239: Why and How to Conduct an Informational Interview

239: Why and How to Conduct an Informational Interview


In this episode, I share comprehensive advice on navigating informational interviews for first-gen students. I break it down into steps beginning from identifying professionals to interview, to conducting the actual interview, and then the very important follow-up. I emphasize finding common ground with the professional you interview, asking the right questions and maintaining future contact with them for networking and community building purposes.

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239: Why and How to Conduct an Informational Interview


[00:00:00] Welcome to the top rated and award nominated Grad School Femtoring Podcast, the place for first gen BIPOCs to learn about all things grad school, personal development, and sustainable productivity. This is Doctora Yvette Martinez Vu, and I will be serving as your femtor, providing you with tips and tricks and everything else you need to know to successfully navigate grad school and beyond.

For over 13 years, I've been empowering first gen students of color along their academic and professional journeys, and I'm really excited to support you too.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: This episode is brought to you by listeners like you. As many of you know, I started this podcast four years ago to provide a space to empower first gen BIPOCs as they pursue higher ed. Over time, I've also been able [00:01:00] to uplift voices of those systemically excluded from the ivory tower. Now that the show has grown, however, the podcast requires financial support to sustain itself.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: If you are a loyal listener, you can provide a monthly or one time donation at the links provided in my show notes. And if you are a mission driven company or organization interested in sponsoring an episode, please contact me at gradschoolfemtoring at gmail. com so that you can learn more about my sponsorship packages.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: If you found this podcast valuable in any way, shape, or form, I really hope you'll consider investing in the show. Every little bit helps. Now, back to the episode.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Welcome back everyone to another episode of the Grad School Femtoring podcast. This is your host, Doctora Yvette. Today's episode is all about how to conduct an informational interview. I'm actually quite shocked that I haven't covered this topic up to this [00:02:00] point because it is something that comes up a lot during my initial consultation meetings with people, and also during my one-on-one coaching sessions.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: People come to me wanting to know my insights on should I go to grad school? How do I apply for a job? How do I know if this is the right industry for me? And in many cases, the way that they find the answers to these questions is by talking to people in different industries and talking to people, especially in the jobs that they want, and living the lives that they desire.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And so I thought to myself, well. Why not approach this topic from the lens of maybe this is your first time considering scheduling an informational interview. Maybe you don't even know what an informational interview is. An informational interview is a one-on-one meeting that you are having with a professional who has some insights to [00:03:00] share with you that might be helpful as you develop your.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Uh, career as you make a plan for what jobs you're gonna apply to as you make a plan for pivoting industries, or if you're just curious about someone, their profession, their life, you can reach out to strangers to meet with them, to find out more about that position, about how they landed there, how they prepared for it.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: What a day in the life is like and so on. So if it's not something that you've done before, just know that it's completely socially acceptable to reach out to strangers to ask them for 15 to 30 minutes of their time. Obviously there are some. Exceptions. And there might be some people who will be too busy or who might say no, and that's okay.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: [00:04:00] But there are also just as many people who want to help you out, who want to lift as they climb, who can make that time, who would love to connect with you. And I always think about these meetings as opportunities to build community. Some meetings may go well. Some meetings may be awkward. Some meetings you might find people that you feel like you really bonded with.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Other times you might not want to meet with this person again, but each time you're learning something, each time you're practicing and you're getting better at building the skillset of networking. Through each individual informational interview that you conduct. And so, um, I wanna start with thinking about how do you even find the people to interview?

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: This is a really common question that comes up. My usual go-to answer is to find people on social media. That is finding people on LinkedIn, for instance, [00:05:00] that is a. Completely socially acceptable place to reach out to strangers. That is one of the reasons why LinkedIn was even created for professionals to find each other, for recruiters to find folks applying to jobs to find talent.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: There's also other social media platforms that you can use. I know for instance, for folks who do a lot of travel and wanna connect with other travelers, they might find each other through Facebook groups. For folks who are of, you know, younger generations, they might find each other on TikTok or even Snapchat.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And then for those of us kind of in the middle, gen X, gen Y, and some Gen Zers, uh, you can find some pretty cool folks and connect with them on Instagram as well. In fact, today I had an informational interview. Someone reached out to me. This person is a former grad student. They left their [00:06:00] graduate program because they decided that was not.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: The right program for them and are now pursuing a career in writing, creative writing, uh, and other types of writing jobs, um, freelance writing and so on. And so they wanted to learn more about. My pursuing entrepreneurship about what it was like for me to work in higher education full time. How did I navigate my chronic illnesses and my neurodivergence?

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: We had a really, really fruitful conversation, and I think it's gonna be the start of a longer relationship because I just really bonded with this person. And so I just wanna remind you that you can find people through different avenues. If you are someone who's not really using social media, there are still ways for you to find people.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: You can ask your mentors, fem mentors, professors, alumni, networks. [00:07:00] You can also reach out to any older contacts and ask them if there's anybody that they know that they can connect you to. When I mentioned I had an informational interview recently, that person told me I really want to develop my career as a creative writer.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And I had someone in mind. I was like, I know the perfect person to connect you with, and I made that connection. So that's the other thing is as you conduct informational interviews, you can also say. I loved chatting with you. I would love to keep staying in touch. Also, if you know of any other folks that would be good for me to reach out to, please let me know, and then that gives you another person to contact.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Now, I will admit, the tricky thing with informational interviews is determining when you want to stay in touch with individuals and how to stay in touch. I'm still actively, actively working on that skill. But, um, even just getting to the point of initiating, [00:08:00] reaching out to strangers, scheduling these interviews, and then going through the actual process of having a conversation with them, asking them a couple of go-to questions that already by and large is you taking a huge step and it's gonna pay off in the long run.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So now that you have some ideas for. How to reach out to people. How do you even prepare for the interview? One of the thing that I tell a lot of folks when they're new to conducting informational interviews is that you don't wanna just flat out invite everybody and their mama and find a stranger where it just doesn't make any sense why you're reaching out to them.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: You want to find some common ground. You want there to be a pretty good reason why you're reaching out to them. That person that reached out to me, guess what they are Latina. They are neurodivergent. Uh, we also have, you know, some things in common in terms of our general [00:09:00] interests and, you know, re even research some general research areas in common.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Um, we also, uh, were in similar social media. Spaces. So there was already that common ground of they could say that they knew that there were some parts of my identity that we had some common ground in. That's also what you wanna find when you're making these connections. What do you have in common with this person?

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Sometimes it's different identity markers. Sometimes it's that you attended the same university, you have the same alma mater. Sometimes it's that. You have shared interests, shared passions, no matter what, you have to figure out how it is that you are going to connect with them. Aside from just saying, you have the job that I want, you want it to be a more, um, you don't want it to be a forced connection.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: You want it to be more of a personalized connection. [00:10:00] Then when, um, you've done your research on who the person is and you can convince yourself or make a pretty good case for why you wanna reach out to this person in particular, you wanna make sure you have a list of questions to ask, and you wanna make sure that of those questions, you can narrow down your top two to three questions you wanna ask them, because you never know.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: They might only have 15 minutes, they might have half an hour. They might even be generous enough to devote an hour or even more with you, but you don't know. My informational interviews are scheduled for half an hour, and if I have another coaching session right after, it really is only half an hour.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Sometimes I don't have coaching sessions after, and I am willing to give someone up to an hour of time, but that's not always the case. So that's why I always say, make sure that you can get all of your. Top questions answered. Now you might be thinking, [00:11:00] well, what questions can I ask? I do think that it's nice to keep the meeting very conversational, um, and somewhat casual.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: You don't want it to feel too formal or too forced, but there might be some questions you really wanna know. You might really wanna know. Well, how did you prepare for this profession? You might really wanna know what is the day in the life like for you? You might really wanna know what are the biggest challenges for you in your current position?

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: What, what do you love most and what do you. Least like about your job. And if those are big questions for you, make sure you ask those questions. Um, aside from that, honestly, you could quickly Google what to ask in an informational interview and you will find. Several dozens of lists of questions, and you can pick and choose from those to see which are most relevant to you.[00:12:00]

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: But I definitely think you wanna ask a question that allows you to get to know them more personally, to get to know them more based on their professional track record, and to get to know more about that industry, the job, the field that they're in. And then of course, if you can ask them to refer you to someone else.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Or if they're a really great connection, you develop a good rapport with them. You can also ask if it's okay to stay in touch. And then, um, you know, one of the things that I know that, like I said earlier, I'm trying to get better at, is I'm trying to get better at the follow up. You wanna make sure that once you're done with the informational interview, you follow up in some way.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Sometimes a follow up might mean sending a LinkedIn message or an Instagram dm wherever it is that you found them. Sometimes it means sending a formal thank you email if you've never sent a thank you email. You can have AI draft you a very [00:13:00] nice template, and then you can update it with your own writing in your own words and what you actually learned and gained from the meeting.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: But definitely it's helpful to express your. Gratitude for them making time for you. That is always appreciated. I'm trying to think if there's anything else to do. If you don't already have them on your social media. Have you found them but you didn't add them? Maybe you emailed them. Definitely find a way to stay in touch with them.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So if your best bet is email, keep them. Keep their contact information available. If it, if you know that you were connected with them through other social media platforms, make sure that you are following or connecting with them so that way they are part of your network, that they can be, that you can keep them on top of whatever it is that you're doing based on whatever it is that you post on your social media platforms.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And if again, you're not someone that's on social media. And you [00:14:00] choose to use email and you wanna stay in touch with them, try to, whether it's an A reminder on your calendar, calendar or any, anytime that something comes up that reminds you of them, send them a memo here and there. It's always appreciated whenever someone reaches out to me, even if it's months later saying, hi, Dr.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Yvette. I don't know if you remember, but we met a couple months back. You gave me some insights on reaching out to so and so, and since then I've applied and gotten a job. I love those messages because you never know what might come up or what might come out of a very generative and fruitful discussion over an informational interview.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: That is all I have to say for this episode. I hope that you found some of these tips helpful, and now I just wanna encourage you to go on after you. Hit stop or pause for this episode and find someone to connect with you will not regret it. [00:15:00] Alright, y'all, that's it. I'll talk to you all next time.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Thanks so much for joining me in the Grad School Femtoring Podcast. If you like what you heard, here are four ways you can support the show. The first is to make sure you're subscribed and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. The second way is to get your copy of my free Grad School Femtoring Resource Kit, which includes essential information to prepare for and navigate grad school.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: You can access it at the link in today's show notes. The third way to support my show is to follow me on social media. You can find me on Instagram with the handle at gradschoolfemtoring and on LinkedIn by searching my name. The last way to show your love is to sign up to work with me via my Grad School Femtoring Academy, my group coaching program for first gen BIPOCs seeking to work on their personal growth and gain sustainable productivity [00:16:00] skills.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: You can learn more at gradschoolfemtoring. com slash academy. Thanks again for listening and until next time.

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