Informational interviews are a tremendously useful tool for career exploration and networking. Actually, I think they are THE most useful tool. I myself found my first nonclinical position through an informational interview and I know many others who have experienced similar success.
Why just last week someone asked me if he could have a short phone conversation with me to learn more about what I do. (Note this is a very specific request—and a pretty easy one for me to say ‘yes’ to because it would require no preparation on my part.) We met and I chatted about myself and my career and he nicely asked if I would take a peek at his CV and give some feedback. He had sent his CV just before the call so it was in my inbox. It was super easy (again, the operative word) to pull it open, take a gander, and share my thoughts. The whole thing took about 15 minutes. He sent a nice thank you note later that evening which made me feel appreciated. Well, wouldn’t you just know that two days later a colleague mentioned to me that he was recruiting for a physician and it just happened to be the specialty of the man I had spoken to a couple of days prior. I shot a quick email to the interviewee for permission to share his contact info. He happily agreed and shot me his newly cleaned up CV back and I made a quick connection with my colleague. Poof—they have a phone interview scheduled next week! Networking at its best!
If you haven’t been looking for opportunities to schedule informational interviews, you are missing out!
Who should you target for an informational interview? The answer is simple–anyone who might have or have had a job that may be of interest to you. Your goal for an informational interview is to gain a better understanding of the types of positions that may be out there, what qualifications are necessary, and where opportunities may be. It is a great opportunity to get feedback and advice on how best to conduct your career search. You never know where it might lead, so treat it with a high degree of professionalism! Be on time, keep it short to be respectful of the other person’s time, and don’t make any onerous requests at the first meeting.
The advice you receive will be the best quality when you come prepared with great questions. Below are some sample questions.
General Questions about the Interviewee’s Field
- What are the various positions available to physicians in your company?
- What is the typical career path and qualifications for those positions?
- What training is provided to new physicians?
- What is the typical entry-level salary?
- What is the outlook in your industry and company right now?
- What is the best way to get your foot in the door?
- What type of physicians do best/worst in this field?
Questions about your Interviewee
- What is your exact title, responsibilities, and functions?
- What has been your path to your present job?
- What is a normal day like? Usual hours? Requirements for travel?
- What constraints, such as time and funding, make your job more difficult?
- If he/she practiced clinical medicine: what prompted you to transition your career? What’s been the best part? Any regrets? Greatest frustrations?
- Are you challenged by what you do?
- Do you anticipate any openings for someone like me?
- Please have a look at my CV; what improvements could I make to be more competitive?
- Any thoughts or advice which might assist me in making a change?
- Is there additional training, experience, or certification I should pursue?
- What would you do if you were me?
- Can you think of anyone who might have a position for me that I should reach out to?
A couple of other words of advice— Be really specific when you make the request for an informational interview.
I would like to speak with you briefly to understand what it is that you do at Company X. Would you be available Tuesday or Thursday between 2-4 pm EDT this week or next? I promise to keep it short—no more than 20 minutes.
That seems like a simple request and it is easy (there is that word again) for me to glance at my calendar and see if I could make that time. I am much more likely to agree to that request than this one:
I was wondering if you would have some time to offer me some advice on how to go about finding a nonclinical job sometime. I really don’t know what is out there and would like to learn about my options.
Ugh—this is a big ask. It could take an hour or more to give that person what they want. And I have no idea when they are available. It is probably going to take several emails back and forth to find a time that works. I’ll answer that later (or more likely, never).
One last thing, don’t forget the thank you note. Send it quickly after the interview. Express thanks for their time and advice and reference something specific from the conversation. Don’t make any other immediate requests of them in the thank you note—it’s a thank you note, not a PLEASE ALSO DO THIS note. Say you would like to keep in touch and then do so. Additional (easy) requests may be made at a date that is politely in the future.