The Tips and Tricks of Informational Interviewing

Informational interviewing is a unique and influential networking resource in any internship journey. No matter if you’re searching for internships or already in an internship, it’s important to think about how you can stay connected and learn from others. You can use informational interviews to help you connect the dots to see what you might do next and can also alert to the person you are interviewing your strengths and interests that may be valuable to them, their organization, or someone within their network.

What is an informational interview?

An informational interview is a conversation someone can have with a professional to learn insight on their professional experience, an organization, their specific journey that got them to where they are, and advice on the next steps to take. These types of interviews give you a new perspective on what specific industries look like, and  what skills and experience can help you be more competitive in an industry. Not only can you gain new knowledge from these interviews, but you can also gain mentors to help you in your journey. Making these connections early is important because they can be someone you can lean on during your journey of finding an internship opportunity.

It’s okay if you go into an informational interview not knowing information about the person’s profession. It’s okay that you’re not an expert, the only thing you need to be is curious and open. These interviews are meant to be that bridge that gives you information in that specific industry. They understand that you are looking to learn from them so you may not know a lot of the technicalities of their field yet.

It’s important to note that informational interviews are not Job/Internship interviews. You’re not asking the interviewee directly for an opportunity, but rather, advice on how to be strategic in your overall career journey.

Who should you ask for an informational interview?

Because informational interviews are meant to give you insight into a person’s experience, you want to ask a professional in that industry. If you are looking at internships in specific companies, try to setting up an interview with someone in a similar role or a current intern. This will allow you to get the most valuable information related to what you would be doing in that role.

Where to search for Interviewees:

Informational interviews take time. If you are hoping to gain insight on an internship before you apply, there are a few different ways to find people to talk to. Informational interviews happen through you putting out the effort to make it happen, so while it can be intimidating reaching out, make the jump! Here are few different ways to search for interviewees:

  • Family, Friends, and Neighbors – is there a family friend who works in an industry you are interested in? That would be a great place to start because they already know you!
  • Career Events, such as Career and Internships Fairs
  • Employer Information Sessions
  • Your Peers
  • Professors
  • LinkedIn (Specific Organization Pages, Alumni Feature, or Groups)
  • Bear Down Network
  • Company Websites “About Us” or Directory

Contacting them for an interview:

Contacting a person for an interview may seem intimating, but don’t let nerves stop you from taking the next step! Contacting the person depends on who you’re asking. If you’re asking an academic professional, you can ask them in-person after class or during drop-in hours. If you’re asking someone from specific companies via email or a networking platform like LinkedIn, you can write them a professional message.

No matter what, make sure to be professional. Remember to introduce yourself and the reason you’re contacting them. You want them to know early on that you’re seeking an informational interview. It can also help to mention the time you are requesting, like 30 minutes over zoom or to meet for a half hour over coffee. Lastly, let them know if you have specific times and days you might be able to meet and how they can contact you back. If you’re sending a message, make sure to keep it short and professional. If you are unsure how to write messages, we have some resources available on our website. For example, check out this post on How To Write Great Networking Emails.

My experience with an informational interview:

I had an informational interview with a forensic psychologist to see if I would want to try and get an internship in that field. I knew it was a difficult field to get involved in, so I wanted to hear from someone before I put in a lot of time looking for an internship.

I found this connection through a class, and I decided to take the opportunity. In our interview, I asked the psychologist about his experience and he gave me his perspective on what it truly meant to be a forensic psychologist. We talked about the type of internship opportunities I could get as an undergraduate student, such as working with victim services or the court. For me, it was insightful to hear from a professional on what they felt was a valuable internship that would stand out when I apply to graduate school.

Another takeaway from my interview was his opinion on other options. He asked me to share what I wanted to gain and why. I didn’t expect to share much about myself, so I was nervous at first. Should I tell him that I didn’t quite know what I wanted from my experience? So, I told him what I did know. I told him I knew I wanted to help people who may have disadvantages or are underrepresented and I wanted to be “hands-on” with my experience. This is where I gained the information that stuck with me. Instead of talking about forensic psychology, he shared information about other fields that I could possibly be interested in as well. For me, this helped me look at programs and opportunities that I didn’t even know about.

For me, my informational interview gave me so much insight on the opportunities out there and showed me that I could expand my search.

What if you already have an internship?

If you are in an internship, make sure to tap into the experience of those around you! You can still conduct informational interviews if you’re looking to gain insight on a role, a company, an industry, or advice on your next steps. The benefits of an informational interview do not need to stop once you have an internship!

 Don’t let the unknown stop you from doing an informational interview. This tool has so many benefits and can help you in your career journey.

By Sarah Randolph
Sarah Randolph