Asking the Right Questions When Doing an Informational Interview


When you think of an interview, what do you envision? Most people imagine a formal setting with one or more “judges” asking questions, and a job seeker trying to come up with the “right” answers to impress the interviewers. But sometimes, interviews are much less formal, and they can put you ahead of the game if you know how to handle them.

In the case of informational interviews, you’re in the driver’s seat instead of the hot seat. You have a potential plan for your future career, and you want to collect all the data possible before you make a decision on which way to go. So, you find someone who is already doing what you’re contemplating, and you ask them pointed questions and analyze the answers to formulate your final conclusion. You’re a researcher. It’s what you do. As with any “experiment,” though, there are some steps you should follow to ensure it’s done as accurately as possible.

The Steps of an Informational Interview

Preparing for an informal interview takes a few simple steps. The most important one is the first one, where you decide what your potential career options are, and narrow them down to your top two or three choices.

Then, it’s time to figure out who you can contact in those career fields (or at those companies/universities) to get some inside information. You may have your own close contacts or someone you know who knows someone (professors, previous employers, family members, friends, etc.) Otherwise, check with your alumni organization for suggestions. 

Before you reach out to anyone, prepare a list of open-ended questions you’d like the answers to. What are the vital aspects of your career that will make or break whether you work somewhere? These could be things like the atmosphere, administrative support, perks, etc. Once you have your list, initiate contact with the people you’d like to interview, and let them know clearly what your goal is.

As long as you’re professional and respectful of their time, most people are happy to provide you with an informal interview. Before the interview, dress as you would for an important meeting. You don’t need to go all out, but you shouldn’t wear jeans and a t-shirt.

Feel free to take notes, but don’t let your note-taking distract you from what the person is saying. If you’d rather record the conversation so you can give them your full attention, be sure to ask permission first. The majority of people will say okay, but it’s extremely rude to record a conversation without the other party’s approval, and if you’re caught, it can damage the relationship. 

Let the other person know you won’t take up much of their time, and stick to the agreed-upon time limit. If you are concerned time might get away with you, set your phone timer for five minutes past the limit to give it the opportunity to end naturally. Don’t leave without asking if you can contact them again in the future with any more questions.

Questions to Ask in Your Interview

Stuck on coming up with questions that will give you the answers you need? Here are a few surefire winners:

●      How did your career path lead you to work at _______?

●      What does a typical day in your job as a _______ look like?

●      What types of skills should a person in your role have to be successful?

●      Do you have any tips that would help a job candidate successfully acquire a position at ___?

●      Is there anyone else there that you’d recommend I connect with if I choose to pursue a job there?

These questions will take you quickly through the person’s history, show your interest in what they have to say, and leave them enough room to give you any inside scoops they want to share.

How Impactio Can Help You Ace Your Interview

When you’re on the search for your next career move, Impactio can help. America’s number one platform for scientific networking, Impactio will connect you with experts in the academic field you’re thinking about moving to. Scholars who are interested in building teams or finding others to network with can reach out to you, and you can track down individuals for informal interviews.

Everything you need to develop and build a successful career as an academic researcher is available at Impactio. The only thing missing is you!


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