Informational Interview 101

This is a guest post by Trista Harris.  It was originally published on her blog, New Voices of Philanthropy, on August 18, 2012.

This week I had the opportunity talk to some high school students about building their brand (What’s up Cookie Cart kids!) and one of them asked me afterwards “what is an informational interview?”. That is a great question and one that many adults are often too embarrassed to ask. So I’ll pretend that I’m answering the question for the high schoolers and mid-career professionals can pretend like they are reading this post to brush up on something that they already know everything about and are doing consistently to advance in their career. Deal?

So what is an informational interview?

An informational interview is  not a job interview. It is an interview to learn more about a job, career, industry or company.

Who should I ask for an informational interview?

People that you admire, someone who has a job that you would like in 5-10 years, or someone that works at a company that you would like to work at. You can find these people in industry blogs or newspapers, through alumni associations, or through referrals from people in your network.

Can you give me an example email to request an informational interview?

For students:
Brad Owens, from Humphrey Institute Career Services suggested that I contact you.  As a graduate student studying nonprofit management I would like to learn more about my various career options after I graduate, he thought you might be able to provide me with useful information. If you are able to find time, I would like to meet with you in person or by phone for 20 minutes to ask you a few questions about your career path.

Thank you for considering my request. I look forward to your reply.

For people that are employed:

Amy Johnson, Executive Director of the Helping People Center shared your contact information with me. She is a big fan of yours and highly recommended that I reach out to you. I am currently a development officer at the Evergreen Health Society and am confidentially considering a move to the foundation field. Because you successfully transitioned from fundraising to a program officer position, I would like to talk with you  about your transition and if you have any specific advice about how I can better prepare myself for a job as a program officer. If you are able to find time, I would like to meet with you in person or by phone .

Thank you for considering my request. I look forward to your reply.

What should I ask in my informational interview?

Can you tell me about your career path?

What does your average day look like?

What degrees are needed in this field?

What do you think best prepared you for this position?

What do you like most about your job?

What is your least favorite part of the job?

What are the next steps for you in your career?

Are there people that you would recommend that I talk to to learn more?

Who do you admire in this field?

What sort of follow-up should I do?

Write a thank you note (handwritten is best) and if you get a job in the field at a later date, write them again to thank them for their great advice that helped you to break into the field.

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If you found this blog post useful, please subscribe. On Twitter? Follow me @Philanthropy411.

Posted by Kris Putnam-Walkerly © Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Philanthropy411, 2012.

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