Five simple steps of informational interviews
Updated: Jan 24, 2022
Last week I was chatting with my father-in-law, Glenn, about how he came to be an ER nurse (and now a nursing professor). After all, he didn't grow up with any family members in the medical field, went against societal gender-norms (less than 3% of nurses were male at the time he started nursing school), and had never even visited the ER himself before deciding to pursue that career path.
What possibly could've convinced him that nursing was the right field for him? (And it did end up being the right field — he's loved his career!)
As it turns out, the answer was informational interviews.
In high school, after taking a career assessment that indicated a possible good match with the healthcare career cluster, Glenn began reaching out to professionals in the field. First a physician, then a physical therapist, and finally an ER nurse. With each individual, took time to learn more about their career simply through conversation — what a day-in-the-life looked like, the challenges, the skills used, the most rewarding parts. During the interview with the ER nurse, it clicked: this is something he could do, something he could love. The rest is not just history, but a legacy of someone who has thrived within their career.
So if you'd like to be more like Glenn (who wouldn't? he's awesome, trust me!) and get the inside scoop on potential occupations while gauging whether they're a good fit for you, just follow these five simple steps to informational interviewing:
Step 1: Research potential careers
Use Virtual Job Shadow (Username: BakerWebS16, Password: CareerPrep2020!) to take career assessments, watch videos, etc. to give you an idea of which kinds of career could be right for you
Check out the Occupational Outlook Handbook to learn more about the education and skills required for each occupation, whether it's a growing industry, the average salary, etc.
Step 2: Identify & contact people to interview
Ask people you already know (friends, family, teachers, coaches) — even if they aren't in fields of interest to you, they might know people who are.
Check out the websites of local businesses; many will have a dedicated staff page listing the employees, their position, and contact information.
Contact the individual(s) you'd like to interview via phone or email. Mention how you got his or her name, that you're interested in their profession, and ask if they would be willing to set up a time (about 30 minutes) to talk so you can learn more about their work. Emphasize that you are looking for information, not a job.
Step 3: Prepare for the interview
Create a list of questions to ask based on what you're hoping to know and based on the industry itself. The more open-ended the questions the better; not only will you get more information that way, but the conversation will also feel more casual and less forced.
Don't reinvent the wheel here — there are lots of informational interview question lists already out there! We happen to like this one provided by UC Berkley, and you can simply do a Google search to find more.
Step 4: Conduct the interview
Before: Dress neatly and appropriately, as you would for a job interview, and arrive a few minutes early (or, if it will be over the phone or Zoom, get settled where you plan to talk a few minutes early). Have your list of questions ready and a notepad to take notes.
During: Thank them for their time, re-introduce yourself, and provide some background information about your career interests. Direct the interview, but also let the conversation flow naturally and encourage the interviewee to do most of the talking.
Wrap-up: Respect the person's time. Limit the meeting to the agreed-upon timeframe. Questions to ask at the end of the conversation might include, "May I contact you again in the future with other questions?" and, "Are there any other professionals you know that you recommend I talk with?" Thank them again for their time.
Step 5: Follow up
Send a thank-you note within 1-2 days to express your appreciation for the time and information given. Keep it professional yet personable; it may be a brief handwritten note or an email.
Keep in touch with the person, especially if you had a particularly nice interaction; let them know that you followed up on their advice and the outcome. This person could become an important part of your network.