Here are the questions you need to ask at your next informational interview

Quick Career Tips – Here are the questions you need to ask at your next informational interview

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Today’s career tip is on informational interviews!

Knowing what kind of career you want to one day have can give you a strong sense of control and peace of mind. It might not seem easy to conceptualize something that far into the future, but today’s Quick Career Tips episode will help you do exactly that.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • What a career vision is
  • Why it’s important that you draft a career vision
  • How you can get started with drafting a career vision that guides your next career move!

Featured on the Show:

Other Resources:

Episode Transcript

Sujani 0:02
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva from PH SPOT.

Sujani 0:17
Hi there, and welcome to the latest quick career tips episode. These episodes are always so much fun for me to record because they’re just, you know, jam packed with lots of great tips that anyone, whether you’re in public health, as a student, or working as an early professional, or established professional, you can really benefit from them. And we provide you with tips to put some of these things into action as soon as they’d like. And, you know, the great part is that these episodes are quick, we try to keep them under 10 minutes. So if you’re- If you’re just needing a quick boost of inspiration, or motivation or, or just a tip for the day, this is an episode that you can turn to.

Sujani 1:07
So you know, in these series, we talk about everything from developing a career vision, which was the last episode to making time for self care. And you know, these topics are very exciting. And I want to continue that excitement, as funny as it sounds. But today, I want to talk about a tool or a topic, which I think is very important. And it kind of ties back to the idea of networking, building your support circle in public health, so that you do have that network of individuals to lean on when you most need it. And so the topic we’re going to talk about is informational interviews. So you’ve probably heard me speak about informational interviews, in almost, you know, any episode that I kind of record with guests, I may have called it something else. But ultimately, it’s this topic, it’s this idea of connecting with individuals, right? And the reason I mentioned them so frequently, that the need to have informational interviews, is because they truly hold the power to shape your career. So in summary, informational interviews are essentially a 30 minute, a casual conversation often with somebody that you’ve been introduced to or have connected with, perhaps via LinkedIn or at an event. And then the purpose of these quote unquote, interviews is, as the name implies, to collect more information about a specific career path, a specific role, or an organization that interests you, right? In attaining this information, you’re often able to elevate your job application, perhaps, or make a decision with regards to your career, gain exposure to the hidden job market, and ultimately grow your network to include meaningful relationships. Because there’s just so much that you can find online, right? You know, you could follow individuals read about some of the updates that they share on their social media, perhaps they have a blog, and maybe an organization has a great About Us page telling you about the culture of that company. But these informational interviews, they really add more to your research, per se. So I’ve, you know, conducted hundreds of these interviews over the past several years. And a lot of them, you know, have been amazing, I’ve been able to build great relationships. I consider the guests on my podcast as individuals that I’m building meaningful relationships with, I am collecting information. But the- the kind of difference there is that I’m sharing it through a medium such as this podcast so that others can hear this conversation. Right? And regardless of the conversation, or the person, or the topic that I’m talking about, I still walk away from each one of these conversation, gaining some new insight into a topic. And so, you know, in the best case scenarios, I’ve walked away with a new person to add to my network. And other times perhaps I was exposed to a an opportunity whether that’s for a job or to connect with somebody else, or just a new initiative or project to be a part of. So, you know, I think I don’t need to convince you that informational interviews have tremendous benefits. But what I’m going to do on today’s episode is not focus on why they’re so important. But you know, kind of give you a bit more information on how to take that first step to set up an informational interview for a specific purpose for yourself, right? If you’re looking for, you know, information on why these aren’t- These are important and how to land one, I’m going to get you to go listen to our episode titled ABCs of informational interviews in the public health world, where I interviewed Dr. Shanna Shulman. She’s the director of Health and Medical Research at the Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation. She also teaches this topic as a guest lecturer at Harvard. So in that episode, we touch on informational interviews and kind of the basics of that, including when you should conduct one and how to set up and execute a successful one.

Sujani 6:14
So like I said, in today’s episode, I’m going to take things a step further by sharing the questions perhaps that you should be asking during your informational interviews. And the questions you should most likely avoid if you want to leave a lasting impression on the interviewee. And especially, you know, make the most out of those 30 minutes you have with them. So, you know, if you’re ready, get a notepad or maybe a document to take some notes. And let’s get right into it.

Sujani 6:46
So for starters, even though informational interviews are casual in nature, you actually need to go to them prepared. So that means having a notebook or a notepad or some- some place to take notes, with a list of, you know, just under 10 questions that you’d like to cover in your time when the interviewee and why this many, one, because you only have a short amount of time with this person. And the reality is that you can get quite a lot of insight from just a few questions if they’re worded right, and are broad enough. So, you know, having just under 10 question also gives you that flexibility to jump to a topic that may not have been covered, while the person is kind of explaining a concept to you. And, and as they’re explaining that concept, perhaps they’ve already hit three or four of your questions. And you don’t need to ask those again. And it’s also important to make sure that you’re not asking questions that can be simply Googled, right? So to avoid this mistake, do some research about the individual you’re interviewing before the actual interview. And whether that’s by reading their LinkedIn profile or skimming their company website to learn more about the work they do. The key here is being prepared with this information and a few questions. Because that right off the bat gives you credibility. And the interviewee will know from the get go that you’re serious about the interview, right? One example I give is when people reach out to me to learn about kind of my career journey, I often appreciated when they tell me that they read my two part series about, you know, how I have navigated my career, and it’s a blog post on PH SPOT. So that tells me that they’ve done their research, they won’t be asking me the questions that are already answered in the blog post. And we can actually talk about some important things that perhaps they weren’t able to find out about me on the blog or the podcast or through my LinkedIn posts.

Sujani 9:13
So you know, the other thing is, it’s also important not to jump into the questions right away, right, make sure you introduce yourself, by using your elevator pitch, perhaps and we have an episode on that too. And that gives a person an idea of who you are, and what it is that you’re looking to get out of the time with them. It’s it’s very important to hear from, you know, the person sitting across the table, the objective of that session. And some examples are that it might be that you’re interested in learning more about their career path because you’re interested in pivoting, kind of the space that you’re in or that you want to speak to a certain number of industry professionals just to get a better understanding of the sector. Whatever the reason, make sure you make it known so that the interviewee can ensure they’re being as helpful as possible with their response. And also, they’re not wondering the whole 30 minutes why this call was set up, you know, if it wasn’t already mentioned in- in the message that you sent them before setting up the call, it’s definitely important to mention it when you do speak with them. And also, you know, if you’ve already talked about it in an email or LinkedIn message, make sure to mention it on the call, just to remind them. And so once you’ve given them a quick overview of who you are, it’s also best practice to remind them how you found out about them, right? It’s nice to know whether you are connected through a mutual connection or that you read something that they had wrote or their name popped up on LinkedIn, whatever the reason, or not reason. But whatever kind of led you to that individual, make sure you mentioned that to them as well. Once you’ve kind of made it through the introductions, you should be in a good place to jump into your questions. And of course, you can personalize the questions however you’d like. But if you want to form a strong connection with an individual and walk away with useful insight, here’s a bit of a framework that you can use right?

Sujani 11:12
Start with a question that eases you into the conversation. Then follow up with a few questions that provide you with insight into that person’s line of work, and then end off with an ask to the interview. And so a good conversation starter can simply be a question like, can you please walk me through your career path, and how it is that you got to where you are? Right? In this way, you’re prompting the interviewee to start telling their career story. The key here is to get a good sense of how they got into this line of work, the types of projects they’ve worked on, and the skills they’ve acquired or put to use at these different phases of their career. As you intently listen to their story, take notes, write down any follow up questions you may have. Once they’re done providing you with an overview of their career journey, you can jump in and ask some of the more pressing questions that you may have- That you may have written down, right? And you know, with this first question, the caveat is if that person has already shared their career journey, in other mediums, whether it was on a podcast or an article, or or maybe you’ve skimmed through their LinkedIn profile, perhaps you can focus in on a specific phase of their career and ask them to explain a transition perhaps, or their time at a certain organization. So just be aware of who you’re talking to, so that you can frame this question in the most appropriate way. And in a while, it’s excellent to get an idea of an individual’s overall career journey, it’s also important to understand the highs and lows of their current work, in order to better inform your decision to go into a specific role or sector. So with that being said, your next set of questions can include something like, what do you enjoy about this role, or sector or industry the most? And on the flip side, what is it that’s not so great about this work? Or what are some of the challenges that you face? The answers to these questions will provide you with the insight you need to assess the pros and cons of working in a given field or role.

Sujani 13:21
Another question you could ask is, what’s changing in this sector? Or how do you expect it to change over the coming years? This question tells you more about the demand for a specific job and the trends that you should keep an eye out for if this is something you’d like to pursue in the long term. And you know, again, here, do some research yourself if there are articles that talk about the growth of opportunities in a specific sector and industry, mention that you read and you read the stats somewhere and you’d like their insight into this. So always, you know, going back to being prepared with the question and these are just not vague questions that you’re asking them to fill time and build a connection. You want to show them that you’ve done the research and you’re there specifically to get their insight into questions that you weren’t able to find answers online. Okay?

Sujani 14:21
And some other questions that you can ask them is, who does well in this industry role or sector? You know, you want the interviewee to highlight a list of skills and maybe information that they’ve gathered while working in this field and that can help you improve on some of the skills that you know, you perhaps need to work on. So you know, you’ve gone through a number of questions with them. And then at this point of this, the informational interview, you probably have gotten quite a good picture of the job, what it takes to landed as well as some valuable nuggets of wisdom around skills to build. And to end off things on a high note, walk away with something even more tangible and practical. So I’d recommend that you and your informational interviews with a form of this final question. And that is, do you have any additional advice for me in terms of who I can connect with, or resources I should check out, right? So you want them to, to set you up on the next action that you should take. And you will be surprised by the number of resources that you’ll be collecting through these informational interviews, right, or the individuals that people end up connecting you with? And, you know, the way you can modify this question slightly is, make it a bit more specific. So you could say, do you have any additional advice for me in terms of who I can connect to learn more about topic x, or resources, such as publications, or associations, I should check out to learn more about and then you insert the topic, right? The best informational interviews are ultimately the ones that leave you feeling a lot more knowledgeable about a given role or sector. And the only way that can happen is if you ask all the right questions. So the questions that I’ve mentioned in today’s episodes are a great blueprint to use during your chat. But you know, there’s also a few things that you should avoid asking, right? And some of these include the ones I’ve been mentioning, which are things like questions that can be easily answered via Google search, like, you know, how many people work in this organization, that’s something that you can probably find online, on perhaps even LinkedIn, if that company has a LinkedIn page, you can get a rough sense of how many people are part of that organization through LinkedIn features. Or like I said, if that individual is active online, and they have a blog or podcast, that they’ve been part of the write a lot on their social media, those are pieces of information that you can collect by just doing a search online. And another question that sometimes needs to be avoided is bluntly asking them to give you a job, right? That really puts the individual in a- in a tough situation, awkward situation, because you’re not somebody that they know well. And for anybody to recommend somebody for a job, you want to make sure that they’ve built a good relationship, previous to recommending you for a job. So you know, as much as it might be tempting to ask for a job. The key message I want you to take away from this is that asking somebody that you’ve just set up an informational interview with for a job is not the best approach. You know, there are ways that you could approach that- That question, perhaps you could say, if any opportunities arise, and you think I’d be a great fit, I do hope you’ll keep me in mind. And you can kind of leave it at that, right? And so like I said, informational interviews, you know, they are supposed to be casual conversations, they can be a bit intimidating. But when you go in, well prepared with a set of questions, a short pitch as to who you are, you’ll feel a lot more relaxed throughout the conversation, right? And, of course, the conversation doesn’t end there at the end of that 30 minute. Once you’ve wrapped up the interview, make sure you send a person an email or a message within 24 hours of meeting them just to thank them for the insight they’ve provided you with. And maybe a few weeks later, consider forwarding maybe an article or link to an event that made you think about them. And that kind of shows that you’re thinking about the conversation. It also kind of keeps the conversation going. And you might even want to give some thought to this before conducting your informational interview with the person, right? Maybe there are a few things that you can find and share with them even at the end of the interview in return for the wealth of information they’ve provide you with right so to say, hey, I saw that on LinkedIn, you were talking a lot about working on a specific project. And I actually came across this event and I thought I could share that with you. And I’ll be sure to send the link at the end of our conference conversation, right? So it shows that you’ve done your research, you’re there to offer them something in return. And you know, that exchange of ideas and opportunities is what kind of solidifies the relationship in the long term.

Sujani 20:32
So, you know, that was a bit of a longer, quick career tips episode and most of my episodes, but as you can see, it’s a topic that I really love talking about. And I hope these guiding questions, has made informational interviews, less intimidating for you. And it’s something that you’ll try out, you know, I, I love them, because I find that there’s only so much you can find online in terms of guidance for your career. So having actual individuals in those roles, share their lived experiences, gives you so much more wealth of knowledge for you to build your own career.

Sujani 21:18
So I hope you enjoy that episode spotlighting today’s Career Tip. And if you want to see notes from today’s episode, you can head over to And if you’re listening to this episode on Apple podcasts, or Google podcasts or Spotify, I do hope you can leave us a rating. And if you have the time and review, it really shows other public health professionals what to expect and gives us a bit more, you know, feedback on how you’re enjoying these episodes. So if you can take the time to leave us a review, I would truly appreciate that. And until next time, thank you so much for tuning in to the PH SPOTlight. And I’ll see you on the next episode.


About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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