Ask an Expert
Do you want to know what a major or minor is really like? Ask someone with first-hand experience:
Most people are willing to share information about their experiences and give advice.
Informational Interviews can give you a personal perspective to learn more about the following:
- Learning environment
- Tips for getting started in a major/minor
- Best and most challenging parts of a major/minor
- Advice for success in a major/minor
- Things you really want to know, but you cannot find through research
- Additional contacts to expand networking
Nobody wants to answer questions that you can easily find by reading websites, 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 list as a starting point:
- To get a sense of the major, what would be a good course to take or co-curricular organization to participate in?
- What does a typical assignment entail? Are most assignments individual or group projects?
- How are most classes structured (i.e. discussion, lecture, or laboratory)?
- What do you see as the best selling point(s) and the biggest challenge(s) for students seeking an internship or job with this major?
- What will this major prepare me for?
- What do students typically like most or least about this major?
- What personality characteristics does a person need to be successful in this major?
- What interests and skills does a student need to be successful in this program?
- What motivates or attracts students to declare this major?
- Are there other people that you would recommend I speak with?
Find students in majors or minors that interest you.
- Student organizations
- Facebook (type terms into search bar, filter results by pages or groups; example: “JMU ISAT”)
- Friends or mutual friends
Find alumni who graduated with a major 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)
- JMU Alumni Chapters
* Don't have a LinkedIn account? Now's the time to learn more and create one. (Make sure that JMU is listed in your Education section.)
Talk to faculty in the programs 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 can’t 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 major?
- What did I like about what I learned?
- What did I not like about what I learned?
- Does this sound like a good choice for me? Why and why not?
- What do I still need to know?