After writing an article about what seniors can do to help jump start their job search, it seemed that there should be an article completely dedicated to informational interviewing—because knowing how, why and when to do these interviews might be the one thing standing between you and your dream job. Whether you’re a second-semester senior in the midst of your job search, or a sophomore looking for a great summer internship, informational interviews with industry-insiders are an invaluable resource.
What is an informational interview?
First things first: informational interviews are not meant to ask for jobs, internships, etc. An informational interview is a time to sit down with a professional or an industry expert, and get their insight, advice and wisdom on their career path. Whether you’re speaking to a CEO or an intern, treat them as a source of information and insight—not your ticket into the company! So while you can’t beg for a job, you can find out more about certain industries, career paths or even specific companies—all of these things will be great resources when you do begin your job search.
Why should you do them?
“In addition to gathering information, you are building a professional network, consisting of contacts with whom you have developed relationships…the larger your network, the greater your opportunities,” explains Northeastern University’s career services. By knowing the ins and outs of particular industries, you’ll be able to effectively market yourself during job interviews.
How to find people to interview with
The best place to start is by reaching out to people you’ve worked with or have met at networking events. Additionally, don’t be afraid to ask family members, friends and classmates to see if they know anyone working in your industry with whom you could talk. NU Career Services adds, “Most people like to give advice and feel good helping others…which is what an informational interview gives them a chance to do.”
Still feeling a little overwhelmed at the prospect of finding people to reach out to? Spend a little bit of time looking into each of the channels below—you’re sure to find some great prospects. Look for contacts who work in industries that you’re interested in, or at companies that you admire.
- Your school’s alumni directory
- Professors and faculty
- Former colleagues
- Friends’ parents
- Your parents’ friends
- Professional and/or local organizations
- Industry-specific networking events, workshops and seminars
- Online networking (like LinkedIn!)
- Online and offline trade publications and newsletters
Making contact and setting up an interview
Unless your contact is someone with whom you’ve worked before, the best way to reach out is via a short email. “If the prospective informational interviewer has no network connection to the person they are interviewing, I would recommend e-mail as a more appropriate means of contacting. It gives the interviewee the ability to think about the request without being put on the spot,” says Darryl Stevens, assistant director of the career center at the University of California-Riverside. If you don’t have a direct email address for someone, LinkedIn can be a great resource for making contact.
When it comes time to write and send your interview request, there are a ton of great resources online for sample emails. Below are two examples from Northeastern University’s career services. Here is one tailored for undergraduates and one specifically for seniors.
Sample #1 – Undergrad/Choosing a Major
Dear Ms. Smith:
As a first-year student at Northeastern University, I am in the process of choosing my major. I have been researching careers related to a communications major, and came across your company’s name when doing my research. I was hoping I could meet with you to discuss your career in public relations. I am interested in hearing about how and why you entered the field, the pros and cons of working in PR, and your advice on how I might test the waters to determine if this field is a good fit for me. Would it be possible to schedule a half-hour meeting in the next few weeks to discuss your position and career path?
I will call you next week to follow up. Please feel free to contact me at 555-555-555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to speaking with you.
Sample #2 – Graduating Senior
Dear Ms. Doe:
Through an NU Alumni LinkedIn group, I discovered that you currently work in HR information management. As I finish up my degree in MIS and HR, I am contacting NU alums in relevant fields for advice. The work of an HRIS analyst greatly interests me. I realize this is not an entry-level position; however I would like to gain an understanding of what your position demands, the career path you followed, and the pros and cons of this kind of work. I would greatly appreciate it if we could set up a 20-minute meeting, at your convenience, to discuss these topics.
During the last week of July, I will give you a quick follow up call. In the meantime, however, I can be reached at 555-555-5555, e-mail email@example.com. Thank you very much for your time.