Informational Interviewing

An informational interview, or career conversation, is a chat with someone who can give you an insider’s perspective on a profession, employer, or industry.

These conversations allow you to:

  • Talk to knowledgeable individuals about your career interests
  • Research a particular career path
  • Enlist expert guidance
  • Share your goals
  • Position yourself as a potential candidate for the future

Reaching Out Via Email, Phone or LinkedIn

The most common way to make the first connection with a networking contact is in writing, e.g., via email or through a message sent through LinkedIn. In some circumstances, as with a family friend or former employer, a phone call is appropriate. In both cases, your initial contact should set the stage for future conversations.

The first contact should address the following:

  • Who you are (provide a brief introduction of yourself and any referral or friend in common)
  • Why this contact (say why you are writing to this individual in particular and give a brief explanation of your interests or experiences in the person’s field, organization, or geographic location)
  • What you’re requesting (offer a quick sense of the information and advice you’d like to get and set expectations for timing, i.e., a 15-30 minute Zoom meeting, phone call, or in-person meeting if appropriate. Note: an informational interview/career conversation is NOT the right time to ask for an internship or job)

After sending your initial message, be proactive in arranging the meeting. This may involve an email to arrange your Zoom meeting, phone appointment or in-person meeting. Here’s a sample message requesting a conversation:

Sample Networking Email/LinkedIn Message

Subject line: Request from Tufts Friedman student — time for short career conversation?

Dear [Name],

I hope this finds you well. I’m pursuing my MS in Agriculture, Food & Environment at the Tufts Friedman School, and I found your name in the Friedman School Alumni Association group on LinkedIn. From your LinkedIn profile, I see that you’ve worked at a variety of NGOs, most recently at The Food Project. As my past work experience and current studies include the intersection of urban gardening and youth development, I’d love to connect and hear more about your background. 

Would it be possible to meet for 20 – 30 minutes via Zoom or phone? If so, I’d be very grateful for your time. 

Thank you for considering my request.

Sincerely,
Your Name

Sample Questions for Career Conversations

In these types of conversations, you will be asking the majority of the questions. Think about what you can learn from this person and what kind of information and advice will help you in your career journey. It is important to prepare your questions in advance. Have approximately 10-15 questions for a half-hour conversation.

Other questions may arise during the conversation itself, but it’s possible the person you’re interviewing will have short answers and you’ll be happy to have some extra questions to keep the conversation going.

  • Sample Questions
    • Which jobs and experiences have been most helpful in preparing you for your current position?
    • Which particular skills or talents are most essential to be effective in your job?
    • How would you describe your work environment and the people you work with?
    • From your perspective, what are the challenges of working in this field?
    • Which courses and activities have proven most valuable in your work?
    • What kinds of experiences would you encourage for someone pursuing a career in this field?
    • Which skills are the most important to highlight during my job search?
    • (If you feel comfortable and it seems appropriate:) Would you mind taking a look at my resume?
  • Two Golden Questions to Close With
    • If you were in my position, with an interest in _____, what steps would you take today?
    • Based on my interest in _____, who else should I be talking to?

Show Your Appreciation

Immediately following your conversation, send a brief thank you email. Cite particularly helpful advice from your contact, new decisions you’ve made as a result of the meeting, and/or how you plan to follow-up with next steps.

Here is a sample thank you message.

Sample thank you message (email)

Subject line: Thank you for our recent conversation

Dear [Name],

I learned a great deal about [company or organization name] in our conversation yesterday and it affirmed my interest in learning more about food biotechnology. I especially enjoyed hearing about your graduate studies in biotech and the courses you found valuable. 

Based on our talk, I plan to contact [First Last Name] for information about her experience at [Company Name]. Thank you so much for this referral, and I’ll keep you updated on my progress.

I appreciate your assistance and willingness to speak with me.

Sincerely,
Your Name

Keep the Ball Rolling

Reflect on the conversation. Go back over your notes to make sure the information is clear. Also, make note of any impressions you have from the conversation.

Ask Yourself:

  • What did I learn from this conversation?
  • How does what I learned fit with my own interests, abilities, goals, values, etc.?
  • What more would be helpful to know?
  • What plan of action should I take next?

Be sure to contact anyone your networking contact referred you to. Within the first few sentences, mention your mutual connection as well as any particular reason your original contact thought this person might be helpful to you.

Stay in touch with your networking contacts over time, keeping them up to date on your progress. If a referral or suggestion was particularly helpful, be sure to let them know.