By Helena Mello
Regardless of the career path stage, networking is an essential aspect of any professional life. As scientists, we have opportunities to connect in conferences, seminars and career events. We can strengthen these connections and expand our network with informational interviews; however, not everyone is familiar with this resource. With that in mind, the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) held the webinar “Informational Interviews – What? How? Why?” by Amanda (Dumsch) Langer. This article covers the webinar’s main points.
Strong networking leads to shorter job searches. Informational interviews help you expand your network and are an opportunity to show your professional abilities and interests. Regardless of the job you are searching for, in many cases, referrals can help land an interview more quickly than online applications. Those that will refer you must be familiar with your professional background, goals, personality and work values. Therefore, your referrer needs to get to know you. The goal is to let them know your career objectives while maintaining a friendly, professional relationship.
While most senior graduate students and post-doctoral researchers understand the benefits of networking, young researchers can also take advantage of it to explore careers. Performing informational interviews with professionals from diverse fields can help you narrow down the potential career paths after graduate school. Besides, starting early enables you to broaden your network, which is undoubtedly a great advantage when the actual job search begins.
The primary purpose of an informational interview is to ask for information about a particular job or career path. When preparing for it, the first step is to reflect on your career values and think of questions that address them. Think about why you chose to have a conversation with that person. Is it because of their background? Company? Position? What is it about them that you are interested in learning? Make sure to ask a few questions about their career progression, so you can understand how it relates to yours. After getting familiar with their background, you can ask about their field. The meeting is a great opportunity to ask about the field’s work environment and culture. An honest answer can help you identify a particular company you’d be interested in joining. In addition, questions about their job search experience and future moves can give insights into your job hunting or career exploration plans. Finally, ask if there are other companies or people in the field that you should learn about. Good informational interviews create a domino effect helping you secure more interviews!
There are three groups of people you can consider for informational interviews: your inner circle, acquaintances and professionals you don’t know. Starting with peers and friends (the inner circle) can make for a less stressful conversation and help you gain confidence. Acquaintances are people you briefly met at an event, or your partner’s coworkers, for example. They already have a connection with you, but you don’t quite know them yet. Finally, you can branch out to professionals on LinkedIn or at your school’s alumni database to start a connection. There is a chance that some of your requests will go unanswered, but don’t get discouraged. Send a short, direct message stating who you are, how you found them, and your goals for the meeting.
Informational interviews are professional conversations; therefore, make sure you respect the other person’s availability. Be clear about your expectations with the meeting, and be ready to talk about your background and career interests. Prepare in advance, write down questions and main topics, and have your elevator pitch ready to go. Finally, following up is key! This is the most neglected part of networking. Send an e-mail within 48 hours with a thank you note, check-in with them periodically, and show that you are available to keep the conversation going.
I hope this post helped you understand the purpose of an informational interview and how to set it up. Thanks to NIH OITE’s webinar and thank you for reading. Good luck and happy networking!
This article was edited by Janaina Pereira and Tomas Kasza.