Career Planning

Informational Interviews:

Informational interviewing is the due diligence part of your career planning and an important aspect of your professional networking.   Informational Interviewing is generally understood to be meeting and talking with people who are currently working in the field to gain a better understanding of an occupation or industry -- and to build a network of contacts in that field. Informational Interviews are the due diligence parts of building your Career Plan as well as a very important arm of your professional networking.

Rifle shot or shotgun blast, how effective do you want to be?  It is your choice: One out of every 400 to 1500 resumes received by a hiring manager or HR results in a job offer.  One out of every 50 resumes received has the minimum requirements needed for a posted position.  One out of every 8 to 10 interviews results in a job offer.  Only 6-10% of open positions are posted and only 4% of positions are filled via postings.  Only 3% of professionals craft defined career plans and execute on them.  The vast majority of individuals only look at job postings, chasing those 6% of all jobs.  Those individuals who craft defined career plans and execute on them are significantly more successful in all areas of life than those who don’t.

One out of every 12 informational interviews results in a job offer. Informational interviewing is a great networking technique. Job offers are a beneficial side benefit to this valuable practice.

Informational interviewing is designed to produce information. The information you need to choose or refine a career path, learn how to break in and find out if you have what it takes to succeed. It is spending time with one of your network contacts in a highly focused conversation that provides key information needed to launch or boost your career.

The term "informational interviewing" was invented by Richard Nelson Bolles, author of the best-selling career guide of all time, What Color Is Your Parachute? Bolles refers to the process as "trying on jobs to see if they fit you." He notes that most people screen jobs and companies after they’ve already taken a job, while informational interviewing gives you the opportunity to conduct the screening process before accepting a position. When you are considering entering or changing to a certain career path, it makes sense to talk to people in that field.

The best way to learn what you really want in a career is to talk with the people that are in that career field. Because of the exploratory nature of informational interviews, they are particularly effective for those who are either beginning their careers or making a career change. They are an excellent tool for both, especially the career-changer who wants to find out what’s involved in the career they are considering entering before making that significant leap/ investment. Even for those who don’t wish to change careers but do want to change jobs, informational interviews can be a helpful way of discovering what working for other companies would be like.

Why: What informational interviews accomplish:

  • You obtain a great deal of information about your career field and the skills needed to do that job effectively. You gain a perspective of work that allows you to see what skills are required for the job and how you might fit into that work setting.
  • You have the opportunity to make personal contacts among management-level personnel.
  • You gain insight into the hidden job market (employment opportunities that are not advertised).
  • You become aware of the needs of the employers (94% of the positions available) and the realities of employment. First-hand and current information allows you to learn what happens on the job beyond the understanding provided through your course work or other outside research. This exposure could also result in a job offer. Keep in mind that 80% of a hire decision is chemistry.
  • Informational interviewing is comparatively low-stress, you gain confidence in talking with people while learning what you need to know.  The lower the stress, the better the environment to find chemistry.
  • This opportunity will expose you to a variety of jobs, management style, personalities and ethics/ values of companies making your search for the right fit that much easier.
  • It is an opportunity to learn where you might fit into a particular organization.
  • It is an opportunity to explore careers and clarify your career goal
  • It is an opportunity to expand your professional network
  • It is an opportunity to access the most up-to-date career information
  • It is an opportunity to identify your professional strengths and weaknesses

Guidelines for informational interviews:

Assess your own aptitudes, interests, strengths, abilities, values, and skills, and evaluate labor conditions and trends to identify the best fields to research. Identify one or more professions or careers you would like to investigate. Read all you can about the field before the interview.  Decide what information you would like to obtain about the occupation/industry.

Prepare a list of questions that you would like to have answered. Find out as much information as you can about each place before setting up an interview

Start with lists of people you already know: friends, fellow students, present or former co-workers, supervisors, neighbors, etc. Professional organizations, organizational directories, and public speakers are also good resources. You may also call an organization and ask for the name of the person by job title. There's no one in the world who you can't try contacting. People like to help students out with job information. Go to your professional networking sites, go to the specific communities within that, go to your college career center or alumni office and ask for a list of people who are working in the field that interests you. Locate alumni, people you've read about, or people your parents know.

Be prepared. Research the organization, the person you'll be speaking with, the product/s or services offered by the organization, their competitors, etc. If your contact is an alumnus/alumna, look him/her up in the Alumni Office's biographical material.  Use Google and use the professional networking sites. Try easily accessible periodicals, such as local and large metropolitan and professional newspapers.  The more you know, the better you'll be able to formulate questions pertaining to the organization, the individual and the job. The more knowledge you have, the more effective your communication will be.

Don't mix informational interviewing with job seeking. Employers will grant informational interviews when they feel valued and that you can be trusted. The minute you begin trying to get a job, the employer will feel misled. If you discover a job that you do want to apply for during the interview, wait until the informational interview is over. The next day, call the employer and tell your contact that the informational interview not only confirmed your interest in the field, but also made you aware of a position that you would like to formally apply for.

Sometimes the interviewee may offer you an internship or job. The fact that you are seeking only information will help set you apart from the hundreds of others who are walking in asking for jobs. Approach the employer with the attitude that you are seeking career advice.  Ask questions that are appropriate and important to both you and the interviewee.

Contact the resource person preferably by telephone or letter. You can also try to have someone who knows the interviewer make the appointment for you. Use referrals if at all possible.

Contacting the resource person by:

An introductory letter, written much like a cover letter without the job pitch, is a good way to get your name out there. Your letter should include:

  • A brief introduction about yourself;
  • Why you are writing to this individual;
  • A brief statement of your interests in the person's accomplishments, field, organization or location;
  • Why you would like to converse. Be straightforward; tell him/her you are asking for information and advice.
  • The last paragraph of the letter should always include a sentence about how and when you will contact this person again.

By Phone

People who grant informational interviews are generally willing to share 20-30 minutes of their time to explain their expertise in their field. Please remember to be flexible in your scheduling, as these volunteer interviewees may have prior commitments. If your prospective interviewee seems too busy to talk to you, ask a convenient time when you could call back to discuss scheduling an appointment.   Often you will be invited to his or her workplace. When you can, choose that the interview be at their workplace because you’ll learn more and make a stronger connection with the person.

You may want to schedule some of your interviews with managers and supervisors who have the authority to hire. Identify yourself and explain that you are researching careers in the contact’s field, and that you obtained the person’s name from the referral source.  Don’t be afraid to ask to use a referral’s name/s when asking for referrals, it is the quickest way to gain some credibility and acceptance.


Make sure to follow up the letter or phone call as you promised! Usually this follow-up involves a phone call or email to set up a phone appointment or an informational interview. Never expect the person to phone you. If you have difficulties contacting the person, ask the receptionist for a convenient time to phone again. Proofread all correspondence and save copies!


Company and individual research is an absolute necessity when you go on a regular job interview. You don’t’ have to do quite as much research for an informational interview, but the more research the better and it will greatly enhance the quality of your informational interviews. If you are informed about the company, you’ll be able to ask more intelligent and relevant questions. You’ll respond thoughtfully to information and any questions the interviewee might put to you. You won’t ask questions that could easily have been answered by doing your homework.

Great resources are available for company research on the Internet as well as:

  • Company Websites
  • Annual Reports
  • Other Company Literature / relevant blogs
  • Library Reference Material
  • University Career Service Office
  • On line communities

The day before the interview, call to confirm your appointment with the contact person. If you have questions regarding the location of the contact’s office, this is the time to ask. Plan to arrive 10 minutes early for your interview.  Talk with the receptionist and other employees who come through the reception area.  Read the company newspaper or other related publications.  These are great sources of information.

Carry a notepad or a small notebook and pen. Be polite and professional. Refer to your list of prepared questions; stay on track, but allow for spontaneous discussion.

Because 90-94% of all jobs are never advertised, you will be exposed to that wealth of job openings that never make it to the newspaper or employment office. Be prepared to make a good impression and to be remembered by the employer.

Dress as you would for a regular job interview.

Dress for success. In job-hunting, first impressions are critical. Remember, you are marketing a product -- yourself -- to a potential employer, and the first thing the employer sees when greeting you is your attire; thus, you must make every effort to have the proper dress for the type of job you are seeking.

You are judged by your appearance. Throughout the entire job-seeking process employers use short-cuts -- rules of thumb -- to save time. With cover letters, it's the opening paragraph and a quick scan of your qualifications. With resumes, it is a quick scan of your accomplishments. With the job interview, its how you're dressed that sets both the comfort/ acceptance level as well as the tone of the interview.

Dressing conservatively is always the safest route, but you should also try and do a little investigating of your prospective employer so that what you wear to the interview makes you look as though you fit in with the organization. If you overdress or under-dress, the potential employer will likely feel that you don't fit with the organization and / or don’t care enough about the job.

How do you find out what is the proper dress for a given job/company/industry? Call the department or perhaps even the Human Resources office where you are interviewing and simply ask. Or, you could visit the company's office to retrieve an application or other company information and observe the attire current employees are wearing -- though make sure you are not there on a "casual day" and misinterpret the dress code.

Hints for Dress for Success for Men and Women
Attention to details is crucial, so here are some tips for both men and women. Make sure you have:

  • clean and polished conservative dress shoes
  • well-groomed hairstyle
  • cleaned and trimmed fingernails
  • minimal cologne or perfume
  • no visible body piercing beyond conservative ear piercings for women
  • no visible body art
  • well-brushed teeth and fresh breath
  • no gum, candy, or other objects in your mouth
  • minimal jewelry
  • no body odor
  • well tailored clothes

Finally, check your attire in the rest room just before your interview for a final check of your appearance -- to make sure your tie is straight, your hair is combed, etc.


Take notes. You don’t need to write down everything, but there may be names, phone numbers or other information that you may want to remember.

Be enthusiastic and show interest. Employ an informal dialogue during the interview. Be direct and concise with your questions and answers and do not ramble. Have good eye contact and posture. Be positive in your remarks, and reflect a good sense of humor.

Bring a copy of your resume along with you, always. Try to find out about specific characteristics or qualifications that employers seek when hiring. If you feel comfortable doing so, you may ask the person you are interviewing to give you thoughts about your career path, both past and future.  When the interviewee comes out to meet you, introduce yourself. Thank your contact for his or her willingness to meet with you, and reemphasize that you are there to learn and gather information about his or her career field. Use an informal dialogue during the interview.  The whole interview could be spent finding answers to the dozen or so questions you decide to ask. If you have done your research and you are listening well, insightful and appropriate questions will pop into your head spontaneously.

Pay careful attention to what’s said by the person you interview. Ask questions when something isn’t clear. People are often happy to discuss their positions, their accomplishments and most are willing to provide you with a wealth of information.   Try to keep the conversation friendly, brief, and focused on the contact person’s job and career field.

Share something about yourself, but do not dominate the interview by talking about yourself.  If you can, make whatever you disclose about yourself relevant to the interests of the interviewee.  You are there to get the information that will help you learn the most about the occupational field so that you can be prepared to compete for a job. Many informational interviews have turned into actual employment interviews.  If it seems that you are being interviewed for a specific job, clarify with the employer so you can make sure you emphasize your functional/ transferable skillsand why you feel they relate to this job.

Listening is more than half of the communication. Besides being able to ask questions and convey a message to employers, you need to develop the skill of really listening to what they tell you. Be receptive and show that the information is important to you. You must listen to it, understand it and respond to it.

Beginning your professional contact network  You have spent 20-30 minutes with this person, asking questions, getting advice and sharing a little about yourself.  The person has taken time to share with you; they have invested time in you. People like their investments to pay off. Most people will feel good about your staying in contact with them, especially if you are adding value to them. You do not have to call or write every week. Just keep your interviewee posted on your research, your career plans and information they may find valuable. Utilize news alerts such as Google Alerts to channel information to you about your contact, the company, the industry, the competitors.  This will be a great source of future conversation/ focal points.

The interviewee may not have a job for you but may know of other employers or people to which you may be referred. If possible, keep these people informed about your progress. If you have done your job well, they will be interested in your final choices. Ask for your contact’s business card and exchange one of your own.

Ask For Referrals:

People who are in the same kind of business usually know their competition. Before leaving, ask your contact to suggest names of others who might be helpful to you and ask permission to use your contact’s name when contacting these new contacts.  A referral is the quickest way to gain entrée and credibility.


Always Send a Thank You Note

Immediately after your informational interview (or your job interview), write down all of the focus points of your interviewee.  Based on emphasis, prioritize those focus points so that you can utilize those to your greatest advantage in your thank you note.  Be sure to send a thank-you card or letter within one to three days after the interview. This communication is an effective way to keep in touch and to be remembered by people. Let them know they were helpful and thank them for the time spent.

Quote something that the resource person said, word for word. Ask the person to keep you in mind if they come across any other information that may be helpful to you in your career research. Include your address and phone number under your signature.  Make sure that you use a personal email address rather than a business email address.  You will tend to keep your personal email address for a longer time.

For possible future reference, keep a list of all the people you have interviewed or plan to interview in a contact management system such as ACT, Goldmine or Outlook. You could even keep paper files but it is far better to keep a digital contact management system with all dates, conversations, action items, links to files and websites, interview notes on your questions covered. Include the main things that you gained from each interview. This file will be a rich source of information as you conduct your occupational exploration and refine your career plan.  You can quickly search digital files and keep data organized much more easily with a digital contact management system.

Immediately following the interview, record the information you gathered. Write down the focus points of the interviewee.  This will give you an idea of that person’s priorities. This activity alone can lead to your dream job or connect you to a mentor.  Employers are very impressed by individuals who have the savvy to analyze the experience.


  • What did I learn from this interview (both positive and negative impressions)?
  • How does what I learned fit with my own interests, abilities, goals, values, etc.?
  • What do I still need to know?
  • What plan of action can I make?


Other hints and guidelines

Some final hints about informational interviews:

  • If you ask for 20-30 minutes of a person’s time, stick to the limit.
  • When in an interview, ask what you want to know but really let the person talk because you might discover and acquire information about unanticipated areas of employment.
  • Note your reactions on an objective level, but don’t ignore personal feelings; what you naturally gravitate toward or away from is very important.
  • Talking with people doesn’t have to be a formal process or one you practice only when job hunting. Chat with people casually -- on a plane or bus, while waiting in lines, at social gatherings, etc. Since most people enjoy talking about their work, curiosity can open many doors.

Even if you're not looking for a job right now, career networking/ professional networking should be a part of your daily, or at least weekly, routine. If you have a network in place and contacts you keep in touch with, it will be much easier to get started on a job search than if you're starting from scratch.

Stay in Touch

It doesn't take long to send an email or a LinkedIn or Facebook message just to say hello, even if you don't see your contacts very often - or at all.

Connect In-Person

If you can, meeting in person is very beneficial. That personal connection becomes stronger when you can match a face, a personality with a name.  

Build Your Network

Taking the time to build, and maintain, your network, is well worth the effort. Those connections you make today will help you move along the career ladder, tomorrow.  94% of all jobs are filled via networks.

Make it easy for others to find out about you

When you're conducting a job search, you need to make it easy for employers to find you online. Employers are inundated with irrelevant resumes when they post jobs so the best of them seek passive candidates (qualified candidates who aren't necessarily looking for work, but who may be interested if the right job comes along). Every professional should make their bio/ resume and professional credentials as well as some contact method readily accessible online.


How Employers Can Find You

Candidate Sourcing

In addition to reviewing resumes posted to their company web sites and to job sites like Monster or CareerBuilder, employers are actively sourcing passive candidates. They are mining the Internet to find the best people to hire, regardless of whether the candidate has expressed interest in their company, or not.

Candidate sourcing programs are utilized by many companies. These sourcing programs search all major resume databases including the professional networking sites such as LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, Jobster, TheLadders, Doostang and Ziggs.  Monster's SmartFind or CareerBuilder’s advanced search options provide focused keyword searching by location, education, prior employer, job title, and skills. It also sorts the candidates by the criteria selected. Using systems like these, hiring managers can then contact candidates quickly and simply.

Networking Sites

In addition, recruiters and Human Resources managers, are adding their own profiles to sites like LinkedIn, and making connections with potential candidates for employment. LinkedIn has members from all 500 of the Fortune 500 companies and covers 130 different industries. Be sure to connect with current and past co-workers, clients, and classmates, so you're getting the most out of your network.

Job seekers can use passive candidate searching by employers to their advantage. What you need to do is to make your information (resume, skills, experience, etc.) findable when companies are looking for candidates. You need to edit and tweak your resume and the other information you have online, so you show up in the search results generated by employers who may have a job that's a good fit.

Make Your Professional Information Available

When you want employers to find you, it's important that your resume and the profiles you post have specific information regarding your credentials and qualifications.

Your resume should contain:

Keywords. If you're not sure what to include, use a job search engine like to search for jobs that match your qualifications. Once you come up with some terms that fit, use them in your resume or somewhere in your online profiles. That way, you will be found by employers seeking candidates with similar qualifications.

Job Titles. Employers are often interested in candidates with specific experience and will search for that.

Qualifications. Be specific - if you have a Microsoft Certification, an MBA, CPA, CFA, JD, etc., say so.

Affiliations. List the professional organizations that you have joined.

Update your resume regularly. Many resume databases have options so employers can search only the newest resumes or those posted with a certain period of time. So, you'll need to update your resume frequently so it's found.

Your Profiles

Career Networking Sites
Networking sites are a very important source of passive candidates for employers. Create your profiles just as carefully as your resume. Include your experience as well as your education. Also include your association memberships, and even your personal interests. Once you have a profile, potential employers will be able to find you and you will be able to connect with other users who can help you with your career and employment goals.

College Alumni Associations
College graduates should always check with their alma mater to see what networking resources are available. Many colleges have alumni databases specifically designed for networking purposes. Alumni are often interested in recruiting candidates from their school, so it's important to take advantage of whatever resources are available.

Employer Alumni Associations
In order to stay connected with past co-workers, former employees have created employer alumni associations. If your prior employers have associations, join them. Former colleagues will be able to help you with your future career plans.

Professional Associations
Do you belong to any professional associations? Make the most of the member database. That's another good way to both find backgrounds and contact information for the people you want to target but to also help potential employers find you.

Keep Your Personal Information Private

If you must make your personal information available online, make sure that it is only visible by your closest friends.  Make sure that personal information in your MySpace, Facebook, or other social networking accounts is blocked from general public access so that a hiring manager or recruiter can’t read it or have access to it. That personal information should be kept private, and only made accessible, to those people you are most comfortable with seeing it. You may also want to limit the contact information viewable on your resume if you have privacy concerns.

Your Professional Online Presence

It's important to keep in mind that your online presence needs to be both professional and presentable. If there are typos or grammatically errors, or inconsistencies, these can be immediate deal killers.  It's just as important to communicate very professionally with your contacts - the people who contact you and vice versa. Make sure your emails and instant messages are composed appropriately - consider them business correspondence, just as a written letter or phone call would be. Use spell check!

Finally, keep track of everywhere you have posted your resume and created profiles (and keep a password list, too). That way you can update frequently and stay on top of the information you have posted online.  Again, utilize a digital contact management system and keep track of all the people you have interacted with professionally, the results of your conversations and action items, as well as their focus, hobbies, birthdays, career plans, performance objectives etc. etc. etc.

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