Informational Interviews: Insider Secrets for Career Insights

One of your challenges as a student is not only to build your nursing skill set, but also to expand your knowledge of nursing careers – how many different ways can you use that skill set?

One of the best ways to get career insights is by doing what’s called “informational interviews,” which means contacting practitioners already doing the type of work you may be interested in and finding out more about what they do, how they do it, and how they like it, among other questions.

The good news: as a student, you’re under a sort of “golden halo” where just about anyone will talk to you or respond to your emails – it’s a way for those already established in their careers to help coach the next generation of professionals. So take advantage of that halo and do as many information interviews as you possibly can while you can.

Why? Because information interviews enable you to:

  • Vet your assumptions. There’s nothing quite like sitting down with someone who’s doing a job that may interest you and gaining real-life insights about your assumptions. Asking smart, thoughtful questions will usually net you equally thoughtful and valuable responses.
  • Trace a career trajectory. Most seasoned nurses can give you a good sense of how a given career might grow, based on their own work history or that of their colleagues. Where might this type of job lead in terms of professional advancement? In what other directions might you deploy this skill set? Are there newly emerging opportunities that might fit your interests? What should you be reading or monitoring to learn more about this type of work? Among your most valuable potential insights: an informational interview with a knowledgeable professional can help you determine if a given career path might still be of interest to you years after you graduate.
  • Build your network. For students seeking to build their career platforms while at American Sentinel University (the smart move), contacts with professionals already established in their field are golden. While your network might include 50 people, theirs might include 500 – an invaluable resource when you’re ready for job hunting. But in order to merit inclusion in your interviewee’s network, it’s important that you work especially hard to present yourself as an appreciative, responsible, prepared interviewer. You goal is to make such a great first impression on the person you’re interviewing that he or she will want to stay in touch with you (and possibly help you when it’s time to find a job).
  • Build your professional reputation (brand). This is an additional benefit of the “be appreciative, responsible, and prepared” piece; by making it clear that you don’t consider yourself “just a student” but instead hold yourself to high professional-level standards, you leave your interviewee with exactly that impression of you. This is the essence of building your professional reputation – making sure that every time you interact with someone, whether in person or online, you’ve demonstrated your best professional qualities. American Sentinel is a great place to begin building your brand, and information interviews are a great jump start for your efforts.

How to ask for an informational interview

Although most nursing practitioners will be happy to give you an interview, it’s really important to approach them in a way that signals your respect for their time and expertise. You want to let them set the contact parameters: will it be by phone, by email, or in-person? Will they be willing to give you 15 minutes or an hour? Is morning or afternoon better for them?

When you’re asking for a favor, your job is to make it as easy as possibly for the other person to say yes, and to make it clear that you understand that it’s your responsibility to do so.

So an emailed request might look like this:

Dear [name],
My name is XXXX, and I’m a student in the American Sentinel University nursing program. One of my goals while in the program is to learn more about careers in [clinical care, medical informatics, nursing education, healthcare management, etc.]. I [saw an article you’d written, heard a presentation you gave, read your blog post on XXXX, saw your post in the XXXX LinkedIn group, etc.] and was impressed by your expertise.

I’m reaching out to see if it would be possible to arrange an informational interview with you. I could do by phone, by email, or in-person, whichever is easiest for you, and on a date and time convenient for you. I promise that I’ll keep our discussion to whatever length of time we decide on, and am happy to send you the questions I’d like to ask in advance if that would be useful.

Thank you for taking the time to consider this request, [name]. I very much appreciate it, and look forward to hearing back from you.

Best regards,
[your name and contact info]

Then, while you’re waiting to hear back, learn everything you can about your interviewee’s job, employer, career, professional engagements, published articles or posts, presentations, and anything else that will demonstrate that you’ve done your homework. This will help you not only ask more informed questions, but also make it clear that you’ve done the work necessary to not waste your interviewee’s time. Which will very likely help you ace those networking and branding pieces as well.

This article was brought to you by American Sentinel’s career coach, Kim Dority – be sure to check out her other articles for more tips.