Career Exploration:
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interview for information

Informational Interviewing

A wealth of information can be obtained from the horse’s mouth ... or the doctor’s mouth or the travel agent’s mouth. An information-gathering interview offers you an on-the-spot look at people doing what you think you’d like to do and allows you to investigate the diversity of specialties in any given career. (By all means, talk to more than one horse!)

What is an informational interview?

An informational interview is a way to find out more about a career or job you are interested in, or about a specific company you would like to work for.

If you are interested in becoming a mechanic, talking to someone who works as a mechanic is an excellent way to find out exactly what he or she does and to see if this is really something you would like to do.

Remember, you are not looking for a position at this time. You are simply looking for information to help you make a career decision.

Why should I do an information-gathering interview?

  • To get valuable information for your career planning.
  • To do a reality check on what you’ve read, heard, and thought of.
  • To gather information that, when compared to many other sources, is:
    • more up to date;
    • more specific and related to the local situation;
    • more personal and subjective;
    • more reflective of the on-the-job atmosphere.
  • To gain self-confidence and learn the process of taking comfortable, assertive control in interview settings.
  • To enlarge your circle of expert contacts and to get more referrals and make your own contacts (network).
  • To establish the first link to your (eventual) job targets.

Remember, this is not a job interview. You are not talking to these people to get a job. If the person finds out that you are trying to use the opportunity to get work and not just to find out what the job is like, he or she will be very upset. You are there to listen to the other person describe the job, not for self-promotion.

Where do I find people to interview?

  • Ask friends, family, neighbors, work colleagues, or anyone else you know. They might know somebody who would be interested in helping you out.
  • Call community service agencies and trade organizations (e.g., Rotary Club, Kiwanis, business and professional organizations, women’s organizations, Chamber of Commerce, etc.).
  • Yellow pages.

Remember, people are generally interested in talking about what they do and how they do it. In fact, you may have ideas that will be interesting to them. But don’t waste their time or your time: Be Prepared.

Being prepared means knowing exactly what kind of information you want. Generally, don’t ask something routine that is readily available elsewhere. First check out the materials at the career center or library. Know your own interests, skills, and values, and how they relate to the person you are interviewing.

How do I arrange an interview?

  • Personal referral is the most effective. Have a mutual acquaintance be the bridge for your contact.
  • “Walk-in” or telephoning are the next best routes if you don’t have a personal referral.
  • Letters seldom work unless they include a personal referral and are followed up by a telephone call.

If the person agrees to an interview, arrange a time and place that is convenient for both of you.

Make sure you arrive promptly and don’t stay longer than the prearranged time unless the person suggests it.

If the answer is no, accept the answer and, if appropriate, ask if the person might know someone else who could help you.

What should I ask?

The idea is to ask about those things that are important to you, and to let the conversation flow naturally while making sure you get the information you need.

Some examples:

  • How did you decide to get into this field of work?
  • How did you get into this field of work?
  • What do you like best about your work?
  • What do you like the least?
  • What is a typical day or week like for someone in your occupation?
  • What kind of skills, education, and/or training would I need to get into this area?
  • What personal qualities are necessary for someone in this occupation?
  • What is a typical entry-level salary? (Don’t ask how much the person you are interviewing makes!)
  • Do you know someone else doing this kind of work that I could talk to for my research?

What should I do afterwards?

It is a good idea to follow up your interview with a thank-you note. In it, you might want to mention the information you found particularly interesting or helpful. Let them know that you appreciate them letting you ask questions and that the information they gave will be valuable to you.

Where can I find more on informational interviewing?

Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, has a page on Informational Interviewing that includes a list of over 40 questions you can ask, the benefits, and how to arrange & practice for such interviews.

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Michigan Reach Out! Home Last updated 9 July 03