What are Informational Interviews?
An informational interview is a career exploration activity involving a structured interaction between a student and an employee, usually over the phone or by video conference. The interview is guided by the student’s interest in learning more about a specific career and/or employer organization. The interviews can help students set career goals and focus future career exploration and education plans.
The skills developed through informational interviews are critical to learning how to seek information and interact professionally with employers. They are also a foundation for learning how to engage in a job interview. Because these skills are so important, informational interviews are often a pre-requisite activity for job shadowing or internships. Significant preparation and guidance are provided to students prior to their interviews.
The student’s primary roles are to prepare for and request the interview, schedule a time for the interview, conduct the interview, thank the interviewee, reflect on the interview, and share thoughts on the experience in the classroom.
Which Students Participate in Informational Interviews?
Informational interviews are conducted by students engaged in career exploration and are intended to help them further refine their career interests for subsequent exploration and preparation activities. Typically, this level of career exploration and interaction with employees involves early high school students who already have participated in some career awareness activities. As with other career awareness and exploration activities, informational interviews should reflect the student’s desire to learn more about specific career fields and the education needed for entry and success in them.
How are Informational Interviews Structured?
Typically, students identify professionals in the careers in which they are interested and conduct interviews over the phone or by video conference. Informational interviews range from 15 to 30 minutes and may precede or be integrated into an activity such as job shadowing.
While there are no prescriptive guidelines, the usual components of an informational interview are:
- Introduction and purpose of the interview.
- Questions about the interviewee’s employer, industry, and career and the education required for entry and success in a similar career.
- Conclusion with a recap of highlights of what the student learned and thanks for participation.
Unlike some other WBL activities, students play a leading role in scheduling and conducting informational interviews.
Successful informational interviews require collaboration, communication, and preparation by the WBL coordinator, school administrators, teachers, employers, and students.
Planning for informational interviews should begin at least two months prior to the time period targeted for this activity. As noted in the Introduction, the following steps should be followed when implementing informational interviews.
- Work with school administrators and teachers to plan for informational interviews.
- Collect information on student career interests to use in identifying potential interviewees.
- Inform the employer community that students will be reaching out to make interview contacts during a certain time period.
- Have teachers prepare students for the informational interviews, including helping them identify candidate interview subjects.
- Have students contact employers and make arrangements for their interviews.
- Have students conduct the informational interviews.
- Have teachers provide structured opportunities for students to reflect with their peers.
- Obtain evaluations from students.
- Recognize participating stakeholders.
The following text provides more detailed descriptions of these steps, presented in the form of a time line. The time line is flexible and can be condensed, but proper student and employer preparation is important.
Note: Throughout this manual, the term WBL coordinator (typically REA staff member) is used to refer to the individual responsible for planning and implementing WBL activities. Depending on the activity and context, stakeholders from school sites (counselors, teachers, and administrative staff) may be involved. The WBL coordinator should be sure to use the WBL database, as described in the Introduction, to track employer and school contact information as well as the tasks each has agreed to carry out with respect to informational interviews.
The WBL coordinator should refer to the overall WBL plan (as described in the Introduction), if there is one, to be sure that the informational interview activities are coordinated with other WBL activities for the same school(s) and the same students. For this particular WBL activity, most of the coordination can be done by school staff, with the WBL coordinator focusing on the employer outreach process.
Note: The WBL coordinator is assumed to be responsible for completing or assigning each of the tasks listed below, except where otherwise noted.
Two to three months before the informational interviews
- (School staff) Identify which students or which classrooms of students will conduct informational interviews.
- (School staff) Determine the time frame, typically one to two weeks, in which students will reach out to employers and conduct interviews. Allow sufficient time for student preparation, using the Roads to Success materials listed below or other resources.
- (School staff) Determine how many informational interviews each student should be expected to conduct.
- (School staff) Take responsibility for determining how students should obtain permission to miss a class if interviews are scheduled during class time. A sample form for obtaining teacher permission to miss a class in order to conduct an interview is provided in the Resources section. Decide whether to send a notice to parents/guardians to let them know that some students may conduct their interviews from home.
- (School staff) Play a facilitating role, because informational interviews are student-led activities. Establish the process for students to use to reach out to employers (via phone or email) to schedule and conduct interviews, and ensure that they have access to the tools (telephones and/or computers) to do so. If some students are struggling to schedule an interview, then school staff or the WBL coordinator may assist them.
- Begin outreach to employers, first to make them aware that they may be hearing from students seeking informational interviews and encouraging them to participate. This can be accomplished by asking employer organizations such as chambers of commerce to alert their members, placing an item in a school newsletter, asking school staff to reach out to their contacts, and/or by sending emails to the contacts in the WBL database. A sample email is provided in the Resources section. While students are responsible for finding their own interview subjects, the WBL coordinator can help by compiling a list of people who respond to the WBL coordinator’s email and volunteer to participate, have served as interview subjects before, or have demonstrated their interest in working with students by participating in other WBL activities.
- (Teachers) Begin to prepare students in class by introducing the informational interview experience.
- Refer to Roads to Success, Grade 11, Job Shadow 5, and Informational Interview 1 for useful lesson plans.
- (Teachers) Introduce students to the concepts of listening and asking questions.
- Refer to Roads to Success, Grade 7, Careers 8, Listening and Asking Questions for useful lesson plans and activities.
- Refer to Student Handbook – Be a Better Listener and Student Handbook-Career Fair for additional resources.
 The term “teachers” should be taken to include counselors, career advisors, and REA staff.
One month before the informational interview
- (Students) Begin outreach to employers by calling the employers in which they are interested, using a script to determine who in the company might be available to interview. A sample phone call script for students can be located in the Resources section. Of course, if a student or the WBL coordinator has already identified an individual employee who is likely to be willing to be interviewed, the student may call the employee directly. This can be accomplished in class if students use their own phones or the school will need to make phones available to students for this purpose.
- (Teachers) Have students begin to prepare and practice interview techniques.
- Refer to Roads to Success, Grade 11, Job Shadow 5, Informational Interview 1, Student Handbook, Got Questions?
- Mine the WBL database to help students who have trouble securing informational interviews.
- Schedule computer lab time, if needed, for student research and outreach to employers.
- Send the employer checklist (sample in Resources section) to confirmed interview subjects to help them prepare to be interviewed.
One week before the informational interview
- (Teachers) Continue student preparation by having them write and revise their interview questions and practice interviews in class.
- (School staff) Make sure students have appropriate quiet places to conduct their phone or video conference interviews.
One day before the informational interview
- (Students) Send confirmation emails to their interview subjects with the date, time, and duration of the interview as well as confirming the telephone number at which the interviewee can be reached.
- (Teachers) Make sure students have completed their interview questions and have paper or a computer handy for taking notes.
Day of the informational interview
- (Students) Make their calls, conduct the interviews, and take notes for later reflection.
- (School staff) Make sure there is an adult standing by to assist students during the interviews, if necessary.
One day to one week after the informational interview
- (Students) Send thank-you emails or notes to interviewees Teachers should review the emails before they are sent.
- (Students) Complete an evaluation of their experience with the informational interview and turn it in to their teachers. A sample evaluation form is provided in the Resources section.
- (Teachers) Conduct student reflection activities in class and compile written reflections for dissemination to all participating students (and their teachers).
- Refer to Roads to Success, Grade 11, Unit 4, Job Shadow 7, Reflection and Thank-You Note for helpful lessons.
- Collect and review student evaluations and make note of any feedback that could be used to improve the informational interview experience in the future.
- Follow up with employers by sending a thank-you email, sharing some of the student comments that demonstrate the impact of their participation, and soliciting informal feedback on how the interviews went.
- Recognize participating employers. There are often annual celebrations honoring employers who have participated in WBL activities.
(Forms can be printed with more space for responses.)
- Email to employers
- Teacher permission for class absence
- Informational interview outreach