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. 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 pre-requisite activities for job shadows or internships. Significant preparation and guidance should be 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 employee interviewed, 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 employees in the careers in which they are interested and conduct interviews over the phone or by video conference. Informational interviews typically 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 employer, industry, and career of the employee interviewed as well as the education required for entry and success in a similar career.
- Conclusion with a recap of highlights of what the student learned and thank you for the employee’s participation.
Unlike some other WBL activities, students play a leading role in scheduling and conducting informational interviews.
 In this chapter, the term employee is assumed to encompass a wide range of workers, including solo practitioners in fields ranging from law and medicine to skilled trades and the arts.
Successful informational interviews require collaboration, communication, and preparation by the WBL coordinator, school administrators, teachers, employers and their employees, 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 students’ career interests to use in identifying employees to interview.
- 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 employers who can provide names of employees to interview.
- Have students contact employers or employees and make arrangements for their interviews.
- Have students conduct the informational interviews with employees.
- Have teachers provide structured opportunities for students to reflect with their peers.
- Obtain evaluations from students.
- Recognize participating stakeholders.
The following pages provide 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, a district or school 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 employers, schools, and 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
Begin outreach to employers to make them aware that they may be hearing from students seeking informational interviews and encourage them to participate. This can be accomplished by asking chambers of commerce, other industry and trade associations, and service clubs to alert their members, placing an item in a local newspaper or school newsletter, asking school staff to reach out to their contacts, and/or 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 employees to interview, the WBL coordinator can help by compiling a list of people who have responded to the WBL coordinator’s email and volunteered to participate, have participated in informational interviews in the past, or have demonstrated their interest in working with students by participating in other WBL activities.
- (School staff) Identify which students or classes will conduct informational interviews.
- (School staff) Determine the time frame, typically one to two weeks, in which students will reach out to employers/employees and conduct interviews. Allow sufficient time for student preparation.
- (School staff) Determine how many informational interviews each student should be expected to conduct.
- (School staff) Determine 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 or employees (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 interviews, school staff or the WBL coordinator may assist them.
- (Teachers) Begin to prepare students in class by introducing:
- The purpose and benefits of informational interviews.
- Strategies for listening effectively and asking appropriate questions.
- What to include in questions for informational interviews.
One month before the informational interviews
- Mine the WBL database (described in the Introduction to this guide) to help students who have trouble securing informational interviews.
- Send the employer checklist (sample in Resources section) to the employees who will be interviewed by students to help them prepare.
- (School staff) Schedule computer lab time, if needed, for student research and outreach to employers.
- (Students) Begin outreach by calling the employers in which they are interested, using a script to determine which employees in the company might be available to interview. A sample phone call script for students is in the Resources section. 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 practice interview techniques and begin to develop questions about the job, career, employer, and industry of the employee to be interviewed. Additional questions might focus on skills required to enter the industry, work environment, salary ranges, and what the person likes and dislikes about his/her current job.
One week before the informational interviews
- (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 interviews
- (Students) Send confirmation emails to the employees to be interviewed with the date, time, and duration of the interviews as well as the telephone numbers to be used.
- (Teachers) Make sure students have completed their interview questions and have pencil and paper or a computer handy for taking notes.
Day of the informational interviews
- (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 interviews
- Collect and review student evaluations and make note of any feedback that could be used to improve informational interview experiences in the future.
- Follow up with employers and their employees by sending thank-you emails, sharing some of the student comments that demonstrate the impact of their participation and soliciting informal feedback on the interviews.
- Recognize participating employers and their employees. Many districts and schools hold annual celebrations honoring employers who have participated in WBL activities.
- (Students) Send thank-you emails or notes to employees interviewed. Teachers should review the emails before they are sent.
- (Students) Complete evaluations of their experiences with the informational interviews and turn them 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 other teachers).
 The term “teachers” should be taken to include counselors, career advisors, and other educators working directly with students.
Note: These forms can be printed with expanded space for written responses or adapted in other ways.
- Outreach email to employers
- Teacher permission form for absence from class
- Informational interview outreach script