Conducting Informational Interviews – Chap.#4: Identifying Interview Candidates

Dear Readers: In lieu of reading this post, you can view the embedded video (bottom of post).

Welcome to Chapter 4, where together we’ll go through the first part of step one. It’s called REACH OUT, Identifying Interview Candidates.


The REACH OUT step is all about inviting the right people to let you interview them. However, you can’t find and invite the right people until you decide what it is you want to learn.

What Do You Want To Learn?

One area of learning might be related to Curriculum & Career Exploration.

For example, for high school and newer college students, the interview objective will most likely be related to finding a curriculum of study that will lead to a career that best fits their values, interests and strengths.

In other words, they’ll be looking for information about different careers, and the pros and cons of each. This is probably the most common use of informational interviewing.

Another popular use for informational interviewing is to conduct Company & Job Research.

Ideally, college students nearing graduation will already be in the field of study that fits well with the career they want to pursue. As a result, they’ll probably want to learn more about:

  • Specific companies
  • Company cultures
  • Company reputations
  • Opportunities each company might offer for career growth

These are the same things that would interest a full-time employee who’s looking to make a job change.

Assumptions For This GUIDE

For the purposes of this GUIDE, and the action steps we’re learning, let’s assume that you’re a senior in high school with an interest in engineering, but that you don’t know much about the different engineering disciplines.

With the little that you’ve heard and learned so far, you have a feeling that mechanical, electrical or computer engineering might be a good fit for you.

What you want now is to talk with some engineers in each of these three disciplines to help you figure out the right initial direction for you.

Identifying People Who Can Help You

Now that you know what you want to learn, it’s time to find some people who might be willing to help you. The method I like most for this step is called mind mapping.

To get started, you write your interest or need in the center of a map like the one pictured here.


Then at the ends of the tentacles, or arms of the map, you list all of the people who are connected to you in your personal world.

Most likely these will include your parents, relatives, friends of your parents, neighbors, teachers, mentors, past or current coworkers, school alums, and other professional contacts you may already have.

Note: When you get ready to do this exercise, please know that I put a blank mind map in the Worksheets section of the free PDF version of the GUIDE.

Your Sphere of Influence or Network

Once it’s completed, your mind map is often called your sphere of influence, or your network. These are people who you could easily reach out to and ask for an interview, or you could ask them to connect you to engineers they might know, who you could then invite for an interview.

I strongly encourage newcomers to informational interviewing to conduct their first interview with someone from their current personal network if at all possible. It’s a lot less nerve wracking to meet with someone you already know and have a relationship with.

Building a mind map like this usually yields enough people to give you a good start. However, if you come up cold, you’ll want to move your search to the next level, which involves “cold calling” to find interviewees that you don’t currently know.

Cold Calling

The techniques to do this are a bit more advanced, and beyond the scope of this beginner’s GUIDE, but here are a few thoughts that might help you:

  • One of the secrets to success that I’ve found in this situation is to think of yourself as a detective who’s searching for a hidden treasure. This forces you to be more creative, and in some cases it may also force you to develop some thick skin when cold calling, but it can work very well.
  • For example, one of the easiest ways to find engineers today is by using LinkedIn and/or Google. After identifying them, you then reach out by email or phone to invite them for an interview.
  • Another method is to cold call the engineering department at a local company. You simply explain that you’re a student with an interest in conducting an informational interview with one or more engineers. This is a request that’s not that uncommon, and good companies will understand the importance of helping you connect with one of their engineers.

You MUST Keep an Activity Log

If you’re serious about conducting your own informational interviews, then you’ve probably started writing some things down already. That’s good, because I need to emphasize a critical point about writing stuff down.

The point is that to be successful at informational interviewing, you MUST keep a record of all the activities associated with the process, and with the people involved.

Whether you use a smartphone app, a 3-ring binder, a paper journal, or a spreadsheet to track your activities is up to you, but you MUST capture all of your contact and interviewing activities, and the relevant data associated with them.

There are lots of reasons for this, but the two big ones are these:

  • First, you won’t be able to follow through effectively on the commitments you make unless you write them down when you make them.
  • Second, you won’t be able to thank all of the people who help you along the way if you don’t write down their names, their contact information, and the interactions you had with them.

Both of these activities are critical to ensuring that your interviews are successful and professional, but they’re also an important part of building ongoing relationships with many of your new contacts.

So PLEASE….build a habit of writing things down in your personal contact management system, and do it when they happen.

To help you develop this important habit, I’ve included a sample log sheet (like the one pictured here) in the Worksheets area at the back of the GUIDE.ActivityLog

Are You Ready To Extend Your First Interview Invitations?

In this chapter on REACHing OUT, we learned the method of mind mapping for identifying people who might be good interview candidates. We also learned the importance of tracking all of our activities.

The next step is to get some invitations sent. That’s what we’ll cover together in the next chapter that’s titled, REACH OUT – Extending An Invitation.

 If desired, you can view this entire post in the video below:

Question: Who will be your first info interview candidates?  You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Note: This post is a chapter from my 64-page, FREE how-to STRAIGHT TALK GUIDE titled, CONDUCTING INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS. On this page, you can learn more about the GUIDE, watch a short summary video and request a FREE downloadable copy.



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