- Gather firsthand information about the job: duties, skills and training needed, working conditions, etc.
- Confirm information gathered from published sources. This is important, because the qualification requirements, earnings, and the labor market for some jobs will vary by location.
- Get information not found in published sources. This could be information that was missing completely or information that was not specific enough to be helpful. For example, a description of a professional job may say that a university degree is a necessary qualification. What type of degree (liberal arts, science, professional, or graduate)? Where can you find more information about admission to the necessary program(s)? An interview with a job-expert may provide some final answers and will almost certainly help you find out where you can get answers to any remaining questions.
- Find out about related jobs. This will help you further expand your search within an area of interest. For instance, in an interview with an electrical engineer you might ask what are the differences and similarities between an electrical engineer and an electrician. You could also ask in an open ended way if the interviewee knows of related jobs you might consider.
- Get directions to more information. This could mean contact names for other interviews, with people in related jobs. You might also find out about more published sources of information.
Who to interview?
- Job experts. That is, anyone who is knowledgeable about a job you're looking into. People currently working in the job are excellent sources, as are their supervisors. Those who work closely with people in a given job (either as customers, coworkers, or suppliers) provide a unique, but limited, perspective. Also instructors from universities and community colleges teaching (and maybe working) in related fields can be a good source of realistic job information.
How do you find people to interview?
- Start with people you know (friends, relatives, people in your community). Contacting someone to ask them about their work is much easier if you already know them.
- Find out who your immediate contacts know. Even if you don't already know someone working in a particular job one of your friends or relatives might. Ask your contacts if they know anyone who works in any of the jobs about which you're gathering information. Be clear that you are exploring particular areas of interest broadly. Your contacts should feel free to mention people working in related jobs, rather than only those working under a specific job title.
- Find your own contacts. You may find that even after thoroughly networking you may not have found someone to interview for every job. Many people find contacting someone they don't already know more difficult than contacting a friend or relative. However, once you make one contact it often leads to more (if you ask). To make a new contact with no leads look to industry associations, trade magazines, who's who directories, and even your local telephone book to find names of people who might provide good information.
- Develop a contact network. This is the process that has already been described. Begin with people you know, make contacts, and ask for referrals. When contacting someone to whom you've been referred remember that although the person may not know you, they probably do know the person who referred you. The referring person could be someone you knew already or someone you just met through your information search. You may want to drop or mention the name of the referring person when introducing yourself. It sometimes helps get your foot in the door.
- Start the process! Begin with the easiest interviews, people you already know. This will give you a chance to practice interviewing in a relatively non-threatening environment. Even starting with only a few contacts, you'll be surprised how many leads you will find.
How to conduct an information interview?
- Speak to your contact. Get in touch with the person you wish to interview. Let them know who you are (if they don't already know), who referred you (or where you found their name), and why you are calling. Ask the person if they would mind answering a few questions about careers similar to their own.
- The person may be willing to help you, but you should try to find a time and place convenient for them. Telephone interviews at an appointed time might be possible for squeezing into even the busiest schedules. Don't expect to have your questions answered on the spot, but be prepared just in case right now is the most convenient time for your interviewee!
- Preparing for the interview. Make a list of questions to make sure you get the information you need about the job. The Job Information Checklist is only a start. Use published sources to gather initial information and refine the questions based on this. This will help you get the most out of your interview. Why ask in an interview something you could have easily found in a book? Instead use the interview to confirm the accuracy of the information you gathered, answer more specific questions about the job, qualifications, and working conditions. The interviewee may also guide you to additional sources of information. Use these to prepare for the next interview (if any) with someone else in this, or a related, job.
- Conducting the interview. Remember, the person you're about to interview is doing you a favor. Respect them and their time. Be on time and dress appropriately (you probably don't need to wear a tuxedo or ball gown, but ripped jeans may not be appropriate, either). Conduct the interview in a semi-structured manner. That simply means having a list of things you want to learn about the job, but also allowing your interviewee the opportunity to share information with you as they see fit. Avoid asking questions they simply answer with a Yes or No.
- Follow up. Send your interviewee a Thank You note expressing your appreciation for their help and their time. It only takes a few minutes and you'll probably agree that they deserve it. It may also prove helpful later if you decide to search for a job in that area. Information interviews are also good ways to make contacts with people who may have, or know of, job openings.