The Informational Interview: I Want Jessie’s Job (With Apologies to Rick Springfield)

 August 24, 2016

Professional conversation

This post is for graduate students who are wondering any of the following: What am I going to do after I graduate? How did that person get that job? How can I get that job? Or what am I doing with my life? The answer to all of your questions: informational interviews! Wait, I’m completely serious! Don’t leave the blog just yet! I’ll explain why informational interviews are so valuable and how you can use them to get the real answers to your questions.


As graduate students we’re trained within an academic mindset—think about your research, or consider this course versus that course. And while that mindset is great (we did choose to attend graduate school, after all), we’re often limited when we think about what comes next. There is a critical need for graduate students to explore and gather more information about career options (consider our job market outlook). Thus there is a demand for more knowledge, and informational interviews can help you meet that demand. For graduate students, they give you the ability to learn more without significantly infringing on your academic goals. Informational interviews are low-pressure conversations in which you learn more about a specific company, person, or job.

By now, I (or the links) have hopefully convinced you informational interviews are legit. Now you can begin having them. For clarity (and skim-ability) my recommendations are outlined below. Each section will walk you through major aspects of the informational interview:


  1. Attend career-focused events offered both at Duke and in the Research Triangle Park.
    • These can be anything you’re interested in.
    • Be wise about how you spend your time (as it’s hard to do any research if you attend seminars, talks, workshops all day every day).
  2. Speak to the organizer or other attendees.
    • Give your opinion or ask for advice. (I love asking for advice; it’s a low-hanging fruit question because it’s a really easy conversation starter for those of us who are intimidated by talking to people we don’t know.)
  3. Follow up.
    • Add this person to your career contacts list. This list is similar to your Christmas card list but with regard to your career goals.
      • You can use LinkedIn as a resource to cultivate your contacts.
    • Document the information in your career development notes. Will you remember details of your conversation eight months from now? Write everything down, revisit your notes, and use them to inform your career goals.
    • Send a thank you email.
    • Ask for a coffee or lunch meeting (aka an informational interview) only if you have specific questions or you think this meeting could prove beneficial to your career awareness.


  1. Preparation (begins prior to your meeting): select a place and time. Don’t be late, rushed or distracted.
    • Most importantly, do your homework. Put thought into what you want to get from the meeting. Have a goal or aim. Have at least 5 questions/comments you can ask.
    • You will lead this conversation. This person is offering you their time, so don’t waste it.
  2. During the interview, be present. There’s nothing worse than a distracted person who doesn’t pay attention while they’re interviewing you.


  1. Follow-up again: send a thank-you email. (They’re already on your contacts list, right?)
  2. For your growth:
    • I recommend keeping notes of all the informational interviews you do in the same notebook/document.
    • Once a year, update key players on your progress. Remind them that you’re still alive and may be looking for a job in the future. Keep your network fresh.

Conducting informational interviews has not only helped me better define my career goals but it has also critically expanded my professional network. I highly recommend you give them a try!


Image credit: University of Connecticut Center for Career Development,


Erika Moore
Erika Moore

Ph.D. candidate, Biomedical Engineering

Erika Moore is a fourth-year PhD candidate in Biomedical Engineering, a graduate resident, and an aspiring hip hop dancer. She enjoys working out, organizing things, and drinking hot water (yes, really). Learn more about her research or visit her on LinkedIn.