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What is an informational interview?
An informational interview is a meeting you set up with someone who can give you information and advice on career and work issues. It is also a way to build new contacts.
Why should I do it?
If you are looking for a job, thinking about or changing careers, or starting a business, you probably need to speak to people who know more than you do about this. They may be aware of changes in this field, opportunities, and new directions. They may be willing to share their knowledge and give you advice, and suggest other people who can give you the additional information you need. You will be better informed and will have met some new people in your field as a result of the information interview.
How do I find people to interview?
The easiest way is to ask people you know or people your contacts might know, but often this isn't enough. To choose and locate the names and contact information of those unknown to you, you will need to do some research. If you need assistance, your local librarian can help you search company directories and other resources.
How do I set it up?
Once you have chosen the people you feel can give information and advice, decide how you will contact them. There is no one best way to do this. Busy people get a lot of email and may ignore your message; however, it is a clear and direct way to make a request. It also allows you to attach your resume if you believe it will help you get the information interview. Needless to say, whatever you write should be brief and grammatically correct. Busy people often let their voicemail pick up their calls so you may not be as effective on the phone if you do not reach someone directly. No matter how you decide to contact someone, your request should assure the individual that you will not take more than 20-30 minutes of their time.
You may have to send many requests before you find someone who will agree to talk to you. Don't let this discourage you. Setting up an information interview can be time consuming and frustrating, but it can be extremely valuable if you end up with good advice from someone knowledgeable in your field. Many people will try to be helpful and share what they know, but convincing someone to spare the time for a meeting is usually the difficult part.
How do I conduct an information interview?
Prior to the meeting, determine what you need to know and how this person might help you. Write down four or five questions that you really want answered. For instance you might want advice on whether taking particular courses might help in getting a job in your field. You might want to know if job prospects in your chosen field are decreasing or changing in some way. For the information interview to be successful, it is important to keep the focus on information gathering and not on job searching. Asking for a job may result in a negative response and possibly a loss of contact.
Be sure to send a short email thanking the individual for their time and assistance. If they have made a suggestion or given you a name of someone else and you have followed up, you might mention that in your email.
Contributed by Geneviève Beaupré and Susan Qadeer. They have over 10 years experience working in university and college settings, providing career, academic, and personal counselling to students.
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November 25, 2021