Preparing to Interview
With appointments in place, the next step is to get ready for the interviews by researching the occupation and the organization, creating a resume, and developing questions.
Learning about the organization where the interview will take place is an important part of interview preparation. Although you probably do not need as much research for an informational interview as you would for a job interview, knowing something about the organization will make your questions better—and will demonstrate enthusiasm and create good will. Company literature and Web sites are good sources of background information, as are a company's annual reports and an industry's trade magazines.
Creating a Resume
You also may want to write a resume to bring to the interview. A well-written resume demonstrates seriousness and professionalism. The people you interview might ask to review this resume to learn about your experience and education. This allows them to provide more relevant advice. Some interviewees might be willing to review the resume and suggest improvements.
A few counselors recommend against bringing a resume, saying that informational interviewers should use the results of the interview to decide what type of resume to write. If you do bring a resume to the interview, these counselors suggest sending those you interview a final "replacement" resume after deciding which career to pursue.
The most critical part of preparing for an informational interview is to compose—and perhaps jot down— the questions you want to ask. Although informational interviews are relaxed, with opportunities for spontaneous discussion, they also need to be focused and organized so that interviewers gather the information they need.
Before preparing a set of questions, think about what you want in a job. The questions should help you learn if the interviewee's occupation has those characteristics. In addition, think about any preconceived ideas you have about the occupation. You might believe that all teachers have the summer off, for instance, or that most scientists spend nearly every day in a laboratory. Asking about these assumptions helps determine whether your ideas are accurate.
Remember that the purpose of the interview is to get a feeling for what a particular type of job is actually like. You want to be able to imagine yourself in the job and to see whether you would enjoy it. You also need specific information about job tasks, working conditions, and career preparation.
Try to choose open-ended questions instead of questions that can be answered with a "yes" or "no." Informational interviewers learn the most if they can make the interview conversational.
The following are examples of possible questions. There would not be time to ask all of these in a single meeting. A good guideline is to choose about 10 questions that most interest you.
Questions about the job:
- What kinds of tasks do you do on a typical day or in a typical week?
- What types of tasks do you spend most of your time doing?
- What do you like best about this job?
- What excites you most about this job?
- What are some of the more difficult or frustrating parts of this career?
- I really like doing ________. Do you have an opportunity to do that type of work in this career?
- What characteristics does a person in this job need to have?
- Do you usually work independently or as part of a team?
- What types of decisions do you make?
- How does your work fit into the mission of the organization?
- What types of advancement opportunities are available for an entry-levelworker in this career?
- I read that________ is an issue in this occupation. Have you found that to be true?
- Is this career changing? How?
Questions about working conditions:
- What kind of hours do you work?
- Is your schedule flexible or set?
- Are those hours typical for most jobs in this occupation, or do some types of jobs have different hours?
- Does this career include or require travel?
- Do you have any health concerns associated with your career? How does this career affect your lifestyle?
Quetions about training:
- How did you prepare for this career?
- How did you find this job?
- Do you have any advice on how people interested in this career should prepare?
- What type of entry-level job offers the most learning opportunities?
- Do you know anyone in this career who has my level of education or my type of experience? How did he or she get the job? (These questions are useful for people trying to enter a career when they don't have the typical credentials.)
Questions about other careers and contacts:
- Do you know of any similar careers that also use _______ or involve _______?
- I know that people in this career specialize in ______and ______. Do you know of any other specialties?
- I think I really like this career. But do you know of similar jobs that do not have this______ characteristic?
- Can you suggest anyone else I could ask for information? May I tell them that you have referred me?
Interview Day: What to Wear, What to Do
An informational interview is more casual than a job interview. This casualness is part of its charm. Informational interviews should still be professional, however. Making a positive first impression shows you care about your career. What's more, if you decide you like the occupation you are investigating, you could end up interviewing for a job with some of the people you meet. And they might remember you and the impression you made.
On the day of the interview, dress neatly. A good guideline is to dress how the person you are interviewing would dress on an important workday. Wearing a suit of a conservative pattern and color is the safest choice. For women, skirts should be no more than an inch above the knee, say counselors, and shoes should be polished and have a closed toe. Hair should be pulled back or cut short, and jewelry should be unobtrusive. Be sure to bring a notepad and a pen or pencil, and consider bringing a resume and a few business cards.
As in all business meetings, arrive on time, but no more than 15 minutes early. When greeting receptionists, other employees, and the person you will interview, be friendly. Smiling and shaking hands will set everyone at ease.
Standard politeness is essential when meeting for the first time. Don't use first names unless invited to do so. Don't sit before your host does. And avoid slang, smoking, and chewing gum. The goal, say the experts, is to be comfortable without being sloppy.
You are leading this interview, so start by thanking your host for his or her time and briefly recounting why you have come. You might mention your goals and interests. Then, ask questions and listen carefully to the answers.
Listening is the foundation of a successful informational interview. If possible, the person you are interviewing should do most of the talking because you are trying to gather opinions and insights. As he or she talks, take notes to remind yourself of important facts and impressions. And be certain your interest shows.
Allow for casual conversation during the interview, but try to stay on track so that the most important questions are answered. You may need to guide your host gently back to the questions occasionally.
Because you are the interviewer, it is up to you to monitor time and end the interview when you said you would. As the ending point draws near, let your host know. Of course, it is fine to spend more time if your host wants to continue.
Always end the interview by thanking your host and asking two important final questions: Can you suggest other people I could speak to? And may I mention your name when I speak to them? The answers could be the starting point for your next informational interviews.
Say Thank You
After the interview, show gratitude for your host's generosity by writing and sending a thank-you note within a few days. Counselors agree, the sooner, the better. This note can be quite brief, a paragraph or two expressing appreciation for the time spent and advice given and perhaps recalling a particularly helpful piece of information.
Hopefully, you'll leave every informational interview with new insights about the career you want. By taking a moment to record your thoughts and feelings about the occupation and workplace of the person you interviewed, you will be able to refer back to the interview when making career decisions. Try to answer questions like the following: What did you learn in the interview? What did you like? What didn't you like? Did you uncover any new concerns about or advantages to the occupation? What advice did you receive? Did you discover another occupation you might want to pursue? How was the work environment at this particular organization? And, finally, do you think you would be happy in this type of job or in this type of organization?
When evaluating an informational interview, counselors warn interviewers not to let impressions of a particular person or company cloud their judgment of an occupation. It is important not to base decisions on the opinions of one individual. Informational interviewers should conduct at least a few interviews in an occupation and try to confirm the information they find with other sources. Information about earnings or education, for example, can be supplemented with data from Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys or from professional associations.
If you decide you like an occupation, the investigation of it doesn't have to end with interviews. You can test it further with additional applied exploration, such as job shadowing or other hands-on opportunities. Early career exploration usually means a betterfitting career for you later.