Informational Interviews: Dos and Don’ts for Job Seekers

Written by
Emily Tobey

Mar 28, 2023

Mar 28, 2023 • by Emily Tobey

You’ve probably heard about informational interviews and why you should seek them out. Informational interviews are a great way to learn about careers in different fields, careers in a field you are already interested in, or careers at a specific company, organization, or institution. They are also helpful for making valuable contacts. But do you know how to make the most of the opportunity? Here are some dos and don’ts that can make all the difference in how successful your informational interviews will be.


1. Be prepared: Research the company and individual in advance and come prepared with a list of thoughtful questions. It’s fine to develop a standard list of questions (see below) as a starting place for these interviews, but you must tailor them based on your research. Show that you have done your homework and are genuinely interested in learning more about the place and the person in front of you.

2. Dress appropriately: While this is not a job interview, you should still maintain the same level of professionalism you would if it were. Dress in professional attire that is appropriate for the industry and company culture. Show the interviewee that you are taking the interview seriously.

3. Be on time: Arrive to the interview early. You should be ready to sit down with the interviewee as soon as they are ready for you, and you will be more relaxed and confident if you are not rushing in at the last minute.

4. Know how to begin: According to the internship and career center at the University of California, Davis, you should “[s]tart by thanking your contact for taking the time to meet with you, then establish a rapport by engaging in a bit of small talk. After that, give a short introduction of who you are and why you sought them out, then start with your prioritized questions.”

5. Demonstrate your interest: Be enthusiastic and engaged. Be an active listener. Try to make this a conversation rather than simply an ask-and-answer session.

6. Take notes: While this may be an informal interview, you’ll want to take notes to remember key points and to show you value the time the interviewee is giving you.

7. Show your appreciation: While you are not applying for a specific job, the interviewee might be a valuable contact going forward, and you’ll want the person to remember you in a positive light, especially if a future opportunity arises at the person’s workplace. Thank the interviewee sincerely and follow up immediately with a thank-you note or an email. And, as LinkedIn recommends, “[I]f you follow any advice that the interviewee suggests (and have positive results), always loop back around and let them know what happened. Most people love knowing that they've provided sound counsel. Also, this gives you another opportunity to build rapport.”


1. Ask yes or no questions: Open-ended questions will keep the conversation flowing and provide you with more information.

2. Be lazy: Don’t ask questions that an Internet search could have answered. Show the interviewee you value their time.

3. Make it all about you: You are not selling yourself for a job. And you are not here to unload your worries or complain about the challenges of academia. Keep your introduction short and focus on your questions and the insight this contact can provide.

4. Overstay your welcome: This person made time in their busy day for you. Work around their schedule and try to get what you need in twenty to thirty minutes, unless they ask you to meet for longer.

5. Ask for a job: Feel free to ask if you can leave your résumé for their files. Don’t ask if there are any positions open or if you can speak to someone in the hiring department. Keep the reason you are here at the forefront of your mind and don’t be tempted to veer off that course.

Now that you know the dos and don’ts of informational interviews, here are some sample questions from the Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC) to get you started on formulating your own list:

• How did you get into this career?

• What past work experiences helped you the most?

• What do you love about this career?

• What are your biggest challenges within your role/field?

• What current projects are you working on?

• What is it like to work for this organization?

For more details about finding people to interview and how to make contact with them, read “Informational Interviews: Why and How on the MLA Job List blog. Informational interviews are a great way to learn about a field or a career you are interested in, and they are also great opportunities for building a network and making valuable connections. If you prepare well and conduct yourself professionally, your interviewee might even remember you when a position opens up, giving you a head start in the interview process.