Cheeky Logo
Ready To Transition Into Industry?
Apply To Book A Free Call With Our Transition Specialist Team

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.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

Book a Transition Call
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly

ABOUT 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.

Jeanette McConnell, PhD

Similar Articles

Your Professional Brand Is Academia. 5 Questions To Change It

Your Professional Brand Is Academia. 5 Questions To Change It

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

What’s your professional brand?  As a researcher, my conclusions are based on proven facts and quantifiable results. The concept of something as subjective as brand or image had never felt particularly relevant to me.  I’d heard the question, of course. When you’ve been looking for a job for over a year, you’re bound to come across the idea.  But now, face to face with a recruiter who had turned me down for a job, I was really trying to come up with an intelligent answer.  “What’s my brand?” I asked. I guess feigning ignorance was one way to go.  “Yes,…

Don’t Ignore These 6 Powerful PhD Job Search Trends

Don’t Ignore These 6 Powerful PhD Job Search Trends

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

What does your job search strategy look like?  If you had to describe it in 2 or 3 sentences, what would you say?  I ask because, if you’re reading this, you’re in the market for a job. Working with PhDs for more than 10 years, I’ve learned one thing is true above all others: The right job strategy is what’s going to get you hired. That’s right: I’m saying that a concrete job search methodology is more important than anything else in your job search.  It’s more important than your skills, your degree, your personality – more important than you,…

A No-Excuses Look at Virtual Networking

A No-Excuses Look at Virtual Networking

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

A lot of PhDs ignore a crucial part of their job search – virtual networking. You may think that because you’re spending a lot of time going to conferences, attending lectures, setting up face-to-face meetings, and checking in with one or two connections when you need a reference or referral that you’ve established your professional network.  Virtual Networking Casts A Wider Net, Even After The Pandemic Nope, you’re networking by halves if you’re only networking in-person. I kept seeing a former colleague of mine at conferences really making the most out of his time networking in person. Everybody knew this…

A Pitch-Perfect Elevator Script For PhDs In Industry

A Pitch-Perfect Elevator Script For PhDs In Industry

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I had heard of the term “elevator script” before my first industry interview.  Was I sure what it meant? No. But I got the gist of it: introduce yourself in a compelling way during an interview or networking session. Don’t annoy someone in an elevator. I dismissed the idea of learning more about it than that If I remember correctly, I told myself that it was nothing more than a remedial gimmick. One of those unnecessary “life hacks” that clueless people gobble up to calm their nerves before an interview.  Definitely not something a PhD graduate with a background in…

How To Get A Referral Without The Messy Emotions

How To Get A Referral Without The Messy Emotions

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Towards the end of my PhD, I felt like I was racing time. And time was winning. I was frantically trying to wrap up loose ends in my research, finish writing my thesis, all the while trying to find a job. I knew I wanted a job in industry. In fact, I knew exactly the job I wanted. I just didn’t know how to get there. I was sending my resume off into the abyss of the internet, but I wasn’t getting any replies. I couldn’t fathom what I was doing wrong. The whole thing felt pointless. Now, looking back…

5 Insider Rapport Building Tips (or, How To Make In Person Networking Non-Dreadful)

5 Insider Rapport Building Tips (or, How To Make In Person Networking Non-Dreadful)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Like many PhDs, I’m an introvert. That means my tendency is to avoid face-to-face interactions at all costs. But when it came time to search for a job in industry, my introverted tactics weren’t working. I was reaching out to people online, even getting a few responses, but in the end, all my efforts fell flat. After months of this, I was right where I started – unemployed. Then, I started noticing what my colleagues were doing; the ones that were getting job referrals and interviews at least. They weren’t just reaching out to people online, they were also attending…

6 Credible Networking Scripts That Make Employers Pay Attention

6 Credible Networking Scripts That Make Employers Pay Attention

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Just as “location, location, location” is the mantra of real estate, “networking, networking, networking” should be your mantra during your industry job search. During the final year of my PhD, I finally conceded – the only way I was going to get a job in industry was through networking. So, like many PhDs, I fired up my computer, hopped on LinkedIn, and clicked the blue “connect” button until my fingers ached. I sent out the same message to each new contact telling them about all my wonderful accomplishments before I asked them for a job. You know what happened after…

Master The Informational Interview (And How To Land A Referral)

Master The Informational Interview (And How To Land A Referral)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

By the time I started my industry job search, I was desperate. I was nearing the end of my PhD and I was consumed with what seemed like a million last-minute tasks – final experiments, last drafts, and defense presentations. I felt like I didn’t have the time to dedicate to my job search. And what little effort and time I did put into it was haphazard. My attempts involved repeatedly clicking the LinkedIn “Connect” button and uploading the same resume to any online job posting I could find. To make matters worse, I wasn’t even sure what job I…

6 Ways PhDs Waste Their Time At In-person Networking Events (And What You Should Do Instead)

6 Ways PhDs Waste Their Time At In-person Networking Events (And What You Should Do Instead)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Networking in person is key to getting a job in industry. Despite knowing this, I avoided doing it at all costs during my PhD. I tried it a few times at scientific conferences, but nothing happened. It seemed pointless. Not only that, but it was down-right scary. And so, like many PhDs, I gave up. I allowed myself to make excuses. I thought “I’m way too busy to attend all these networking events”… or, “I don’t need to network – if I just send out enough resumes online, I’ll surely land a job”. But boy, was I wrong! I can’t…

Top Industry Career eBooks

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the best 63 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.

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.

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.