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What are Informational Interviews?

Informational interviews allow you to meet with someone in a given career field who has firsthand experience and can tell you what a career is really like. These people can be: 

  • Alumni
  • Employers
  • Faculty

Most people are willing to share information about their educational and professional experiences and give advice. Keep in mind, the purpose of an informational interview is learning more information—not seeking a job or internship.  

Informational Interviews can give you a personal perspective to learn more about:

  • Work environment
  • Getting started in a career field
  • Employment outlook and salary ranges
  • Best and worst parts of a job
  • Advice for success in career
  • Things you cannot find through research
  • Additional contacts to expand networking

Creating Questions

If you're meeting with someone with firsthand experience, develop a list of questions that you can't find the answers to by doing online research. This is an opportunity to learn insider information, so make the most of their time.

Ask open-ended questions to generate discussion rather than questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no.”

Personalize your own questions, but use the following questions as starting points:

  • How did you get into this field?
  • What was your major in college?
  • What do you like most about this position?
  • What do you like least about this position?
  • What is the typical career path this job follows?
  • What is a typical day or week like on the job?
  • What skills and abilities have you found to be most important in your work?
  • What personal qualities do you feel are needed to succeed in this line of work?
  • What compensation might I expect at entry level?
  • What kinds of classes/experiences do you recommend someone obtain in college that’s entering this field?
  • What other advice would you give to someone beginning to seek a job in this field?
  • How would you advise someone to begin seeking an internship or job in your field?
  • Can you refer me to others in your organization/field that may help me learn more information?

Finding Someone

Alumni

Find alumni who are working in professions that you’re considering.

  • LinkedIn Alumni Search *
  • LinkedIn Alumni Group * (you can join this group, even as a current JMU student, to reach out to alumni)
    • Go to the JMU Alumni Association Group page and request to join the group. 
    • After you’ve been approved to join the group, go back to the group page (link above).
    • Select the number of members at the top of the group page.
    • Type a job title in the Search box at the top of the Members page (example: Writer).
    • Identify professionals who you would like to interview and select “Send message” below their names to ask if they would be interested in telling you more about their field if you set up a time to talk over the phone or sent them a few questions by email. (See sample questions above.)
    • Or, if you’re not getting a good response that way, you can also post a discussion question to all of the members of the JMU Alumni group. You should see an option on the home page of the group to start a discussion. Explain what type of career fields you are considering, asking if anyone in the alumni group works in those fields and would be interested in speaking to you more.
  • JMU Alumni Chapters

* Don't have a LinkedIn account? Now's the time to learn more and create one.

Employers

Find professionals working in the field that interests you.

Faculty

Talk to faculty in programs related to the career you’re exploring.

Make Contact

When arranging an informational interview by telephone or email, be sure to: 

  • Introduce yourself
  • Explain why you are contacting them
  • Mention how you found the person’s name
  • Ask if they are willing to briefly meet or talk with you

Tips for a Successful Meeting

Setting

In-person interviews are best because you are able to receive both non-verbal and verbal communication. If you cannot have a face-to-face interview, a phone call will allow you to have a conversation. Email correspondence will still provide you with information, but often results in a limited Q&A format rather than an elaborated discussion. Pick whatever mode you are most comfortable with, however you will get the most out of your interview by choosing a form of communication that is both personal and informative. 

What to Wear

Informational interviews are more casual than a job interview, however the attire is still professional. The more seriously you take your appearance, the more seriously someone is going to take you.

Time

If your interview is happening in-person, be sure you know how long it will take you to get there, including driving, parking, and commuting to the building. Always arrive early. 

Duration

At most, request 30 minutes for the interview.

Format

You are leading the meeting. Shake hands, introduce yourself, and review why you have asked to meet. Then ask questions and listen to their responses.

Follow-Up

Thank You Note

Email or write a thank you note within 48 hours of your interview.

Expand Network

In your informational interview, you may have received names of other people to contact. If so, follow up with those individuals and start this process all over again.

Evaluate Information

After your informational interview, take a moment to reflect and record your thoughts:

  • Would I still consider this career?
  • What did I like about what I learned?
  • What did I not like about what I learned?
  • Does this sound like a good choice? Why and why not?
  • What do I still need to know?

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