An informational interview is an informal conversation with someone working in an organisation or industry of interest to you. It is not about asking for a job, but an opportunity to seek information that will help you to make decisions about a potential job or career path.
What are the benefits?
- Get firsthand, up-to-date information on current trends in the industry
- Find out about the realities of working for a particular organisation – its structure, culture and opportunities for career advancement
- Get insider knowledge about how to prepare for and land your first job
- Make contacts, which may lead to a job in the future
Doing your research
The first step is to identify individuals, organisations and occupations that you are interested in, and then research what they do.
- Talk to friends, family members, acquaintances, fellow students, work colleagues, members of your interest groups and people you meet in everyday life. Ask them if they know people working in the area that you are interested in
- Do an online search for information on the industry that interests you, including various organisations’ websites: start with www.finda.co.nz and www.careers.govt.nz
- Connect with alumni on LinkedIn using your existing connections or on the basis of being from the same university. You could also ‘follow’ organisations you are interested in.
- Contact the person directly, preferably by phone, or ask for the person in charge of a particular department if you don’t know the person’s contact details
- Mention how you got the person's name
- Ask whether it’s a good time to talk for a few minutes
- Emphasise that you are looking for information, not a job
- Ask for a convenient time to have a 20-30 minute appointment
- Be ready to ask questions on the spot if the person says it is a good time and they won’t be readily available otherwise
- If they agree to a face-to-face interview, discuss with them where the interview should take place – at their workplace or a nearby café, for example, whatever is easiest for them
Preparing for an interview
Prepare a list of questions you would like to ask. Questions should be based around finding out if this organisation/industry/occupation is in line with your skills, values and goals, as well as finding out what it’s like working there.
Examples of information interview questions
About the job
- Could you describe what you do on a day-to-day basis; what are your main tasks?
- What are the things you most like about your work?
- Which part of the job is most challenging for you? Why?
- What are the most important skills needed to do this work well?
- What personal attributes do you think are essential to succeed in this role?
- What experiences have you had that you think have been valuable to your learning?
- How did you get into this job?
- How do most people get into this field of work?
- What qualifications would you suggest people need to get into this industry?
- What are the current trends in this industry?
- Is there a demand for employees in this industry at the moment?
- What has motivated you to stay in this field of work?
- Is your occupation changing to meet the requirements of digitisation, globalisation and disruption?
- Can you suggest some useful resources for me to research this career area?
- Which professional journals and organisations should I know about?
- Could you describe the culture of your organisation and the specific benefits of working there?
- What drew you to the organisation?
- Which roles do you think I would be suited to with my current qualifications?
- What training opportunities could I expect in an entry-level position?
- Are there other roles in this organisation I should consider that are relevant to my qualifications?
On the day of the interview
- Dress neatly and appropriately, as you would for a job interview
- Arrive on time or a few minutes early
- Bring your list of questions and take notes if you like (don’t record the interview as this can be intimidating)
- Bring your CV, but don’t present it unless they ask (they may offer some tips on how to improve it or tailor it to a particular job/role)
- Restate that your objective is to get information and advice, not a job
- Give a brief overview of yourself and your education and/or work background
- Keep focused on your questions, but let the person do most of the talking
- Respect the person's time, and don’t run over the agreed time limit
- Ask the person if you may contact them again in the future with other questions
- Ask for names of other people to meet so as to gain different perspectives
- Write up your notes from the interview and think about what your next steps should be
- Send a thank-you email or message within 1-2 days to express your appreciation for the time and information given. Use the same tone and language you did during the interview, based on whether it was informal or more business-like
- Keep in touch with the person, especially if you had a nice interaction; let them know that you followed up on their advice and the outcome. This person could become an important part of your network.