On Informational Interviews

I’m not one of those who is comfortable contacting strangers, or even second- or third-degree contacts, and asking for a bit of their time. In some ways, in certain situations, I find talking to people almost more daunting than making my way up a rock face in a harness (the last, second, and final time I went rock climbing was a disaster. I have a small fear of heights). Each one I conduct gets a little easier, however.

One of the prevailing pieces of wisdom often shared with information students and young information professionals, by our more experienced colleagues, is the value of informational interviews. What I want to share is my own experience – and how I propose to conduct my own informational interviews in the future.

Firstly, I always try in more formal conversational settings to mind my manners (no, they’re not out of style yet!) – sit up straight, don’t interrupt, don’t talk with my mouth full. The basics.

Secondly, I usually start with a short list of questions. It helps to do a bit of research to find out what the interviewee does, and about the company he/she works for, but often these generic questions (and others like them) will do for a start:

  1. What are your main responsibilities as …?
  2. What is a typical day for you?
  3. What are your favorite aspects of the job?
  4. What inspired you to work in this field/setting/environment/position?
  5. How did you get to be where you are now? What was your career trajectory?
  6. What trends and developments do you follow in the library world?
  7. What do you think is the future of academic/school/public/special libraries (or rare books, books, libraries in general, information professions, etc.)
  8. Do you have any advice for a new information professional/librarian?

Finally, I have found that sticking strictly to these questions, or any list I come up with, is often not necessary, since my curiosity about the interviewee will direct the conversation.

A few other things I want to remember before the next one:

  1. The golden rule: never ask for a job.
  2. Following the conversational lead of the interviewee is not a bad idea.
  3. Reveal what I’m comfortable revealing about myself, but the focus is truly on the interviewee’s experience and knowledge.
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