How to figure out your next career move.

Are you frustrated that your organization doesn’t do enough to help you chart a path for your career? You are not alone.

Why you can’t rely on your organization to help you with your career path.

Are you frustrated that your organization doesn’t do enough to help you chart a path for your career? You are not alone. According to the Mercer 2020 Global Talent Trends report, 53% of the 7,300 people they surveyed feel like their firm does not have adequate structures to help them navigate a career change1.  

“My organization doesn’t help me. There was no one to follow, no one to tell me what it would be like and provide advice.”

Lydia, physicist

When I polled the eighty members of my exclusive LinkedIn group, the statistics were even worse. None, as in 0% of the women I polled, had help from their organization to chart their career path.

Private Network LinkedIn Survey: Do You Know How to Make Your Next Career Move?

The best way to figure out what you want to do next.

No matter what stage you are in your career, chances are you are not exactly sure what you want to do next.  You need to embark on an exploration process to get information to help you decide. The single best way I have found to get a good idea of what a job might be like is to ask people who are already doing it via informational interviews2

Informational interviews are a simple tool to collect firsthand information about a work environment or specific role you might be interested in. Even if you have no idea about what you are interested in, you can start talking to people to collect data.

How to overcome the common roadblocks to successful informational interviews.

There are a few things that make people reluctant to conduct informational interviews. I am going to tell you how to overcome those challenges and give you scripts you can use.

Challenge #1: I’m afraid to ask.

Asking for help is intimidating. Put yourself in the learning mindset and remember that this conversation is going to help you define the path for your career. The key to asking someone to grant you an informational interview is to be polite, prepared, and succinct. Below is a basic script for requesting the interview.

Script 1: Informational Interviews, Making the Ask

Hello [Their Name]

I am thinking about the next step in my career, and I am interested in learning more about what you do. Can we schedule a one-hour meeting at your convenience to talk?

Here are a few of my questions:

  1.  Question 1
  2.  Question 2
  3. Question 3

Thanks in advance for your consideration.

Best Regards,

[Your name]

Boost your chances of getting a yes to an informational interview request by including a few of your questions in your request.

I have made this ask dozens of times, and I have never had anyone turn me down. It is only an hour, and I have prepared my questions in advance so the other person knows what to expect. 

Similarly, when I have been asked to be interviewed, I have been nothing but flattered. My only hesitation has been when I didn’t get any questions in advance, and I would spend some time wondering what they were going to ask me. So don’t do that; boost your chances of getting a yes to an informational interview request by including a few of your questions in your request. 

Challenge #2: I don’t know anyone I want to interview. 

If you don’t already know the person to whom you will be speaking, you can request that someone you know make a referral on your behalf. I have found that the easiest way to get someone to refer you is to do all of the work for them. In that case, you might need to send two notes. Send the first message to the person you know, asking for a referral. Send the second message to your target interviewee.

Script 2: Informational Interviews, asking for a referral

Hello [Name of who you  are asking to make a referral]

I am thinking about the next step in my career, and I am interested in learning more about what [target interviewee] does. I would like to schedule a meeting with them. Can you arrange an introduction for me?  I have included a message you could forward along if you want.

Thanks in advance for your help.


Hello [target interviewee’s name],

My colleague [your name] is [your current role].

She is exploring career options and is interested in learning a bit more about what you do.

Do you mind if I make an email introduction between the two of you?



Challenge #3: I don’t know what questions to ask.

You need to focus on what will be important for you to know about the job in three critical areas:

  • Skills (specific competencies that are required to do the job)
  • Incentives (how the job is funded, metrics used to evaluate performance)
  • Environment (day-to-day life)

One mistake that people make is only asking questions that help them learn if they are capable of doing the job. You also need to ask questions about whether or not you would want to do the job.

When I knew that I was no longer going to pursue an executive role in my old firm, I started to look around. At first I was convinced that I wanted to go into academia. I have always enjoyed teaching. I was spending my weekends at MIT, and the professors seemed to be having a really good time. 

I conducted four informational interviews at several universities. What I learned quickly changed my mind. There is a class system in academia. The upper class is the researcher track (writes grants and scientific publications). The lower class is the senior lecturer track (teaches and writes books). If I wanted to be in the upper class, where the real money is (unless you happen to write a viral best seller), it would be extremely difficult and would require me to almost start over.

Then, there was an issue with the incentives. In academia, generating value is measured in the form of publications and research grants. Whereas in the corporate world, value is measured based on currency—how much money did you save the company or how much revenue did you generate? I am much more motivated by the incentives in the corporate environment. I decided to stay corporate. But I also decided to teach. I lecture on innovation both inside my firm and at universities.

Here are a few sample questions you could adapt to meet your needs:

  • Skills (specific competencies that are required to do the job)
    1. What do you think is the most important skill to being successful in this field?
    2. What have you had to learn on the job vs. what you learned in formal education?
  • Incentives (how the job is funded, metrics used to evaluate performance)
    1. What are the key performance metrics that you are measured against? 
    2. What is your biggest challenge?
  • Environment (day-to-day life)
    1. What is your typical week like?  
    2. How much time do you spend with clients vs. the team? How much time do you travel?

 Challenge #4: I’m afraid of what my manager will think.

If you want to conduct informational interviews within your firm, I recommend you tell your manager about it. Keeping open and transparent communication with your manager is always the recommended action.

Script 3: Informational interviews, What to Say to Your Manager

Hi [your manager’s name],

I am thinking about my career development. I have noticed that target [interviewee 1] and [interviewee 2] are doing some interesting things, and I plan to talk with them about their work.

Anyone else you can think of that could be good for me to talk to?

[Your Name]

Most of the time, your message will be positively viewed. You are taking a proactive approach to your own career development. The most likely outcome will be a comment like “Good idea, let me know if I can help.” Unfortunately, this approach is not totally without risk. It is possible that you have a manager who has other ideas about what your career should look like and might bristle at the fact that you are being proactive. I recommend you do it anyway.

 If your boss has trouble with you having a conversation with someone in the organization, they are probably causing you other issues that you will need to deal with in the future. I had a manager tell me that I was being too ambitious thinking that I deserved to be talking to the chief technology officer. I had multiple problems with this person and was eventually able to get out of his organization. Not long after I became the Chief Innovation Officer at a different firm. 

On the other hand, if you are planning to talk to people outside of your firm, I recommend that you don’t disclose it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing it. Any professional in this day and age is expected to always be exploring opportunities. Even though this is just an information-gathering exercise, you don’t need to call attention to yourself.

Challenge #5: I don’t know how to conduct the interview.

You should also follow general meeting best practices. Make sure you are on time. Make sure you don’t go over time. Make sure you take notes.

You need to recognize that you are also being interviewed a little bit, too. Any good manager is always scouting for talent. Don’t worry! It just means you need to have the right mindset and prepare a little bit in advance. You are already making a good impression by reaching out proactively. And you already have your questions ready. Now you need to be prepared for their questions.

There are a few basic things that you could be asked. Just make a few notes on these topics, and you will have a very productive discussion.

  1. What do you do? (a one-minute self-introduction)
  2. What interested you in coming to talk to me?
  3. When do you think you are going to be ready to make the next move?

For question #3, I suggest that you be strategic. If you are talking with someone outside of your organization, you should give your current timeline or say “I am just exploring”. 

If you are talking with someone inside your organization, I recommend you always say “I am just exploring.”   You don’t want to have your boss be surprised in an HR discussion that you told another manager you were ready to move right away. Causing an embarrassing moment for your manager is a quick way to lose their support.

In addition to being prepared to answer a few basic questions, you should also follow general meeting best practices. Make sure you are on time. Make sure you don’t go over time. Make sure you take notes, you are going to need them later. 

Bonus: How to get access to an unlimited network.

If you want to make a great last impression and increase your network, send this follow up thank you message. 

Script 4: Informational interview follow up email.

Dear [Their Name]

Thank you again for your time. I really enjoyed our conversation. I especially appreciated your comments about [something specific that was mentioned during your discussion].

If you can think of anyone else I should speak with, I would appreciate your input.


[Your name]

By being polite, and asking for a referral you have left a positive impression and increased your network. You won’t always get a new name, but even if you only get a referral 25-50% of the time, your network will expand quickly. 


You are on your own when it comes to figuring out your next career move. The best way to learn about future roles is to ask someone already doing it by conducting informational interviews. I have provided you with scripts to overcome the main reasons people don’t do it. 

Who can you ask for an informational interview or a referral this week?

This blog post includes excerpts from my book: You’re More Than a Diversity Hire™: Women in STEM.

1“Global Talent Trends, 2020,” by Mercer,