Summer Assignment: Informational Interviewing

Here it is again, that word: networking. It’s thrown around so much it has begun to lose its meaning. But in truth, networking is an invaluable tool for the job search. Only 16 percent of six-figure plus jobs, according to career search firm MGA, are found through job postings. That’s compared to the 70 percent of those same jobs which are found through networking. More than 60 percent of the six-figure jobs are not advertised.

Here’s a little homework assignment for you - yes, homework during the summer. Conduct at least one informational interview this summer. These interviews not only help you to establish a professional network, but also allow you valuable insight into different industries. You may realize that career field just isn’t for you; better to discover sooner rather than later.

So, what exactly does an informational interview entail? It is not a job-seeking method; rather it is an effective means of collecting information on a career field from a professional. It helps students to choose a career and a starting point in developing a professional social network. Informational interviews can even help sharpen your interviewing skills.

Getting started:
First, make a list of careers that interest you. Narrow it down to your top three choices. Then, begin to explore your network for people in these careers. Your network is anyone and everyone. Ask your parents, friends, friends’ parents, teachers and whoever else you come into contact with. Get their contact information, but do some research before you contact them. Make sure their experience matches what you are hoping to pursue. Once you find a suitable match, make contact. Introduce yourself. Explain who you are, what you’re doing and what you hope to accomplish. Try to schedule a meeting time. Remember: They have a full-time job so their schedule comes first. If a meeting time cannot be found, ask if you could send them an e-mail with some questions to answer at his or her convenience.

Before you interview:
Conduct research. Know about the person you’re interviewing with and their business. Figure out the types of questions you want to ask. Consider some of the following:
  • What is a typical day for you?- What are the duties/functions/responsibilities of your job?- What kinds of problems do you deal with?- What other jobs can you get with the same background?
  • How does a person progress in your field? What is a typical career path in this field or organization?
  • What is the best way to enter this occupation?- What are the skills that are most important for a position in this field?
  • Is there flexibility related to dress, work hours, vacation schedule, place of residence, etc.?
  • What work-related values are strongest in this type of work (security, high income, variety, independence)?
  • How is the economy affecting this industry?
  • What can you tell me about the employment outlook in your occupational field? How much demand is there for people in this occupation? How rapidly is the field growing? Can you estimate future job openings?
  • What obligations does your employer place have on you outside of the ordinary work week? What social obligations go along with a job in your occupation?
  • What are the major frustrations of this job?
  • If you could do things all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? Why? What would you change?
  • How well did your college experience prepare you for this job?
  • What abilities or personal qualities do you believe contribute most to success in this field/job?
  • What are the typical entry-level job titles and functions? What entry level jobs are best for learning as much as possible?
  • What kinds of experience, paid or unpaid, would you encourage for anybody pursuing a career in this field?
  • [If you feel comfortable and it seems appropriate:] Would you mind taking a look at my resume?

After the meeting:
Summarize the information you gathered. This should help you to mentally outline the pros and cons of choosing this career. If you find there to be more negative than positive, explore other careers and conduct more information interviews.

Always, always, always send a thank you letter. Remember, besides learning about the industry, you’re using this interview to establish a network. Even if you decide against entering this particular field, you have still established one relationship in the professional realm that may be able to connect you with other professionals.

CDS Networking/Informational Interview TipSheet
CareerShift (a resource to help you identify people in different companies and organizations)

By Kelly Cargill

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