Informational interviews

An informational interview is a professional development tool you can use to learn more about a particular career. In this type of interview, you direct the questions to a person of your choice who is doing work in a field or industry that interests you.

Informational interviews allow you to learn from another person’s career path, discover how they gained experience in the field, and learn the strategies and advice they have for someone entering the field today.

Locating people to interview

  • Start your list with people you may know through your personal contacts, educational and professional settings.
  • Connect with alumni via VCU Link (see our informational interview guide).
  • Add alumni to your list from VCU’s LinkedIn group.
  • Use industry associations, professional associations and networking groups.
  • Consider people who are featured in local business and industry news articles.
  • Note people who write about the profession on social media.
  • Prioritize your list by the job of interest not the prestige of the person’s title or company.

Arranging the informational interview

  • Email the professional(s) you would like to interview (see below for correspondence tips).
  • Provide context on how you identified them, such as the name of a person who referred you or research you have done.
  • Provide your availability over a two-week period between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Be flexible to meet in person at their office or set up a meeting by phone.
  • Assure the contact that you are building strategies for the direction of your career development and will not be asking for a job.
  • Plan to dress appropriately and err on the side of being more formal than informal.
  • Never instant message a professional contact unless they invite you to. Many professionals find IMs intrusive to their regular work.
  • Plan for a 30-minute informational interview. For in-person interviews, add driving or walking time, and build in another 15 minutes for parking, building security, being greeted by a receptionist, etc.
  • Clean up your internet image, take down content that could hurt your professional image, and add a professional voicemail message.
  • Review your narrative and research to develop sophisticated questions.

Sample email or phone script for requesting an informational interview

Hello Ms. Havoc,

I am Roberto Ram and a junior at VCU studying -------.

My career goal is to work as a ----------------- after graduation. I am learning from others as I prepare to enter the field. I am seeking to gain insight from your experience that may help me take advantage of opportunities with my coursework, internships and professional associations. Would you have 20-30 minutes to meet with me at your convenience? My best dates and times over the next weeks are: 

Hello Mr. Havoc,

I am Rita Ram and a junior at VCU studying ---------. I am exploring careers in ---------  and gathering information on the industry and career paths from people currently working in the field. By talking with you about your career, I hope to further understand how others developed their talents, interests and skills. Would you have 20-30 minutes to meet with me at your convenience? My best dates and times over the next weeks are: 

Sample questions

Questions about their career story

  • Your career path is interesting; please describe how you got started and how you got to where you are today?
  • What was your first job in this field and how did you get to your present position?
  • What is the most satisfying part of your job?

Questions about their preparation for their career path

  • How did you prepare for your career through courses, professional organizations and training?
  • From your LinkedIn profile, I see that you started your career as -----------------. How did your early career development prepare you for the work you do today?
  • What best prepared you for your early career positions?
  • Are there courses and training you wish you would have taken during college or earlier in your career?

Questions about their current work

  • What are the core competencies that distinguish this role?
  • What happens in your department and how does it connect to other departments?
  • What kinds of problems does your department address?
  • Are your workdays predictable?
  • If you were to consider another field, what you choose today and why?
  • From your LinkedIn profile, part of your role includes --------------. How is this work valued in the company and industry and how do you keep current to obtain additional skills?

Questions about their organization

  • What is it like to work for this organization?
  • What is distinguishing about this organization?
  • How does this organization recruit and hire entry-level employees?

Questions about the industry

  • Where do you see the industry going in the next few years?
  • Which organizations in this industry provide the best training including internships?

Questions about the field’s professional identity

  • Which professional organizations do you recommend to learn more about the field and industry?
  • Are there lessons you have learned that you wished someone would have told you as a student or new professional?
  • What types of work experiences and accomplishments should I strive to attain before graduation?

Closing question

  • Are there other people who would be interested in sharing their insight specific to the field or industry?

If you receive a contact or two, the person is opening up their professional network. Please respect and acknowledge that they trust you will be professional as you proceed with this network information. Secure the correct spelling of the contact(s), title, company and email. 

Closing and follow-up

At the close of the interview, thank them for their time. Exchange business cards.

Also, send a thank you via email and in a personal handwritten note. In the thank you email, let them know you found their guidance very useful and that you will keep them informed as you contact others and progress through the informational interview process.