Informational interviews are one of the most powerful tools available to graduate students and academics who wish to figure out what exactly it is they wish to do.”- Lauren Celano
What is an informational interview?

First things first: informational interviews are not meant to ask for jobs, internships, etc. An informational interview is a time to sit down with a professional or an industry expert, and get their insight, advice and wisdom on their career path. Whether you’re speaking to a CEO or an intern, treat them as a source of information and insight—not your ticket into the company! So while you can’t beg for a job, you can find out more about certain industries, career paths or even specific companies—all of these things will be great resources when you do begin your job search.

Covering a talk delivered by Lauren Celano of Propel Careers on how to look your best on paper. I am currently an executive member of the Life Sciences Career Development Society (LSCDS) at the University of Toronto, a platform for assisting graduate students in exploring career options outside of academia. I worked as part of a team to organize a networking reception to give researchers at University of Toronto an opportunity to engage and network with life sciences professionals in non-academic roles. As a prelude to the event, Celano gave a seminar on informational interviewing and effective networking.

Benefits of Informational Interviewing

-Get firsthand, relevant information about the realities of working within a particular field, industry or position. This kind of information is not always available online or in print.

– Find out about career paths you did not know existed.

-Discover what others with your same major are doing in their careers.

-Get tips about how to prepare for and enter a given career.

-Improve your communication skills and confidence speaking with professionals.

-Gain knowledge that can help you in writing your resume, interviewing for jobs in the field, and your other job search activities.

Initiate a professional relationship and expand your network of contacts in a specific career field; meet people who may forward job leads to you in the future.

Prepare for the interview

-Develop a short (15-30 second) overview of yourself, including your reasons for contacting this person, as a way to introduce yourself and define the context of the meeting.

-Plan open-ended questions to ask.

Managing information

As you conduct more and more informational interviews, Lauren suggests organizing the outputs as they are key in quantifying where your priorities lie. This in turn will help you make rational decisions on where it is you really want to apply. Creating job search checklists are a great and simple way to stay on top of all the information you will gather about companies. These can include itemized rows that could list location, requirements, responsibilities, size of company, salary, management style etc. and range from must have, not important, and definitely not.

Concluding and keeping updated

Be sure to thank the professional when the interview ends as well as send an email thanking them for their time. Keeping updated with your growing network is also very important. The end of the interview gives you one last chance to make a strong impression, to summarize why you are the right person for the job, and to correct any misconceptions that may have cropped up. You can also find out what to expect next.