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Networking + Social Distancing = The Informational Interview

Looking prepared and professional for on-line Career Fair

Yes, you can take steps to prepare for life after college, even in these times of uncertainty. Talking to people and asking questions remains a great way to explore your options, now more than ever when many people are working from home, and feeling isolated and discombobulated.

“Informational Interviewing” is the term career counselors use for scheduling a specific conversation with someone to learn more about what they do for a living and the organization where they do it. It’s a time-honored technique for career exploration and networking, and if you ask a working professional for an informational interview, they’ll know what you’re talking about.

You can ask anyone for an informational interview. Start with the network you already have, and then think about people you would like to add to it.

  • What organizations or companies would you like to work for? Try to think beyond the big names that you’re familiar with (Google, Apple) to the kinds of goods and services
  • What kinds of missions, goals, activities would you like to be a part of?
  • What kinds of people would you like to work with every day? What are the activities you’d like to have as part of your everyday work?
  • What are some job titles/descriptions you’ve heard that you’d like to know more about?

Use LinkedIn, company websites, Twitter and Instagram, Google searches to identify people you would like to reach out to.

Our cold email template/guide can help you write an effective email to ask for an informational interview — but ask for a phone, Facetime, or Skype conversation, not a face to face meeting. If you’re contacting someone you’ve met through a social media platform like LinkedIn or Twitter, it might be more effective to contact them through that platform rather than by email — but include an email so they can respond that way if they prefer.

Preparation is the difference between an informational interview that feels like an empty exercise and an informational interview that helps you make meaningful connection. Only ask for an informational interview if the person you’re contacting has information that you value. Networking is about building relationships, not about using people to get a job. Do enough research that you can ask questions that can best be answered by a person, not by a Google search.

Reach out widely. It’s impossible to know in advance which interviews will produce a meaningful connection and which may prove to be a dead end because you just don’t “click” with the person, or learn from the interview enough to rule out that career path. The more people you talk to, the more likely you are to significantly expand your network. Also, think broadly: a humanities degree can take you in a lot of different directions, and creativity and open-mindedness in thinking about potential paths can serve you well. If you’ve fantasized about starting a vegan bakery, or working as a park ranger, or becoming a health care professional, you can probably find someone who can talk to you about what that career is really like.

In my experience, many working professionals (particularly alumni) are generous in sharing their time and insight with students — they’ve been where you are! It’s a weird time for everyone, though, and your approach to expanding your network should take that into account. The people you’re reaching out to may be dealing with illness, loss, or professional disappointment in their own lives. People may not respond because they’re preoccupied or recently laid off or just not checking their email. Don’t feel like you have to develop a new “professional” brain lobe or carapace that can interact with the world as if these things weren’t happening. We’re all in this together.

Please reach out the HPRC staff (humanitiesprc@illinois.edu) for advice and support on your cold emails or strategy.