Kick Off the New Year with Informational Interviews!

If you are like many Walden students and alumni, you enjoy connecting with family and friends, face-to-face or virtually.  Connecting with people you know well may come naturally to you. But what about connecting to people you do not know so well? The beginning of a new year is an excellent time to reflect upon your future networking goals and take the plunge into informational interviewing!  One of the best ways to grow your network and learn more about your field of interest is by reaching out to other professionals and scheduling short meetings via Zoom, phone, or (if you are both comfortable) face-to-face.  Informational interviews provide a space where both parties can learn from each other, exchange knowledge, and share valuable career information.  Below are five steps to get you started with informational interviewing:

Set a Goal.  Consider why you would like to connect and who you would like to connect with, then learn how to set a SMART Goal to increase your chances of completing that goal.  For example, if your purpose is to connect with professionals in your future field to learn more about their daily work and career path, your SMART Goal may sound something like this:

By the end of March, schedule informational interviews with at least 5 healthcare administrators to learn about their career paths and gain advice on how to best transition into the healthcare administration field.

Find People to Interview.  Places where you may find professionals to contact for informational interviews may include workplaces, professional associations, community or volunteer events, Walden University organizations, social media sites, and others.  For helpful ideas on building your network, visit Career Planning and Development’s Networking Tab.

Practice Your Approach.  Before reaching out to a potential contact for an informational interview, prepare what you will write or say to pique their interest in connecting with you, especially if you do not personally know the person.  For example, if you are interested in university teaching, you may find a contact person on LinkedIn using keywords such as adjunct instructor, faculty, or professor. First, send them a request to connect with you based on your common interests.  After they accept your invitation to connect on LinkedIn, you can then message them with a request for an informational interview.  Here is an example of language you could use:

Dear Dr. Abdul, 
Thank you for connecting with me through LinkedIn. As you can see from my LinkedIn profile, I am currently pursuing my Ph.D. in Education at Walden University.  I am a high school teacher working toward my goal to someday teach at the college or university level.  From your LinkedIn profile, I learned that you have worked as an adjunct instructor for over 5 years at 3 different universities.  I am impressed with your background and wonder if you have 15-20 minutes to connect with me via Zoom or phone for an informational interview, where I can learn more about your career path in higher education.  Thank you for your consideration.  I greatly appreciate your time and look forward to connecting at your convenience.

As you reach out to contacts for informational interviews, be ready to accept that some people may not respond, or they may even say “no” to your request.  This is perfectly o.k., just move on to another connection. Your goal is to reach people who will say “yes.” Those are the people who will be open to networking and sharing their career story.

Prepare for the Meeting.  Bring your best professional self to the informational interview and compile a list of insightful questions to ask your interviewee.  Here are a few examples of questions to ask:

Could you tell me about your career path?
What challenges did you encounter in your career and how did you overcome them?
What do you like best and least about your work?
What advice would you have for someone who is transitioning into this field?
Is there anyone else who works in this field that you think I should connect with?

Be prepared to share knowledge from your academic program, articles, books, and ideas that the person may find interesting based on their professional background. An informational interview can be a stepping-stone to establishing a trusting, mutually beneficial, and professional relationship for many years to come.

Stay Connected.  Follow up after the informational interview with a thank you email or message.  Check in with the person periodically, but also be respectful of their time.  If you present at a conference, publish an article, receive an award, or reach an academic milestone, let them know and thank them for helping you along your professional journey.  If you are job seeking and decide to apply for a position at the person’s workplace, you may want to reach out and let them know you are applying.  They might have some insights to share with you that can help you stand out as a candidate.

As you advance academically and professionally, other students, career transitioners, and professionals may start reaching out to you for advice.  Give back to others by accepting invites to connect and share your experiences.  You never know what people you meet may be doing 3, 5, or even 10 years from now.  Set yourself up for future success by building and strengthening your connections today!

Written by Dina Bergren, Associate Director, Department of Career Planning and Development