What the Heck is an Informational Interview?

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Inevitably, you arrive at a point in your college career where you need to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life. Let’s be honest, searching for an internship results in nothing but competition and frustration. I would sell my left kidney to get a decent, paid internship. If your heart races and palms sweat while thinking about your future career, same. But don’t fret. I have the perfect solution to learn more about careers without spending hours on Wikipedia.

Here’s all you need to know about informational interviews and how they can help you find your career path.

Defining Informational Interview

I had never heard of an informational interview before I got to college and it can prove a difficult concept to wrap your mind around. “It’s the opposite of what you’d think of a traditional interview. In an informational interview, what the student is doing is setting up a time to meet with an employer or work with someone at a company they are interested in, and then the student is the one that will be asking questions to the employer,” said Assistant Director of Industry Connections at the Arts and Sciences Center for Career and Professional Success at Ohio State University Randy Dineen. Use this as a chance to learn all you can about a company you might have interest in. This time, you don’t have to be the one in the hot seat.

Why should you bother with them?

Some college students may initially feel like informational interviews take up too much time when they have a test, paper and project due next week. Keep in mind, the results from these interviews have the potential to get you a job, so take a break from homework. Whether you study biology and want to be a scientist or major in finance and strive to work on Wall Street, informational interviews can give insight into any profession. “If you are wondering about what people do in field XYZ, you can find people working in that field and talk to them on the phone or meet with them in person, and basically you are interviewing them in what they do on a day-to-day basis,” Stephanie Ford said, the Director of Career Communities in the Arts and Sciences Center for Career and Professional Success at Ohio State. Whatever career path you follow, you will benefit from having networking skills. Informational interviews give students an easy way to practice connecting with adults in the working world. If you know the right people, the right doors open for your potential dream job.

Preparation Mode

First, let’s figure out how to even set up an informational interview. Most students contact a professional via email. Find someone through LinkedIn or your university’s alumni network who works in a field you are interested in. Then introduce yourself over email telling them your name, your school, how you found them and express your interest in meeting with them. Keeping it short and polite sets a good first impression. Once you receive a response, be flexible with your schedule. We all manage busy schedules, so be respectful of their time.

When preparing for the interview, you need to establish a goal. Figure out what you want out of this experience. Maybe you want to discover the classes you should take or you want to see what an average working day looks like with a certain company. Whatever motivates you, keep this goal in mind when preparing. Another pro tip: Look at the company’s website before you go in. Knowing about the company mission will give you an idea about the type of person you will be meeting. Employees reflect their company’s mission. If you talk to someone who works for Nike, their mission is “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” The employee will most likely be driven, interested in sports and helpful. Keep these personality traits in mind so you can accurately prepare yourself to meet and decide if you fit the company’s atmosphere.

Brainstorming

Now, for the hard part. You need to prepare questions for the interview. This can seem daunting, but just think about what you honestly want to know. Every informational interview plays out differently. Avoid asking questions that you could find the answer to on the internet to make the most out of your interview. “There are some students that we know are doing informational interviews because they literally know zero about a type of job or industry or company, so their questions may be very basic. If it is a student that maybe knows a little bit about the position already, then their questions could be a little more advanced,” Dineen said. Keep your goal in mind and form questions around that.

Here are 10 sample questions you can use as a starting point for your interview.

1. How did you get from education to your current job?

2. What do you do for your job on a daily basis?

3. What problems do you deal with in your work?

4. What sorts of classes should I be taking to prepare myself for this job when I graduate?

5. What does the future look like for careers in this industry?

6. What are the company’s hiring practices?

7. What do you enjoy the most/least about your job?

8. How relevant is your education to your work?

9. How do you live out the company’s mission?

10. Who else do you recommend I speak with about this career?

Home Stretch

The preparation phase has ended and the time has come to do the damn thing (cue the Bachelorette). Once you totally crush it, make sure to keep in contact with the person. “Before the informational interview is over, they should ask if they are able to follow up in the future if they have additional questions,” said Ohio State University career coach Brandy Williams. Be sure to send them a thank you note for their time and expertise. Also make sure to connect on LinkedIn or email them occasionally so they remember your name. “You never know what might come up, like if you impress them during the informational interview, they may then want to connect you to somebody else who could be beneficial to you in the future,” Williams said. They were in your shoes not too long ago and won’t mind helping you.

Jess is a student at Ohio State University studying Strategic Communications. She loves to travel, create, play with her dog, and always enjoys a good cup of coffee.

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