contribute most to success in this field/job?
  14. Who is the department head or supervisor for this job?
    • Where do you and your supervisor fit into the organization structure?
    • Who else do you know who is doing similar kinds of work or uses similar skills?
    • What other departments hire people to perform the functions you do here?
    • Do you know of other people whom I might talk to who have similar jobs?
    • Do you have any advice for someone interested in this field/job?
    • Are there any written materials you suggest I read?
    • Which professional journals and organizations would help me learn more about this field?
  15. What kinds of experience, paid or unpaid, would you encourage for anybody pursuing a career in this field?
    • What special advice do you have for someone seeking to qualify for this position?
    • These are my strongest assets (skills, areas of knowledge, personality traits and values: list your assets here). Where would they fit in this field? Where would they be helpful in this organization? Where might they fit in other fields? Where might they be helpful in other organizations?
  16. How would you assess the experience I’ve had so far in terms of entering this field?
    • (If you feel comfortable and it seems appropriate) Would you mind taking a look at my resume?

What should I do when I'm done?

It is a good idea to follow up your interview with a thank-you note. In it, you might want to mention the information you found particularly interesting or helpful. Let them know that you appreciate them letting you ask them questions and that the information they gave will be valuable to you.

Debriefing Questions

Immediately after an informational interview "debrief" yourself by writing down your thoughts and reactions about the interview. Next, evaluate the match between the elements of your "dream job" and what you heard during this informational interview.

  • Does this person I just spoke with use the skills I want to use?
  • What additional skills or experience (if any) would I need to be qualified for this job?
  • Would I enjoy this kind of work?
  • Did I get any additional ideas for other jobs or departments to explore?
  • Would I enjoy working with these co-workers and this manager?
  • What are the unmet needs and issues facing this department that I could help alleviate?

If you can answer most of these questions, you have gathered useful information to guide you on your career path.