The 7 Step Guide to an Informational Interview

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have been struggling to find the motivation to do work and other assignments. There’s also the question about being more productive than usual because of extra time. Overall, people should do their best to complete whatever work they feel is appropriate.

I’ve certainly been trying my best to keep busy, whether it’s completing work or reading a book. Luckily for me, my motivation is still flowing—albeit a little slower than usual. However, for one of my communication classes, I feel like this is the perfect time to go beyond the expected. 

COMN 379—or Applications of Communication—is all about finding your career wants, needs and goals. I highly recommend it for all communication majors at Geneseo. This class has been beneficial for my career. I’ve also learned a lot by working in the Department of Career Development, but both of these in the same semester has done wonders for me.

Now more than ever, people have the time to sit down and think about what they want their career to be. I’ll have even more time once classes end next week, especially since I don’t know if I’ll have a job or internship over the summer. There are many things to consider about any career and talking with professionals is the easiest way for a person to learn about an industry. As I’ve learned, the best way to do that is through an informational interview.

Some people might be wondering, what is that? An informational interview is an informal conversation with a person in your desired industry to gain insight into the career and that person’s thoughts and experiences. The interview is NOT about asking for a job. It’s about building a connection with someone. These interviews are valuable for gaining information about a career you may want to pursue. Overall, you want to think of an informational interview as the start of a new, professional relationship. 

There are a lot of steps to completing an informational interview. It took me a while to get into a routine of how I do things. However, all the interviews I conducted so far have been helpful to me. I’ve enjoyed talking to different career professionals, but I know that the task can be daunting. Career Development offers a fact sheet for informational interviews, and there is also a new platform called Firsthand being released. Keep an eye out for more information in the Career Development weekly updates in your emails.

Overall, I thought I could help by explaining how I do things because I’ve gone through it many times. This article is lengthy, but I tried to touch on only the main points. Here are my seven steps to completing an informational interview.

  1. 1. Research careers

    Research is the most challenging step if you don’t know what you want to do professionally, but it’s completely normal not to know your next step. You don’t have to know everything; however, starting to research hobbies or other things that interest you are the first steps to finding a career.

    In my communication class, my professor used the book What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles. The book walks you through eight different petals dissecting what you could want in a job. I found it extremely helpful to reaffirm my career goals that I’ve always wanted, but I’m not the standard. I repeat that you don’t have to know what you want to do with your life.

    Other helpful tools are Career Development’s online resources. “What Can I Do with this Major?” explores different career paths based on a major. Focus 2 is a series of brief quizzes ranking different options and determining your skills and values. You can also find your Holland—or RIASEC—codes based on your personality types that measure what kinds of careers might line up based on what you look for most in your life. 

    Once you have more of an idea of what aspects you’re looking for in a career, research possible employers and all the jobs that could relate to your wants. Then, you’re ready to begin.

  2. 2. Find professionals to interview

    The next step is to find a professional in the industry or career you’ve researched. This step is when your personal connections can be beneficial. The least nerve-wracking way to find people to interview is to find “friends of.” You can ask professors, family and friends to see if they know anybody in the industry that you’re interested in.

    Another way I have mainly connected with people is through Geneseo alumni on LinkedIn. The process I follow is searching for SUNY Geneseo. When the school comes up, scroll down and hit the alumni bar on the left side of the screen. Then, you can narrow people down by company, major they studied and so much more. 

    The last way I know of contacting people is through cold emailing. This is probably the scariest way to meet people, but I guess if you can connect with someone on LinkedIn or find the email of someone who works at a company you’re interested in, then I’d give it a shot. Just make sure you’re being clear that you’re looking for information, not a job. 

  3. 3. Prepare for the interview

    Once you have found a professional to talk to, make sure you research who they are and what their job is. If you found the professional on LinkedIn, use their profile as a resource. If you only got a name and their career, then try to find out more about that career so that you’re not going into the interview completely dark.

    You want to make sure your questions are as specific as you can get. Try to ask questions you want to know the answers too. You can ask specific career-related or industry questions such as what is it like working at this company? What are the skills you have found helpful for this career? Can you tell me about a typical day at work? What is the most challenging part of this career?

    I also tend to gear my questions toward their personal experiences so I can learn more about choices I might make for myself. Why did they choose that graduate school? What made them choose this career? What is it like living in New York City? As you’re interviewing, you want to make sure you’re also aware of the boundaries. If you’re unsure about asking a question, ask someone else what they think about it first.

     

    Sometimes, I’ve also asked the professional if they would be willing to review my resume, LinkedIn profile or even listen to my elevator pitch, but you should have these things prepared in advance.

    The reason I’m putting this step earlier is just in case the professional says, “I can only talk now” or “I can talk today at this time.” You want to make sure you’re prepared in case the professional has a very tight schedule.

    If you want some sample questions, Career Development offers a list based on different types of informational interviews. This link also provides helpful scripts and tips for the next steps.

  4. 4. Contact the professional and set up an interview

    Now, it’s time to set up the actual interview. You can email the person or connect with someone on LinkedIn and send a personalized message explaining you want to conduct an informational interview. I’m sure there are many other ways, but I find these methods most useful.

    Within your message, it’s important to mention where you found the person’s name, especially if it was from a friend. Ask them when it’s a good time to talk about their experiences. Try to be as specific you can be about times and days that you’re available, but be flexible with other times as well.

    You also want to make sure you’re specific about time and location. I usually ask for about 20-30 minutes of their time. Make sure you mention if you want to do a phone call, video chat or meet in person. Obviously, I haven’t had the opportunity to meet in person, but I would love to do so one day.

    Once you reach out, all you have to do is wait. Sometimes, the professional may not be able to do an information interview any time soon. Just let the person know you appreciate their time anyway and let them know you’d be willing to chat in the future.

  5. 5. Conduct the interview

    It’s finally time to conduct the interview. Make sure you dress professionally for an in-person (when the world is no longer in quarantine) and a video interview. Thank the professional in advance for agreeing to answer questions and explain why you wanted to speak with them. Your reason could be as simple you’re exploring different career options. Make sure you also ask if you can take notes just in case and keep thorough records of the answers and their contact information. 

    It’s important to let the conversation flow naturally. You don’t have to stick to your script. You can ask to clarify something you might not understand. Also, try your best to keep eye contact since it shows you’re engaged. However, if maintaining eye contact is hard for you to do, then don’t be afraid mention it to them.

    Remember, this person is using their time to talk to you, so respect the time limit that you had initially set. The last thing I always do is ask to stay in touch and if they know of any other people who would be willing to do an informational interview. It’s nice to hear as many perspectives as you can so you can make the best decision for yourself.

  6. 6. Send a thank you

    Although this is self-explanatory, make sure you send a thank you. I usually email mine, but sending an actual letter is also a touching gesture that can be kept. I always reference a piece of advice that stuck with me and mention that I will reach out to the other names they gave me.

    I tend to send my thank you within a day or two, but I’ve heard it’s better to wait a few days. It’s a personal preference, so do what feels right for you.

  7. 7. Evaluate what you have learned and keep in touch

    Now that the interview is over, make sure you stay in touch with that person. Some ways to do this are sending an exciting piece of news about the industry, letting them know if something has happened for your professional career, or asking how they’re doing.

    Even if you have decided that their career is not for you, there could be other ways you could help them or they could help you in the future. This is the start of a professional relationship, and you want to make the most of it. 

Overall, informational interviews could be a beneficial tool this summer. I know I’ll continue doing these interviews. The more professionals that you connect with, the bigger your network could become. 

If you need any help, reach out to me on my social media links below! An informational interview can be scary, but I hope that I’ve helped make things easier!