What is an informational interview?

An informational interview is an interview initiated by you with someone working in a field of interest to you. It is an opportunity for you to gather first-hand information about a career field, industry, or specific organization of interest to help you make informed career decisions. A key difference with an informational interview versus a traditional interview is that you are responsible for leading the interview. You will be asking most of the questions, and the outcome will depend on your level of preparation.
It typically is an informal meeting with a person who either works in an industry, field, or organization you are interested in learning more about, or who holds a position you find interesting. It is a meeting that is designed to provide you with advice and information about a position or field. It is NOT an interview for a job, nor should it be used as a way to ask for a formal job interview.

How is an informational interview helpful?

  • You gain insight and information into a field, area of interest, or organization, so you can determine if you wish to continue down a specific career or major path.
  • The contacts you make with an informational interview can be used later as the basis for your professional network.
  • You can learn from people "on the ground" about what you need to do to be successful in a field, position, or industry.
  • It provides real-time information about the state of the field or industry.
  • You can learn about work environments in specific companies or in industries.

Who to contact for an informational interview

Reach out to existing contacts such as:

  • Co-workers of parents
  • Family members or friends
  • Friends of family members
  • Past teachers
  • Alumni
  • Previous bosses or co-workers
  • Pastors or other religious leaders
  • Heads of professional organizations or unions
  • Speakers you have heard
  • Professors (they often have extensive networks)

If there is someone you really want to connect to who you do not already know, reach out to them anyway. You never know who might be willing to connect with you. People often see it as an honor to be asked to support a current student or recent alumni in this way.

How to set up an informational interview

To set up an informational interview, either call, email, or connect with your prospect on LinkedIn and be prepared with the following information:

  • Name, year, and area of study.
  • How you got their name (i.e., referral source).
  • Why you are calling/emailing them specifically.
  • What you would like to talk about.

One strategy is to request 20-30 minutes of their time either at the beginning or end of their day as to not interrupt their work flow.

How to prepare for an informational interview

Approach an informational interview with the same thought and preparation as you would a job interview.

  • Research the organization, industry, and types of jobs available.
  • Reflect upon your strengths, weaknesses, interests, and skills, and be prepared to articulate these.
  • Have your questions written down.
  • Be prepared to answer questions.
  • Bring a copy of your updated resume (to provide only if asked, remember this is NOT an interview for a job).

After the interview

Always send a thank you email and/or note to the individual after the interview thanking them for their time and the information they shared. You might note something of particular interest or importance to you that you discussed to personalize the note.
As you begin to look for jobs or internships in the field, keep this person in mind. It is worth reaching out to them again to let them know you are searching, or if they work in an organization you are applying to, let them know you are applying to the organization. 

Sample Questions

Below are sample questions you might ask during your informational interview. 
  • Please tell me about your career path from graduation to your current position. 
  • What attracted you to this career? 
  • How did you get your job? 
  • Why did you choose this organization over others? 
  • What skills and qualities make you successful in this job? 
  • What previous experiences have helped you most in your current position? 
  • What entry-level positions or internships are most helpful for learning as much as possible? 
  • What is something surprising about your day-to-day responsibilities? 
  • What are the most rewarding aspects of your position? What are the most challenging?
  • What are some of the projects you are working on? 
  • What experiences, skills, and/or personality traits are important to being successful in this job? 
  • What do you recommend a new hire focus on in their first 6 months with this organization? 
  • What do you wish you had done differently when you started in this organization and/or industry? 
  • What advice would you give to recent grads and current students entering this field? 
  • What is the best education, training, or experience for entering this field? 
  • What is one thing you wish someone had told you prior to going into this career? 
  • What changes have you seen in this industry and how has it affected the skills needed? 
  • Can you recommend others I can speak with (be specific about a career field, organization, occupation, etc.)?
  • Can you recommend professional journals, organizations, and conferences that may put me in contact with others in this industry? 
  • Can you suggest other organizations I should explore within this industry?