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Informational Interviews

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What's an informational interview?

In general, an informational interview is a meeting or conversation between two people: someone who wants to learn more about a particular career and someone who works in that career field.

For example, if you are a recent college graduate interested in becoming a dentist, you would pursue informational interviews with experienced dentists; if you wanted to go into investment banking, you might arrange meetings with executives at Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley.

Keep in mind that an informational interview is not a job interview. However, it might lead to a job later on.

Why do I want to conduct informational interviews?

Informational interviewing is an excellent way to learn more about a career that you are considering.

Let's say, for example, that after extensive research, you're pretty sure you want to be a management consultant. Informational interviews with seasoned consultants—employees at firms as well as self-employed consultants—will help you solidify your goals.

Your informational interviews will make you much more knowledgeable about a particular career or field. If all goes well, you will:

  • Have a sense of what you would do on a daily basis, should you go down the career paths of your interviewees
  • Be able to pinpoint prospective employers. Through your informational interview you'll develop an understanding what it's like to work for specific companies, firms, or individuals, and you'll be able to make informed decisions about what employer would be a good match for you.
  • Expand your list of contacts by collecting names from interviewees
  • Begin to develop a fluency in the vocabulary and verbal etiquette of your prospective field
  • Cull information from your interviewees that, during your own job interviews, will help you show prospective employers that you've done your homework
  • Practice handling yourself well in a professional context and discussing your own objectives

Whom should I interview?

As you might guess, you should interview people whose perspectives will help you make decisions about what you want to do with your life. There are two ways to go about finding interviewees:

The Connections Approach: Use your network of contacts to find interviewees. Your network, which includes friends, family, co-workers, college alumni, professors, and anyone else you know, might include potential interviewees. But what is most likely is that the people in your network either know a potential interviewee or know someone who knows a potential interviewee. And, of course, you can always ask for names from an interviewee.

The Cold Call Approach: This tactic skips the middleman entirely. You simply choose a relevant company and contact the person who's in the position that interests you. You can usually find names pretty easily on company Web sites and in company literature. However, if that doesn't work, call the main switchboard of the organization and ask, for example, for the name and phone number or email address of the head of advertising.

How do I set up an informational interview?

The three main ways of making contact are telephone, email, and snail mail. If you call your potential interviewee, it might help to write down what you plan to say ahead of time. If you send something written, be sure to proofread your missive. It is especially important that you do not say or do anything that makes it sound as though you're trying to get the person to hire you. While that would be nice, it's not the point of the informational interview.

Telephone calls, emails, and letters basically follow the same structure:

  1. Introduce yourself
  2. Explain that you're interested in the field in question, but that you would like to learn more about it through someone like your potential interviewee, who has a lot of experience and wisdom.
  3. Give a specific reason you're interested in talking to the potential interviewee—you'll show you're serious and focused when you, for example, tell the head of a public relations firm that you know her organization does a lot of work for environmental groups, and you're specifically interested in that aspect of PR.
  4. Ask if the person has time for a 30-minute meeting during which you could learn more about the interviewees' work and thoughts about their career.

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