A career conversation (a.k.a. informational interview) is a chat with someone who can give you an insider’s perspective on a profession, employer, or industry. These conversations allow you to:
- Talk to knowledgeable individuals about your career interests
- Research a particular career path
- Enlist expert guidance
- Share your goals
- Position yourself as a potential candidate for the future
Reaching Out Via Email or Phone
The most common way to make the first connection with a networking contact is in writing, e.g., via email or through a message. In some circumstances, as with a family friend or former employer, a phone call is appropriate. In both cases, your initial contact should set the stage for future conversations.
The first contact should address the following:
- Who you are (provide a brief introduction of yourself and any referral or friend in common)
- Why this contact (say why you are writing to this individual in particular and give a brief explanation of your interests or experiences in the person’s field, organization, or geographic location)
- What you are requesting (offer a quick sense of the information and advice you’d like to get and set expectations for timing, i.e., a 15-30-minute phone call or in-person meeting. Note: a career conversation is NOT the right time to ask for an internship or job)
After sending your initial message, be sure to follow up. This may involve an email to arrange your phone appointment or in-person meeting. Never expect the person to phone you.
Below is a sample outreach email:
Sample Networking Email
Subject line: Career Question from Fort Lewis College Geology Major
Dear Mr./Ms. (Last Name),
I am a senior Geology major at Fort Lewis College and I found your name through the Fort Lewis College Alumni Program on LinkedIn. From your LinkedIn profile, I see that you have worked on several geological studies, most recently on the Water Observation System into the headwaters of the Upper Colorado and Gunnison Rivers. I have focused my own studies on this particular project and I have recently been informed that the program will be expanded into this next year.
I would love to hear about your experiences working on this project, as well as any advice you might have for me as I begin a career job search in this field. I wonder if it might be possible to speak by phone or via Zoom. Thank you for considering my request.
Fort Lewis College, Class of XXXX
Prepare So You Make a Good Impression
You only have one chance to make a first impression. Get ready for the career conversation as if it were a presentation or exam.
- Be prepared to answer questions about yourself. Reflect on your skills, interests, and values through self-assessment.
- Research the industry, company, and networking contact.
- Design questions to get information about a job, company, or industry you could not find online.
- Arrive on time for your conversation.
- If meeting in person, dress professionally.
- Be polite.
- Take notes.
- Always say ‘thank you’.
Sample Questions for Career Conversations
In these types of conversations, you will be asking the majority of the questions. Think about what you can learn from this person and what kind of information and advice will help you in your career journey. It is important to prepare your questions in advance. Have approximately 10-15 questions for a half-hour conversation.
Other questions may arise during the conversation itself, but it’s possible the person you’re interviewing will have short answers and you’ll be happy to have some extra questions to keep the conversation going.
- Which jobs and experiences have been most helpful in preparing you for your current position?
- Which particular skills or talents are most essential to be effective in your job?
- How would you describe your work environment and the people you work with?
- From your perspective, what are the challenges of working in this field?
- Which college courses and activities have proven most valuable in your work?
- What kinds of experiences would you encourage for someone pursuing a career in this field?
- Which skills are the most important to highlight during my job search?
- (If you feel comfortable and it seems appropriate:) Would you mind taking a look at my resume?
Two Golden Questions to Close With
- If you were in my position, with an interest in _____, what steps would you take today?
- Based on my interest in _____, who else should I be talking to?
Show Your Appreciation
Immediately following your conversation, send an email or handwritten thank you note. If your writing is legible, a handwritten note can create a memorable impression. In your note or email, be as specific as possible. Cite particularly helpful advice from your contact, new decisions you’ve made as a result of the meeting, and/or how you plan to follow-up with next steps.
Here is a sample thank you message. Check out these email etiquette tips for more advice.
Sample thank you message (email)
Subject line: Thank you for our recent conversation
Dear Mr./Ms. (Last Name),
I learned a great deal about (company or organization name) in our conversation yesterday and it affirmed my interest in pursuing a publishing career. I especially enjoyed hearing about your graduate studies in publishing at Columbia.
Based on our talk, I plan to contact (First Last Name) for information about her experience at (Company Name). Thank you so much for this referral. I am eager to learn more about the production side of the business. I will keep you updated on my progress.
I appreciate your assistance and your willingness to be part of the Fort Lewis College Career Network.
Keep the Ball Rolling
Reflect on the conversation. Go back over your notes to make sure the information is clear. Also, make note of any impressions you have from the conversation.
- What did I learn from this interview?
- How does what I learned fit with my own interests, abilities, goals, values, etc.?
- What more would be helpful to know?
- What plan of action should I take next?
Be sure to contact anyone your networking contact referred you to. Within the first few sentences, mention your mutual connection as well as any particular reason your original contact thought this person might be helpful to you.
Stay in touch with your networking contacts over time, keeping them up to date on your progress. If a referral or suggestion was particularly helpful, be sure to let them know.