One easy way to remember the goal of informational interviewing
is the acronym AIR: advice, information, and referrals. If the person
you’re interviewing senses that you may be using them to try to
find a job, they could feel uncomfortable. But if you make it clear
you only want advice, information, and referrals, they’ll probably
be more approachable and helpful.
Why informational interviewing is so useful
Informational interviewing has a range of benefits. By conducting
informational interviews, you will:
• Find out about the different types of jobs that are available to
• Learn about the skills you should develop and the career
paths you can follow to achieve your goals.
• Discover what different jobs actually involve. That way, you’ll
have a better idea of whether a job is a good fit for you.
• Learn the jargon that people who work in your ideal career
use. This can help you stand out when you prepare your
résumé or go for an interview.
• Gain confidence about the skills you can offer potential
• Expand your network of contacts. Every person you meet will
provide new insights, and many of them will become people
you can turn to for help throughout your career.
Sample informational questions
Prior to your informational interview, prepare a list of open-ended
questions to help guide your conversation. Think about your overall career interests and goals and what you want to learn about a
person’s career path, their employer, or career field.
• What first got you interested in this job?
• What training or skills are vital in your work?
• What do you enjoy most about your work?
• What are the most satisfying moments?
• What are some of the challenges you face in your work?
• How have things changed at your workplace over the past
• How do you see your work changing in the future?
• What does your typical day look like?
• What are your key responsibilities?
• What’s the typical path into this line of work?
• How can I find out more about this type of work?
Conducting the interview
Your next step is to plan your interview questions. See the sidebar for a sample list of useful questions. Use these as a starting
point to come up with your own questions.
On the day of the interview, dress professionally and give
yourself plenty of time to get to the interview. Someone is giving
you their time, so you should respect that by being punctual. At
the start of the interview, introduce yourself and let the interviewee know what you’re hoping to get out of the interview.
Then, plunge into your questions. You don’t have to stick rigidly
to the questions you’ve prepared. If your interviewee mentions
something interesting and you’d like to ask a follow-up question,
ask away! The only caveat to this is that you must stick to the
time frame you agreed upon when you arranged the interview.
It’s worth recording the answers you’re given, as you’re unlikely
to remember everything afterwards. The easiest way of doing
this is by recording the conversation on your smartphone, but
you’ll need permission from your interviewee to do this. Alternatively, take notes in a notepad or on your tablet.
At the end of the interview, thank your interviewee for their
time, and let them know how they’ve helped you. A great question to conclude with is: Could you put me in touch with someone else who could give me insights into this type of work from
another point of view?
It’s possible that the tables will be turned and you’ll be
offered a job interview on the spot. If this happens, you can
always let your interviewee know you’d like some time to prepare, and give them dates when you’ll be available.
After the interview
When the interview ends, your work isn’t quite done yet. When
you get back home, review your notes or listen to the recording
of the interview and note down the key insights you picked up
from the interview. Second, take the time to write your interviewee a thank-you note or e-mail. This is a good opportunity
to remind them that you’d like to be connected with the people
they recommended in response to your final question. Finally,
add the interviewee to your contact list and connect with them
through LinkedIn. You never know when you might need their
No time like the present
Studying and getting the right qualifications are only two
aspects of preparing for a satisfying chemistry career. The other
is developing your people skills and connecting with the people
who can help you find the career that’s right for you. And that’s
something you can start doing now.
The first time you reach out for an informational interview may
take a bit of courage on your part. Be brave, and go for it anyway!
Afterwards, you’ll never look back.
David Masters is a freelance writer based in