How am I supposed to know what I want to do for a living?
Tough question. After all, just because you like a particular class or something sounds interesting, doesn’t mean that you want to work in that field. How can you make good decisions about choosing a major and pursuing a career when you don’t have experience? How do you know what a job is really like?
There are a lot of ways to find background information about a field or job. Informational interviewing is a great way to learn about a potential career from someone currently working in that field. You’ll get up-to-date information and find out what it’s really like “on the inside.” It will also help you make contacts in your field that may be helpful later.
How do I get started?
The thought of interviewing someone can be intimidating. Where do you start? How do you know who to interview? What do you say? Why on earth would they possibly want to help you? The following pages will answer these questions and will help you get started.
Step 1: Identify the person you want to interview
The first step is finding the right person to interview. Since you’ve already picked the field you are interested in, you should have an idea of the kinds of job titles people in this field have.
Start by asking your family and friends if they know anyone who has this job, or one like it. Expand your search to include family friends, neighbors, teammates, co-workers, teachers, and anyone else you come in contact with. Follow up on these contacts; if the person you talk to doesn’t have the job you’re interested in, ask if they know someone who does.
If your search isn’t turning up any successful leads, try contacting professional organizations for that field. Almost every profession has some kind of national group that provides information, sponsors conferences, or publishes newsletters for that field. Many national organizations have regional, state or local chapters that can provide specific information for a geographic area; there are also student chapters for many organizations. Bridges can help you identify websites for professional organizations. Do a search for the profession you are interested in and then look under the ‘Connections’ tab at the left. Career Search can be another useful resource. Click on ‘Business Information Resources’ and then do a search under ‘Associations.
Step 2: Setting up an interview
Once you’ve found someone you’re interested in interviewing, you need to contact them by phone or mail (e-mail is fine). Begin by introducing yourself (make sure you mention you are a student) and explaining why you are interested in their field. Be sure to mention the name of the person who gave you their name and number.
Step 3: Do your homework
It’s absolutely essential that you be prepared for this interview. The person you’re interviewing is doing you a favor; respect their time by having your questions prepared in advance. Don’t include questions whose answers can easily be gotten somewhere else (such as the Human Resources department or the company web page).
Remember, you’re trying to get information that those sources don’t have. The company web site or literature is a good place to start looking for information about this field. Any research from industry publications and professional organizations is also helpful; you may already have this information from researching your major. If you’ve already done informational interviews, you may already have some additional questions or areas that you want to explore further, based on that conversation.Here’s a list of sample questions to get you started. You should personalize this list to reflect your own interests. The next step is to conduct the interview.
Step 4: Conducting the interview
Conduct the informational interview like a job interview. Wear a suit if possible; if you don’t own a suit, dress as professionally as you can. This includes a jacket and tie for men, and dress pants or a knee-length skirt for women. Wear a watch so you can keep track of time during the interview.
Arrive at the interview a few minutes early, so you don’t appear rushed or out of breath when you walk in. Have your list of questions handy, and bring paper to write notes on and several pens. You may want to purchase a small folder or binder to keep these in; inexpensive ones are available at most office supply stores. It’ll also come in handy later during your job search when you need to carry extra copies of your resume to an interview.
It’s a good idea to take notes during the interview. Chances are, you’ll be getting a lot of information during this time and you don’t want to forget important points. Writing everything down now means you won’t need to contact this person to ask for information he’s already given you. You may also be getting the names and phone numbers or e-mail addresses of additional contacts.
Remember that it’s important to stick to your schedule. If the interview is scheduled for 20 minutes, make sure it only lasts 20 minutes. You can always contact the person later with more questions, or even set up a second interview.
Don’t panic if the person you’re interviewing seems to wander off topic when answering a question and you think you may run out of time. The information he’s giving you may be as useful as the questions you were originally planning to ask; you’re there to get the information that interests you, not necessarily to get through a predetermined list of questions and answers. If he’s digressing into a topic that doesn’t interest you, remind them politely at the first opportunity that you have additional questions and that you don’t want to take up more time than scheduled.
At the end of the interview, thank the interviewee for his time. Ask if you can contact him for additional information and if so, what is the best way to reach him. Asking this now means he won’t be surprised or feel imposed upon if you contact him again. Don’t forget to write a thank-you note after the interview.
Step 5: After the informational interview
As soon as you get home, write a thank-you note and mail it immediately. If there was a topic discussed that particularly interested you or an area that you now want to explore further, let your interview subject know. They’ll appreciate a personalized note, instead of a bland thank-you.
As mentioned before, it’s a good idea to keep a list of all the people you’ve spoken with, the leads they’ve given you and other contacts generated along the way. If you ever need to contact that person again – with more questions, or as part of a job search – all the information will be easy to find. You should also keep a list of the questions you asked and any notes you took with the contact information. If your handwriting is hard to read or you took notes in a hurry, you may want to type your notes right after the interview, while the information is still fresh in your mind and you can remember more easily what you just wrote.