Penn State is continuing to respond to the spread of coronavirus. Monitor our Coronavirus Information website for more updates.

Get an Insider’s Perspective: Success Tips on How to Conduct an Informational Interview

If you want to know what an occupation is like, ask someone who has direct experience in that field. This is not a job interview. Rather, it allows you to learn if a certain occupation would be a good fit for you. Once you have found someone to interview, use these tips to gather your information more effectively:

Before interviewing the professional:

  • Develop a list of written questions ahead of your interview and don’t be afraid to refer to them during your scheduled time. Keep the yes/no questions to a minimum, because your goal should be to stimulate discussion rather than receive a series of short answers.
  • Start your interview centered on the person with whom you are interacting by asking such questions as, “How did you become interested in this line of work?” and “What has been your career path to where you are today?”
  • Never begin a conversation by saying, “Tell me about your job.” This is such a broad statement that a person wouldn’t know where to begin to answer you. A more focused question, such as “What do you do during a typical workday?” could help provide a more detailed answer for you.
  • Take notes during your interview. You’ll be surprised at how much you might forget, and you’ll want to recall certain details later.
  • Ask for a tour of the building and examples of work. Take note of the work environment, ways that employees communicate, their attire, etc. Simple cues can explain a lot about what type of workplace it is.
  • Take your résumé with you and use it as an effective method for illustrating your background and work experiences.
  • Be yourself — conversational and friendly — to make this an enjoyable experience for all parties.

Suggested questions to learn about an occupation:

  • What is your educational background? How did you get started in this field?
  • How did you get to where you are today? What are your future career plans?
  • What jobs did you have previous to this?
  • What best prepared you for this position?

Questions about the position you are interviewing for:

  • What do you do during a typical workday?
  • What do you like most or find most interesting about your work? What do you like least about your position?
  • What kinds of problems do you face? What do you find most difficult about the position?
  • What skills or abilities do you find are most important in your work?

Questions about the career field that you are interested in:

  • What are the basic prerequisites for jobs in this field? May I read job descriptions and specifications for some of the positions in this field?
  • What is a typical work environment like for a person in this career area?
  • What is the next level progression for your position? How long does it usually take to move from one step to the next within this career path?
  • Are there other areas of this field to which people in it may be transferred? What are they?

Questions about your career planning and job search:

  • How suited is my background for this field (education, interests, experiences, personality)?
  • Would you recommend any further courses or activities to help prepare me for this field and make me more marketable? Can you suggest any professional organizations that I should join?
  • Can you recommend a relevant trade journal or magazine that I could review to garner more information on this field?
  • Do you have networking suggestions of contacts that I could make, which are currently in this field of work?

After interviewing a professional:

  • Take some time to think about what you learned, your positive and negative impressions, the requirements of the job, and your interests. Remember, work environments and jobs differ tremendously from one place to another, so you need to avoid forming an opinion about the entire field based on only one person’s opinion and job description. Continue seeking out people in the field to meet with, to expand on what you have gained from this interaction, and determine how the knowledge fits with your career goals.
  • Send a follow-up email or a thank you note. The person who you interviewed will appreciate your follow-up, and you will leave a positive impression of yourself. You may want to call again for more information, so keep the lines of communication open.

Learn more about career counseling and make an appointment to speak with someone who can help you with your next career move and the interview process. Contact Penn State World Campus Career Services at careercounseling@outreach.psu.edu for assistance.