Ask an Expert: How to Conduct an Informational Interview

Karissa Chabot-Purchase

Karissa Chabot-Purchase, Career Consultant, James Madison College

I’ve been told that a good way to learn about different roles/industries is to conduct informational interviews with alumni in those spaces.  What’s the best way to approach conducting an informational interview?

Consider approaching an informational interview like an informal conversation. It’s not an interview or a space where it’s appropriate to ask about getting hired, but an opportunity for you to connect with a professional who can share insights about a particular role, employer, or industry.

 Isn’t it awkward to reach out to strangers?  I don’t want to bother people.

Most people actually enjoy taking a bit of time out of their day to reflect on their professional path and offer insights to someone genuinely interested in their work! Consider starting with folks you know (family, friends, faculty/staff within your college, for instance), then branch out to new contacts once you’re feeling more confident. MSU Connect, a networking and mentoring community for current students and alumni, is a great resource that will let you search and connect with other Spartans by location, college, industry, and more.

Initiate contact by sharing how you’re connected (“I’m a fellow Spartan,” “My colleague Sam suggested I reach out,” “You came up in my LinkedIn results as someone who shares many of my professional interests”), then note that you’re looking for a chance to have a casual conversation about their career path. You might even state how much time you’re hoping for (15-30 minutes is a good initial suggestion). Check out MSU Career Services’ sample request language online here.

What types of questions should I ask? 

The questions you decide to pose depend, of course, on who you’re talking to and what kind of information you’re hoping to collect from them. Begin by doing some basic research on the person’s professional path, employer(s), and the industries they’ve spent time in (using resources like LinkedIn, employer websites, etc.), and consider what inspired you to reach out to them in the first place.

MSU Career Services has assembled some sample interview questions here. Many websites (like Indeed, The Muse, etc.) have great informational interview questions for you to pull samples from, too.

Should I talk about myself at all?

It’s helpful to begin with a brief overview of your background, such as your academic interests, professional involvements, and professional goals. Feel free to bring your resume, but only for reference purposes or if it’s requested from you (remember, you don’t want your interviewee to think you’re fishing for a job).

Do I need to plan on any follow up?   

Make sure to send a thank-you note or message within a day or two to express your appreciation for the time and insights offered to you, and consider keeping in touch with folks if you had a meaningful interaction. The individuals you connect with in this way can become important parts of your personal network!

By Karissa Chabot-Purchase
Karissa Chabot-Purchase Career Consultant, James Madison College