So you think you might-kinda-potentially know what you want to do career-wise…maybe. Or at least, you have a general idea. Or a few things in mind. So how do you decide which of those incredible-sounding careers is the one for you—or even which one isn’t for you? While there are a lot of different ways to go about figuring it out, one of the ways career researchers have found to be quick and most effective is to do some informational interviewing.
Informational interviewing is something that not a lot of students think to do, because it’s not something they’ve ever really heard much about, despite the fact that the term has been around for years. In her article Informational Interviewing: Get the Inside Scoop on Careers, Olivia Crosby defines informational interviewing simply as “talking to people about their jobs and asking them for advice” (22). It just means sitting down with someone working in a career you’re interested in to learn more about what it’s really like, and to seek their advice. That’s not too intimidating, right?
Helping you better determine a career path isn’t the only benefit of informational interviewing either! Not only will informational interviewing help do that, but it polishes your interviewing and communication skills, better equipping you for the real interview down the road—the one for that job you end up deciding on! It can foster connections with people in the field and teaches you more about the realities of working in a given occupation. Informational interviewing can help to focus your career goals, or even to uncover careers you hadn’t known existed. It uncovers your professional strengths and weaknesses, helps you gather ideas of different ways to prepare for a particular career, and suggests different volunteer, internship, and part time jobs related to the field you’re interested in (23). There’s a lot to be gained.
The benefits are clear, so the only question left is how, exactly, you do this whole informational-interview-thing. There’s no need to worry because it’s actually more straightforward than you could dare to hope. The first step is deciding who to interview (23). You want to find someone who is currently working in the field you’re interested in. It could be helpful if they’re someone who is working at the entry level, as they’re closest to having been where you are now, but you can always interview a higher-up as well for an idea of what the career will look like after you’ve been pursuing it for a while.
One way to find people who fit these criteria is to reach out to people you already know. Your family, friends, professors, or coworkers from other jobs can be an incredible resource here! You’ll be surprised how many people seem to know somebody. Some other great resource to try are Eastern’s Office for Talent and Career Development, the alumni office, professional associations involved with the type of career you’re interested in, and businesses and organizations that hire the types of employees you’re hoping to talk to. The resources are limitless, and where there’s a will, there’s a way!
Once you’ve found a few potential interviewees, the next step is getting in contact with them. If a friend or family member knows them, they can make the introduction (24). Another great way to do this is by sending them a professional email, introducing yourself and why you’re hoping to speak with them. Always make clear that you’re not trying to get a position working for them, just information. Be courteous and professional. This can be done with a phone call, too, and that often serves as a great follow up to either an email, or an introduction in person, wherein you can set up a time and place to meet.
Having set up the interview, you’ll need to prepare so that you’re ready when the day comes. Spend some time researching both the organization your interviewee works for and the occupation itself (26). The more you know ahead, the better you’ll be able to formulate questions, and the more you’ll get from the interview. Additionally, create a resume to bring along. It should be professional and tailored to the career you are learning about. Finally, and most importantly, develop your interview questions.
It is best to come prepared with several questions (10 is a good number to aim for), to ensure that you are best learning about the career at hand and are able to direct the interview. Keep in mind as you develop these that the interview’s purpose is to get a feel for what the job is really like (27). Helpful questions can include things like particulars about the job itself (e.g. on a day to day basis), questions about the working conditions, the training and preparation necessary for the job, and even other careers and contacts. These are flexible, but remember that this interview is for you, so you should be asking the questions most important to your interest in a job. Crosby suggests always ending by asking 2 questions: “Can you suggest anyone else I could ask for information?” and “May I tell them that you have referred me?” (28).
All this in mind, you should be ready come interview day! Remember to dress well and be professional and gracious (28). Dress like the person you’re interviewing would on a big work day. You never know who you’ll run into again later, or even end up interviewing with for a job! Smile and shake hands, and finish on time. Allow for casual conversation as you interview, but make sure to keep on track so that you’re finding out the pertinent information and making the most of the interview. When you’re done, always make sure to thank your interviewee for their time.
After the interview, make sure to send a thank you email or note, and then all that’s left is to consider what you learned, to evaluate. You might have found out that you hate the idea of working in a certain field. That’s useful. It keeps you from spending years pursuing something you’ll end up changing your mind about. You might end up reassured that this is the career for you. That’s useful too. It can give you direction as you look ahead and help you to better prepare for the career of your dreams. It might leave you somewhere in between those two feelings, still not quite sure. And that—you guessed it!—is useful too. It can still help give you direction, and even new connections and information, to investigate as you attempt to learn more about the job. Not only that, but your interviewing skills have been sharpened and you better prepared for the future. It’s plain to see that informational interviewing is win-win-win, so get out there and start interviewing!