The Art of the Informational Interview

I have been in career services for most of my short existence, and the one thing people often overlook is the art of the informational interview. It truly is an art form, and like the appreciation for many art forms of the past, I have to ask myself, is it extinct?

When surveying my Professional Development class, which ranges in age and background, not a single student had heard of—much less participated in—this effective and unique experience. The term, coined by Richard Nelson Bolles in “What Color is Your Parachute,” had seemingly died with the LinkedIn crowd.

So, of course, I felt the need to revive it: by assigning my small class of college students something that seemed like an impossible task in their minds, but the idea was clear. Find an industry professional: someone you would like to be like in 10 years. Have a face-to-face interview about how they got where they are today, and ask them to “gasp” mentor you (another lost concept)!

The questions were plentiful, and the doubts abounded. How would they get in front of anyone in their industry with no experience? Who would email them back? Fortunately for them, that is the beauty of the informational interview. You are in no way asking for a job. You are simply asking people to tell you about themselves and their achievements.

Let’s face it, most people love to talk about themselves.

The responses came in quickly, and from very accomplished people: owners, managers, and higher-level employees. The students, at this point, were very much on-board; however, I had to temper their excitement. They could in no way ask for a job during the meeting. My once introverted students were bursting at the seams to bend these professional ears.

They met face-to-face or face-to-Skype, if the distance was too great, and reported back results that made me feel as if Monet himself had risen from the dead. Some performed more than one informational interview, and all of the people chosen had agreed to help them navigate the murky waters that were their career paths.

Each student told of the experience and the hard work people had put in to be industry leaders; the qualities they wanted in today’s professionals; and a few even asked for resumes from the students for future reference. The industry leaders came from all walks of life, much like my student base, and created an excitement that only true and personal stories can bring to life.

Maybe the informational interview is not dead. Maybe it is just a treasure hidden in your parents’ attic; waiting to be found. Because, like my students, everyone has the ability to reach out to people in their industry for nothing more than their story, and every story gives you the ability to build a network, find a mentor, and trace a path to success.

I encourage everyone to reach out to someone in their industry for their story, and I will continue to feature some in this publication. Everyone has a story. No two paths to success are the same, but the framework to greatness can be traced with the tenacity and opportunity I hope to bring to life in this column.

Donna Reed is a graduate of WKU’s School of Broadcast and Journalism with a Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations. She has served as the Director of Career Services for two educational institutions and consulting in numerous markets building partnerships, educational opportunities, and raising awareness and funding for charitable organizations across the U.S. She loves to help individuals find their passions and achieve their dreams.