Ask the People Who Know Best

Minnesota State Rep. John Persell answers questions in a meeting with Political Science students

Who better to seek out for information about what a career is really like than the people who are already working in a given field. They’ve been down the path you are thinking about following and can tell you why they chose it and what challenges you may encounter along the way.

Opportunities to ask questions may arise at a job fair, an alumni presentation or on a tour but often you have to seek them out yourself through what is known as an informational interview.

How an Informational Interview Can Help

The Informational (information-gathering) interview:

  • Enables you to become more knowledgeable about your field(s) of interest
  • Helps you to clarify and define your career goals
  • Allows potential employers to be introduced to you in a pleasant, low-stress atmosphere
  • Is an excellent way for you to establish a network of contacts that could lead to future employment

Steps to Follow

  1. Analyze your skills and interests to clarify career goals.
  2. Identify career professionals who are knowledgeable about your targeted job/career or organization.
    • Set up a LinkedIn account to network with BSU alumni and career professionals in your field.
    • Attend practice interviews, career fairs and professional association meetings to network and use your personal contacts to develop a list of people you can call for an informational interview.
  3. Set up an appointment
    • Call or write your contact person and tell them that you are interested in his/her career field and would like to meet with him/her to discuss opportunities in this field.
    • Be resourceful, sincere and above all, show interest in what your “target” person does. People usually enjoy the opportunity to discuss their work. If they are too busy to meet you during their office hours, explore the possibility of meeting over lunch or after work.
    • If a person cannot meet with you, ask whether you can ask them a few quick questions over the telephone. Find out exactly how many minutes you have.
    • If they absolutely cannot talk with you, ask them for names of other people you might contact within the same career field.
  4. Prepare for the interview
    • Thoroughly research the organization by studying annual reports, brochures and other materials. Talk with people who are acquainted with the organization.
    • Write a resume and bring it with you. You may want to have a Career Services counselor review it first.
    • Prepare and rehearse a list of questions to ask the person you will interview. Here is an extensive list of questions you might want to ask, depending on the career field.
    • Dress appropriately for the interview.
  5. During the Interview
    • Remember, this is not a job interview! Your purpose is to acquire information. It is okay at appropriate times, to indicate your strengths and interests but do not over do it. Please be sensitive to the interviewee’s time constraints.
    • Before you leave, ask your contact if they could refer you to others in the same career. By doing so, you can establish a referral list and build a job search network.
  6. Thank You Letter
    • Do not forget to write one! Your contact has given you valuable work time.
    • Can be handwritten or more formal.
    • Also can do an email.
  7. Follow Up
    • Keep a record of each organization you visit.
    • Contact people on you referral list and interview them.