Informational Interviews

An informational interview is a conversation with someone who can give you an insider’s perspective on a profession, employer, or industry. An informational interview allows you to:

  • Talk to knowledgeable individuals about your career interests
  • Research a particular career path
  • Enlist expert guidance
  • Share your goals
  • Position yourself as a potential candidate for the future

Reaching Out Via Email or Phone

The most common way to make the first connection with a networking contact is in writing, either via email or a brief letter. In some circumstances, as with a family friend or former employer, a phone call is appropriate. You’ll want to address the same things you would in writing. In both cases, your initial contact should set the stage for future conversations.

The first contact should address the following:

Who you are

  • Provide a brief introduction of yourself
  • Mention any referral or friend in common

Why this contact

  • Indicate why you are writing to this individual in particular
  • Briefly state your interests or experiences in the person’s field, organization, or location

What you want

  • Request information and advice. An informational interview is not the right time to ask for an internship or job.
  • Set expectations. You are initially asking for roughly 15-30 minutes of your contact’s time on the phone or in person.
  • Include how and when you will contact this person again

After sending your initial message, be sure to follow up. Usually this involves a phone call to set up a phone appointment or an in-person meeting. Never expect the person to phone you.

Here is a sample networking email. Find additional networking email and LinkedIn message examples here, as well as more advice in the Tufts Career Guide.

Sample Networking Email
 

Subject line: Career Question from Tufts IR Major

Dear Mr./Ms. (Last Name),

I’m a senior international relations major at Tufts and I found your name through the Tufts International Relations Program group on LinkedIn.

From your LinkedIn profile, I see that you’ve worked at a variety of NGOs, most recently in Syria. As I’ve focused my own studies on the Middle East, including time studying abroad in Cairo, I’d like to return to the region after college.

I’d love to hear about your experiences living and working in the region, as well as any advice you might have for me as I begin an international job search. I wonder if it might be possible to speak by phone or via Skype.

Thank you for considering my request.

Sincerely,
Your Name
Tufts University, Class of XXXX 

Prepare So You Make a Good Impression

You only have one chance to make a first impression. Get ready for the informational interview as if it were a presentation or exam.

  • Be prepared to answer questions about yourself. Reflect on your skills, interests, and values through self-assessment.
  • Research the industry, company, and networking contact.
  • Design questions to get information about a job, company, or industry you could not find online.
  • Be prompt.
  • Dress as if for an actual interview.
  • Be polite.
  • Take notes.
  • Always say ‘thank you’.

Sample Interview Questions

In an informational interview, you will be asking the majority of the questions. Think about what you can learn from this person and what kind of information and advice will help you in your job search. It is important to prepare your questions in advance. Have approximately 10-15 questions for a half-hour conversation.

Other questions may arise during the conversation itself, but it’s possible the person you’re interviewing will have short answers and you’ll be happy to have some extra questions to keep the conversation going.

Sample Questions
  1. Which jobs and experiences have been most helpful in preparing you for your current position?
  2. Which particular skills or talents are most essential to be effective in your job?
  3. How would you describe your work environment and the people you work with?
  4. From your perspective, what are the challenges of working in this field?
  5. Which college courses and activities have proven most valuable in your work?
  6. What kinds of experiences would you encourage for someone pursuing a career in this field?
  7. Which skills are the most important to highlight during my job search?
  8. (If you feel comfortable and it seems appropriate:) Would you mind taking a look at my resume?
Two Golden Questions to Close With
  1. If you were in my position, with an interest in _____, what steps would you take today?
  2. Based on my interest in _____, who else should I be talking to?

Show Your Appreciation

Immediately following your informational interview, send a handwritten or email thank you note. If your writing is legible, a handwritten note creates a more memorable impression.

Why not buy Tufts note cards to correspond with alumni? In your note, be as specific as possible. Cite particularly helpful advice from your contact, new decisions you’ve made as a result of the meeting, and/or how you plan to follow-up with next steps.

Here is a sample thank you email. See our email etiquette tips for more advice.

Sample thank you note (email)

Subject line: Thank you from Tufts student

Dear Mr./Ms. (Last Name),

I learned a great deal about (company or organization name) in our conversation yesterday and it affirmed my interest in pursuing a publishing career. I especially enjoyed hearing about your graduate studies in publishing at Columbia.

Thank you for sharing your advice and experience with me. I plan to contact (First Last Name) for information about her experience at (Company Name). Thank you so much for this referral. I’m eager to learn more about the production side of the business. I’ll keep you updated on my progress.

I appreciate your assistance and your willingness to be part of the Tufts Career Networking Group.

Sincerely,
Your Name 

Keep the Ball Rolling

Reflect on the conversation. Go back over your notes to make sure the information is clear. Also, make note of any impressions you have from the conversation.

Ask Yourself:

  • What did I learn from this interview?
  • How does what I learned fit with my own interests, abilities, goals, values, etc.?
  • What more would be helpful to know?
  • What plan of action should I take next?

Be sure to contact anyone your networking contact referred you to. Within the first few sentences, mention your mutual connection as well as any particular reason your original contact thought this person might be helpful to you.

Stay in touch with your networking contacts over time, keeping them up to date on your progress. If a referral or suggestion was particularly helpful, be sure to let them know.