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Informational Interviewing for Vocational Exploration

Amy Huber, M.S., Senior jobZologist


You’ve taken your jobZology assessments, read through your results, explored your career matches, and identified a few vocational pathways that pique your interest. Now what?

A good place to start is by reading career information available on jobZology and other internet sites that outline job descriptions, typical tasks, and summarize the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for various roles. During this process, you may be able to narrow down your list and determine if each career still interests you.

I urge students to conduct informational interviews to take their vocational exploration a step further.

A person who currently or previously held a given role that you are interested in is a great source of job-relevant information. Conducting informational interviews helps students gain more knowledge about specific roles and narrow down potential career paths.

What is it?

An informational interview can be short, long, formal, informal, in-person, or on the phone. You can conduct an informational interview no matter how old you are or how much experience you have.  Essentially, an informational interview is a job-related conversation with the intention of gathering information about jobs, organizations, education, and experience. The benefits of informational interviewing include learning how to prepare for certain careers paths, what challenges you might expect in given roles, and how various organizations operate.

Students can follow the five steps below to conduct a successful informational interview.

1) Find the right person

 After examining your jobZology Career Matches and identifying careers that intrigue you, it’s time to find someone to talk with that can offer you relevant insight.

Online resources, like LinkedIn, can help you find individuals that hold specific job titles, work for particular organizations, or who have earned a certain degree. Finding an individual that shares something in common with you (e.g., attended the same high school or college, are part of the same group on LinkedIn, volunteer for a similar cause, etc.) might make the next step easier.

While I encourage you to try reaching out to someone new, you can also start small and practice your informational interviewing techniques with someone you may already know; perhaps a relative, a friend’s parent, teacher, coach, or neighbor.

 2) Reach out and schedule the interview

 Reaching out to a stranger can feel daunting, but you will find that many people out there are willing to help and share their experiences. Compose an e-mail or leave a voicemail that is cordial and descriptive.

Here is an example:

“Hello, Mr. Thompson – My name is Jane Doe and I’m a psychology major at Colorado State University. I noticed you are a Training and Development Special position with Acme Corporation. I’ve recently become very interested in talent development and would like to learn more about this field, as well as your education and experience. Do you have some time in the next two weeks to talk for 20-30 minutes? Thank you, Sally”

If someone referred you to this individual, be sure to mention that contact in your message.

3) Prepare for the Informational Interview

 Write down a list of questions you want to ask. If you’re limited for time, you may want to consider prioritizing your question list to make sure you get to your most important questions answered. Your questions can be geared toward their current job, past experiences, education, general advice, favorite parts of the field, challenges within the field, etc.

Here are some sample questions below:

  • How did you get your start in this field?
  • What projects are you working on right now?
  • What do you like most about working in this industry? What do you dislike most?
  • Which past jobs have been most helpful in getting you to this point in your career?
  • What sorts of changes are occurring in your occupation?
  • What are the skills that are most important for a position in this field?
  • From your perspective, what are the problems you see working in this field?
  • What are the major frustrations of this job?
  • What interests you least about the job or creates the most stress?
  • Do you have any advice for someone thinking about entering this field?

 

Try to conduct research on their background before your interview and come up with specific questions based on their education and previous roles.

 4) Conduct the Interview

If you decide to meet in person, be sure to dress professionally and arrive on time. Start off by introducing yourself and a bit about your own background. Be prepared to take charge of the conversation, but let the conversation flow naturally. Be mindful of their time and be sure to wrap up the call during the agreed-upon timeframe. Thank them for their time. But, most importantly, be yourself!

5) Follow up

 Always send a follow-up thank you note after your conversation. Thank the individual for their willingness to share their experiences with you and offer you career advice. Consider summarizing your favorite or most helpful part of your conversation.

Remember!

Not only do informational interviews help you learn more about vocational paths you might be interested in, they also help to foster your communication skills and your ability to talk about your own interests and experience. This is great practice for real interviews.

So, what are you waiting for?

Find one person you would like to talk to this month about their vocation, education, and experience. You won’t regret it!

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