Informational Interviewing Guidelines
IMPORTANT: Connections is not a job placement service. Under no circumstance may you ask a Volunteer Professional for a job.
Getting the Interview
Once you receive the contact information from the Connections Coordinator, you are asked to make contact within two weeks because the Volunteer Professional will be notified of your request and be expecting your call or email. Assume that the Volunteer Professional wants to help but is very busy. Gain the person's confidence by being brief, but also convey how the Volunteer Professional can help you. See the Sample Initial Contact for an example.
- Introduce yourself, explain how you got the person's name, and ask if the person can spare a few minutes. If it is not a good time, ask for a more convenient time to call, and follow through!
- Explain who you are in two or three sentences. You're not trying to sell yourself, but supply enough context that the person understands your request is appropriate.
- Say that you are not asking for a job and explain why you think the person can help.
- Acknowledge that the Volunteer Professional is busy and that you value the person's time.
- Ask for a 30-40 minute meeting at a time and place convenient to the Volunteer Professional. Most often this will be the person's place of work, although the person might suggest a place nearby. If the Volunteer Professional prefers to be interviewed by phone or email, arrange a time to call, or establish a date by which you will send an email.
- Be certain about the day, time, length, and location of the interview, and give the Volunteer Professional a means of contacting you in case it becomes necessary.
Preparing for the Interview
- Prepare a brief Personal Statement. You will use this at the beginning of the interview to give the Volunteer Professional a sense of yourself. See the Sample Personal Statement.
- Research the organization as best you can. Start with the organization's web site. Then do a web search and scan any articles or information you find. The purpose is to have some background when you start the interview and formulate better questions.
- Select and prioritize the questions you want to ask. Start with the Sample Informational Interview Questions, then add, delete, and change them to make your own list.
- It's a good idea, but not necessary, to have a résumé. There are two ways to use a résumé in the informational interview. If you want, you may ask if the Volunteer Professional is willing to give you feedback on it. This is best done toward the end of the interview because it is easy to spend too much time on the résumé and not enough on the interview. Otherwise, just keep your résumé available in case the person asks for one.
- Get a map of your route unless you know the area well.
Conducting the Interview
By this point, you've arranged the interview and prepared enough to feel confident that you will use the time well. A couple of things will make the interview succeed.
- Establish rapport. This is not a social meeting, yet you hope to establish a personal relationship that will continue past the interview. Let the person get to know you, your interests, and your traits a little bit.
- Be responsive to the Volunteer Professional while keeping your goals in mind. Be adaptable to the person's style and open to unexpected information, but still accomplish your goals.
If you are shy, rely on your true curiosity and the material you've prepared. Keep in mind that you are talking to someone who has volunteered to help you. If you are talkative, take two or three minutes to tell about yourself, then ask your questions. Make the most of this resource while you have it.
- Arrive at least 5-10 minutes early.
- Introduce yourself.
- Thank the Volunteer Professional for the person's time and willingness to share.
- Restate your purpose and how the person can help you.
- Explain what you hope to accomplish, and reiterate that you will end the interview on time.
- Give the Personal Statement that you prepared.
- Ask your questions. The Volunteer Professional will not have an answer for every question. When this happens, just move on the next question.
- Take notes as needed. Just don't take so many that the Volunteer Professional feels left out.
- Be willing to explore areas you hadn't anticipated. What could be better than getting all of your questions answered? Discovering information that is even more valuable. If some of your less important questions go unasked, you can get them answered another time.
Finishing the Interview
- Do not ask for a job. However, at times a Volunteer Professional may bring up a specific position or general opportunities at the organization. If this occurs, feel free to respond to any comments or questions.
- Save a little time if you would like feedback on your résumé, and ask if the Volunteer Professional is willing to look it over.
- Ask if there is anyone else the Volunteer suggests you talk to for more information. This is important because it can result in your next valuable lead.
- Ask if you may contact the Volunteer Professional again if you have other questions.
- Thank the person again for their time and willingness to share.
- End the interview on time. This shows that you manage your time well and value the other person's time. However, if the Volunteer Professional clearly offers to take more time, it is fine to do so.
Completing the Interview Process
- Write up your notes. Record the most important things you learned. Also note a couple of things you would do differently next time. List the person in your contact information.
- Send a thank you email within a couple of days. Keep it brief - but keep it professional. If there was information or a way of looking at things that was particularly helpful, let the person know. See the Sample Thank You Email.
- Stay in touch with the Volunteer Professional over time. If you don't see the person at BAAMA meetings, you might call or email the person. A good time would be when you get a job, make some other transition, or have specific questions.
Congratulations on your efforts! After the informational interview, you will have taken a concrete step in knowing yourself and your profession better. You will also have enlarged your network. If you felt awkward in the interview or wish you had used the time better, don't worry. You will become more at ease and focused with practice.