Curiosity & Careers: How Informational Interviewing Can Build Your Network

By Sharon Fleshman

Wherever you are in the career planning process, it never hurts to chat with people in careers that have piqued your curiosity.  Informational interviewing is a great way to build your network, gather helpful insight on a career, and receive advice on moving into that career.  Assuming that they don’t have major time constraints, most people are glad to talk about the work they do and offer their own perspective on what it takes to be successful in their field.  Why not schedule some interviews during the summer?   Here are some tips to get you started:

1) Be open to the many opportunities to engage people.

You may want to start with Penn alumni, who are generally happy to help.  The Penn Alumni Career Network (PACNet) was designed expressly for the purpose of facilitating informational interviews. The alumni advisors have volunteered to speak with Penn students and other Penn alumni, so don’t be shy about contacting them. You can also identify alumni with careers of interest by way of LinkedIn alumni groups and Penn Regional Alumni clubs.

Don’t feel like you are limited to alumni.  It is often tempting to overlook those closest to you, such as family, friends of the family, and relatives of friends.  If you have a summer internship, check with your supervisor to see if you can sit down with managers and other employees who are working in other areas that interest you.  Peruse the website of an organization that you respect and see if you can locate staff biographies and identify those doing work that you could see yourself doing in the future; if any Penn alumni are working there, all the better.

Once you develop a list of potential contacts, send an e-mail message introducing yourself and stating how you became aware of the person’s work.  Mention that you have developed an interest in the contact’s career field and that you would like to talk with him/her for 30 minutes to glean insight and advice.  Informational interviews can be conducted by phone or in person, depending on what is most convenient.

2) Prepare well.

Once the informational interview is scheduled, make sure to read up on basic information about the career field as well as the organization at which your contact works.  Good preparation is key to asking thoughtful and focused questions that spark informative and engaging conversation and leave a great impression.  Helpful sample questions are available on the Career Services website and career counselors are available to help with preparation. Though you will not be going to a job interview, professionalism is still important. If you are meeting your contact in person, be clear on what attire is appropriate and where the contact’s office is located. If you are talking over the phone, you should be in a quiet place during the interview.  Be sure to send a thank you note after the interview, and keep in touch periodically.

3) Respect the boundaries.

It is crucial to remember that an informational interview is neither a job interview nor the venue to ask for one.  The purpose of an informational interview is to gather information and advice as well as more networking contacts.   That being said, a contact who is very impressed with you may choose to offer additional job search assistance at his or her discretion.

4) Enjoy!

Informational interviewing allows for an intentional conversation where there is relatively little pressure to convince someone that you are totally committed to a given career or the best fit for a job.  The process offers a great opportunity for you to learn from another’s experiences and get clarity regarding your own career goals. It can be one of the more enjoyable aspects of networking, even for those who typically see networking as a daunting task.

Author: Sharon

Sharon Fleshman is the Senior Associate Director of Career Services for students in Education, Nursing and Social Policy & Practice.