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
"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
"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