A great way to find out if you would like a particular career field or job is to ask someone who is already doing that type of work. Speaking with an industry professional and asking his or her job or industry can provide you with an insider’s perspective, a stronger network, and can sometimes lead to tips about job opportunities.
An informational interview is simply talking with professionals who are currently in occupations or industries you are considering in order to gain information and insights. This information can be used in choosing a major, exploring career options, or preparing for a summer or professional job search. Be clear with yourself and the professional you are interviewing that the purpose of the interview is not to request a job or internship.
Informational interviews are an important part of career preparation and a good supplement to your academic knowledge because they can provide:
- Real-world information about careers
- Suggestions on how to use your college years to gain experience and prepare for the job search
- A network of contacts for your job/internship search
- Insights into what employers look for in candidates
- An avenue to explore potential job search questions like: “Why did you choose this field?” or “What are your skills for this job?”
Identifying People to Contact:
Informational interviews can be conducted with people you already know or with professionals referred to you through informal contacts such as faculty, family, friends, alumni, professional associations, and Career Center staff. LinkedIn, and VUConnect, Vanderbilt’s online database of alumni, are excellent tools for researching potential contacts for informational interviews. Review this helpful information about networking and consult the Alumni Relations Office website to learn about events held by Vanderbilt alumni organizations and identify other leads. Also, consider browsing recent and back issues of the Vanderbilt Alumni Magazine, which contains alumni career information.
Preparing for the Interview:
To arrange for an informational interview, contact individuals at least one week ahead of time by email to arrange an appointment. The interview can be conducted in person or by phone, but let the interviewee make that decision. Ask the interviewee for about 20 minutes of their time and always clarify your objective − that you are seeking information rather than a job or internship.
Prepare your questions ahead of time. After researching the interviewee’s particular job and field, you should be able to develop specific questions. Having them in writing and taking some notes is fine.
- How did you get into this career field?
- What do you enjoy most about working in this field? What challenges do you face?
- What are the most important skills/characteristics one needs to be successful in this profession/field?
- Would you describe your career path?
- What do you advise I do while I am enrolled at Vanderbilt to be prepared to enter this field/profession?
- What do you wish you had known while you were still in college?
- What are the most typical entry-level jobs in your industry/with your company?
- What do you look for in entry-level candidates?”
- How do you see your profession/field changing in the future?
- How will these changes impact job opportunities in this profession/field?”
- If you had it to do all over again, what might you do differently?
- What professional association affiliations do you find most valuable and why?
- What advice do you have for someone like me considering a career in this profession/field?
- Would it be okay if I contacted you periodically to get your advice on my career?”
It’s good to have a list of questions, but don’t just conduct your info interview by going through the questions. Listen carefully and respond to what the person is sharing. Ask deeper, follow up questions. Your goal is to connect via a conversation rather than to ask every question on your list.
Preparation, promptness and staying on track are important since the person you are interviewing is doing you a favor in giving of their time. Because you initiated the contact and have some control over how the interview goes. You’ll find that most people love to talk about themselves, their careers, and offer advice.
At the conclusion of your meeting, ask for two or three names of other people to contact for informational interviews so that you can continue to build your network. Confirm permission to use the current interviewee’s name when contacting the referrals. Our Contact Record Form can help you keep organized.
After the Interview:
Immediately following the meeting, take some time for reflection. Ask yourself the following:
- Did I get answers to questions I needed to have clarified?
- What new questions do I have?
- Am I more interested in this career field now that I’ve spoken with an industry professional? Why or why not?
- What’s attractive about this career field and how does it align with my strengths?
- What gaps do I need to fill in order to be a successful candidate for an internship or FT role in this industry?
- What strengths and skills did the person have that I need or want to develop?
- What ideas for career development strategies did I obtain?
- Do I need to talk with more people to obtain additional perspectives?
Send a Thank You Note
The most important follow-up to the meeting should be a thank you email to the individual for his/her time and assistance. Some students choose to write a handwritten note and send it via snail mail. Either is appropriate. Just be sure to send a follow-up email promptly. Keep a record of the people you connect with since they are now part of your network and you may want to contact them later for additional advice.