You may have thought about several career areas that are of interest to you, and may have a general idea of what professionals in those fields do; however, you may still have many unanswered questions.
- What is a typical day like?
- What are the entry-level positions in that particular industry?
- How can you gain experience?
It is important that you begin to find answers to your questions before making career decisions or pursuing further education. Where can you find the answers? Browsing the internet (e.g., reviewing company information; Canadian association websites) and referring to print resources are a few starting points for your research.
To supplement your preliminary research, the next step is to gather information by talking to people who work in your field(s) of interest. This technique is called INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWING.
The insights gained from an informational interview will help you to make informed decisions, whether you are planning your career or looking for a job. Informational interviews can be useful for students in ALL years of study and disciplines, including new graduates and graduate students.
Please note: Informational interviewing is NOT interviewing for a job – it is a way for you to find useful and specific information that you could not find in books or on the Internet! It is a meeting featuring a conversation about a particular company or industry among you and the person that may be in a position to help you to get information and networking. It can also help you for further job search in the long run. Remember that you are the interviewer during an informational interview
1. The Benefits of Informational Interviewing
- Get a reality check about what a career actually entails and/or decide whether an occupation suits you.
- Gain insider tips regarding what courses to take, what experience is required, and how to market yourself when actively searching for similar positions.
- Develop knowledge of the industry, recent trends and developments, and jargon.
- Build new contacts in your field of interest and further networking.
- Develop communication skills and confidence in meeting/talking with new people.
- Find out career paths you did not know existed and explore new career options.
- Learn more about a particular company, industry and inside information and insights.
2. Getting Started
General information on the company and the occupational area will help structure the questions you would like to ask, helping you get the most specific information. It is crucial that you do some preliminary research before your meeting, as the interviewee will not be impressed if you spend time asking questions that you could have easily found answers for elsewhere. Making a good impression is the key because the contacts you make at this stage may later lead to experience building and/or paid work in the area. However, most contacts would not expect you to know everything about their company or occupation, since this is the primary function of the informational interview.
3. Occupational and Industry Research
Find out as much as you can about the career area and related associations, conferences and/or trade fairs, and anything else that might affect the industry, (such as political decisions and economic factors).
- A great starting point is to use Career Cruising—an electronic career guide available with over 450 careers through the CLNx. Log in using your Utorid and see the Resources Tab. Each career entry features an informational interview of two professionals.
- Use the Career Resource Library and search the UTM Career Centre library e-resource found in CLNx under the Resources Tab.
- Check out the occupational binders, books, and videos in the Career Centre to help you with your research.
4. Company Research
Take the time to investigate your contact’s organization and industry, both general and specific information. This can include a company’s organizational structure or the specific occupations represented in the organization. Visit the company website and read it thoroughly. Another excellent resource for objective company information is Industry Canada.
5. Questions to ask
Brainstorm a list of questions that cover the general information you would like the contact to address such as: “What interested you about this field?” and “What did you study?” This preparatory research is invaluable because you take the lead, have the balance of control and your interviewees will expect you to let them know what information you want.
The next step in this stage is to narrow the focus of your questions. This is necessary as some contacts may have a limited amount of free time to speak with you. Incorporate some of your research into your questions to structure your interview so that you obtain answers that are more detailed. Try asking open-ended questions, not questions that will elicit simply a yes or no answer.
- How did you get into this field? What is your educational background? What was your career path to your current position?
- How did you get your job? What are the other job search methods that are useful in this field? What are typical entry-level positions?
- Are there any courses/types of jobs/volunteer positions you would recommend as preparation for this field?
- Do you think this field is expanding or stable? Are there any significant changes you can foresee regarding this industry?
- Can you give me a description of a typical day?
- What are the challenges and rewards of your position?
- What skills/qualities do I need to be successful?
- Are there associations in the field to contact or professional journals that you recommend subscribing to?
- Whom else might I talk to for more information?
- How does the organization support and encourage equity, diversity and inclusion? Do they have specific programs and opportunities?
6. Finding Contacts
How do you find people who will talk to you? Ask contacts within your network: "Do you know anyone who's working in my field of interest who might speak with me?" This is networking and it will be one of the most important steps of your job search when you get to that stage. (For more on networking, see the Networking Strategies Tip Sheet at the Career Centre). If you are on LinkedIn, this is a great place to start looking for contacts. The following are other sources of potential contacts:
- Professors, friends, family, neighbours—you could be surprised by who they know!
- The Career Centre’s Job Shadowing Program—job shadow someone working in a career area for up to a week. For more details, visit Career Learning Network; upon signing in go to the Resources tab, to Programs, and then to UTM Career Exploration.
- External organizations devoted to mentorship and networking such as 10,000 Coffees. This database is easily located in the Career Learning Network upon signing in, under the ‘Resources’ tab.
- LinkedIn Alumni Tool – you can access over 300,000 University of Toronto Alumni by reviewing the University of Toronto school page and selecting 'alumni'.
- Related associations and company directories—the Career Resource Library has a diverse collection of directories available for your use. Professional trade journals/newspapers and fairs (e.g. Career Centre events/panels, association events, etc.).
7. Arranging the Interview
When reaching out to call your contact, explain that you are preparing to make some career decisions by researching potential occupations. Although this is not a job interview, remember you are to leave an impression by being courteous, prepared, and informed. This person may pass your name along to a colleague who is in a position to hire in the future.
8. What to Do If You Are Nervous
Many people feel shy or apprehensive about doing informational interviews. Here are some tips to help overcome that nervousness and fear: practice interviewing with someone you know, have a friend read over your questions, ask for suggestions from family and friends, or set up an appointment to meet with a Career Counsellor or an Employment Strategist at the Career Centre for help in preparing. While an informational interview is more formal than a regular conversation, it is not as formal as a job interview. Most people enjoy talking about their careers and are eager to help!
9. Things To Keep In Mind
Pay attention to the duration of your meeting. Remember employers are very busy and can only talk for a specific amount of time. Ask for 20 minutes maximum to chat and manage your time to stick to it!
- Practice engaged and active listening to demonstrate your interest.
- Thank the person(s) for their time, both verbally and in a thank-you follow-up email.
- Do not ask to submit a resume; remember the purpose of this is to gain information and networking. However, if the employer requests, you can provide one.
- Informational Interview Handbook: Essential Strategies to Find the Right Career and a Great New Job by Jeff Neil (2017) - available in the Career Resource Library
- Information Interviewing Tutorial: Live Career's site provides an in-depth tutorial to help you master the art of informational interviewing.
Please note that this information is subject to change.
Updated June 6, 2023.