"Ask me about my salary I know you did not just"

An informational interview is defined as a meeting you arrange with a professional in a field you are trying to learn more about. For instance, let's say you want to learn more about public health. They may work at a non-profit organization, perhaps a university. It’s a great opportunity to learn about your field while networking with key players. While informational interviews are ideally conducted in person when location permits, phone interviews are also a viable option.

#1 Asking your professional for an informational interview

There are two big secrets of informational interviews. The first, is that most people are really nice and, even if unable to do an interview, are usually happy to point you in the direction of someone who can. The second secret is that everyone loves doing informational interviews because it makes them feel like a movie star. Sending an email to a prospective interviewee is ideal. Tell them you are interested in their work, ask them if they have 30 minutes coming up to talk in the next week or so, thank them for their time, and close. Follow up in two weeks if you don’t hear anything.

#2 How did you get started in the field?

While this question is a great way to learn about early opportunities in your field, it is really a polite icebreaker to get warmed up. By asking this question, you give your interviewee an opportunity to show off, to shine. The point of an informational interview is to learn; by showing up your are showing off. So shut it, and listen to what they have to say.

#3 What are the types of careers possible in this field of work? What are common titles?

In public health, there are a multitude of professions that all come from one masters. With any concentration in public health, you can work in research, advocacy, policy, grant writing, education. By learning about the titles of people in your career of choice, you can conduct more accurate research on career possibilities.

#4 What is rewarding and frustrating about working in this field? How do you work around it?

In public health you can work in a range of careers, from educating teens on drug use to evaluating the cleanliness of restaurant kitchens.  Not all public health professions are pleasant, but each has its ups and downs. Also, ask about the types of salaries typical among public health professionals. Remember, it ain’t always pretty following your dreams but it’s better to know now.

#5 What graduate degree would you suggest for this type of work? Coursework?

Although an MPH is an appropriate degree for many types of public health work, there are other degrees (masters in science, medical degree, hospital administration) that may turn out to be more relevant for your interests. Additional coursework may be helpful to prepare for this type of work that is outside of a graduate degree (i.e. biology may be helpful for being an epidemiologist).

#6 Which school would you suggest for this type of work? Faculty suggestions?

Even if your interviewee is a professor at a university, they may have suggestions for better opportunities that meet your criteria. Not to mention, other universities may have faculty that can help you with the work you would like to do. Ask them for the names of specific faculty they think you should meet.

#7 What kind of practicum opportunities would you recommend? Organizations you recommend?

This is a smart question if you’re looking into graduate school. In public health, a practicum is a short term public health related internship that you take on in your final year of grad school. Upon completion, you usually have to write a report, but it varies by university. By asking about practicum opportunities you get (a) an opportunity to show off about your MPH knowledge (b) a list of the places you should probably work to learn more about your field.

#8 Which conferences would you recommend going to? Local coalition meetings?

There are conferences around the world for everything from quilting to genetics. The opportunities are vast and the cost can be huge. As a result, asking a key informant in your field which conferences are worth your time is a great boon to you. Frequently, professors will go to conferences that aren’t too far away, and you may luck out if one is coming up soon that isn’t too far away. In lieu of conferences, many public health departments have regular meetings (coalitions; councils; boards) that meet about specific health concerns. Asking about which local meetings are worth your while will help you build new contacts without wasting your time.

#9 Who should I talk to next? Do you have their contact information?

This is a very typical, totally useful question to ask at the end of this type of interview. By asking them to give you an interview reference, you have (a) avoided a cold call and (b) unlocked a new network level. You now have a legitimate reason to contact your next informational interview because so-and-so recommended them.

#10 Can I send you my resume?

This is the last thing you say before you walk out of the room. It’s one thing to bring your resume (which you have handed them at the end of the interview), it’s quite another for them to have access to your information in their email. As soon as you get home, email them your resume and a brief thank you for their time.

Bonus Pro Tip: Send a paper thank you note

Okay it’s dated and inconvenient, but in the life of a professional, a thank you note is a little sunshine they can hang on their desk. And that is the point, do not include anything in a thank you note that they couldn’t place publicly next to their “Hang In Their” kitty poster. That means not bringing up your resume or future jobs. Thank them for their time, note something that was particularly helpful/interesting, hope to see them soon, sincerely, you.  Include a business card and mail within three days. See also How To Build & Develop Your Network By Using Social Media.