How to Break into your Non-academic Career of Choice: Request an Informational Interview

Goals           

Professional networks don’t just happen; they are created. Whatever you are exploring or applying for, you need to connect with people who can advise you on your search and help you access opportunities. Eventually, you will be in a position to return the favor or to pass it on!

Step 1: Find Potential Contacts in your Desired Field   

  • BrownConnect –Brown’s online career network at brownconnect.brown.edu is searchable by industry, organization, geographic location and more
  • 3 F’s – Ask family, faculty, and friends for the names of people you might approach
  • Former/current supervisors – Even those working in unrelated fields may know someone
  • Online Brown LinkedIn Alumni Page, Facebook, Twitter

Step 2: Organize your Contacts     

  • Identify 3-5 interest areas – Visit CareerLAB@Brown.edu to schedule an appointment with a CareerLAB advisor for help with this.
  • Create Spreadsheet – Each column represents an interest area. For each column, list the professional contacts. Include their contact information and their relationship to you
  • Follow-up – Once you’ve communicated with a contact, make notes about next steps.

Step  3: Make Contact

Introductory phone call or email – The goal of this message is to schedule an informational interview with your contact. Your message should focus on your interest in the work of the contact and it must be brief.

Sample Email

Subject: Career Inquiry from a Brown Grad Student

Dear Ms. Jones: Professor Smith at Brown University suggested I contact you to discuss your work as a science writer and editor. I am a doctoral student interested in science communication as a possible career field and would like to learn more about the nature of the work. If possible, I’d be interested in arranging for a phone conversation to discuss your professional experience, at your convenience. I hope to hear from you soon.

Best regards, Ima Student

Step  4: The Interview     

  • Generate questions – Once you’ve scheduled a phone or in-person informational interview, plan ahead. What questions will you ask? In what sequence?
    • Begin and end with appreciation for their time – Etiquette counts! Begin and end by thanking your contact for making time to speak with you. Reiterate your interest in the field and let them know they have been helpful.
    • Wear a reporter’s hat – Think of yourself as a reporter writing a profile on your contact. Your job is to ask questions and to listen. The interview is not about you—it is about your contact.
    • It’s not about you – Many contacts will ask you questions about your education, background, and other experiences. Be ready with an answer that is brief and to the point. Get back to your questions quickly.

Closing

Ask for job/internship search advice – Never ask your contacts if they are hiring. It’s more effective to ask for their general advice on your search. Example:

Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me today. Our conversation has been very helpful. I am still looking for a job in this field and am wondering if you have any suggestions or advice for me.

Step 5: Follow Up  

Send a thank you email – An email is fine, Write 4-6 sentences in which you:

  • Reiterate your appreciation
  • Mention something specific from the conversation (“I especially enjoyed hearing about your work with Science Magazine”)
  • Confirm that you will follow up on the contact’s suggestions
  • Pursue leads – Follow up on your contact’s suggestions, whether it is a particular job listing, an organization to check out, or a specific person in the field. The key is to follow up as quickly as possible.
  • Update spreadsheet –Enter a few notes about the conversation. Include suggestions for follow up: Told me to contact her again in 6 weeks.

Invite your contact to connect via LinkedIn – You can also use the invitation to thank them again for taking the time to speak with you.