Informational Interviewing for Life Science Professionals
What if you, as a life science professional, had a way to affirm your career choice, expand your career network and gain insider information about the kind of job you seek? You do! Informational interviewing is an underused subset of networking that can boost your career in all these ways and more.
The idea is to have a relatively short – 20-30 minutes – conversation with someone holding a job like the one you’d like to have and ask all about what the job is like, along with advice about how to attain one like it. You may interview professionals with the power to hire, but you don’t have to do so to gain valuable information from the process.
Setting up such an interview can seem daunting. Will professionals in the field really want to carve out time to talk with you? Some won’t, but many will. A few employers suspect informational interviews are a sneaky way to insinuate yourself on an organization and ask for a job. But if you are polite and appreciative, and you assure the targeted interviewee you will not take more than the requested time, he or she will likely be amenable. Also assure the professional that you are seeking information only. You simply want to learn more about the job, the organization and the field.
An onsite, face-to-face interview is best because you can also observe your surroundings and get a real feel for what it might be like to work there. You can also make a stronger connection with your interviewee. But interviews via videoconference (e.g., Skype or Zoom), chat, or even email are possible.
Once the interview is set up, be sure you go into it with no plan to turn it into a job interview. You will instantly turn off your interviewee if he or she feels deception has occurred. However, do not be surprised if the interviewee expresses interest in pursuing you as a hire. I used to assign my business communication students to conduct information interviews and one semester determined that 21% of my students had received job or internship offers. That’s not a large proportion – until you consider that getting an offer is not the purpose of the interview.
Prepare for the interview much the same way you would for an actual job interview. You would not be going overboard to dress in interview attire, and doing so may boost your confidence. Plan for a way to take notes – with the interviewee’s permission – such as recording on your phone or jotting down notes in a small notebook. Also do some research on the organization. You don’t need to research quite as much as if this were a job interview, but you’ll make a better impression if you appear knowledgeable about the organization.
You’ll also want to prepare questions to ask. Ten questions and their responses could easily fill up the entire 20-30 minutes, but prepare closer to 20 in case your interviewee is particularly concise. Many people love talking about themselves. Your interviewee may extend the interview or even ask you out for coffee or a meal.
What questions should you ask? Questions you want to know the answers to. You may want to focus on a particular aspect – the ins and outs of a particular job role, or what it’s like to work for a specific company/organization, or even more about the field or discipline in which the job resides. You’ll find lists of questions throughout the Internet, including here.
Questions you should always ask:
- What advice would you give someone who seeks this job role/wants to work for this company/desires a job in this field?
- May I keep in contact with you? Would you be willing to answer more questions if I need additional advice?
It’s also a good idea to ask about the organization’s needs and challenges – so you can later approach the firm with how you can meet those needs.
It is also important to bring copies of your resume. If you have established very good rapport with the interviewee and feel you are both comfortable with each other, consider asking, “Would you be willing to take a look at my resume and tell me how well you think it would work for pursuing a job like this one?” Tell your interviewee you don’t need an instant reaction; he or she can get back to you later.
Be sure to end the interview when you said you would, unless you pick up signals that the interviewee wants to continue. Afterward, send a thank you. Email is fine, but it never hurts to also send a handwritten note or card via postal mail. Stay in touch every couple of months and update your interviewee on your progress.
Once you’re in hardcore job search mode, consider reconnecting with your interviewee with your intentions. You may be referred to someone with hiring power and can explain how you meet the employer needs that you learned about through the informational interview.