Ask an Expert
Do you want to know what a career is really like? Ask someone with first-hand experience:
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 seeking information – not a job or internship.
Informational Interviews can give you a personal perspective to learn more about the following:
- 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
Nobody wants to answer questions that you could easily find if you read the website, so develop a list of questions that you can’t find by doing your research.
Make open-ended questions to generate discussion rather than questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no.”
Personalize your own questions, and use the following questions as a starting point:
- 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?
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).
- Click on 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 click “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.
Find professionals working in the field that interests you.
- Professional Organizations
- Organization/Company websites
- Networking connections (parents, local contacts, friends)
- Yellow pages of the phonebook
Talk to faculty in programs related to the career you’re exploring.
- Department websites (check for departmental open houses too)
You can arrange an informational interview by telephone or email. Either way, you need to do the following:
- 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
The more personalized your mode of communication the better. In-person interviews are best, because you get non-verbal and verbal communication. If you cannot have a face-to-face conversation, a phone conversation will still give you dialog. Email correspondence gets you information, but often results in a limited Q&A format rather than an elaborated conversation.
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.
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.
At most, request 30 minutes for the interview.
You are leading the meeting. Shake hands, introduce yourself, and review why you have asked to meet. Then, ask questions and listen to his or her responses.
Thank You Note
Email or write a thank you note within 48 hours of your interview.
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.
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?