Informational Interviewing: How to interview people to inform career decisions

Deciding what career journey to embark on is one of the most important decisions you can make. Some of the information you receive will be fair, reasonable, accurate. Some will be biased, selective, wrong. Chances are you will romanticise your idea of your chosen career, seeing the best, most admirable, most appealing elements while downplaying or ignoring the less attractive features.

Interviewing people who work in your chosen field will bring balance, alert you to pros and cons, to the reality of daily life in that field. You’ll also learn about trends, changes, barriers to overcome. With this additional information you can make a more informed decision and possibly adjust your decision.

You may have already heard that talking to people and asking questions is a good idea. But how do you go about doing that? It’s not necessarily straightforward.

Informational interviews are those interviews a person conducts to seek first-hand information about a field of work. While there is abundant web information about informational interviews, in general it tends to:

  • Focus on students
  • Be concerned with private companies
  • Provide a list of questions without structure
  • Recommend open-ended questions
  • Give a broad over-view without providing in-depth information about the art of interviewing.

Informational Interviewing is useful to a wide range of people interested in a cross-section of organisations and workplace contexts. Conducting  a useful interview is more than asking a bunch of questions. Plus there are many types of questions that are useful to ask. It depends on your purpose and what you want to know. Gaining information is only one aspect of a useful question. Other aspects that will make your questions useful are:

  • Do they open up possibilities, options, alternatives you hadn’t previously thought about?
  • Do they dig deeper rather than rest at the surface level of information.
  • Do they give insights that prompt reflection on your part?

And to gain the most value from an informational interview you need to have a plan based on research and carefully crafted questions, combined with elevated listening skills.

My new ebook on informational interviewing is a useful tool for early and late career decision-makers, employers, career storytellers, career expo presenters and attendees, career development practitioners, and journalists who want to interview people, or provide information, about their careers.

This ebook is designed to help you do the research, identify who to talk to, what questions to ask and how. And it’s not just about asking questions. The skill lies in identifying the range of questions and what probing to do when you hear the answers.

Providing a library of 170 questions under 15 headings, this ebook explains why informational interviews are important, how they help with career decisions, how to plan an informational interview, and how to craft useful question across 11 question types.

The ebook sets out how to go about informational interviewing, providing a four-part structure:

  • Research – Establish the who and why of the interview.
  • Logistics – Establish any details about where and when you will meet this person, what you will need to take with you.
  • Interview structure – Establish a logical progression to your interview.
  • Post-interview – Follow-up, records, action.

Informational Interviewing: How to interview people to inform career decisions, by  Dr Ann Villiers, Published by Mental Nutrition, 2014, ebook. Visit the Product Store.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.