Lucy Romijn, Careers Consultant here at the CS, explains what an informational interview is and how you it can be used as a great tool to find out more about a career or workplace culture
When we speak to students and postdocs, it’s not uncommon to hear that exploring careers or trying to learn more about options feels overwhelming. It can be even trickier to make decisions if you’re interested in a career not covered by the usual resources or you have individual questions which aren’t addressed by careers websites or job ads. Informational interviews are a great way to help you get the information that you need, when you need it.
What is an informational interview?
An Informational interview isn’t about asking for a job or internship, but reaching out to get information and advice from people who are already working in roles, sectors or organisations that you’re interested in to help you to navigate your options and make decisions.
Will people really be willing to help?
People are often flattered to be asked to share their insights, and we often hear stories of those later in their careers saying how helpful it was to have similar informal conversations when they were navigating their options or changing their career so they want to give back once they’re in a position to share their experiences.
Sounds helpful, but also a bit scary! How do I go about it?
1. Be clear about what you want to get out of the conversation.
It can be tempting to ask every single question you have, but remember someone is giving up their (often limited) time. Before you get in touch with people, do some preliminary research to help you formulate some key questions and to ensure the information you’re seeking isn’t readily available elsewhere. Really consider what you want to find out and who you might want to speak to. This will help when you start to make contact with people.
What kinds of things could I ask about in an informational interview?
Good question! Open questions (those without a yes/no answer) tend to be best, they enable the conversation to flow and will give you a more detailed insight. Some examples might include:
- What does a typical day/week look like in your role?
- What do you enjoy most about your role? What are some of the challenges?
- How did you get into this field, could you describe your career path?
- What qualifications and experience tend to be valuable?
- How did you decide that this was the right option for you?
- Was there anything you did during your degree/PhD/postdoc that helped you to decide to pursue this career?
- What can I do during my degree/PhD/postdoc that might help me explore this area further/develop my CV?
- How do you find the work culture/work life balance?
- (For sectors where there aren’t formal internship schemes) Do you have any advice on how I can find relevant work experience or internship opportunities?
- What kinds of roles do people move on to as their careers develop?
- What are the current issues in this sector that might affect your role?
The questions that are important will be very individual to you. Consider the information you need to help you better understand a career/sector or to support your decision making.
Check out some of our previous panels on our Catch Up on Past Talks page or listen to some of our In Conversation With… videos on YouTube for more inspiration for questions.
2. Find people to speak to and make contact
Once you’ve thought about what you want to get out of an informational interview, it’s time to start finding people to speak to and making contact. Handshake and LinkedIn are good starting points, but do ask family, friends and academics too.
Be clear and concise in your initial message:
- Introduce yourself and explain how you found them
- Tell them you are researching the ________ role/sector and seeking advice. Briefly explain why you’d specifically like to speak to them and some of the topics you’d like to discuss.
- Request a 20-30 minute meeting, this might be in person, via video call or over the telephone. It’s often helpful if you can give a timescale for when you would like to meet.
Check out our video on finding Cambridge alumni on LinkedIn.
3. Conduct your informational interview
Informational interviews are designed to be fairly informal, but you never know when you might encounter the person you’re speaking to again so aim to make a positive impression by being punctual and thanking the individual for their time.
During an informational interview, you’re leading the conversation. Take the time to clarify any points that are unclear and feel free to ask follow up questions, but be mindful of the time and aim to cover your key topics within the time you’ve agreed in advance.
After the interview, do send a thank you message to show your appreciation for the time an individual has taken to support you.
4. After the Interview
After the interview, take some time to jot down your thoughts and impressions.
- What did you like? What positive impressions do you now have about this area of work?
- Did you discover any new concerns or questions that you need to consider?
- How has the information you gathered helped you to clarify your own career ideas?
- Did it highlight any new areas you’d like to explore further?
- Are there others you would like to speak to so that you can get some different perspectives?
- What are your next steps?
Stay in touch with your contacts. As you get further along with your decision making or applications you might want to reach out and let them know about something they said or did that helped you. This will help them remember you and let them know that you found it a valuable experience.