Informational Interviews: What, who, why?

We all know that your PhD studies and postdoc prepare you for a career in academia. Your advisor, who has been pursuing a career in academia, should be able to advice you on submitting your research to journals, writing grants, and interviewing for other academic jobs, but may not have much to say about careers outside of academia. That’s probably why one of the questions frequently asked at career workshops is “How do I find out what it’s like to work outside of academia?”.

Informational interviews are a great way to learn about other career paths. Basically, they are a short conversation (in person or via phone or Skype) with someone whose career path you want to learn about. Joanne Kamens on Addgene describes an informational intervievw as “a nonthreatening request to discuss experience, interests and career path“. Guides to setting up informational interviews can be found at the links at the bottom of this post, but in a nutshell you need to know how to find someone to interview, how to approach them, and what questions to ask.

If you have any contacts in the field of interest, start with them. It’s amazing how quickly you can find someone you want to meet when you tap into the network of networks (you may have heard of the “six degrees of separation” idea). If you don’t have any inroads through your own network, you’ll have to start expanding your network. LinkedIn is a great way to expand your network – for example, you can join the network of alumni from your academic institutions. You can also connect to people in the jobs that look interesting to you – making professional connections is what LinkedIn is all about. We’re building networks of people in or interested in various career paths on the Plantae website too. Let us know if you want us to set up a network for your field of interest!

Check out the resources below for sample emails when you are ready to request an informational interview. Be friendly and polite, be clear what you want, and provide a link to your professional webpage or LinkedIn profile so it’s clear that your are well-intentioned. There’s also a list of questions to help you formulate your interview (don’t ask ALL of them though). Good luck and if you have any advice to share about your experiences with informational interviews (as the interviewer or interviewee) please share!


From start to finish: A guide to informational interviewing (2015). Prital Patel, Nature Jobs.

How to Ask for an Informational Interview (and Get a “Yes”) Elliott Bell, The Muse.

Informational Interviews. NIH.

Informational Interview Questions to Ask (2016) Alison Doyle, The Balance

Informational interviews: The right push for your career? (2016) Meenakshi Prabhune, Nature Jobs

Scientist Networking: What is an Informational Interview?  (2014) Joanne Kames, AddGene

The Informational Interview (2009) David Jensen, Science Careers