How to Arrange a Job Shadow or Informational Interview

Here is how to arrange an informational interview or job shadow:

Select a Company and Find Out Who to Interview

This first step requires you to have a clear idea of the occupation you'd like when you're out on the job market. Make a list of a few local places that employ people in your chosen field. For instance, if you're thinking of becoming a nurse, get the names and numbers of local clinics or hospitals.

You can find companies in the phonebook, on the Internet or by asking guidance counselors and professors for suggestions. Relatives and acquaintances are a big help, too.

"If students have friends or family that work in companies they are interested in or doing professions they are interested in, I always encourage students to connect with them," says Pat Baker.

Those who aren't lucky enough to be acquainted with someone they can interview or follow around have to make cold calls. That means calling the companies on your list and asking for names of employees who are doing the job you want to learn more about. Human resources departments are good places to start, since they usually have the names and numbers of all company employees.

"Explain you are a student with a vested interest in the organization and would like to spend a half or whole day with, or interview, a professional to learn more about a particular field," says Laura Newbury. She works in the career services department at a university.

If you have no luck with human resources, contact the department you're interested in.

"You have to go to the area or department you want to work in," says Terry Meldrum. Meldrum is the coordinator of the internship program for business administration students at a college. "For example, if you want to speak to an accountant, then call the accounting department. Call the person in charge."

Contact the Professional and Ask for Their Cooperation

After you've found your contacts, get on the phone. Start with the first person on your list and work your way down until someone agrees to an informational interview or job shadow. It shouldn't take too many tries if you do it right. The trick is to be brief, polite and straightforward.

"You're asking for a favor," says Baker. "Identify who you are, why you're calling and enthusiastically express your interest in what they do. Then ask them if you could meet with them."

"Many organizations are very excited to host students and have students interested in their organization," says Newbury.

Once the professional agrees, work out a location and a date. Although job shadows have to be done on site, interviews can be conducted over the phone if the professional has no time to meet you. But push for a face-to-face interview so you can observe your subject's work environment, recommends Baker.

"If you make an appointment a couple of weeks in advance, you may want to call to confirm the morning of [the shadow or interview], or the day before you show up," he adds.

Prepare for the Big Day

An informational interview or job shadow is not always a one-shot deal. In fact, one out of every 12 informational interviews results in a job offer, compared to one out of every 200 resumes.

"There may be [job] opportunities down the road, so it's important to present yourself as well-informed and as politely as possible," says Baker.

Being well informed involves learning as much as you can about the company you'll be visiting or calling. Most companies have websites that explain when they were founded and what they do.

If you're interested in numbers, a company's annual report details the organization's financial information, such as how much it makes and spends in a year. You can ask the company's human resources or public relations department to mail a copy to you before your big day.

Creating a good first impression is not the only reason to do research. The more you know about the corporation, the easier it will be to understand what is discussed during your interview or shadow, according to Newbury.

Also, you're meeting with the professional to learn about what they do and not the company where they do it. You don't want to waste time asking the professional for information you can get on your own."You're time limited and you want to be asking questions only that person can answer," Baker says. That means inquiring about the career itself -- finding out the education needed to get the job, what a typical day at work is like and what they like and dislike about their career.

"Don't ask about money," cautions Meldrum. "That could be embarrassing."

To make sure you don't miss anything, Baker, Meldrum and Newbury suggest preparing a list of questions you can refer to during the job shadow or interview. School counselors can help put one together or you can find some ready-made generic ones on the Net.

Another document to take to an informational interview or job shadow is your resume. It's a way to advertise yourself for any job openings and get feedback on your qualifications. The professional can tell you if you're pursuing the right studies and activities to get the career you want.

Dressing professionally and being on time the day of your informational interview or job shadow is an important part of your preparation, too. If you have a phone appointment, don't worry about your clothes. But be sure to call at the exact time you promised you would. If you're going out to meet someone, experts suggest showing up a few minutes early for your meeting and looking sharp.

"Gals have to keep buttoned up and wear minimal jewelry. Guys can get away with a buttoned-up collar and a jacket if they don't own a suit and tie," says Meldrum. He says the important thing is that the clothes are subdued and clean -- even the shoes.

You'll get the most out of your informational interview or job shadow if you dress the part and do your research, since the professional will be more eager to help you if you look and sound interested. Remember: you may even be offered a job.

"If they like you, they'll do whatever they can to get you into the organization," Meldrum points out.

Whatever happens, the polite thing to do is send a thank-you note to your contact following your interview or job shadow. You want to maintain a good relationship with the person in case you need additional help plotting your career path.