Exploring Your Options: A Primer on Informational Interviews

two people talking

Recently, I decided to conduct an informational interview. I think it was the best decision I made in a long time. If you don't know what an informational interview is, basically, it’s when you interview someone who has a career that you might be interested in. You can find out first-hand what the job really entails, or about the path required to obtain that job.

I have always been interested in how people find themselves in leadership positions in academic settings, and so I interviewed someone in university administration. But, before I met with them I booked an appointment at the Centre for Career Action (one of our campus partners) to meet with a graduate career advisor to learn more about the informational interview process. I'm quite happy I did, as she provided insights and perspectives I hadn't thought of.

Here are a few tips:

1. Do some research first: Learn about the person (if you can) and the position before you reach out to the person to ask them. Google is your friend. Doing research beforehand will help acquaint you with the basics so that the interviewee can really get into what the position is all about.

2. Be professional in your correspondence:  You'll most likely to use email to set up the interview. No emojis or lolz. I know this sounds like common sense, but Facebook and Snapchat have degraded our sense of professional communication. Remember that this person can be a contact for later job opportunities. You want to look good from the beginning. Use professional language and be to the point - you don't want to write an essay that they probably don't want to read. A few lines at most, explaining who you are, expressing your interest in their job, and communicating your desire to do an informational interview.

3. Make it easy for them to say yes: If they have an admin assistant, suggest that you follow up with the assistant to set up a time to meet. Definitely go to them - don't make them travel to meet you, unless they suggest somewhere other than their office. Nice touch: before meeting with them, send them an email indicating you're stopping for coffee on your way and ask them if they want anything.

4. Be prepared for this (and the next) interview: Come prepared with questions, the practical ones and the abstract. A practical question could be something like "what does a typical day look like?" or "do you need any special certifications for the position?", whereas abstract questions would be more along the lines of "why did you chose this career?" or "what is fulfilling about your job?". Also, don’t worry if you don't get all your questions in. Let the conversation flow (but not too much - be respectful of your interviewee's time!). As the interview comes to a close, ask your interviewee if they can recommend another person for you to reach out to, now that they know about your interests and desired career path. This is a really useful way to expand your network and continue your research of different careers.

5. Follow up: Follow up with your interviewee and thank them for taking the time to meet with you. Showing gratitude is important and communicates that you value their time.

This list isn't exhaustive, so I'd highly recommend you visit the Centre for Career Action and set up an appointment to discuss informational interviews.

I can tell you that I am really happy I went through with the whole process. I learned a lot! Informational interviews can be helpful, particularly for graduate students, as we need to explore all of our employment options - not just the academic ones. Your dream job exists somewhere out there, and an informational interview is one concrete way of learning more about what that job may be.

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