Often, the best advice about a career or a particular position might not be available online and it might be more effective to talk to someone in the field. For graduate students looking to work internationally, informational interviews could help understand the kind of opportunities available.
What is an informational interview?
An informational interview is an informal conversation you have with someone in a line of work you’re interested in. These interviews are not a place to find job openings, but are a great way to network.
How do you conduct an informational interview?
Informational interviews may be conducted in-person or via phone depending on who you reach out to. While it may be awkward to reach out to people you don’t know, most people are usually willing to give advice to someone who is interested in their field. Here are some examples of questions you could ask in an informational interview.
- How did you get interested in this field and this career path?
- Can you describe a typical day?
- What do you like and not like about your organization?
- How often do you travel?
- Does the organization have flexibility around work location?
The conversation can be steered to clarify your questions and to also gain a more complete understanding of the organization, role and typical responsibilities. Here are some tips to have a more effective information interview:
- Prepare and practice: Don’t go in without a basic understanding of the area. You don’t want to waste someone’s time asking google-able questions.
- Keep your introduction short: This is not a place to practice your elevator talk skills, but rather absorb information and listen and learn from the other person.
- Follow-up with gratitude: Thank the other person for their time and if you end up taking their advice, make them feel valued. She (or he) might put in a good word for you down the road.
Benefits of an informational interview:
Apart from the obvious benefits of finding information not easily available online or getting a more in-depth understanding of the area, informational interviews can be a very useful tool to network and find connections in a field where you don’t have any leads. You may discover new roles within organizations and redefine your career goals. Often, one person can help introduce you to more people which will help build your connections. They can help set the stage for a career move globally and help initial introductions. These interviews are also a good way to build future allies, champions or advocates in an organization. For instance, if a high-up person feels valued because you listened to their advice and it mattered, they then become personally invested in your career and can maybe even be a mentor.