Whether you are a student, recent graduate, HCC intern (welcome!) or professional, informational interviews are a powerful way to advance your career and strengthen your network.  Informational interviews enable you obtain “information” about what people do, how they got there, their likes and dislikes, future outlook and the skills and credentials required for success. I always get at least one valuable “nugget” of personal or career insight from each interview that takes me one step closer to knowing what I want and how to get there.  If you establish a good connection with the person you interview and maintain appropriate communication,  they can become part of your network.  You might just find a new mentor! Some informational interviews can even turn into job interviews or enable you to learn about a great not yet posted job that is the perfect fit for you.

Informational interviews are also powerful ways to learn about and build relationships in the organization where you work or with its partners.  Whether you are an intern, new hire or experienced employee, informational interviews enable you to learn more about how the organization works, what departments and individuals do and how things fit together. You can learn valuable insights about people’s priorities, ideas and preferences that can inform your work and strengthen your connections.  You can identify key issues that need to be addressed and common ground for solutions. Interns in particular should do as many informational interviews as possible within and outside their organization. Valuable learning, projects, visibility and relationships will result!

How do you go about setting up informational interviews?

  • Identify organizations and individuals that are aligned with career directions that interest you and reach out (via email, phone or referral) to request an informational interview.  Use the magic words “I am a student, intern or alum” or was “referred by your colleague Jeff”. Request a 30 minute informational interview and be flexible with a date and time that fits their schedule. In some cases you may arrange this through an assistant that controls their schedule. Be polite, not pushy and accommodating.  Don’t take it personally if you don’t hear back right away. Politely try again in a week or two.  Be flexible and reschedule if needed.
  • Approach speakers or people you meet that inspire you.  Politely ask for their card and say that you would like to schedule an informational interview. Follow-up with them soon after so that they remember you and set something up that fits their schedule.
  • Obtain referrals from mentors, preceptors or colleagues to people they think would be good for you to meet. Have them e-introduce you, make a call on your behalf or say you can use their name. Let them know who you met with, what you learned and how it went! Thank them.

How to prepare for and ensure a successful interview?

If you make a good connection, always ask the person you interview for 2-3 other people they would suggest you speak with based on your background and interests. Ask for their contact information and if you can use the person’s name or be introduced.

In addition to pursing people that interest you, try some interviews with people or departments that you don’t know about. If you are open, you might just find something you never knew existed that is of great interest to you or meet someone who can be a mentor or has insights or contacts that can benefit you.  

I know you are busy but I encourage you to do as many informational interviews as you can. Build time into your schedule and make them a priority. Like my students, you might roll your eyes at me when I suggest you do one informational interview per week or at least one per month. Consider the amount of insights you would gain and the number of new people in your network.  My advice was validated recently when my UC Berkeley graduate students asked a very successful health executive how he discovered what he wanted to do and got his job and he responded, “I did 50 informational interviews.” For those of you in internships, you should do multiple per week, along with getting your project work done, to maximize your learning, effectiveness and relationships.

Some of you may be uncomfortable with initiating or conducting informational interviews ( I know I was when I started out). Just remember as one of my mentors says, “when you are uncomfortable it is a sign that you are about to grow” I am confident you will discover many benefits from informational interviewing, including progressing toward your authentic health career.  Time to get started!

 

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Comment by Isaac A Reyes on June 8, 2013 at 10:59am
I've found that not all professionals have heard about informational interviews. Do you agree that asking for the components of an informational interview (professional advice, information about their job or industry) is the safest/least confusing way to ask for an informational interview? I just don't think everyone is familiar with the term but they are happy to provide what I put in parenthesis. And worse case maybe they confuse "informational interview" with "job interview" and are not interested in meeting (since organizations and individuals are obviously highly selective with job interviews). What do you think, Mr. Oxendine?

p.s. if anyone is interested in setting up informational interviews for each other in Boston, then let me know. I can definitely try and set up a few with mental health care professionals or administrators. Let's private message or email.
Comment by Patrick Ramirez on June 8, 2013 at 3:51pm

Great question Isaac! I think stating who you are (a student) and what your intentions for the interview are is key. You don't have a second chance for a first impression, so that first email or call needs to be clear and concise - typically something to the tune of... "Hi Mr. Big Shot CEO, My name is Patrick Ramirez. I received your contact information from _______ (great if you have a connection). I am a graduate student at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health (Health Policy & Management). I know you are busy, but if you might have a few minutes to tell me more about your career path and provide some advice as I begin mine, it would be greatly appreciated." That's just an example, but you noticed I didn't even use the word "interview" in the request. When I was at Berkeley I tried to set up at least one informational interview a week (typically every Friday morning was informational interview day). I can't begin to tell you how valuable they were, and continue to be today. My network grew immensely and I still keep in touch with the majority of the people I met. As a student, you're "safe" to cold call many of these people, and you will find that most are responsive and will get back to you! 

I'm also happy to make myself available to anyone interested in doing an information interview in person or over the phone - or if you have questions specifically about how to conduct them from the student perspective, I'm also happy to weigh in.

-Patrick R.

Comment by Jeffrey Oxendine on June 10, 2013 at 7:57am

Isaac and Patrick make excellent points. I agree that most important is to state your intention for wanting to meet and convey that it is informal. Use the term and approach that you feel most comfortable with. The key is to convey your enthusiasm for wanting to learn more about them and their organization and for career advice. Within an organization where you work or intern the intention could be to learn more about the person's role and department and how it fits into the overall mission and operation. The goal is to entice a busy person into a meeting that will be beneficial to you and them. Most people in the health field enjoy assisting others learn about the field and meeting the next generation of health professionals.

Comment by Attallah Siedah Dillard on June 14, 2013 at 2:05pm

I was really inspired by this post last week! I am usually a very reserved and quiet person but I took a leap of faith and interviewed several people from my host organization (Kaiser Permanente TPMG South San Francisco). The peopel I interviewed thus far have been very engaging and so interested in my future goals. I have made a lot of connections and gained valuable insight into the health field.

Thank you Mr. Oxendine for encouraging us to do informational interviews!

Helpful Tip: Be prepared a head of time. Although I was prepared to interview I was not expecting to get an interview the same day (within 2 hours) I reached out to my interviewee. Expect the unexpected and stay prepared. :)

 

Comment by Patrick Ramirez on June 19, 2013 at 9:55am

Attallah - glad to hear you are stepping out of your comfort zone! The more you do the more comfortable you will become. Keep up the great work?

Anyone else have any informational interview experiences they would like to share?

Comment by Clifford S. Muong on July 1, 2013 at 9:23am

I can attest to the power of informational interviews. They are an excellent way of networking and more importantly, you can find mentors from conducting informational interviews. Be fearless and have confidence in your approach when asking for informational interviews. If you're sincere and show a high level of interest in the work that those you would like to conduct these interviews with, then there is a very high chance that they will say yes. However, in the event that they indirectly decline, it is not the end of the world and still plenty of others you may contact. Please feel free to contact me if you need any assistance on how to approach informational interviews.

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