- Ask insiders the right questions to learn about career options.
- You may hear of opportunities when informational interviewing.
First of a two-part series
If you’ve ever asked another person for help, then you have a key skill you can use to learn about careers, both those that already interest you as well as the ones you know little or nothing about.
Your willingness to identify and then talk to other people is all you need to take advantage of an enlightening career exploration strategy called informational interviewing. As its name implies, informational interviewing involves interviewing people to gather information, much like a journalist interviews sources to gather information for an article. Unlike the typical job interview, however, you’ll be the one setting up an informational interview and asking most of the questions once it begins.
Your goal: Gather information that will help you make informed career decisions.
If you think about it, informational interviewing only makes sense. After all, who better to tell you about a particular career than someone who is actually in the trenches, working in that career? He or she can give you all sorts of insider information on:
- What the Career Entails. Books, Internet sites, and other career-related resources often fall short in giving you an idea of what a particular career really looks or feels like on a day-to-day basis. But your informational interview sources can easily put things in perspective for you because they’re actually living their careers each day.
- How to Break into the Career. Some of your informational interview sources will have taken a fairly traditional or typical path to get where they are. Others may have taken the road less traveled. In both cases you’ll get a sense of the many different ways you could pursue the career.
- The Trends Emerging Within the Career. What sort of money are people in this career making now, and how do things look for the future? Is this career growing or dying? Where will the opportunities be in this career five, 10 or 15 years from now? Your informational interview sources will have the expertise to answer all of these questions and many others.
- The Pluses and Minuses of the Career. Print and Internet career resources often tend to focus mostly on the positive aspects of a particular career. That’s all well and good, but what if you want to know about the potential downsides? That’s where your informational interview sources can come in. They can talk to you about the career’s ups and downs as they see them.
- The Type of Person Who Tends to Enjoy and Succeed in the Career. If you’re wondering, for example, whether your own personality would be a good fit for a career, informational interviewees might be able to give you an idea. They can also help you figure out what education, experiences and skills you’d need for the career and how you could get them.
There’s another nice side benefit that often emerges from informational interviewing: You wind up hearing about internship or job opportunities. While it’s best not to go into an informational interview with a sort of hidden agenda to ask for an internship or a job (Remember: It’s supposed to be an informational meeting and nothing more.) often the person you’re talking to will offhandedly mention internship or job possibilities you can look into.
It’s also not unusual for an informational interview source to suggest that you talk to some of his or her colleagues or friends in the same organization or elsewhere. If you go ahead and do so, you’ll learn even more about the career, perhaps uncover still more opportunities, and no doubt identify even more people to tap into.
All in all, not a bad return on a simple investment of a little time and effort. But how do you make that investment? How do you actually set up and conduct informational interviews? You can find out in Part Two of this series: "Informational Interviewing: A How-To."