As a senior in college, internships, grad school applications, jobs, cover letters, LinkedIn, and resume revamping are all top of mind for me right now. With college winding down and real “adult” life waiting just around the corner, a lot of my time and energy has been spent trying to figure out my next career move — and I’m sure all of you fellow seniors can relate.
Although I’m still not 100% sure about my plans after graduation, one thing that has helped me narrow down my interests and aspirations is asking colleagues for informational interviews. Last semester, I made it a priority to network and to begin making new connections. I learned that working professionals really do want to help students succeed, and that networking conversations can be a key to your post-grad success. Personally, I’m aiming to keep reaching out to more people in 2022 (so far so good) and you can, too!
Informational interviews can be a valuable resource to help you learn about new career paths, find job opportunities, and establish new connections. And while it’s a great idea for college seniors, informational interviews can help you at any stage of your career and life. Here’s why informational interviews are valuable for your success, and what Gen Z and working professionals have to say about them.
What is an informational interview, & how do I get one?
According to the University of California-Berkeley career center, an informational interview is an “informal conversation you can have with someone working in an area of interest to you.” The general purpose isn’t necessarily to immediately land a job; instead, it’s to gather information about particular industries, organizations, roles, and/or potential career paths you may want to explore. An informational interview can happen in-person with a colleague, professional mentor, or friend-of-a-friend, or you can “meet” whoever you’re interviewing over the phone or on Zoom.
So, how do you actually get an informational interview? First, figure out who you want to speak with. Whether you know the contact personally or you were connected through a mutual friend, the first step is to simply reach out! Get in touch via email or by messaging them on a networking site like LinkedIn, Handshake, or Generation Hired. Remember to keep your message brief; working professionals have a lot on their plate, and it’s smart to keep your email short, sweet, and strategic. Give a quick introduction, a brief explanation that you’re a college student looking to connect and learn more about their career, and always say thank you. Then, the ball is in their court!
What should you ask in an informational interview?
So, you’ve successfully slid in your dream boss’ DMs and secured a Zoom interview. Congrats! Now, it’s time to prep your questions so you can have a fruitful conversation. According to UC Berkeley, it’s important to ask specific questions about the person’s role, industry, and experiences (both good and bad!) to make the most of your interview. The UC Berkley career center recommends asking a combination of the following questions:
- How did you begin your career?
- What are your main responsibilities as a [job title]?
- What do you like most about your work?
- What do you like least about your work?
- How do most people get into this field? What are common entry-level jobs?
- What steps would you recommend I take to prepare to enter this field?
You can also ask the person to share how they started in the field, what their passions are, and what they’re excited about professionally right now. Starting with the above questions is a helpful way to put you both at ease and make the conversation feel more natural. Plus, it’ll be a way to naturally discuss your own thoughts and plans, so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there!
You can learn about what your dream industry *actually* entails — including pitfalls.
Erica Kam, an Associate Editor at Her Campus Media, conducted many informational interviews of her own when she was a college student. “When I was in my senior year of college and starting to think about a post-grad career in journalism, informational interviews helped me get a clearer sense of the industry and what work I would actually be doing on a day-to-day basis,” she says.
“I met with a former internship supervisor — which took away some of the pressure I’d felt at career fairs and other networking events since she’d been following my career journey already. There was no job on the line, so I could ask honest questions and get honest responses. She told me about the pitfalls of working in media too, which I might not have learned about at a career fair or information session.”
Learning about the day-to-day of professionals in a specific field of interest allows you to visualize what your career can look like. And remember, it’s completely okay to not be 100% sure of what it is you want to do after school. That’s what these conversations are for!
You can easily expand your professional network.
Informational interviews are great for building your professional network; every time you meet or talk with someone, they’ll likely introduce you to even more people who can help your career. Sadie, 22, a senior at Loyola University Chicago, says it’s been helpful to reach out to alumni and working professionals online.
“Every time I’m curious about a certain company or position I find online, I check [LinkedIn] and see if anyone that works at wherever I’m looking is a Loyola alum,” she says. “If they are, I message them and let them know that I’m a student at their alma mater who’s looking to learn more about their career.” And so far, the interviews have proven beneficial. “Every call I’ve had thus far has helped me network and has led to more connections since whoever I’m talking to passes me onto another friend or colleague of theirs,” Sadie says.
At the end of the day, a connection is a connection. Even if you didn’t seem to gain a lot from a particular conversation, try not to be discouraged; it could always lead to another connection down the road!
the conversation can help you practice for *actual* job interviews.
Mackenzie, 24, a graduate of Loyola Marymount University, says that informational interviews are what made her more comfortable, and ultimately more hirable, during her job interview process.
“There was actually a period of time after I graduated where I was at home networking and doing informational interviews with people who worked in PR,” she says. “I had interviewed for a handful of agency jobs before my college graduation, but became so scared of interviewing that I just stopped and needed a break.” However, once she started engaging in informational interviews with public relationships professionals, Mackenzie says everything changed.
“I completely bounced back,” she says. “[The interviews] showed me that the people I was talking to really weren’t scary and did want to help me out. And the act of doing them over and over again is what got me comfortable enough to interview for jobs like the one I have today!”
Remember, professionals want to help.
After benefiting from informational interviews over the years, Kam now works with students who interview her for advice. “Now that I’m out of college and working full-time, I’ll always say ‘yes’ to college students who ask me for an informational interview. I think most other professionals, especially recent grads, are probably the same — we’ve all been in your shoes before, so it’s nice to pay it forward,” she explains. “College students might not realize that informational interviews aren’t totally one-sided. Professionals also get to know you better, and when their companies have open roles to fill later on, they might remember speaking with you and reach out about those roles, which they have to help recruit for.”
Tianna Soto, also an Associate Editor at Her Campus and a professional speaker, agrees. “Because informational interviews have been super helpful for my own career growth, I rarely say ‘no’ when a student, recent grad, or even working professional wants to chat with me,” she says. “I listen closely to their goals and aspirations, then use my knowledge and experience to provide any insight I can. It’s always great when a student is passionate, has done their research, and has a clear idea of what they want out of the informational interview.”
Soto also recommends being mindful of professionals’ time and being intentional about any “asks” you might have. “If you’re seeking an informational interview from someone, remember that you’re taking time out of their day and they might be super busy!” she says. “It’s important to get to know the other person, too, respect their time, and not just ‘take’ from them. Offer to support their career in some way or make a connection, if you can. Then they’ll be more likely to help you again in the future. Networking is a two-way street!”
As seen above, professionals love to pay it forward. Connecting with colleagues, reaching out to your role models, and securing a few minutes to chat with them can boost your career in unexpected ways, whether it’s learning something new about your industry or being introduced to a dream boss. Networking should become an ongoing part of your professional life, so keep reaching out and learning from others during college and beyond. Just remember to express your gratitude and thank anyone you speak with for their time (a little follow-up thank you email never hurts). Good luck!