Professional Development Guidebook

Professional Development Guidebook

Conducting Informational Interviews

What is an Informational Interview?

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. Examples of information you could glean from an informational interview include:

  • What attracted that individual to this field
  • What are the pros and cons of this career track
  • What are the challenges currently facing the organization or industry
  • What experiences would be recommended for someone interested in this field

How Can I Set One Up?

Believe it or not, 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 meet with you. Most professionals are familiar with the term, so you can ask them for an informational interview and they will understand your request. 

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
  • First or second degree connections through LinkedIn
  • Membership databases for professional societies
Suggested Informational Interview Questions
  1. General: your name, current position and short description, institution/organization; degrees earned (and in which field)
  2. 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?
  3. When did you decide your career field was what you wanted to do?
  4. What attracted you to this field?
  5. 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?
  6. What do you wish you had done to prepare?
  7. Was the transition from school/traditional field to your non-traditional career easy or difficult?
  8. 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?
  9. When applying for jobs in your field, how did you tailor your application? For example, specific resume style/outline, different interview questions/answers, etc.
  10. What are your duties and responsibilities? What is a typical day like for you?
  11. What do you feel are the pros and cons of your career; what is most satisfying, challenging about your job?
  12. How does your career affect your general lifestyle?
  13. What advice would you give to students interested in non-traditional careers in general?
  14. 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?
  15. What kinds of experience would you recommend to someone interested in your field? What professional organizations would you recommend joining?
  16. How do you see the job market in this field? What challenges are currently facing you/the organization/the industry?
  17. What do you wish you had known while in school, and what (if anything) would you have done differently?
  18. What else should I have asked you?

APS Webinette: Putting Your Science To Work - Informational Interviews
In this clip, Peter Fiske describes techniques for setting up and conducting informational interviews in his webinar "Putting Your Science to Work."