Career Corner: Informational interviews an eye opening experience

Starting a career after college can be a challenge even for the more seasoned job seeker. You may think that once you've armed yourself with an updated resume and a cover letter the rest will be easy. Just watch and wait for the perfect job. Wishful thinking plays a large part in that approach, especially when you don't have a detailed picture of how to bridge your academic life to a career life. And, unless you've participated in a program with a co-op or field placement or clinical component it is unlikely that you will fully know about the realities of the workplace of your chosen career. An informational interview, if conducted skillfully, should help you bridge that gap.

In reality, the informational interview is one of the most valuable sources you have to gather information on your future occupation. It may cover some of the same ground as the material on the company's website but it will also provide firsthand information about the experiences and impressions of someone in your chosen occupation. And as the interview is totally conducted by you it should be less stressful for both you and the employer than a traditional job interview.

Your ultimate goal is to obtain information about your chosen career, so remember when you are on an informational interview you should NOT ask for a job. You want to gain insight about your chosen field from someone who has firsthand knowledge into what is done day to day and you, in turn, can relate this information to your own interests and goals. The informational interview also provides the opportunity to build your self-confidence, to improve your ability to handle a job interview and allows you to start building your network.

So whom do you interview? Ask friends, family, neighbours, and professors if they know of someone who works in your targeted field. Or, contact someone you've read about who has your “dream job” or call your alumni association. People love to talk about themselves and what they do, and above, all love to give advice.

Preparation for an informational interview is very important, just as it is in a traditional job interview. So, start your preparation in a similar fashion by researching what you can about the person you are interviewing along with their company or business.

When calling to arrange an informational interview be sure to conduct yourself in a professional manner and make clear in advance, the purpose of your interview. Be specific in your request for time to meet with the employer. If you ask for 20 minutes then be sure your questions won't take any longer to ask. Be considerate of their time and accept whatever answers you get to the questions you pose. Above all be sure to ask intelligent questions. Here are some questions that should help you build a detailed picture of your chosen occupation.

What are the duties performed during a typical day, week, or month? What education program or kinds of courses are most valuable for success in this occupation? What kind of work experience would employers look for in a job applicant? What are the opportunities for advancement? What are the most important personal characteristics needed for success in the field? What are the demands and frustrations that typically accompany this type of work?

Dress appropriately and arrive five to 10 minutes early. Take a folder with paper and a pen to write notes, and above all be sure to bring a copy of your resume. The interviewee will ideally become a member of your network so if appropriate ask if you could leave a copy of your resume with them. Make sure to thank the employer for taking the time to meet with you and immediately send them a thank you note upon returning home.

After completing each informational interview, make sure you reflect on the information you have gathered. Does it change your opinion of the occupation as a result of the interview? What are the most important new facts and understandings that you've now acquired? Finally, use this information skillfully to position yourself in the right occupation with your eyes wide open to your future.

Need assistance? Why not drop by the Career Services office in Room D1063. The Career Services staff are available to assist you on an individual basis. Visit the office to arrange an appointment with the consultant responsible for your program or call 519 452-4294. For job listings, visit