What Is the Informational Interview?

An informational or research interview is a meeting in which you talk to people who are engaged in work that is of interest to you, or relevant to your career direction. Informational interviews are less stressful than regular job interviews because the focus is on information gathering rather than employment. Your real goal is to illuminate the path ahead of you, not to focus on training or job openings.

After you briefly introduce yourself, the conversation should focus on them: their position, their background, their career trajectory, their advice. Once your questions are answered, return the focus to yourself and ask questions about potential contacts.

How Can the Informational Interview Benefit You?

This type of interviewing offers many benefits:

  • Sharpen your perception of the career you are considering and better define your career goals
  • Gain valuable information about the field of biomedical research, research training, and career prospects
  • Learn what the position is like on a day-to-day basis
  • Gain networking contacts, such as other researchers whom it might be beneficial for you to contact
  • Build confidence and improve your ability to engage in job interviews
  • Gain advice about your CV

What Questions Should You Ask?

You are the one in control. You can ask questions that may not be strategic during a first job interview, such as questions about salary, work/family balance, and vacation. Sample questions include the following:

  • Tell me about the research in your lab.
  • What is a typical day like in the lab? What would it be like for someone at my level?
  • What types of skills and experiences are important to succeeding in your position?
  • What are common qualities of individuals who are successful in your position?
  • How did you get into this particular field of research? What path led you to this position?
  • Why did you choose to work in government instead of academia or industry?
  • Can you talk about the typical government compensation package and how it might be different for someone working in academia or industry?
  • How do you balance work and family life?
  • When you think about your first year in this position, what actions/activities were key to your success (e.g., engaging other staff, attending meetings, your science)?
  • Can you recommend anyone else for me to talk to given my research interests?
  • Do you have any advice for me as I take the next steps in my career path?
  • Can I contact you again if I have additional questions?

Remember at the end to thank the person for his or her time and advice and be specific about what you found valuable. Also ask to keep in touch. Once you are home, be sure to send a thank you note.

Content last reviewed on August 12, 2015