Informational Interviews

Reaching Out to Alumni for Advice and Insights

William and Mary alumni typically enjoy helping one another and students. Tapping into this wealth of experience and wisdom is one of the most effective strategies for your personal career development there is. The most effecient way to identify and contact alumni you want to talk to is to use LinkedIn.  
Note: Alumni can be information resources for you—it is not appropriate to solicit them for funds or sales leads! The conversations you have with alumni are called 'informational interviews'.

Talk to alumni about their majors, about the internships they did, about the skills they think is important for you to pick up. Find out why their work is personally meaningful for them. Ask them where you should be looking for internships and jobs in their career fields. Stay in touch with the alumni you talk to!

Are you feeling too shy to approach a total stranger? We have information to get you started!

Still Hesitating to Contact an Alum?

Search the 'members' tab in the LinkedIn groups you've joined to send a message directly to individuals at no charge.

Remember, this alum ASKED to be put in this database because he or she WANTS to talk to you!  Your initial contact will be through the Tribe Connections group on LinkedIn.  Keep it brief and personalize it -- nobody likes to get something that looks like spam!:
"I'm a W&M sophomore, and would like to talk to you about your experiences in the xyz career field."
"I'm a W&M senior planning to move to your city to conduct my job search.  I'd like 15 minutes of your time to get insights about living in and job searching in xyz city ."
"I'm a W&M junior planning to go into xyz, and would like to ask you about your graduate degree program.  I'm trying to decide between it and xyz."

Etiquette—Dos and Don'ts of Informational Interviewing

Remember that the goal is to have a real conversation with someone. If you can at all arrange a face-to-face meeting, that would be ideal. Failing that, a telephone conversation. You might wind up just exchanging emails through the Tribe Connections system initially. 

  • Don't ask for a job -- even if you are bursting to do so! You could, however, say something like this: "I really enjoyed meeting with you and learning about your television station and what a producer does. WGJX is the kind of setting where I would like to work. Do you know of stations with a similar work culture that I might contact?" 
  • Do send a thank-you note/email immediately, referencing some point or bit of information from your discussion
  • Do stay in touch!  Your goal here is to build relationships with people, not have a series of one-off conversations.         

Keep it light and breezy:  "Thanks for talking to me last spring about xyz; I was able to xyz with the information."  "I see that congress has xyz; how is that impacting your mission?"  "I found this blog article, and thought you'd find it interesting."  "I'm going to the xyz conference, will I be able to meet you there?"

  • Do research the field/industry/organization you're exploring so you have good questions to ask. You want to make a good impression on these people you are meeting.
  • Do schedule about 30 minutes for the interview and be aware of the time. Watch for cues that it's time to leave, such as glancing at a watch, or winding down a conversation. 
  • Do dress as if you're going to a job interview or as professionals in this type of work would dress. You don't want to embarrass yourself or your contact. Do pay attention to your thoughts, body signals, and reactions during the interview. If you feel energetic and excited, this type of atmosphere may suit you. If you feel bored or tired, perhaps this isn't a match. 
  • Don't book too many interviews back-to-back. Allow flexibility in case your contact chooses to spend more time with you or to introduce you to others. 
  • Do ask for names of more people to contact, and if it's okay to use his/her name when you contact others.
Sample Informational Interview Questions
Preparation

What preparation is necessary for entry level jobs in this field?

How important is graduate school in this field? 

Could you recommend some courses that I should be taking now in preparation for a career in this field? 

How does your education and experience relate to what you are doing now? 

How did you get into this field and into this position? What are some alternative routes into the field? What kind of background, training, special programs or other learning experiences does one need to enter the field? 

What professional journals, books, newspapers or publications do people in your field generally read? Are any professional associations particularly influential? 

Is there any advice you would give someone just entering the field, maybe something that you wish someone had mentioned when you were starting?

Lifestyle

What kind of "lifestyle" choices have you had to make? How many hours do you work in a typical week? Do you take work home at night?

Is travel involved in your job and if so, how often are you traveling?

What is the typical salary range for an entry-, mid-, and upper-level position?

Do you need to dress in a particular way?

Has your work experience differed very much from what you imagined it would be? In what way?

Job Outlook

Do you anticipate employment in this field to grow, decrease, or remain stable?

What are the opportunities for advancement? Is there a high turnover rate and if so, why?

What types of employers hire people in your line of work?

You mentioned that you made a transition into this field from another career path. How difficult was this?

What job choices are there within this field and to what types of other organizations can one move?

Job Routine

Describe how you spend your time during a typical work day/week.

What major satisfactions do you derive from working in this field?

What are some of the issues/problems that you must deal with in your work?

(If you are interested in the company the alumnus is working for) Could you tell me a little about the management style here? How are promotions decided? What does one need in order to be successful in this field?

Job Search Techniques

What strategies would you be using if you were in a job search for a position in this field?

Would you mind reviewing my resume and giving me feedback on it?

What types of questions should I expect when interviewing for a job in this field?

Could you give me the names of others who might tell me more about your field? May I say you suggested I contact them?