iSchool Career Newsletter, 3/2/2016

Career Newsletter

Informational Interviewing

I read an article the other day by a writer that thinks that everyone should stop doing informational interviews. She thought that they contributed to biased hiring and an unequal “playing field” for candidates. While I am not a supporter of biased and inequitable hiring practices, I did not agree with her thoughts on no longer doing informational interviews. I personally believe that taking the time to speak with someone and learning about their professional experience can be beneficial for both an interviewee and an interviewer. For those of you that haven’t done an informational interview yet, now is your chance to learn all you need to know about doing an informational interview.

So what the heck is an informational interview? It’s generally an informal conversation with a professional in a career field you are interested in. Unlike a traditional interview, the questions asked in an information interview are led by you in an effort to gather research about that company, position, or industry. A few good reasons for doing an informational interview include:

  • Learn about the field of work and confirm (or not) your interest in this type of occupation
  • Develop connections and new networks
  • Receive knowledge about the organization and job roles that you aren’t able to find online

While an informational interview can help you develop new contacts, the main objective is to gather information and NOT to ask directly for a job.

Some basic steps for setting up, conducting, and following up on an Informational Interview:

  1. Research Potential Career Fields. Use online databases like GlassdoorPuget Sound Business Journal, and LinkedIn to do research on companies in the city you are interested. We have also compiled some information on typical job titles and descriptions for students graduating from Informatics and iSchool M.S. degrees.
  2. Identify People to Interview. Start with what is easiest- the people closest to you. Have any family friends or know any recent alumni that are working at companies you are interested in? Ask if you can meet with them or their manager to learn about their company. Suggest somewhere that is mutually convenient to meet but ask the other person what they prefer. Some options could be a nearby coffee shop, their place of work, or a local park (if it’s nice out). Don’t have local connections? Try using the online system- the Husky Career Network, which is a searchable directly of UW alumni willing to help UW students and graduates. LinkedIn also has an alumni search tool that shows you what companies alumni are working for and gives you the ability to connect.
  3. Request the Interview. In your request, you can call it an informational interview, a coffee meeting, or anything else informal. Do NOT send a request for “an interview” as they will likely think you are requesting a formal job interview. In the message, emphasize that you are looking to learn, not looking for a job. Check out this example request. Do NOT include your resume in this message either.
  4. Prepare for the Interview. Create a short introduction giving an overview of yourself and your reasons for contacting this person. Do some preliminary research about the company via their website, Google search, and through their Twitter (if they have one). You don’t want to ask this person questions you could easily find the answers to online.
  5. Conduct the interview. Just like you would for a job interview, dress neatly and make sure to arrive on time or slightly early. Remember, you are asking this person for information or advice but not directly for a job. Bring a pen and a notepad so you can jot down notes during your conversation. You can also bring a resume to have on hand that you can ask for feedback or in-case they ask you for it. general questions you can consider asking:
    1. How did you get into this field?
    2. How does your job fit into the company’s overall operation?
    3. What is a typical work day like for you? What is your favorite part of the job? Least favorite?
    4. What advice would you give to someone still in college, aspiring to a career in your field (customize this one to fit your degree/coursework)?
    5. Can you suggest any other people I should talk to regarding this field of work
  6. Follow Up. Always send a thank you note to the interviewee afterwards. This can be hand-written or an email and should be sent within 24-48 hours. Keep in touch with the person- they will appreciate if you send them information on how you have used their advice or if you have contacted their referrals.

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