Friday, August 15, 2008

Informational Interviewing: Networking's Evil Twin

Last week we talked about networking, why it can be challenging, and why it's necessary when you're looking for a job or internship. Today we meet networking's evil twin: informational interviewing.

As if interviewing for actual positions wasn't nerve-wracking enough, informational interviewing is the interviewing that you go through when there may not even be a position for you to be offered. But as painful as this sounds, informational interviewing is just an important as networking when it comes to exploring career fields and applying for jobs or internships.

So why do it?
Here are a few reasons why informational interviews are important:
1. Informational interviews are an opportunity for YOU to ask questions, gather information about a career field or organization, learn about job options and career paths, and make contact with people who can help identify opportunities in their fields.
2. Informational interviews help you practice for the interviews that you'll have for future positions. What better place to stumble a little over your words than in a conversation where an internship or job isn't on the line? Sure, you want to be prepared for the informational interview, but it's an opportunity to improve your interviewing skills, without worrying that a "wrong" answer might lessen your changes of receiving an offer.
3. Informational interviews get your foot in the door. Pretend you do an informational interview at company X, but company X isn't hiring. You learn more about the work that this company does, and you gain insight into the culture of the organization. 6 months later you're looking for opportunities on Chicago Career Connection when you see your dream internship posted at company X. The first thing you should do is email the person at company X who conducted your informational interview and let him or her know that you're hoping to apply for their internship. Already, you have a leg up on the competition, because you know someone inside company X and you know what their organization is all about - and you've expressed your interest in that company months ago, so they will know that you really want to work there.

How do you do it?
Start by writing an email requesting an informational interview. If you're writing to someone who you've met in the past (perhaps someone you met through networking!), introduce yourself and remind the person of where you met and when.

If you're contacting someone who you haven't met before (perhaps someone who you found on the Alumni Careers Network), introduce yourself and explain where you got their contact information. Then express your intent to gather information only.

In both cases, indicate why you want to interview your contact, and add a sentence or two about your own background and goals. Finally, request to do an informational interview over the phone –about 20 minutes in length. Be sure to accommodate the interviewee’s schedule.

Also check out career exploration websites like, which does the work for you and provides in-depth informational interviews with professionals in a variety of fields.

REMEMBER: Informational interviews are NOT job or internship interviews. You shouldn't be asking the person who you speak with for a position, but you should be learning more about the organization and expressing your interest in working there.

For more tips on information interviewing, check out this CAPS' Handout. To schedule a practice interview before you begin informational interviewing, call CAPS at (773) 702 - 7040.

More questions about informational interviewing? Post them here.

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