Whether you’re in high school, university or even out of school, the phrase, “I don’t know what to do with my life!” has probably been expressed by you at least a few times…or maybe even multiple times.
Although there may not be a magic sorting hat out there that will help to place you into the perfect career you belong in (I wish), you do have one multipurpose tool that can help you get on the right track. It’s called an informational interview.
Our very own smahemtecks conducted one with a Year 1 medical student at UBC. I have done several of my own and will guide you through the process of conducting one properly as well as going over the immense benefits of this tool.
What is an informational interview and what’s the purpose?
An informational interview is simply what it states: an interview with a professional for the purpose of obtaining information about their career path, the job industry or the organization they work for.
Okay, got it – but how do I conduct one?
Glad you asked!
Step 1: Figure out what people/careers/organizations you have an interest in.
Do you want to find out what daily tasks an ophthalmologist is responsible for? Are you interested in finding out what the work culture is like at a certain hospital? Maybe you just want to talk to someone with a broad range of experiences to guide you as to what options and opportunities are out there. Once you have figured out what careers you’re interested in, your next step will be to reach out to those people in those specific areas.
Step 2: Contact the person you’re interested in interviewing. This can be done through a couple of ways:
- Reach out to family and friends and find out if anyone works in the career or organization you’re interested in. Ask them to put you in touch.
- Go to your school career centre and ask if they have a list of mentors or alumni that would be willing to chat about their career paths and experiences. McMaster University has their own MentorLinks program which is a database of McMaster alumni, whose contact information is available for students to use to reach out.
- Utilize online social media sites like Twitter and LinkedIn – you’ll be surprised how open some people will be in helping you!
Step 3: Make the initial contact – via e-mail, telephone, LinkedIn message, etc.
I personally prefer to use e-mail because you may not be able to reach the person as easily through phone. If you have an option of leaving a voice mail, make sure you introduce yourself clearly, state the purpose of the interview as well as your contact information and availability. Here are a few key things to include in your initial message:
- Name, University program (if applicable)
- Brief introduction of who you are and why you are reaching out
- What you want to find out about the person/career/organization
- A request of 20 minutes or so of their time and method of contact at their convenience e.g. telephone, in-person or Skype interview
- Thank them for their time and help!
Step 4: Prepare for the interview by making a list of questions and rehearsing.
A good way of starting the interview is by introducing yourself and then guiding the interview with your set of questions. Try to rehearse your introduction before and don’t be afraid! Speak with confidence and professionalism, you never know if this interview may lead to future employment opportunities. Here is a great list of questions you can choose from: http://gsm.ucdavis.edu/sites/main/files/file-attachments/informational_interviewing_200_questions.pdf
Tip: Do not ask about sensitive personal information such as salary information! Absolutely do not ask for a job either!
Step 5: Conduct the interview with poise!
If you are conducting an interview through the phone, make sure your battery is charged and have your set of questions, and pen and paper ready for notes. If you are conducting an interview in-person, make sure you are early to your location (e.g. coffee shop) and notify the person that you are at the location once you get there. Offer to pay for their coffee or meal. If you are interviewing through Skype, make sure your Internet and computer settings are up to date for a smooth call.
Tip: If you are conducting an in-person interview, treat it like a real interview. Show up in your best business casual clothes to have a great first impression.
Okay, now I’m done right? Wrong!
This final is step is crucial – if you do not do this last step you may appear as unprofessional!
Step 6: Follow up with a thank you e-mail within 24 hours.
So many people forget this last step. Professionals take out their personal time to chat over the phone or to meet up with you when they can be doing other tasks – so respect this. Within 24 hours send a thank you e-mail for their time and assistance.
Awesome – where do we go from here?
Well, an informational interview is not the end of your contact with the individual. The single most greatest benefit of conducting one is that you can now add one more person to your professional network! Informational interviewing is a form of networking and in the future you may be able to ask for employment opportunities – given that you keep in regular communication with them and that you ask respectfully. It can also allow you to be mentored by that individual which will help you in your personal and professional development. After your interview is over, you may choose to do more research on what information they provided you, follow up with another interview later on, and keep in touch via e-mail or LinkedIn. Take the time to reflect on what the individual stated and think about how your likes and skills align with the career. This will help you to narrow down your career options and figure out which direction you’d like to take.
Informational interviews are an often untapped resource of vast amounts of free knowledge. You can learn a lot about careers as well as yourself through this tool. Start today so that you can turn that “don’t know” into a “now I know”. Good luck!