Informational Interviews + Job Shadowing
Talking to current professionals is a great way to determine if a career ﬁeld is for you. During informational or job shadowing visits, you get an up-close look at workplaces and the “real job” from an employee’s view. You have a chance to observe daily office activities, ask questions, and consider the potential pros and cons of a particular profession or industry. You will also discover what workplace skills and career-related experiences are essential to being successful in your chosen ﬁeld.
Here's a short video that walks through the informational interview process. [Source: Stanford Life Design Lab.]
Here's a guide for performing informational interviews.
Step 1: Identify the person you want to interview
The first step is finding the right person to interview. Since you should have already picked the field you are interested in, you should have an idea of the kinds of job titles people in this field have. So start by asking family and friends and others in your personal community if they know anyone who has a similar job.
If your search isn’t turning up any successful leads, try contacting professional organizations for that field. Bridges can help you identify websites for professional organizations. Do a search for the profession you are interested in and then look under the ‘Connections’ tab at the left. Career Research Tools can be another useful resource. Click on ‘Business Information Resources’ and then do a search under ‘Associations.
Step 2: Setting up an interview
Once you’ve found someone you’re interested in interviewing, you need to contact them by phone, mail, or e-mail. Begin by introducing yourself (make sure you mention you are a student) and explaining why you are interested in their field. Be sure to mention the name of the person who gave you their name and number.
Step 3: Do your homework
It’s absolutely essential that you be prepare for this interview in advance. The person you’re interviewing is doing you a favor; don’t include questions whose answers can easily be found somewhere else (Human Resources department, company website, or literature).
If you’ve already done informational interviews, you may already have some questions or areas that you want to explore further, based on that conversation. Here’s a list of sample questions to get you started. You should personalize this list to reflect your own interests. The next step is to conduct the interview.
Step 4: Conducting the interview
Conduct the informational interview like a job interview:
- Dress as professionally as possible. This includes a jacket and tie for men, and dress pants or a knee-length skirt for women. Wear a watch so you can keep track of time during the interview.
- Arrive at the interview a few minutes early, so you don’t appear rushed or out of breath when you walk in.
- Have your list of questions handy, and bring paper for taking notes and several pens.
- Stick to your schedule. If the interview is scheduled for 20 minutes, make sure it only lasts 20 minutes. If the person you’re interviewing wanders off topic you can politely remind them that you have additional questions and you don’t want to take up more time than is scheduled.
- At the end of the interview, thank the interviewee for his time. Ask if you can contact him for additional information and if so, what is the best way to reach him.
Step 5: After the informational interview
As soon as you get home, write a thank-you note and mail or e-mail immediately. If there was a topic discussed that particularly interested you or an area that you now want to explore further, let your interview subject know. They’ll appreciate a personalized note, instead of a bland thank-you.
It’s a good idea to keep a list of all the people you talked with, the leads they gave you and other contacts generated along the way. You should also keep a list of the questions you asked and any notes you took with the contact information. You may want to type your notes while the information is still fresh in your mind so you can remember more easily what you just wrote.
The process for setting up an informational interview or job shadowing visit is the same —for a job shadow, you are just asking for a bit more time. Consider starting with an informational interview, and following up with a job shadow if you want to get a deeper view. During a typical job shadowing visit, you “shadow” an employee at work for a couple of hours, or even a full day