Informational Interviewing and Job Interviewing

Preparing for informational interviews and job interviews can be challenging. The following tips and guidance will help you prepare for both job interviews and informational interviews.

Informational Interviews

Arrange and conduct an informational interview to gain insider knowledge about a position or company.

Write a letter of introduction (to send via hard copy or e-mail). Indicate your interest in your contact's profession and organization and your desire to visit and talk with him or her about it. Inform him/her how you received his/her name (e.g. your friend Susie, your uncle Bob, etc.). Be clear that you are NOT looking for a job, but for information on which to base a career decision. Propose a few dates and times that work for you and state that the informational interview would last about 30 minutes. State in the letter that you will telephone within the next several days to follow up on your letter. This will alert the office of your call and serve as a preliminary introduction. Do not expect the person to call you. You must take the initiative.

Phone the contact but make sure you have a clear idea of what you want to say. If your contact has a secretary, he or she may try to screen your call. Be prepared to explain the kind of information you may be looking for and that you are following up on a recent letter. You may want to write out a phone introduction "script" to practice.

Follow up by sending a thank you note immediately following the informational interview. This will indicate your appreciation and will keep you in their memory.

Keep a record of your interviews for you own information. Names, titles, addresses, dates and major points of discussion will enable you to remember who told you what, and how to get back in touch with your contacts.

Preparation:

  • How did you choose this career field?
  • What kind of training/background do you have?
  • What types of employment or internships would you recommend?
  • What are entry-level opportunities in this field?
  • Is graduate school important for someone in this field?
Present Job:
  • Describe a typical workweek and a typical day.
  • What skills or talents are most essential for effective job performance and to succeed in your field?
  • What is the most rewarding part of your job?
  • What are the challenges facing this industry today?
  • Who do you consider to be the leaders in this industry?
  • How do you view the current state of the industry?
  • How did you get to this point in your career?
  • What, if anything, would you do differently?
Life Style:
  • What obligations does your work place on your personal time?
  • How much flexibility do you have in terms of dress, hours of work, vacation schedule, location?
Job-Hunting Strategies:
  • How do people find out about these jobs?
  • What specific aspects of my background should I highlight or sell the most?
  • What organizations would you recommend I pursue? Would you mind looking at my list of target companies?
  • Is there a certain person within this organization whom I should contact first and may I use your name when I contact them?
Matching/Selling Your Background to a Specific Organization:
  • What kind of person seems to do best in this sort of work?
  • For which entry-level positions would I be best suited?
  • What would be the appropriate way to pursue these positions?
  • Do you have any suggestions on my job search strategy?
  • In your opinion, how realistic are my goals?
  • What is a reasonable salary range for entry-level positions?
Follow up:
  • Are there any questions I should have asked but did not?
  • Do you mind if I stay in touch with you regarding my career search?
  • Thank you for your time, this has been very informative and valuable, can you suggest any other individuals I might speak to in your career field whom I might be able to approach for additional information in the same manner I approached you?


Job Interviewing

An interview is the primary tool used by employers to evaluate candidates for a job or internship. An interview involves an employer asking a candidate a series of questions designed to extract an understanding of the candidate's skills and experiences relating to the position at hand, as well as assess the candidate's fit with the organizational culture and work environment. Interviews may be conducted through a variety of mediums including phone, video conference, or in-person.  

InterviewStream is an online tool available in CareerSource that contains hundreds of sample interview questions, samples of good/bad answers, and video tutorials. Through InterviewStream, you can conduct mock interviews that can be sent to Career Advisors or others for feedback. We strongly recommend conducting a mock interview through InterviewStream prior to meeting with a Career Advisor for a mock interview, and to prepare for virtual interviewing - which is becoming a more common means for employers to conduct interviews.


Effective answers directly answer the question posed and have evidence to back claims you make. For example, if you say you have excellent communication skills, it is essential that show an employer this by providing an example. Furthermore, it is critical that you are concise and do not ramble in an interview. Many times, a candidate's nerves can lead to rambling, thus boring an interviewer. One way to combat rambling and gauge your effectiveness is to picture yourself on the other side of the table with yourself as interviewer.  

There are several types of interview questions including standard, behavioral, and case questions.

 

Standard interview questions are straightforward interview questions in which the employer attempts to gain information regarding your experience and skills. Standard interview questions may try to target your educational and work background, rationale for interest in the position, and career aspirations.

Standard Interview Questions

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Why are you interested in this position and our organization?
  • Why should I hire you instead of someone else?

Behavioral questions are designed to elicit how you behave in given situations. Typically, the employer is trying to gauge how you will respond to situations that are likely to arise in the position for which you are interviewing. An effective way of tackling behavioral questions is through the STAR approach. The STAR approach stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. When answering a behavioral question, this approach assists a candidate in forming a complete, specific response to a given question. An example of the STAR approach is detailed below:

Question: Tell me about a time you displayed excellent leadership skills.

Answer: [ Situation/Task ] This past year, I led our efforts to help plan our campus job and internship fair. Our task was to increase the number of companies who attended the fair by 10% over the previous year. [ Action ] To do so, I conducted aggressive outreach to numerous potential employers and alumni. I engaged employers by first trying to better understand the hiring and talent needs of the organization. I then educated employers on the benefits of hiring American University students and how our students could fill organization talent gaps. Finally, I discussed the benefits of connecting with students in-person via the job/internship fair.
[ Result ] My outreach efforts led to a 20% increase in employers at this year's fair, well surpassing our employer targets.

Behavioral Interview Questions

  • Tell me about a time you utilized your analytical skills to successfully solve a problem at work or school.
  • Tell me about a time that you tried to accomplish something and you failed.
  • Tell me about a time you went above and beyond the call of duty to get something done.

Case interviews require the interviewee to work through a business problem step-by-step. Case interviews are used extensively in the consulting field as a means to understand one's ability to perform as a consultant. The KCCD has several resources to assist you in preparing for the case interview including mock case interviews and Vault's Guide to the Case Interview.

 

An interview is not only an opportunity for an employer to learn about you, but your chance to learn more about the employer. Therefore, it is expected that you will ask questions of the interviewer at the end of the interview. You should consider choosing questions that will help you understand whether or not this employer and opportunity is the right one for you. The content of your questions is also a great opportunity to demonstrate the research you have done on the organization. Vault's Career Insider, a premium subscription available through CareerSource, is a great resource to conduct research on specific companies. 

 Your interview experience does not end when you walk out the door. Remember to always send all interviewers a thank you note thanking them for their time and the information they have provided.   Your note can either be hand-written or sent via email. As a tip, be sure to reference something specific from the conversation you had with this individual to add a personalized touch. It may be helpful to jot a few notes down on each person you have interviewed with immediately after your interview to remember the conversations you had. Please note that thank you notes should be sent within 24 hours of the completion of your interview.

To be a successful interviewee, it is essential to dress appropriately. Regardless of the attire worn at work in an organization, you should dress professionally for any job interview. Details on professional dress for men and women are listed below.

Men:
Dark-Colored Suit (Black, Navy, or Gray)
Conservative Tie
Dark-Colored Dress Socks
Polished Dress Shoes
Women:

Dark-Colored Suit (Black, Navy, or Gray)
Conservative Dress Shirt
Limited Jewelry

Remember, you want the employer's focus in an interview to be on what are you saying, not what you are wearing. Keep this in mind when choosing interview attire!

 Each spring, the KCCD hosts employers for an annual Mock Interview Day.  The KCCD Mock Interview Day gives you the opportunity to practice your interview skills through a mock interview with an employer.

Questions?

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Email: kccd@american.edu

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