Some students have always known what they want to be when they grow up. Others may not be sure even as they approach their college graduation date or transition to life after college. Whether you’re still in high school, just starting college or getting close to your college graduation date, you may feel like you need a little guidance as you sort through your career choices.
One way to gain clarity in your decision-making process is to have one or more informational interviews. What is an informational interview, and how do you go about conducting one? This guide explains everything you need to know, including how to prepare for an informational interview.
In This Article:
- What Is an Informational Interview?
- Why Conduct an Informational Interview?
- How to Prepare for an Informational Interview: 6 Steps
What Is an Informational Interview?
You already know that job interviews are an essential component of the career search process. During job interviews, you and the hiring manager at a company try to determine whether you would be a good fit for the position. Informational interviews are completely different.
An informational interview isn’t intended to place you in any particular job. Rather, it’s an information-seeking process during which a student or recent graduate interviews an established professional to learn more about their field, specializations and career choices. That information can help you decide whether that career path is a good fit for you.
Why Conduct an Informational Interview?
Classes, homework, sports, club meetings, time with friends…the list of obligations goes on. Why spend time arranging, preparing for and conducting informational interviews when you already have so much to deal with? Well, as busy as you are right now, building confidence that your educational efforts and hard work will take you down the right path is what college is all about, right?
Informational interviews can help you make a more informed decision for your future. For example, even if you’re confident that becoming a teacher is your dream job, doing an informational interview with a seasoned teacher may prompt you to decide that perhaps becoming a teacher isn’t actually the right choice for you. Or, vice versa, perhaps you would leave the interview more confident than ever in your decision to become a teacher.
There are additional compelling reasons for why you might do one or more informational interviews, such as the following:
- To learn more about a field and its various specializations
- To explore specific occupations within a field, and gain insider’s knowledge that might not be readily available in online career guides
- To find career possibilities that you never even knew existed
- To discover which skills and characteristics are helpful for any given profession
- To explore your potential career pathways
In addition, conducting informational interviews is an excellent way to practice strengthening your communication and networking skills. The people whom you interview just might remain contacts in your professional network. You may even turn to them later on when you’re looking for internship opportunities or potential job leads.
How To Prepare for an Informational Interview: 6 Steps
Step 1. Evaluate Your Interests
Before you can arrange an informational interview, you’ll first need to reflect upon your career interests. Write down a list of fields and specific occupations that interest you.
Next, take some time to research those fields and professions online. One valuable source for students is the Occupational Outlook Handbook published online by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It explains the main responsibilities of various occupations and offers a general overview of the career path.
In addition to pondering your career interests, think about your personal preferences. Consider the following:
- Would you rather have an active job or do you prefer a desk job?
- Do you like the idea of working outdoors?
- Are you interested in a job with lots of potential for upward advancement?
- Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Would you be happy in a profession that requires close collaboration with others and strong verbal communication skills?
- Would you enjoy the opportunity to travel the world, or would you prefer to stay close to home?
- Are consistent, predictable hours important to you?
- Do you need to feel as though your job is meaningful and makes a positive difference in the lives of others?
Step 2. Identify People Who Might Agree to an Interview
Once you have a clear idea of where your career interests may lie, it’s time to identify people who might grant your request for an informational interview. Start by considering whether you might have personal connections who can help you.
For example, if you’re thinking about pursuing a career in the ministry, you might conduct an informational interview with your own pastor or priest. If you’re interested in an engineering career, perhaps one of your friend’s parents is an engineer and would grant you an interview.
Another option is to visit the websites of professional organizations in your selected field. Many professional organizations offer networking resources and it may be possible to connect with a professional in your area.
You could also visit the Academic and Career Excellence (ACE) Center at Grand Canyon University (GCU) or Career Connections online. The ACE Center can help you learn about targeted industry events aligned with your area of interest so you can meet employers and industry professionals to get more information. GCU Career Services may also be able to help connect you with industry professionals to network with.
If all else fails, you may want to try a cold-call approach. For instance, if you think you might like to become a social media specialist, you could look up marketing agencies in your town to identify possible interview subjects.
Step 3. Request an Informational Interview
Next, you’ll need to request an informational interview. Remember that working professionals tend to be very busy, and you’re asking them for a favor. Be extremely polite, and if they turn you down, be sure to thank them for taking the time to consider your request.
A formal, polite email will work. Briefly describe yourself, explain how you found them (be sure to mention if the two of you have a mutual acquaintance), let them know you’re thinking about a career in their field and ask whether they have time for a 20- to 30-minute interview. If they agree, do your best to accommodate their schedule. Consider meeting them for coffee at a convenient location on campus. You might also suggest a virtual meeting over Teams, Zoom or another platform.
Step 4. List of Informational Interview Questions
Your next step is to do a little research and prepare a list of questions. Questions to ask in an informational interview will occur to you as you research the field and occupation, but some general questions to discuss are as follows:
- What’s a typical day like for you?
- What do you love most about your job?
- What do you dislike most about your job?
- Which skills and characteristics are crucial for professionals like you?
- What sort of academic credentials and training do you have?
- What entry-level positions are available for someone who wants to become this type of professional?
- What opportunities for advancement and specialization are available?
After you have asked all your informational interview questions, you could also ask the interviewee whether they know anyone else who might be willing to sit down with you to discuss the career.
Step 5. Conducting the Informational Interview
Depending on how your interview will be performed (i.e., virtual, in-person or phone), remember to dress appropriately for your interview. It isn’t necessary to wear a suit, but you shouldn’t wear street clothes, either. Plan to arrive a little early, and bring a notebook and pen for taking notes.
Upon meeting your interview subject, thank them for taking the time to meet with you, and then thank them again when the interview is over. Conduct yourself politely and professionally.
Although it’s ideal to ask as many of your questions as possible, bear in mind there may not necessarily be enough time to get to all of them. Ask the most important questions first. Spontaneous discussion that strays from your list of questions is perfectly fine; in fact, you might glean the most important insights in this manner. Lastly, be considerate of their time. Be sure to end the meeting within the timeframe you promised. If you would like to continue to network, consider asking them to connect via LinkedIn.
Step 6. Follow Up After the Interview
Although you should definitely thank your interview subject as the meeting concludes, you’ll also want to follow up afterward. Within the following day, send a thank you note to the person letting them know that you appreciate their time and insight. It’s acceptable to send a thank you note via email, although a handwritten card is a particularly nice gesture that the professional will appreciate.
GCU is committed to graduating confident, capable students who are fully prepared to make a positive impact within their chosen field and profession. At our ACE Centers, our Career Services team can help you explore your career options, search for employment and internship opportunities, practice your interviewing skills and more. Fill out the form on this page to learn more about joining our dynamic GCU community.
Approved by the program manager of ACE on March 20, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.