If you are hoping to learn a lot about a field and expand your professional network, informational interviews are a wonderful tool! Informational interviews are great ways to explore and get information about diverse career paths and opportunities. At the same time, informational interviews are a good way to make a connection, as people generally accept the invitation.
You may be asking yourself, “What is an informational interview?” These are interviews set up with someone in a field you are considering for a career. You initiate the interview and frame it as an exchange of information. These interviews don’t lead to a job offer, but do expand your network and your knowledge!
1. Setting up the informational interview: Be courteous and concise
First step: identify someone in a career path that you are interested in. Then you will need to contact them, most likely by email. The email should be clear and considerate; bluntly state that you are writing to ask them for an informational interview to learn more about them, their current position, and the career path they took. Invite them to meet in person, if they are local (or even to speak on the phone) for 30-60 minutes. Be respectful of their time, and honor the allotted time established.
2. Do your research and come with potential questions.
Beforehand, you should research the company or agency that the individual works for and the individual themselves. This will demonstrate to the person you are interviewing that you are seriously considering that particular company or career and not wasting his or her time. Also, take time to think of goals that you have for the interview and some key questions to ask. During the interview, let the conversation take its natural course. The more comfortable the individual is, the more honest he or she will be.
3. It is not a job interview!
Perhaps the most important concept is the purpose of an informational interview is to acquire information about a career or company of interest; it is not a job interview! Under no circumstance should you ask if they can hire you, even if they are a hiring manager. Instead, ask what they look for in an ideal candidate.
4. It is not about you.
It is about the person that you are interviewing and learning about his or her job and the career path that was taken. By the end of the interview, you should know how the individual got to their current position and their current job responsibilities. Further, you can ask questions about the interview process or if they can give insight about how they succeeded to be the job candidate.
5. Send a ‘thank you’ email or better yet, an actual ‘thank you’ card!
No brainer, right?!? The ‘thank you’ should be sent ~24-48 hours after the interview. Additionally in this email, it might be helpful to inquire about an additional 1 or 2 people that you could set up further interviews with to keep increasing your network! A paper note can help you stand out from others.
Start networking today!! Networking is ongoing process. The cultivation of a network of contacts can take years to build and should continue expanding. Keep an eye out for articles or events that you could send to people that you have interviewed. This will show that you are interested in developing a more meaningful connection.
Amy Kullas is a research scientist studying infectious disease in the greater Washington, DC metropolitan area. Her interests include global health and science policy. Amy has attended “Research Matters” workshops and “Day at the Hill” events advocating for science funding. She is co-chair of a global health interest group at her institution. She writes for Scientista Foundation and https://sciencepolicyforall.wordpress.com.