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Top 5 Informational Interview Articles For PhDs Transitioning Out Of Academia

By Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.

I remember thinking to myself, “Do all PhDs do a postdoc? Do I have to do a postdoc?”

Was there another way?

All I could see were PhDs working in academia.

PhDs who were undervalued and overworked in academia.

But, it appeared all that was available to me as a PhD were postdoc positions and I felt that I was only qualified to do a postdoc.

I applied to a few postdoc positions since I thought this was what PhDs were supposed to do.

But, it felt terrible.

I knew that a postdoc wasn’t what I wanted to do.

But, what else was there?

I had no clue what PhDs did outside of academia.

I had recently moved to a new area and, to meet new people, I started going to events.

I met some great people.

I even met some PhDs who were working outside academia!

I was so excited to meet PhDs who worked in industry and I asked many questions about what their jobs were like in industry.

From these new connections, I learned about a huge variety of jobs I had no idea existed.

I learned about what it was like to work for different companies.

But, most importantly, I learned that there was a future for PhDs outside the University.

There were careers where I could stay connected to science and have an impact.

At the time, I didn’t know that there was a name for what I was doing, but talking with industry professionals about their jobs and career paths is conducting what’s called an informational interview.

Through these informational interviews I found both the information and the confidence I needed to leave academia.

And soon after, I found my first industry position — where I felt valued as a PhD.

But, I have never stopped doing these informational interviews.

They help me grow my network and learn about new things happening in industry.

Without these informational interviews, I might still be in academia — hating every second of it.

The Incredible Value Of Informational Interviews

Senior Executive offering handshake. The Incredible Value Of Informational Interviews

An informational interview provides massive benefit to your job search by performing 2 main functions:

1. Expanding your industry network, which leads to referrals.
2. Teaching you about what it’s like to work in specific companies or jobs.

Without these 2 things, your job search will be much harder and you might end up in a position that you hate.

According to Jobvite, 51% of recruiters rated having an employee referral as an important factor in hiring, while 89% of recruiters rated company culture fit as an important factor in hiring.

Through informational interviews, you can gain referrals and learn how to demonstrate that you are a good culture fit for a company.

Having a referral will not only increase your chances of getting hired, it will also increase your starting salary.

Payscale found that having a referral from a business contact increases annual salary by up to $8,700.

Informational interviews provide opportunities to build relationships with industry professionals.

By first meeting with them with the intention of learning more about their role, and hearing their story, you begin to build rapport.

And, as you maintain contact with that person, and continue to add value to them, you will be able to ask for a referral when you need it.

But, the largest benefit you gain from informational interviews is learning what it’s like to work at a company or in a specific job, day after day.

According to the most recent Jobvite survey, 30% of new hires leave within 90 days of being hired.

Just 3 months after starting a new job, 30% of people leave.

And, the biggest reason people leave a new job? “Their day-to-day role wasn’t what they expected.”

Such a waste to go through the stress and hard work of the interview process only to end up in a job you don’t like.

Informational interviews can save you from this problem.

By reaching out to professionals in the positions you are interested in, and the companies you are interested in, you can get a real feel for what their work life is like.

You can decide before you even apply for a job if it’s likely to be good for you.

As a PhD, you deserve a job doing meaningful work in a company that suits you — and, conducting informational interviews is a key step in getting there.

Cheeky Scientist Top 5 Informational Interview Articles

Cheeky Scientist Top 5 Informational Interview Articles

So, informational interviews are important — but, what are they?

How do you get one?

What do you ask someone during an informational interview?

How do you use one to get a referral?

All great questions, that are covered by the articles below.

Here are the top 5 Cheeky Scientist articles to help PhDs learn how to ask for, perform, and make the most of informational interviews...

Here are the top 5 Cheeky Scientist articles to help PhDs learn how to ask for, perform, and make the most of informational interviews...

informational interview questions | Cheeky Scientist | what is an informational interview
An informational interview is NOT the time to ask for a job.
It is not the time to talk about yourself.
It is a valuable opportunity to have a conversation with an industry professional about their perspective on a specific career.
It is a time to listen.
An informational interview is a time to develop a relationship and set up the possibility for a future referral.
But, how do you find an industry professional who is willing to talk to you?
What should you ask them?
The key is to set up informational interviews that are both structured and effective.
This article walks you through how to set up and execute an informational interview.
5 Steps To Earning A Job Referral When Searching For An Industry Position
Having a referral can increase your chances of getting hired, increase your starting salary, and increase your job satisfaction.
If the benefits are so large, why doesn’t everyone have a referral?
Because, getting a referral is hard and requires lots of energy input.
Informational interviews are a great way to begin the process of building rapport and adding value to a connection you hope to receive a referral from.
Someone you do not know well is very unlikely to give you a referral.
When asking for a referral, it’s important that you have considered your specific situation and are certain that asking for a referral is appropriate.
To get to the place where asking for a referral is appropriate, there are a few steps you should follow, and this articles takes you through that process.
50 Questions That Turn Informational Interviews Into Actual Interviews
Done well, an informational interview will give you insight into a company/position and get you a referral that leads to a job interview.
To have this level of success from an informational interview takes extreme preparation.
You must know what questions to ask and when to ask them.
You need to know when to let the conversation flow and when to bring it back on track.
This will take some practice.
And, the more you conduct these interviews, the more comfortable you will become with them.
But, you will also find yourself looking for more and more questions to ask your new connections.
This article has 50 informational interview questions, organized by when you should ask them.
how to prepare for an informational interview | Cheeky Scientist | informational interview tips
Getting someone to agree to an informational interview is great.
But, what will you do when you actually meet with this new connection?
Informational interviews are a powerful way to gain industry insight, but only if you are well-prepared.
It means getting informed on the person you’re interviewing and informed on their company.
It also means mapping out what you want to ask and figuring out how you will make the person feel comfortable talking with you.
Informational interviews are a powerful way to gain industry insights.
There is no better way to decide if a job is right for you than by talking to someone who is already doing that job.
But, you need to know how to guide the conversation in the direction of what you want to learn.
And, that all comes down to being well-prepared.
This article outlines a few must-follow tips when you are preparing for your next informational interview.
What I Learned By Completely Blowing My First Informational Interview (For PhDs)
Leaving academia can be confusing because PhDs are often given very little information and guidance about how to get an industry position.
For example, do you know what positions are available to you outside academia?
Do you know what it’s like to work in industry?
Do you know which companies would best suit your desired professional lifestyle?
Probably not.
But, these are questions that many PhDs have, as they begin their transition from academia to industry.
And, conducting informational interviews with industry professionals gives you a direct line to what is happening in industry.
However, done wrong, an informational interview can be uncomfortable and place you on someone’s blacklist.
In this article, learn what you should — and shouldn’t — do during an informational interview.

informational interviews are your key to learning about PHD suitable industry positions

There is so much opportunity for PhDs beyond academia.

But, many PhDs are completely unaware of the positions available to them.

Meanwhile, other PhDs are overwhelmed by the number of job options in industry and are uncertain what would be a good fit for them.

The answer to both of these problems is to conduct informational interviews.

Through informational interviews, you can learn about the wide variety of industry positions suitable for PhDs and you can determine what positions might be a good fit for you.

However, learning how to set up these interviews and what to ask people can be confusing.

But, the resources above will guide you through the process of learning about jobs in industry, growing your industry network, executing an informational interview, and getting referrals.

As a PhD, you already have an edge over other candidates.

To learn more about how to write a killer resume and other essential tips on how to land your dream job in industry, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the waitlist for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

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Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.

Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.

Cathy has a PhD in Medical Life Science and Technology and is COO of the Cheeky Scientist Association. Cathy is passionate about science communication including translating science to lay audiences and helping PhDs transition into industry positions. She is Chair of Cambridge AWiSE, a regional network for women in science, engineering and technology. She has also been selected to take part in Homeward Bound 2018, an all-female voyage to Antarctica aimed to heighten the influence of women in leadership positions and bring awareness to climate change.
Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.