The Informational Interview: Face to Face with a New Career
By Kay Peterson, Ph.D.
August 04, 2008
The informational interview puts you face to face with a new career.
Deciding on a career path? Want to know more about what a particular career is like? Maybe it’s time for an informational interview.
In an informational interview, you meet with someone working in a field that interests you. The point is not to ask for a job, but instead to learn more about a career path.
But even if you’re not looking for a job now, you will be soon. That’s when the information you’ve gathered and the contacts you’ve forged will come in handy!
Where to Start: Finding Your Contact
It may seem tough approaching a business professional to ask for an informational interview. But there are resources out there to help you make contact:
* Your school’s career placement center: Career counselors on your campus can hook you up with companies interested in meeting with students.
* Your college alumni association: Former students are often happy to provide career information to up-and-coming professionals. Ask the alumni association at your school for leads.
* Job fairs: Meet on campus with representatives from companies that interest you. Give them a chance to recruit you – and give you the information you need to plan your career.
* Professional organizations: Use these networks to help find contacts; and be sure to join student branches of these organizations that meet on your campus.
When setting up your interview, identify your goals and objectives. Introduce yourself as a student, and make it clear that you are not looking for a job. Respect your contact’s time constraints and try to fit his or her schedule.
Make the Most of Your Interview
Don’t walk in unprepared! Do some research on the field and the company before you go into your interview. Visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupation Outlook Handbook to get information about careers. To research a specific company, check out the following resources:
* Hoover’s Online: A great source of information about major companies and businesses. Check it out at www.hoovers.com.
* Your career placement center: They can help you locate resources about careers and companies.
* The library: Ask the reference librarian for advice on how to find information about the company or field of your choice.
* The company’s public relations department: Tell them you are interviewing and would like some more information about the company.
Once you’ve done your research, jot down your questions about the company or field. Be sure to include:
* Skills and education required: How does one prepare for a career in this field? Should a student get additional training, such as internships, special courses or graduate coursework?
* Job prospects: How does one find a job in this field? What does the job market look like right now?
* Job profile: How does this job relate to the “bigger picture” of the total company? Is the work you do representative of the kinds of jobs available?
* Career path: How would you describe the career path of one who pursues work in this field? What ongoing training or education does this career require?
* Working conditions: What is a typical workday like in this field/company? How would you characterize your typical tasks? What is the climate of this workplace?
Use these questions to guide your interview. And be sure to bring your resume. Your contact may be willing to review it and make suggestions for your future career preparations.
While you should not try to turn your informational meeting into a job interview, you should ask for references for other contacts or professional organizations.
The Proper Follow-Up
Follow up your interview with a thank-you note. Review what you’ve learned and put that information into practice. Keep a file of your contacts and follow up with them throughout your career.
So open those lines of communication now, before you need a job. Before you know it, you’ll have all the information and contacts you need to start off in a new career!
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