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What do you want to be when you grow up? 

This question has been posed to every one of us at one time or another. The answer comes easy for some of us - “I want to be an accountant.”  Others have an idea of the field but no idea of the industry – “I want to go into marketing.” Where do you find the answers? 

An informational interview is a great technique to use. It is an interview designed to produce the information that you need to choose your career path, to learn how to break into an industry, and to find out if you have what it takes to succeed in the field. Informational interviewing turns out to be an expanded form of networking that targets one person for an in-depth conversation about an industry and the company for which s/he works.

While an informational interview is not the same as a job interview, you still need to prepare. Research the organization before the meeting and prepare your list of questions. Here’s a brief list of questions to help you begin:

  • Please describe a typical day.
  • What kinds of people have succeeded/failed in this kind of job?
  • What type of degree is necessary to start in this work?
  • What skills does the ideal candidate possess?
  • What is the entry-level compensation?
  • How did you get started?
  • What do you like/dislike about this organization?
  • What do you wish someone had told you before you entered this field?
  • What do you think about the future of this industry?
  • What is the typical career path?

Scheduling the Informational Interview can be done by letter or email. It is written much like a cover letter but without the job pitch. It should include:

  • Brief introduction about yourself – if you were referred by someone, please include that information here;
  • Why you are writing to this person;
  • Why you are interested in this person’s field or organization;
  • State that you are seeking information and advice;
  • The last paragraph should request a few dates and times that would be convenient for the person to meet or simply state that you will contact his/her office within a week to schedule a mutually convenient time.

Finding someone to interview can begin with our list of alumni serving on the Young Professionals Board. However don’t stop here.  Be creative – ask for referrals from your faculty, friends, and family.

On the day of the “interview,” you should arrive promptly and dress professionally. Don’t forget a pad and pen as well as your questions. While this may not be a “job” interview, you never know where this connection may lead.

Finally, don’t forget to send a thank you after the meeting. After all, you just added a valuable contact to your network!