Richard G. Jones, Jr.
Scholar, Educator, Author

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Tips for Conducting Informational Interviews

Mar 28, 2013

In many academic, professional, and civic contexts you will need to interview people to get various kinds of information. As with job interviews, you need to prepare for an informational interview to make sure you make a good impression and get the information that you need.

Tips for Conducting Informational Interviews

  1. Do preliminary research to answer basic questions. Many people and organizations have information available publicly. Don’t waste interview time asking questions like “What year did your organization start?” when you can find that on the website.
  2. Plan questions ahead of time. Even if you know the person, treat it as a formal interview so you can be efficient.
  3. Ask open-ended questions that can’t be answered with only a yes or no. Questions that begin with how and why are generally more open-ended than do and did questions. Make sure you have follow-up questions ready.
  4. Use the interview to ask for the personal side of an issue that you may not be able to find in other resources. Personal narratives about experiences can resonate with an audience.
  5. Make sure you are prepared. If interviewing in person, have paper, pens, and a recording device if you’re using one. Test your recording device ahead of time. If interviewing over the phone, make sure you have good service so you don’t drop the call and that you have enough battery power on your phone. When interviewing on the phone or via video chat, make sure distractions (e.g., barking dogs) are minimized.
  6. Whether the interview is conducted face-to-face, over the phone, or via video (e.g., Skype), you must get permission to record. Recording can be useful, as it increases accuracy and the level of detail taken away from the interview. Most smartphones have free apps now that allow you to record face-to-face or phone conversations.
  7. Whether you record or not, take written notes during the interview. Aside from writing the interviewee’s responses, you can also take note of follow-up questions that come to mind or notes on the nonverbal communication of the interviewee.
  8. Mention ahead of time if you think you’ll have follow-up questions, so the interviewee can expect further contact.
  9. Reflect and expand on your notes soon after the interview. It’s impossible to transcribe everything during the interview, but you will remember much of what you didn’t have time to write down and can add it in.
  10. Follow up with a thank-you note. People are busy, and thanking them for their time and the information they provided will be appreciated.