Make Informational Interviews Work For You

 By Lee Rosenfield, Career Counselor

Informational interviews are something that career counselors love and savvy job seekers leverage. However, many students tend to overlook them. They often wonder “Can I really do that?” or “Why would someone want to help me?”

Have you thought about talking to someone in a field you have considered to work in to learn more? Now that your interest is piqued, you are probably wondering how you can get started.

So what is an informational interview?

Informational interviewing is not asking for a job or internship, it’s simply asking for information about a career. Informational interviewing involves asking career professionals questions like:

  • What is your typical day like, or is there a typical day in your job?
  • What kind of hours do you work?
  • How did you get started in your field?
  • What do you like most and least about your field?

When students learn about informational interviewing, they tend to wonder: does it really work?

To give a “real world” example, I used informational interviewing to land my first job out of grad school. Rather than doing a passive job search, or just applying for jobs online and waiting for replies, I was pro-active and sought out employers I wanted to work for and spoke with them via informational interviews.

If this is still not quite making sense try viewing some sample informational interviews.

How can I make informational interviews work for me?

Want to learn more about what it’s like to work in the field of nursing? What about graphic design? Or psychology? You can read books about these careers, and you can find plenty of information online, but there’s no better way to learn first-hand about a career than by talking to the people who do these jobs on a daily basis.

Once you have this information, you can then incorporate what you learned into your resume, your job search or at the least be aware of some skills that you know that you need to develop.

What should I prepare?  

In addition to preparing a list of questions, you want to be sure and bring a resume tailored to your field of interest, or have one available in case your contact asks for one. Again, you aren’t applying or asking for a job, but often times an informational interview can lead to a foot in the door for a job or internship interview down the road. It is also important to be courteous during the informational interview process always send a thank you letter after the interview to show appreciation for the time and information supplied.

How can I get started?

First, you want to start talking with your immediate network, or friends, family, co-workers, classmates, etc. Tell them about the field(s) you are interested in, and see if they know of anyone working in that career field. Another great way to start networking is to join the professional network LinkedIn. LinkedIn is free, and will allow you to highlight your skills and qualifications, as well as get in touch with hundreds of professionals in many different industries. You can also do a simple search on Google or Yahoo. Type in keywords related to your industry of interest in the search window, and a wealth of information will pop up. 

Lee Rosenfield, M.S. Career Consultant, SJSU Career Center

Lee Rosenfield has over six years working in career development and higher education. She specializes in working with first and second year students on topics like choosing/ changing a major, career exploration, and decision-making strategies.

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