Take the fear out of networking - master the art of conducting informational interviews
Networking is about sharing information about careers. Informational Interviews are interviews that you set up for the purpose of eliciting information about a person’s career area and career path. The point of doing an informational interview is not to try to get a job, but rather to gain more information about specific careers, organizations, or jobs. This may help you make a better decision about whether or not you should pursue a particular direction in your career path.
Successful career planners learn this technique - as a college student, you should aim to conduct at least one informational interview for every year you are in school. The following are a few guidelines that will help you master the technique of informational interviewing, a key component of networking for college students.
Start with familiar people and practice
The following associations are sources of informational interviews that are likely to produce someone who can speak with you about their career field. Take comfort in the fact that as a college student, most people understand your need to network and explore career fields.
- Friends of family
- Family of friends
- Family of neighbors
- Family’s connections (Lion’s club, mom’s office, etc.)
- University community (faculty, staff, offices)
- Municipal community (your hometown connections)
- Yellow pages
A common misperception about conducting informational interviews is that it involves cold calling someone you don’t know. Start with people who you are most comfortable with—your older brother, your Mom/Dad, your cousin—even though they work in an area that doesn’t seem appealing to you initially. You may be surprised by the information that you learn from them. They are also likely to know someone who is familiar with your desired career field. As your comfort increases talking with people about their careers, start initiating conversations with people who aren't as familiar to you. If you have not so already, you can begin to investigate career areas that are more appealing to you—you’ll seem like an old pro at networking when you finally get in front of someone whose job is more appealing to you.
Ask for 20 minutes of their time
Most people have 20 minutes out of their day to spare for a conversation. “I’m looking for some advice and information—could you spare 20 minutes for me next week to talk about your career path?”. Many people, once talking, will provide more time to talk with you if they have it available. However, once the 20 minutes are up, please respect their time and ask for permission to continue if you think more time is needed. Use these examples
to help you request an informational interview.
Use a simple list of questions to ask and improvise the rest
Talking to people about their careers is not a scientific formula—however, in order to get the maximum of benefit in a limited amount of time, you want to prepare questions that will guide your conversation.
- Tell me about your career path. How did you get started doing this? What was interesting?
- What education and training did you need to do this? Has anything changed?
- What are critical skills that you need to have for this field?
- What is an average day like? What are your major responsibilities?
- What are some upcoming trends/challenges to the field that I should know about?
- What advice would you give someone thinking about entering this field?
- What are some related professions to this one? Can you think of anyone else I might talk to?
Keep the ball rolling
Question #7 will help you keep the momentum going—most people will know someone else they can recommend you talk to. Like a game of volleyball—see how long you can keep the “ball up in the air.” Don’t forget to send a nice, handwritten thank-you note to each person with whom you speak.
For further information
Consult the University Career Center's handout on Informational Interviewing.