Last week, I wrote about switching roles, industries, or both as a framework for considering a job search. If you’re preparing to switch roles (say, taking a job as a machine learning engineer for the first time) or industries (say, working in an AI tech company for the first time), there’s a lot about your target job that you probably don’t know. A technique known as informational interviewing is a great way to learn
An informational interview involves finding someone in a company or role you’d like to know more about and informally interviewing them about their work. Such conversations are separate from searching for a job. In fact, it’s helpful to interview people who hold positions that align with your interests well before you’re ready to kick off a job search.
Informational interviews are particularly relevant to AI. Because the field is evolving, many companies use job titles in inconsistent ways. In one company, data scientists might be expected mainly to analyze business data and present conclusions on a slide deck. In another, they might write and maintain production code. An informational interview can help you sort out what the AI people in a particular company actually do.
With the rapid expansion of opportunities in AI, many people will be taking on an AI job for the first time. In this case, an informational interview can be invaluable for learning what happens and what skills are needed to do the job well. For example, you can learn what algorithms, deployment processes, and software stacks a particular company uses. You may be surprised — if you’re not already familiar with the data-centric AI movement — to learn how much time most machine learning engineers spend iteratively cleaning datasets.
Prepare for informational interviews by researching the interviewee and company in advance, so you can arrive with thoughtful questions. You might ask:
What do you do in a typical week or day?
What are the most important tasks in this role?
What skills are most important for success?
How does your team work together to accomplish its goals?
What is the hiring process?
Considering candidates who stood out in the past, what enabled them to shine?
Finding someone to interview isn’t always easy, but many people who are in senior positions today received help when they were new from those who had entered the field ahead of them, and many are eager to pay it forward. If you can reach out to someone who’s already in your network — perhaps a friend who made the transition ahead of you or someone who attended the same school as you — that’s great! Meetups such as Pie & AI can also help you build your network.
Finally, be polite and professional, and thank the people you’ve interviewed. And when you get a chance, please pay it forward as well and help someone coming up after you. If you receive a request for an informational interview from someone in the DeepLearning.AI community, I hope you’ll lean in to help them take a step up! If you’re interested in learning more about informational interviews, I recommend this article from the UC Berkeley Career Center.
I’ve mentioned a few times the importance of your network and community. People you’ve met, beyond providing valuable information, can play an invaluable role by referring you to potential employers. Stay tuned for more on this topic.