#STEMSaturdays - The Informational Interview


Unless you’ve been an interviewer, informational interviews can seem pretty awkward. But when done right, they are powerful interactions that can leave you with a better sense of the industry/career path you are interested in and possibly lead to new networking connections!


Send the person a friendly cold email (September 23)- remember to keep it concise! Let the person know why you are interested in talking to them specifically, and ask if they would be willing to communicate via email, phone, or meet up for a coffee.  


Protip: Make the effort to do your research on the person you want to interview- being unprepared is not the best first impression!


If your email goes over two weeks unnoticed, send a follow up along the lines of, “Hi [x], Just following up to see if you had seen my previous email about…” I usually forward the original email to jog their memory. Many have flooded inboxes and may have not even seen your email, or seen it and forgotten to reply!


If the person declines, be courteous. Many have hectic schedules they just can’t step away from at the time. Thank them for the consideration and move on to someone else. Insulting them or continuing to pester them after getting a “no,” is not a great impression, especially if you end up working together down the road!


If the person replies and agrees, great! Set up a time to chat or meet up. From there, you will want to do research on what your candidate has been involved in. What have they written? What interviews have they done? What research have they been a part of? Find similarities to discuss.


Although called an “informational interview,” you don’t want to bombard your person with a ton of questions. Let the conversation flow naturally, including basic questions within the discussion. Some of my favorite questions include:


  • “What is the most challenging aspect of your job?”
  • “What skills have you picked up in your job?”
  • “What does a typical day look like for you?”
  • “What has been the most fascinating thing you’ve learned?”


If you guys end up meshing really well together, that’s fantastic! But don’t forget to glance at the clock every now and then and be respectful of their time! I keep my informational interviews at no more than an hour long. At the hour I reminder myself to do a body language check- are they fidgeting? Constantly looking at their watch? That means it’s time to wrap it up! If I don’t see that body language, I still say the following:


“Well, I want to be respectful of your schedule, and I can’t thank you enough for carving out some time to talk to me about [x]. I would love to keep in touch and possibly do this again in the future, if that’s okay with you!”


Once home, send a follow up email after the informational interview! This is usually in the form of a thank you note, telling them how much I appreciate their time. Again, always be respectful. The conversation can then continue from there and lead to possible meet ups or collaborations. Informational interviews are a base platform from where you can start a working relationship. My most recent informational interview led to me and a scientist I look up to working together every week and discussing the fishes of New Zealand! 


So how do you find the ways to reach out to your interviewees? Try LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and your network of friends and family. Don’t be shy about reaching out to anyone who looks interesting – reaching out to a stranger can be nerve-wracking but can end up being so rewarding. I believe in you… now go get some interviews lined up! Good luck!



About the Author:

Melissa C Marquez is a marine biologist and science communicator based in New Zealand. She is the founder of the Fins United Initiative.  You can find her twitter here, and support her on Patreon here