How to Master an Effective Informational Interview

Changing careers…it’s a big step! Do you wonder what a particular career change specialty would actually be like? Wish you could start your career on a successful path, with low risk and high payoffs? Following is an informational interview outline that my career change clients have used thousands of times in their career exploration and career research processes, with excellent results:

Step 1: Introduce yourself and your purpose:

“My name is NAME, and I’m considering changing careers. Currently I work in CURRENT SPECIALTY, and I’m researching careers that may be a better match for me. Your work is interesting to me, and I’d like to learn more about it.”

Step 2: Describe the agenda and gain permission:

“I have between five and ten questions I’d like to ask you about your work. It should take between 15 and 30 minutes. Would it be okay if I take notes about what you tell me?”

Step 3: Ask enlightening, fun-to-answer questions:

How did you get into this career?
What do you like about it? How does your career connect to things you like to do?
What are the downsides?
What does a typical day or week look like for you?
What skills or talents help you succeed in your work?
What sort of training is helpful?
How do people enter this line of work?
What are typical pay ranges for entry level, mid level, and senior level experience?
Who else do you respect in this line of work that I should also interview?
If I have further questions about your work in the future, may I contact you again?

Step 4: Listen, take notes, and ask for clarification:

As you’re conversing with the specialist, it’s especially important to keep the focus on the person you’re interviewing. As a guideline, the person you’re interviewing should be talking 75% or more of the time.


Step 5: After the interview, send a thank you note, and follow up with anyone to whom you’ve been referred:

Sample informational interview thank you note:

“Dear THEIR NAME, Thank you for taking the time to share information about your career. It was extremely interesting, and will be very helpful in my career planning. Thank you also for your suggestion to interview REFERRAL NAME. I look forward to talking with him in the near future. If I can ever return a favor, please let me know. Sincerely, YOUR NAME.”

Excerpted and adapted from “Career Coward’s Guide to Changing Careers” by Katy Piotrowski, M.Ed.