Discover Your Ideal Career With Informational Interviews

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When we want to discover our ideal career, we Google articles about our profession of interest. You may also look at LinkedIn or Indeed for jobs that interest you and read their job descriptions. Often, these articles and descriptions can be a bit vague. You can end up going down a rabbit hole consuming all this content. You probably won't feel any clearer about your next step. Even if you get that job you wanted, it can end up being nothing like it was described on paper. Is there a way you can find out what a job or industry is really like before starting to scroll through job ads, that doesn't involve trying to get work experience? Yes, conducting informational interviews can help you do this.

What are informational interviews?

If you haven’t heard of informational interviews before, think of it as in-person research. You are the interviewer seeking interviewees who have a job in the area you want to go into. For example, if you are a Pharmacist who would like to work in Regulatory Affairs, you could approach someone who already works there. You would express your interest in the area and ask them if they would be willing to spend some time explaining what it’s like. As the interviewer, you would be prepared with specific questions you would like to ask them. These interviews can be on the phone, Skype or in person, and can take as little as 15 minutes. The benefit of doing these before starting your job search is that you can get an understanding of what it’s really like to do that job or work in that industry. Of course, not all jobs look the same in every company, but it’s going to be a lot more valuable than just scrolling through internet articles or job descriptions. You can also interview people from various companies and notice what differences there may be with varying company cultures. Here are a few tips for doing informational interviews:

  1. Use your network

Contact people you already know to either do informational interviews with if they are in the jobs you are curious about, or to ask them if they know anyone who is. It’s a lot more likely that you’ll get responses from people who are in your network either directly or through a referral. You can ask friends, family members, colleagues (although you may need to be careful here if you are looking for a new position external to your company), ex-colleagues, ex-classmates, and those in your LinkedIn network. This doesn’t mean that you can’t reach out to people you don’t know, please do! Just think strategically about how you can leverage existing contacts first to make it more likely to get responses.

  1. Prepare

When you go into an informational interview, make sure you have done some research on the person you are talking to, including their current position and company. Be clear on why you have asked to spend time with them specifically, and have some questions prepared to find out the information you need. Here are some example questions you might ask:

What path did you take to land your current position?

Why did you choose this career path?

What experiences and skills would I need to get a similar role?

Which books or articles do you recommend I read?

What do you like most about your job/working in your industry?

Tell me about the most challenging aspect of your role. 

What next steps would you recommend for me to take if I wanted to develop my career towards this role?

Is there anyone else you know that I could speak to further?

  1. Follow Up

If someone has taken time out of their day to help you, recognise it! Make sure you follow up with a thank you note, which can be via e-mail or a LinkedIn message. Take the time to recognise how they have helped you in your career exploration, and follow up with anything you said you would during the conversation.   Informational interviews can be a valuable strategy during the exploration phase of your career development, if you are looking to make a huge change or just curious about what’s out there. You can get real, on-the-ground insight about what a job is really like, rather than guessing or going solely by what you read. When you get into a conversation with a real person, they are more likely to reveal things that you may not have thought about when considering that position, including the challenges it comes with. Remember to use your network, prepare for the conversation, and always follow-up with a thank you note afterwards.  

If you are ready to take your career outside the lab and want to know how to start, watch our webinar on How Science Graduates Can Get a High Paying Job Outside the Lab Even if You Have Little to No Work Experience.

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