Demystifying Informational Interviews in 3 Steps

Kevin Frick

Kevin D. Frick, PhD, is a health economist. He is a Professor and the Vice Dean for Education at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Dr. Frick received his PhD in Economics and Health Services Organization and Policy from the University of Michigan in 1996. He currently holds a joint appointment at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the Department of Health Policy and Management. While at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Dr. Frick taught and conducted cost-effectiveness analysis. He has more than 150 total peer-reviewed publications and has published over 40 articles, reviews, and editorials that put to use the latest techniques in conducting cost-effectiveness and outcomes research in vulnerable populations.

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Someone I’m very close to will graduate from college in May. He had an internship at a not-for-profit last year and is not sure whether to pursue his artistic interests or an opportunity with a more guaranteed income after he graduates. So, I sent a text indicating that one of our Carey GMBA graduates works for Baltimore Corps. The organization is hiring, and they have fellowships at local not-for-profit organizations. In my text, I mentioned, “I could introduce you to the Carey alumna if you are interested. You should speak with her just to find out about what she does and local not-for-profit opportunities when you graduate.” In return, I’d expected, “Of course, I’d love to speak with her.” Instead, I received the response, “I’ll let you know if I am interested.” I was disappointed when I first saw that return message.

But, I paused and asked: what would my career coach say? Probably something like, “Stop. Think about how your assumptions and the other person’s assumptions differ?” Thinking about it that way, I realized that his assumptions about informational interviews are probably very different from mine. The person I am trying to influence may or may not take further advice from me. But having spent time thinking about what else I’d like to tell this person, I realized Carey students might appreciate knowing a bit more about informational interviews.

  1. First, remember that informational interviews are not about making a life-long commitment. Informational interviews are about one thing—getting information that is relevant now. When I suggest arranging an informational interview, I am not suggesting that the student and the person with whom the student is seeking the interview are a match made in heaven. I’m just suggesting the student could gain from finding out about the industry or the job the person does or about managing work-life balance with the job in the industry.
  2. Second, the flip side of not suggesting that the student make a life-long commitment is that an informational interview is not going to lead to a job offer. I’m suggesting a conversation about experiences, ideas, and philosophies—not a specific position. While it can be wonderful if the person with whom the interview is held provides a lead on a job, that is not the expectation.
  3. Finally, in addition to two things that informational interviews are not, remember what they are. The interview should be used to obtain information that you should have when you get to a job interview, but you might not have any other way of finding out. Help yourself by filling gaps in your knowledge about things a person performing a job interview would expect you to know about. Treat the informational interview as part of your research before a job interview.

To summarize, you are not expected to make a life-long commitment based on an informational interview, you are not going to get a job offer after only one such interview, and you should use it as part of your background research. If you take this knowledge to your next informational interview, it will help you maximize the value of the experience.

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