How to Conduct an Informational Interview for Grad School

Dr. Lamont Moore
Dr. Lamont Moore
Director of Testing, Accountability, Gifted Education, and Title III; Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, Gardner-Webb University, NC

Master’s level degrees function differently than bachelor’s level degrees in that they are designed to provide a higher level of specialization in niche areas of academia. As a result of this, it is crucial to be well informed when making the decision to enroll into a graduate school, as well as which graduate level specialization to obtain. One way to learn about available options for graduate degrees and careers pathways is to interview the very people who are following a career path that aligns with your interests. Informational interviews are not job interviews but rather occasions to gather specific knowledge about the transition from studying into practicing in the field.

Benefits of Informational Interviews

The benefits of engaging in informational interviews are many however here are some of the most impactful benefits.

Exploring Different Paths

For many undergraduate students, the first two years of college were exploratory and allowed time to decide on which major to focus and commit for the remainder of college matriculation. As a graduate student, however, you may not have the time or resources to explore your interests in the same way. Informational interviews for graduate students provide you with an opportunity to explore different career paths without devoting a large amount of time and money. Each interview is a unique opportunity to dialogue with someone who is currently working in the area in which you may be interested. Therefore you should take the liberty to select interviewees that represent a wide range of your interests. They will each take you on a journey into their areas of expertise, and it will be key that you capture their passions and compare them to your own.

First-Hand Knowledge about Career Paths and Outcomes

The interviewees that you chose provide an advantage over theory, statistics, and research that you may have studied regarding various career paths. They are real-time practitioners who can provide you with the most raw and up-to-date insight into their careers. Much of the information that they share with you may not have been captured yet by current research. They are able to reveal trends, upcoming changes, current mindsets and perspectives to you that you would not otherwise have gained until you were engrossed in the field for yourself. Your dialogue with the interviewees may also reveal information that you never knew or even considered regarding various career paths and options.

Identification of Potential Challenges of Certain Jobs/Programs

Because the interviewees are real-time practitioners, they not only have relevant knowledge about the field, but they also know the potential barriers that you may experience along the way. You have the opportunity to learn about the challenges in advance, which prevents you from being blindsided in the future. Instead of succumbing to the same challenges, you are able to learn from the mistakes and experiences of those who have done the work prior to you. Depending on what is shared, you also gain the information needed to decide whether or not you want to choose the same career pathway because of the potential challenges.

Tips for Conducting Informational Interviews

How to Find Interviewees

First you should clearly outline your areas of interest. Your areas of interest will determine which individuals you should target when selecting your interviewees. It is important to remember that you are seeking information about your future options. Therefore you should reach out to a wide variety of individuals based on your interests.

Once you have decided on your areas of interest, you will need to find individuals who have been successful in these areas. In most cases, successful individuals have reputations that precede them, so rely on recommendations from those you trust.

For a more objective selection, consider searching for news releases, checking the conference presenter rosters, and even utilizing business social media platforms such as LinkedIn to find successful practitioners to invite to interview. Also, be sure not to overlook those individuals who are very accessible to you such as your academic advisor, professors from your school, and even successful students who are enrolled in the school in which you would like to enroll. They are valuable resources who may be much easier to schedule.

Requesting an Interview

Regardless of whom you choose to interview, you must recognize that their time is limited and valuable. You should be very organized and flexible with your time when reaching out to request an interview. Limiting the time in which you are available to interview and being rigid with the amount of time you prefer to interview may deter individuals from consenting to be interviewed.

It is also important to be mindful of the preferences of your interviewees. Many may respond better to phone calls, others may prefer texting/virtual chat while still others may favor face-to-face or webcam interviews. When requesting an interview be sure to outline the goal of the interview and what you hope to gain in your communication.

Preparing for the Interview

As you prepare, make sure that you do your research first. You do not want to spend time asking your interviewee about his/her background and accomplishments when you could have studied this prior to the interview. Your questions should be determined prior to the interview. You do not want to come across as “winging it” or asking arbitrary questions. Avoid asking closed ended, yes/no, or extremely personal questions as they may limit the dialogue or offend the interviewee. Make sure that you are dressed professionally, choose a location that is free from distractions, and you confirm your interview with the interviewee. Engaging in practice interviews prior to the real interview is also beneficial.

After the Interview

Follow up with an email or message of thanks to show your appreciation to each interviewee. This message should reveal what you specifically gleaned from them during the interview. Many times the interviewee has consented to be interviewed to make sure that they are impacting and influencing others. They are very interested in how they may have specifically helped you. Be sure to stay connected to your interviewee by exchanging business cards or contact information. It will be very beneficial to stay in touch with them to get future updates and build your professional network.

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