Early Career Psychologist Column
By Andrea Robinson, PhD
Finding a job is tough. One of the best ways to explore career options and plan your job search is to talk directly with people who work in fields that interest you. Informational interviews are a great way to do just that. So what is an informational interview? Informational interviews are informal meetings where you can ask professionals about their job, their background, their career trajectory, and solicit career advice. Not only do informational interviews help you learn about different professions, they are good ways to network with individuals outside of academia, and they allow you to make a great impression to a potential future employer.
Set up your interview
The first step to conducting an informational interview is to find people with jobs that look intriguing. Once you've identified individuals to interview, you need to contact them. Email is the most popular first point of contact. While many of us are intimidated by the process of asking a stranger for a meeting, I think most professionals believe there is value in making connections and “paying it forward” to those of us just starting out. In fact, many employers encourage their employees to conduct informational interviews as a way to identify new talent and promote their company. In your email, make it clear that you are not interested in a job interview, but simply in gathering information. It is also a good idea to let them know how much time you are requesting (e.g. 30 minutes to ask five or six questions). If possible, arrange to meet at the interviewee's workplace. If getting together in person is not possible, you might arrange a phone or Skype interview.
Conduct your interview
Before your interview, prepare a list of questions to be sure you get the information you need. Remember, the goal of your interview is to understand that person's job responsibilities, how they found the position, the career trajectory for someone in their position, and information about the future of their industry. Don't ask generic questions that can be answered through a web search. Prepare about five to six open-ended questions to get you started; other questions will naturally arise in your conversation.
The following are sample interview questions:
- On a typical day in this position, what do you do?
- What part of this job do you find most satisfying? Most challenging?
- What types of skills and experiences are necessary to succeed in your position?
- How did you navigate the job search to get this position?
- What opportunities for career advancement are there for someone in your position?
- From my research, I've found these companies/agencies in your field; can you tell me anything about them?
- Can you recommend anyone else for me to talk to in order to learn more?
Say thank you
After your informational interview, don't forget to send a thank-you email or thank you card within 24 – 48 hours to the person you interviewed. This will let them know that you value their time.
Want to learn more about informational interviews?
The following websites have additional information on how to get started, tips for conducting your interview, and general interview questions. Good luck in your job search.
- Office of Intramural Training & Education - "Informational Interviews" (PDF, 88KB)
- Science Magazine - "The Informational Interview"
- Addgene blog - "Scientist Networking: What is an Informational Interview?"
- Inside Higher Ed - "The Informational Interview"
- U.S. News & World Report - "What Is an Informational Interview Anyway?"