An informational interview, simply put, is the act of networking. It is asking questions of the professionals in your network, appreciating their advice, allowing them to introduce you to others, and keeping them posted as your career evolves. As you build your career, you'll find that the relationships you develop are as important, and sometimes more important, than the qualifications highlighted on your resume. Introduce yourself to the ideas of networking and informational interviewing by reviewing the following handouts:
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Some students feel uncomfortable about asking for a networking contact. In reality, you'll find many professionals who are happy to discuss their career insights with you.
Networking is not:
- Asking for a job
- Cold calling someone you don't know
- Delivering a slick salesperson's pitch
- Kissing up
- Talking with other people who have interests similar to your own
- Asking for an expert opinion on your qualifications
- Conversing with professionals about an industry of common interest
- Expressing your genuine intentions and motivations
First talk with everyone you know to see if they are, or know someone who is, affiliated with your area of interest. Your initial contacts might include:
- Club advisers
- Family & friends
- SF State alumni
- Professional organization members
- Career Center staff
- College peers
- Speakers from panel discussions
- Socio-religious group and/or fraternity/sorority members
Keep in mind that time is a premium for professionals. When you call your first contact, ask first if she has time to talk. Asking this question immediately communicates that you value her time. Also, be certain that you have a concise "sound bite" or story prepared which clearly explains your intent.
For Example: "My name is Candace Jones. Is this a good time to speak with you for a minute? Bessie Smith, a colleague of yours whom I spoke with recently at a San Francisco State career fair, said you would be an excellent person to talk with to learn more about working in a large investment bank. I'm a senior pursuing a marketing degree. Can I meet with you for 30 minutes sometime next week to discuss some of your insights?"
If your contact is an SF State alumnus, try sending an email as follows: "Hello, this is David Wilson. I completed my Bachelor of Arts in Theater from SF State in March and I'm researching film production options in the Bay Area. You attended the university's career fair in March, and I thought you might be able to offer some helpful insights as I prepare to launch my career. I sent you a letter of introduction last week and I am hoping we can arrange a time to speak for a few minutes."
Conducting the Interview
Congratulations! You have connected with your contact and have set up a time to meet. You've been granted 30 minutes, and it's now your job to make productive use of that time. What do you want to learn from this individual?
Informational Interview Questions
- Why did you choose this career? This position?
- What do you do in a typical day?
- Do you like most/least about your job?
- What type of advancement opportunities exist in your field?
- What are the characteristics of successful people in this organization?
- How are goals set and measured?
- What changes do you see occurring in the industry in the next few years?
- What other areas of the organization might I look into? Who should I speak with?
- What might I do to better position myself for opportunities within your organization?
- Would you mind reviewing my resume and offering any advice?
- Can you suggest the names of two or three other people I might contact for more information?
You will notice from the questions above that you never ask for a job in an informational interview. At this point in your job search you are seeking wisdom, tips, strategies, leads, and direction. Directly asking for a job is considered poor etiquette and should be avoided unless your contact brings up the subject with you first.
After the Interview
After each informational interview, write down your reactions and consider how the information fits with other information you have gathered. Evaluate which areas need further exploration or research prior to making decisions and setting goals.
Immediately send a Thank You Letter to your contact. Stay in touch with all your contacts every few months to update them on your status and to inquire if they have heard of any useful news. By all means, let them know when you land an opportunity! They'll be interested in your good news.
It is amazing to witness what happens once job seekers reach out and start talking to contacts. You could be an aspiring bio-scientist and discover through networking that your aunt's next door neighbor's girlfriend is a recruiter at a big firm on the peninsula.
Believe it or not, this type of serendipity happens all the time. Keep in mind that it is not uncommon for an informational interview to turn into a job interview. Always be prepared to respond to the invitation from a contact to launch into your self promotional mode.