Strengthening Your Network with Informational Interviews
An informational interview is a brief (e.g. 30-minute) conversation with someone working at a company or industry you would like to learn more about. It’s a powerful tool for you to figure out if you’re interested in a specific career path, what it might take to get a job in that field, and what the everyday work and life might be like within it.
Another great benefit of informational interviewing is that you can strengthen your connection with a person through it. Alternatively, if this is the first time you are reaching out to them, every person you interview is a potential new member of your network.
How Can I Set One Up?
Setting up an informational interview is fairly straightforward. The first step is to identify someone in a company whose job sounds interesting to you and ask them if they would be willing to chat with you about their career.
It is often helpful to have some sort of connection or mutual acquaintance with the person to get things started. Examples of possible avenues for finding connections include:
Alumni listings from your institution – ask faculty to introduce you or reach out yourself and mention the institution name!
First or second degree connections through LinkedIn (a second-degree connection is a person connected to someone who is already in your network)
General: your name, current position and short description, institution/organization; degrees earned (and in which field)
Could you summarize how you arrived at your current position? For example, did you go directly from school into your career field or did you work in academia and then switch?
When did you decide your career field was what you wanted to do?
What attracted you to this field?
What did you do to prepare for a non-traditional career? For example: join special professional organizations, network, additional classes, part-time job or internship, outreach work, additional classes in school?
What do you wish you had done to prepare?
Was the transition from school/traditional field to your non-traditional career easy or difficult?
Did you run into resistance when you decided to move into a non-traditional area? For example, was it difficult to get recommendations, funding, encouragement, networking contacts?
When applying for jobs in your field, how did you tailor your application? For example, specific resume style/outline, different interview questions/answers, etc.
What are your duties and responsibilities? What is a typical day like for you?
What do you feel are the pros and cons of your career; what is most satisfying, challenging about your job?
How does your career affect your general lifestyle?
What advice would you give to students interested in non-traditional careers in general?
What advice would you give to someone interested in your particular field? To a grad student? What factors would make someone succeed or fail in your line of work?
What kinds of experience would you recommend to someone interested in your field? What professional organizations would you recommend joining?
How do you see the job market in this field? What challenges are currently facing you/the organization/the industry?
What do you wish you had known while in school, and what (if anything) would you have done differently?
What else should I have asked you?
It is a good idea to maintain your connections once you’ve established them, especially if the field or company the person works in is of high interest to you. To stay in touch with connections, you can send them updates about your career path, new skills you acquire, or conferences you may be attending. Then, you can reach out when you begin your job search—they may be able to connect you to someone, or provide an "insider" perspective which could be invaluable. Remember that not all network connections have to be strong. Keep in touch with those who you feel more strongly connected with, and if someone doesn’t seem too interested in helping, it’s okay to focus on other connections.