The purpose of an information interview is to get information about a field of work from someone who has some firsthand knowledge. When you are on an informational interview you should not ask for a job. This is not to say that an informational interview cannot lead to a job. In addition to helping you learn about a particular career, the informational interview is a way to start building a network.
The person who is the subject of your informational interview today, may be the first person in your network many tomorrows from now. Here's another way an informational interview can benefit you. For those of us who are a little skittish about going on a job interview, the informational interview provides an non-threatening forum in which to get some practice. Think of it as a dress rehearsal.
Here's how I see it. You need information. Someone has that information. Anyone is fair game as long as that person is knowledgeable about the field in which you are interested. Ask friends, relatives, fellow students, your teachers, and neighbors if they know someone who works in your targeted field. People love to talk about themselves and what they do. Call someone you read about who has your "dream job." Call your alumni association. When I first thought about becoming a librarian, I contacted an employment agency that specialized in that area. I was able to get an interview with one of the agency's founders, herself a librarian. She was able to tell me about the job itself, and because of her unique position as a career counselor, she was able to tell me about the outlook for the field.
Just as you need to prepare for a job interview, preparation for an informational interview is very important. As my friend did, searching for information on the occupation is step one. She felt she needed to know as much about her targeted career in order to ask intelligent questions.
When you go on a job interview it is wise to learn as much about the potential employer and the interviewer as you can. When you go on an informational interview you should do the same type of research. As mentioned above, people love to talk about themselves. People also love to hear about themselves (the good things of course!). If your interviewee was referred to you by someone, ask that person about him or her. Also, see what you can find out by looking in local business journals and industry publications. For example, was the interviewee recently promoted or did he or she receive some special recognition? Research that person's employer as well. You will be prepared for the interview and therefore make a good impression.
As previously mentioned, you should research your career of interest in order to ask intelligent questions. Was there something mentioned in the occupational information you didn't fully understand? The informational interview is a good forum to get that clarified. Here is a small sampling of questions you should ask:
Describe a typical day at work:
1. What satisfaction do you find in your work? What are the rewards, both tangible and intangible?
2. What are some of the dissatisfactions you find in the work? What are some of the stresses and frustrations? Did your training prepare you for these?
3. What are some of your joys and challenges about the setting you work in, its structure, its facilities, the people
you work with?
4. Does your career permit you to lead the kind of life you would like to live? How does your career affect your style of life ---the amount of work required, the amount of time required, your time for leisure, your material needs?
5. Are there recent publications, either reprints or references, characteristic of your work?
6. Can you suggest others who might be willing to talk with students about their career?
You've done your homework and can walk into the informational interview confident that you will make a good impression and get the information that will help you make a wise decision. Don't forget to dress appropriately. Arrive on time, keep the interview to the scheduled length, and remember proper etiquette.
Speaking of proper etiquette, please remember to send a thank you note to show your appreciation. The interviewee has taken time out of what is probably a very busy schedule to help you.