Informational interviewing is an invaluable career research technique. It provides you with the opportunity to gain "inside information" about a career, an organization or an industry. Informational interviews also boost your self-confidence as they enhance your ability to structure and conduct clear, concise and pleasant "career conversations".
Some students may feel uncomfortable with the idea of asking another person (especially a stranger) for this type of assistance. However, most professionals started out this way themselves and now consider informational interviews an important way to support others. If you conduct your interviews courteously and with respect for the person's time, most professionals will enjoy helping a potential "newcomer" to their field.
Any successful interviewer spends a great deal of time laying the groundwork for these crucial meetings. First, you must be very clear about the information you are seeking. Identify, as specifically as possible, the knowledge you wish to gain as a result of a particular career conversation. Then, construct your questions accordingly. Create well-phrased, open-ended questions that address your needs.
Developing a list of potential contacts is the next step. Consider approaching recognized industry experts. Family and friends can also provide you with interview possibilities. Don't forget the obvious Loyola resources: faculty, Career Development Center advisors, alumni, administrators and staff with whom you have worked.
Finally, supervisors and peers in employment and volunteer settings are usually very willing to help you make the right connections. Narrow down your list of possible experts by choosing individuals who are both successful in their fields and enjoy their work. In all likelihood, their career descriptions and perceptions will be objective and trustworthy.
During an interview, keep the following points in mind:
- First impressions count. Look your best and act professionally.
- Since you requested the meeting, you are expected to direct it and set the pace.
- The best way to create a comfortable learning environment is to ask the most important questions first.
- The best way to create a solid rapport is to be an interested and involved listener.
- Toward the end of the interview, ask for pointers: What would you do if you were me?, and for further contacts: Can you suggest anyone who might also be helpful?.
- Never try to turn the conversation into a job interview. Remember that you are there only to investigate your options.
After the interview, it is important to make notes about the data you gathered. Review this occupational information in light of your own values, interests, skills, educational goals and life- style choices. These comparisons can help you decide if this career is an option for you.
Send a brief thank you note to the professional who shared his/her expertise with you right away. This correspondence serves to both express your appreciation and set the stage for further networking.