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Informational Interviews

Two people are doing an nformational interview. This blog by is all about informational interviews and networking. Find out what an informational interview is and how to prepare for one
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by Leticia Garay
First Generation Professional Edition

Informational Interviews for First-Gen Professionals

This article will highlight informational interview basics, address common networking obstacles first-generation professionals face, and how to have an informational interview.


Informational Interview Steps

  • Understanding what an informational interview is and why they’re important

  • Understanding some first-generation professional stigma around networking

  • Preparing for the informational interview

I had my first informational interview last year when I started my MBA degree (7 years after learning what they were) and it was nothing like what I was expecting. It was actually fun, natural and, by the end of it, I felt more confident about my ability to connect with new people. As a first-generation professional, I heard the term “informational interview” a couple of times while at college but it always confused me: how was it that I, the career searcher, was interviewing an expert in my aspirational career position? That just seemed backwards AND intimidating. 

Let’s be honest, when it comes to networking, first-generation professionals are at a disadvantage because we don’t know the importance of networking, how to network, and/or have a network built out to some degree. Feeling as though we have to start from scratch can be overwhelming. The first thing to know about networking is that it can take all shapes and sizes. Typically, we assume networking are the crowded rooms at career fairs, cocktail parties, or business meetings but there are other ways of connecting, including informational interviews. Informational interviews can encourage you to work towards a career that aligns with your goals or inspire you to pivot in a different direction. Informational interviews are just another way to further your career development through research. Here are three steps for becoming an informational interviewer.


Understanding what an informational interview is and why they’re important.

Just like the name implies, an informational interview is an interview you set up with a professional to learn more about their career, professional experiences, and/or industry. A less stressful way of thinking about it is that it’s a conversation you set up with a professional to explore career options with minimum commitment. You’re seeking more information from a professional who has an experience you’re interested in. Personally, I prefer informational interviews because you can do your research beforehand and drive the conversation with less pressure.Through informational interviews, you can also tap into networks without the panic of being in large rooms without being able to hear people’s names correctly over all the noise or feeling like you have to “stand out” for attention.

Informational interviews are important because research is an essential part of the career search process. This is especially true if you are still unsure what to pursue or are pivoting out of your current role and/or industry. Additionally, informational interviews open the doors to mentors, which can provide substantial growth in your career in the long-term.


Understanding some first-generation professional stigma around networking.

Okay, so hopefully I’ve convinced you that informational interviews are important but that’s only the first step in moving forward with incorporating the practice into your career development. The second step is a bit harder but being able to accept and work on these challenges will help with the informational interview process as well as overall career development.

Imposter syndrome 

No matter what we do or where we go, imposter syndrome can follow us and that’s because it’s a mindset. It’s not an invalid experience and it’s also not an uncommon one. Imposter syndrome can intimidate you from reaching out to higher level professionals because you can feel like you’re not “good enough” to warrant someone’s time; however, the purpose of an informational interview is to learn more. In other words, it’s okay to not know everything about a person, role, or industry when reaching out because the point is, you want to know more. If this point isn’t enough to help you overcome the fear of reaching out, tackle imposter syndrome this way: create a list of your achievements (especially ones that you were scared to even do) on your phone and pull it up whenever you are scared of making a new move. This helps remind you that you are capable of trying and succeeding at new things.


I think I asked myself what career I wanted literally 3 times before I graduated from college and each time, I spent less than 20 minutes really trying to understand why I was heading in that direction. It was a hard question to answer, partly because I had no idea what to expect from the workforce and what options I had. I assumed the career path was linear and I also assumed it had little to do with personal preferences. Ironically, the pandemic has shed some light on some preferences that I am now incorporating into my own job search. The thing is that career development is highly dependent on your values and preferences, not just skills and training. All that to say that sometimes instead of rushing into figuring out a tangible “next step,” you need to take a step back and answer: “what would I like?” before answering “how do I get there?” This can be a difficult journey as a first-generation professional who is constantly swimming upstream but it’s important to understand the direction you’re hoping to take before setting course for it. TL;DR: understanding your preferences and values will make your career development journey more efficient and hopefully, less complicated.

Learning to ask for help and asking “dumb questions” 

This is the challenge I struggle with the most. As a first-generation child, I assumed the responsibility of knowing how to answer questions instead of asking them. From helping translate, fill out official documents, and even navigating college, I learned to do it myself. When I went to college, navigating next steps was harder because I didn’t know where to start. The thing about asking questions is that you need to know what questions to ask and if you don’t know what you don’t know, that can get a little complicated. It can be humbling asking for help when you’re so used to figuring it out yourself but to keep the process from feeling overwhelming, you need to reach out. Lean into your experience, acknowledging that you are capable but that everyone needs help. Remember, first-generation means you’re starting from scratch so no one expects you to know everything and not knowing doesn’t make you less capable.

Accepting your mistakes and addressing your perfectionism

New experiences and skills develop with practice and time. I am still honing this skill myself and what I’ve realized is that the more exposure you have, the more comfortable you feel even when you don’t “ace” the experience. Be patient with yourself as you navigate a new process where you will inevitably make mistakes.The biggest mistake you can make with your mistakes is to dwell on them instead of learning from them.

Accepting your journey

Your career path may look different from someone else’s and that’s okay. I’m a higher education professional who fell into this role 7 years ago and is now looking at pivoting into marketing- talk about non-traditional. Career paths are looking less and less traditional nowadays so don’t there’s no use comparing your entire experience to someone else’s. That’s not to say you don’t have to compare skill sets: you need to have a solid grasp of what your industry and/or job position requires to be a successful candidate and employee but you can achieve the required skills in a variety of ways.


Preparing for the informational interview.

  1. Narrow down what you’re looking for. 

Part of the career development and the career search is understanding what you’re looking for otherwise, you end up spending too much time applying to jobs that aren’t relevant or interesting and losing hope when you don’t hear back. I recommend learning how to start your career search before trying to move on with the process. This will help you identify your main goal(s) for the informational interview: are you hoping to learn more about an industry, specific job position, or a type of professional experience? (Side note: Notice how the main goal was not to receive a job offer? That’s because a big “don’t” of an informational interview is to ask for a job). This step is essential in addressing some of the self-reflection mentioned above and you’ll be able to answer the who, what, and why when setting up the interview. 

  1. Do your research. 

Now that you know the direction you are moving towards, you can start doing more in-depth research on your specific goals. The questions you ask are important in maximizing your time and impact, especially if you are hoping to get a mentor out of this. Having done your research will also create a polished first impression, which is necessary in building a good network of people who could possibly refer you for your next job position in the future. You should know some of the basics before your interview- basically, you should know the answers to questions you can quickly Google. Some areas to research: the general gist of the position/ industry you are researching, the background of your professional’s company, your goals, and your professional’s general resume outline (if possible). 

TIP: Use your tools! We have a list of job boards and industry-specific sites on our website to facilitate your search. You can also view our career paths to get a closer look at different ways to get into a career.

  1. Just go for it! It’s important to be straightforward yet friendly when reaching out.

 I suggest starting with a quick introduction (including what you’re doing- position, school, etc), why you’re reaching out (you love their company, what they stand for, or what they’re doing) and what you want (duration of your interview, where you want to meet- Zoom vs at a coffee shop) when reaching out to schedule a meeting. Including next steps like how they can best reach out or alternatives to an interview are also helpful.

TIP #1: Knowing who to interview. There are several online tools to help you connect with professionals. Of course, you want to interview someone who is in a position you are interested in but it’s even better when you select an interviewee that has similarities to you. For example, a common piece of advice is talking to alumni from your educational institution(s). Knowing this tidbit has been a game changer for me because I can use our commonality to start the conversation and feel less intimidated. LinkedIn has this really cool feature to help: when you search for jobs, it will indicate if any alumni from your same institution(s) work there too. This is a great way to narrow down the pool of potential interviewees.

TIP #2: Consider mentioning you’re a first-generation professional or recent grad in your request for an interview to facilitate the process, connect on a more personal level, and ease up some of the stress of reaching out.

  1. Get to talking but keep it concise and personal! 

Though this is a professional conversation, it’s okay to relate your professional goals to personal experiences, if they’re relevant. This helps with your “personal branding” and makes you more memorable. It also can give you insight into this person’s life and give you information that you can connect with at a later time. Part of my conversation includes disclosing that I’m a first-generation professional because that has helped shape my professional values and trajectory. Given this, make sure you highlight your professional objective to set the intention of the meeting if you haven’t already established it when you reached out. For example, my professional objective has been: “I’m a first-generational professional with seven years of higher education leadership experience looking into pivoting into a marketing role in a company focused on innovative sustainable or social mobility causes” (feel free to take that template and replace it with your information).

TIP #1: Always be mindful of time! I recommend setting a 15 or 30-minute meeting, making sure you wrap up with at least 5 minutes to spare. If the conversation is going well, you can use those 5 minutes to ask for an extension, if they’re willing, or you can ask about next steps, which may include an additional interview to continue the conversation. If you’re meeting in person to grab a cup of coffee, I would also limit it to 30 minutes, maximum, since you’re asking your professional to travel as well. 

TIP #2: Keep notes. Since you’re here to learn, it’s totally okay to take notes- in fact, you should be taking notes. It will help you reflect to see if you want to keep going down this direction and help with step 5 below.

  1. Follow up, follow up, and follow up! 

You should be ending your interview with a “call to action,” meaning you should be connecting with this professional outside of this conversation via social sites or with another interview, for example. Just like a job interview, you should also be sending a thank you letter soon after your interview. In perfect networking etiquette, you should also be reaching out to your new contact periodically with updates about your career journey or relevant topics that came up during the interview. 

Networking is a lot of work and that was a lot of information to take in! So be kind to yourself by remembering, you’ve already done so much as a first-generation professional to get where you are. You’re not going to be perfect and you don’t have to be when you start this process.  At the end of the day, remember that every time you try, you make some progress, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Now get out there and curate your professional path, one interview at a time!


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Other Career resources:

  • If you’re an introvert or nervous about networking in general, check out: 

 An Introvert’s Networking Tips for the Introvert 


Article written by Leticia Garay