Cyber Monday Banner

5 Common Phrases PhDs Say That Will Ruin Informational Interviews

I knew that staying in academia just wasn’t for me.

But as I was finishing up my PhD I had no idea what lay ahead for me.

For years I had been plotting and planning my career in academia and this was the only path that I had information about.

What about industry?

What about non-profits?

What about startups?

Did any of those places want to hire PhDs?

And if those places were hiring people with PhDs, what would I do at their company?

I didn’t want to do bench research anymore but I was so unsure of what else it would be possible for me to do, this was all I had known.

So I started doing my research.

Googling the types of jobs that PhDs get in industry and learning more about those positions.

But this was still vague.

What were these people doing on a day to day basis?

Would I enjoy these positions?

I finally started to get some clarity on this when I learned about informational interviews.

I started setting up informational interviews with those people who I saw in interesting industry positions.

I had conversations on LinkedIn, email, over the phone and a couple in person.

This was so much more helpful that just reading about the jobs online.

I could actually ask the questions to someone who was living it!

These informational interview questions helped me narrow down the positions that I was going to target in my job search.

It also helped me build my network and those people who I had conversations with have become a valuable part of my network.

Why Your Networking Efforts Are Failing To Get Job Referrals

Portrait of cheerful young manager handshake with new employee.

Networking is a powerful tool in your job search.

However, if it’s not done correctly it will seem like all the work you are putting into networking is for naught.

But, when it is done well it will increase the success of your job search.

For example, LinkedIn reported that 80% of professionals rate networking as instrumental in their careers.

And not only that, 70% of people were hired at a company where they have a connection.

Your network is important.

But networking is more than just showing up to an event or randomly messaging people on LinkedIn.

A study published in the Social Science Research Network found that an introduction can dramatically increase the success of networking.

They found that having introductions increased the number of new contacts met at an event by 57%.

So, reaching out to random people isn’t the way to go.

Instead, learn on your current network and work to meet new people through introductions.

This will allow you to have some built in rapport with the new person and they are more likely to become a person who you have a professional relationship with.

5 Things You Should Never Say While You Are Networking

You know that you need to network.

You’ve heard of informational interviews and want to try them out.

But what if you say the wrong thing?

What if you put in all this time meeting someone, talking to them, following up with them and the connection leads to nothing?

You are likely doing something wrong in your interactions.

There is a clear right and wrong way to interact with someone at an informational interview.

Here are 5 things that you should not say while networking at an informational interview…

1. I’m struggling with xyz.

Don’t bring your problems into the conversation and expect the other person to solve them.

It’s important to remember that this person does not owe you anything.

They are doing you a favor by chatting with you about their position in industry so it’s you job to make them feel like it was a valuable experience.

This means that you should check your struggles at the door.

Instead, focus on the actions that you have been taking and the successes that you have had.

Demonstrate to the other person that you are solution focused and results oriented.

They don’t want to hear you say “I’ve been struggling to get hired.”

This tells the other person that employers are finding something wrong with you, so they are going to be looking for what is ‘wrong’.

But, if you focus on the positives, the successes, they will look for those in you too.

Plus, they will be more likely to help you out if you seem like someone who is going to be successful, because then they will be aligned with someone who is succeeding.

So, be careful to not bring your problems into a networking conversation because it will turn the other person off.

2. Here’s my business card.

Smiling Indian female employee using laptop at workplace, looking at screen, focused businesswoman preparing economic report, working online project, cheerful intern doing computer work, typing

Passing out business cards is not networking.

You don’t even need business cards to successful in your networking and informational interviews.

You should be focused on learning more about the other person, rather than tell them about you.

If anything you should be asking for their business card so that you can follow up later on and continue to add value to them.

But, the biggest thing that just trying to hand out your business cards shows someone is that you are doing your networking for selfish reasons.

Now, yes, you are networking so that you can get a job referral and get hired.

But, this is not how you should approach your interactions with others.

Instead, shift the focus onto the other person as much as possible.

Ask questions about their job, their career path, their hobbies etc.

Show them that you are genuinely interested in getting to know more about them and that you value their time and opinion.

This is what will make someone want to help you.

So without even asking for help or making the conversation about you, this other person will feel inclined to ask what you need and how they can help.

3. I’m looking for a job.

Or I’m unemployed.

Just don’t say it, even if that’s the situation you are in.

Again, focus the conversation on the other person.

So instead of saying that you are looking for a job, say that you are really interested in learning about their job.

Say that you are interested in that type of role and would love to get their perspective on what the position is like.

If it comes up naturally in conversation, of course you can tell them that you are interested in new opportunities.

Tell them this sounds like a great career option.

But, never say “I need a job.”

This is going to put the other person into an awkward position and it will make them not want to help you.

Saying “I need a job” makes it sound like you expect the other person to help you, like you are only talking to them so that you can get something.

Not a good way to build a connection.

4. That’s a bad idea.

As a PhD you have been trained to be critical and see all the flaws in something.

This is how you have succeeded as a PhD.

It’s good to be critical of data so that you always get the most robust results possible.

However, this is not true for informational interviews.

Let’s say you are having a conversation during an informational interview and the other person starts talking about an idea or concept they are excited about.

Maybe it’s a new product or a new hobby and as you listen you start to think “Well that’s not going to work.” or “That’s a bad idea.”

Keep this thought to yourself.

This is not the time to be critical.

The other person is sharing something they are excited about with you which means that they are trying to connect with you.

They want to share something with you.

Don’t go right in and say something negative.

This is not a good way to build a professional relationship that will eventually lead to a job referral.

Instead of giving your opinion, ask more questions about the idea or concept.

This shows that you were listening and that you are curious.

Both good things for building up rapport.

5. What’s in it for me?

You might not actually say this out loud, but if you go into informational interviews with this attitude it will show.

It will make people wary of you.

The other person will feel like you are just trying to use them to get what you want.

People only want to help when they think that the help will be reciprocated.

So, first remove the mentality that you are going into this informational interview just for yourself.

You are going into this to build a collaboration.

And the way to clearly demonstrate this to the person who you are meeting is to ask about them and ask about what they need or want.

Ask about their experiences.

Ask about their career.

This will give you lots of valuable insight into this career option and it will also help you build rapport with this new connection.

Informational interviews are a great tool to learn more about industry and to build up your industry network. But, there is a way to ruin an informational interview by saying the wrong things and having the wrong attitude. Some things that you should not say are I’m struggling with xyz, here’s my business card, I’m looking for a job, that’s a bad idea and what’s in it for me. Steer clear of these phrases and always keep the conversation focused on the other person. This is the right way to execute an informational interview that will lead to a job referral.

To learn more about 5 Common Phrases PhDs Say That Will Ruin Informational Interviews, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

Join Cheeky Scientist Association
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly
Jeanette McConnell, PhD
Jeanette McConnell, PhD

Jeanette is a chemistry PhD turned science communication enthusiast. During her PhD she realized that her favorite part about research wasn’t actually doing research, but rather talking and writing about it. So, she has channeled her passion for discovery into teaching and writing about science. When she isn’t talking someone’s ear off about her latest scientific obsession, you’ll find her on the soccer field or reading a good sci-fi novel.

Similar Articles

The 7 Point Plan That Took Me From Networking Novice To The Center Of Connectivity

The 7 Point Plan That Took Me From Networking Novice To The Center Of Connectivity

By: Elizabeth Deyett

Networking was one of those things I was always doing “tomorrow.”  It was so much easier to sit down and work on my resume, or change some word choices on my LinkedIn. They were easy and they made me feel like I accomplished something. But really it was like treading water.  I tread this water for months, thinking I was moving somewhere but I was only moving with a gentle current. My actions weren’t actually propelling me in any direction. I wasn’t getting any hits on my LinkedIn, I wasn’t getting any call backs on my resume.  Was I not…

Intelligent, Powerful Salary Negotiations For PhDs In 5 Simple Steps

Intelligent, Powerful Salary Negotiations For PhDs In 5 Simple Steps

By: Sarah Smith, PhD

Contributing Author: Marios Tsatsos, PhD After my interview, I got a call from the HR department. This was the big phone call – the one about money. I had interviewed well, and the person from HR was calling to let me know he was about to meet with the hiring manager. Hopefully, he said, there would be an offer for me after they met. It was time for the negotiation.  Then he asked about salary…  I didn’t want to give the first number, so I deflected his question with a joke. It worked, and the representative mentioned the first salary…

Recessions Are Tough - 3 Ways PhDs Can Be Tougher

Recessions Are Tough - 3 Ways PhDs Can Be Tougher

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Let’s talk about frustration particularly during a recession.  I’m talking about the frustration of a rejection in your job search.  Many PhDs are experiencing this kind of frustration in their post-pandemic job search. It’s important for you to understand that Cheeky Scientist has been through this before.  Cheeky Scientist actually came out of the financial crash of 2008 when we were in a recession.  I can tell you firsthand that the mood of the public changes during a recession.  There are fewer jobs.  There’s a greater sense of urgency.  This causes people to get more rejections. And rejection leads to…

5 Smart Moves PhDs Can Make At A Networking Event

5 Smart Moves PhDs Can Make At A Networking Event

By: Sarah Smith, PhD

LinkedIn is an excellent resource for networking, and it makes the whole process easier than ever before. But LinkedIn should not be the only place you are meeting industry professionals. You need to attend in-person networking events too. Meeting in person allows someone to get to know you at a far more significant level than the internet alone will allow. The amount of rapport and relationship-building that can occur during a 10-minute, in-person interaction could take months if attempted over the internet. There is no substitute for face-to-face networking – it’s what we as a species have evolved to do.…

Follow These 5 Resume Rules For A Successful Job Search

Follow These 5 Resume Rules For A Successful Job Search

By: Aditya Sharma, PhD

Are you submitting your resume to online job postings? You might be surprised to learn that your resume is never even seen by a human being. 98% of Fortune 500 companies use applicant tracking software, according to Jobscan. Large-size firms (those that employ more than 500 individuals) receive many thousands of resumes every week. The only way their hiring departments can be functional is by using tracking software to weed out unqualified candidates. This puts applicants in kind of a tough spot - optimize your resume to get through the tracking software or get used to rejection. Even highly qualified…

3 Secrets To Networking That Don’t Involve Meeting People

3 Secrets To Networking That Don’t Involve Meeting People

By: Aditya Sharma, PhD

If you underestimate the power of networking, you’re going to make things really hard for yourself. Are you exclusively relying on applications and resumes? If you are, that’s called putting all your eggs in one basket. Don’t do that. Lou Adler, CEO of Performance-Based Hiring Learning Systems, reports that 85% of jobs are filled by networking. This isn’t surprising when you consider that networking is the only way to get referrals. According to Undercover Recruiter, only 7% of job applicants get referrals — but those who do get referrals account for 40% of those who get hired. By the time…

Get Hired Without Submitting a Resume - 5 Networking Strategies For PhDs

Get Hired Without Submitting a Resume - 5 Networking Strategies For PhDs

By: Surayya Taranum

Networking is the only foolproof method for PhDs wanting to transition into an industry career. Learn the 5 effective networking strategies that give you an edge in the job market.

How I Got Hired Right After I Had A Baby - Tips For PhDs Job Search Strategy As A New Parent

How I Got Hired Right After I Had A Baby - Tips For PhDs Job Search Strategy As A New Parent

By: Mansi Khanna, PhD

The ideal time to start focusing on your job search is now. No matter if you have just started your PhD or if you are unemployed and want a job ASAP, the best thing you can do it start now. Balance Careers reported that roughly it takes one month to find a job for every $10,000 of the paycheck you would like to earn. So, as a PhD if you want to earn $90,000 per year, your job search could take about 9 months. BUT this is an estimate. Depending on the effort your put in and any networking efforts…

Use This 5-Part Job Search Strategy To Get Multiple Industry Job Interviews And Job Offers As A PhD

Use This 5-Part Job Search Strategy To Get Multiple Industry Job Interviews And Job Offers As A PhD

By: Pierre-Antoine Crassous, PhD

No one is coming to knock on the door of your lab and offer you a job. Getting a job requires strategy. Large companies, like Google, Microsoft, Pfizer, etc get 1,000s of applications per job opening. If you are relying on luck to make you the 1:1,000 that gets hired, you are going to be waiting a long time. Instead, you should be strategic. Realize that, according to JobScan, 98% of Fortune 500 companies use applicant tracking software to screen resumes. And understand that employers care more about your soft skills than they do about your specific technical skills. Inside…

Top Industry Career eBooks

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the top 20 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.