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Informational Interviews 

As you near completion of your degree program, you should arrange several informational interviews to explore careers of interest to you.

An informational interview is a brief meeting or phone call that you arrange with a person knowledgeable about a career path, company or job sector of interest to you. At the meeting you will lead the conversation with pertinent questions that will help you assess (for example) if a company could be a great place for you to launch your career. 

This is not a job interview; you will not be asking for a job. An informational interview is akin to a job shadow experience - an opportunity for learning.  

Informational interviewing is a key professional development activity for grad students. Why? Beyond creating a list of job titles and companies/organizations of interest to you, through informational interviews you can:

  1. Locate prospective mentors outside of the higher education;
  2. Expand your professional network within and across disciplines;
  3. Identify transferable skills that are in high demand by employers; 
  4. Seek advice on how to boost your job market competitiveness; and
  5. Learn "what it takes" for career advancement in the discipline or within a given company.  

Example 1: If you aspire to a faculty position, consider arranging informational interviews with someone at a regional university, community college and private college to compare differences in organizational mission, culture and job performance expectations.  

Example 2: If you aspire to a research position, consider arranging informational interviews with someone at a federal government laboratory, private corporation, and nonprofit organization to compare differences in organizational culture, salary ranges and opportunities for advancement.   

Ensuring a Successful Informational Interview

First, use a database like O*Net to study employment projections and identify job titles of interest across workforce sectors. Next, set an overarching goal for conducting informational interviews. For example: "I wish to compare performance expectations for science writers within higher education to similar positions at science magazines." 

Keeping your overarching goal in mind, develop 5-10 essential questions you intend to ask someone relative to a career path, company or job sector of interest to you. Review the list with your primary mentor/adviser to make certain that an important question is not overlooked. 

Also seek suggestions from your mentor on companies/organizations/institutions to consider, and for possible contact names. You can also use LinkedIn to find hiring managers and supervisors at targeted companies. Another strategy: contact University alumni who are current/former employees of a company that interests you. Try LinkedIn or possibly your University's alumni association to locate people to contact.   

To request an informational interview, you can send an email, letter, LinkedIn message or call the person. Say something like this:

"Good afternoon Ms. Smith. My name is Susan Greene and I am a master's candidate in journalism at XYZ University. At this juncture, I am exploring two career paths - one in state government and the other, in the nonprofit sector. I need to learn more about working for the state government and your LinkedIn profile shows that you have 10 years' of experience in positions that are intriguing to me. By chance, over the next several weeks might you be able to find 20 minutes to meet with me over the phone? I have a few questions for you related to the nature of your work that will help me inform future decisions about my career path."  

If you are professional, succinct, and organized, the person will be more likely to talk with you. If the person declines, be understanding and respectful. Inquire if there might be someone else at the company who can talk with you.   

Tip: Be sure to have your questions ready before you call in the event the person is immediately available.  

The person you are interviewing is doing you a favor, so be respectful of the person's time. Adhere to the time limit!  If you agree to 15 minutes, then draw the conversation to a close. Thank the person for taking the time to talk with you. Follow up with a brief thank you email and send an invitation to connect via LinkedIn.

Learn more about informational interviewing: 

Forbes' 30 Questions to ask in an informational interview  (skip ads, read article)

Quint Careers' Informational Interviewing Tutorial: A Key Networking Tool 

Addgene's Blog Scientist Networking: What is an Informational Interview?

Live Career's Best Kept Secret: The Informational Interview

copyright Robin G Walker PhD