Making the Most of Informational Interviews

In “Making the Most of Informational Interviews,” Jennifer Polk, PhD welcomes Rachel Leventhal-Weiner, PhD to discuss the importance of networking with a purpose. Jennifer Polk and L. Maren Wood are co-founders of Beyond the Professoriate where PhDs get the career advice and support needed to succeed in their job search. Rachel Leventhal-Weiner is a Data Engagement Specialist at the Connecticut Data Collaboration.

“Networking” says Jen, “is something everyone knows they should do, and they don’t always do actively.” Rachel acknowledges this fact, too, but she offers a very useful strategy that can make networking easier and more beneficial for PhDs moving into industry careers. “Informational interviews are a part of networking . . . they are a way to make connections that will help you get the job,” she says. Before you begin networking, let’s take a look at some important takeaways Rachel shares about the informational interview process!

Informational Interviews are More Than Job Connections

Many PhDs are probably familiar with skimming job postings to get an idea about what jobs pertain to career goals after their PhD. While a great start, this strategy is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of career exploration. Rachel suggests reaching out to someone in a desired company to “get the skinny” on what the establishment is really like behind the curtains. Plus, informational interviews are more than just job connections. Rachel confirms that she has “learned more from the conversations that [she’s] had, but [she’s also] really set [herself] up with a social network that [she] could go to for all different kinds of things.”

Be Prepared, Keep Notes

Preparing questions for your informational interview may seem like a minor detail, but “relevant and substantial questions” indicate that you are a knowledgeable and resourceful candidate if the company decides to hire you. The key to asking questions, however, is to keep them professional and timely; that is, give your connection opportunities to tell his/her story. More importantly, as Rachel emphasizes, maintain a log of all that you have learned. “What’s helpful about going back to these notes now is being able to see some of the ways that the questions started to become sharpened.”

Informational Interview Key Takeaways

Informational interviews aren’t a guarantee that you will get a job, so one mistake you want to avoid is outright asking for employment. Use proper etiquette and give your connection time to decide. Although this could take weeks, follow up with a thank you note that shows gratitude for your connection’s shared time. Despite the outcome, the larger purpose of these interviews is for you to learn what you want and don’t want in a job. “You are going to make some mistakes in choosing jobs,” Rachel says, “but informational interviews are helpful because they help you ferret out the kinds of challenges you might encounter.”

If you are interested in learning more tips about informational interviews or professional development skills, feel free to rent this video and more from Beyond the Professoriate!

Beyond the Professoriate Community Members attend events like this for free each month and access replays free for two weeks. Ready to launch your next great career? Join the Online Career Hub for PhDs.

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