Information interviewing involves speaking to people who work in the field you want to learn more about.  It is not interviewing for a job.  Use it as a way to gather more information about the field you are interested in, so that you can make informed career choices, gather information necessary to write effective cover letters and resumes, and be better prepared for future job interviews. 

Information interviews can also be a great way to make valuable industry contacts.  If you leave a good impression, your name may later be passed along to someone else who is in a position to interview you (but don't go in expecting this to happen).  In order to leave the best impression possible, you must be prepared and act professionally.

Don't be afraid to set up these interviews; most people genuinely want to help others, especially if your request comes across as professional, undemanding and polite. 

To prepare for an information interview, do as much research as possible about the industry ahead of time, think of intelligent questions and rehearse what you want to discuss.  Before you head out for your interview, become familiar with the contact's organization: its products, services, competitors, etc.  Also try to   gather whatever information you can about your contact.  Figure out what you want to discuss.  A possible strategy might be:

  • Explain why you have set up the interview - what you hope to get out of it (don't ask them for a job)
  • Provide an overview of your career goals, experience, accomplishments and skills
  • Ask questions -- get information about trends in the industry, challenges the organization faces, etc.
  • Ask for referrals -- names of others who you may be able to speak with

During the interview, possible questions include (but should not be limited to):

  • How do people normally break into the field?
  • What skills and personal qualities are most important for success?
  • What education and training is needed?
  • What do you do on a typical day?
  • What do you enjoy most/least?
  • What are the biggest challenges?
  • Is there anyone else I could speak with (and if so, may I use your name)?

Other tips include:

  • Be punctual. This is a must. Repeat, a must.
  • Don't arrange an interview longer than 30 minutes (and don't stay longer than your allotted time).
  • Dress appropriately and professionally.
  • Be sure you have questions to ask - you arranged the interview after all.
  • Be prepared. Like being on time, this also can not be repeated enough.
  • Stay on topic.
  • Don't bring out a resume unless requested.
  • Send a thank you note immediately after your meeting.

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