We recommend "information interviewing" before seeking an actual job. This interview is conducted simply to obtain information about the career, not to apply for a specific job. You can ask, for example, how you should prepare for that career field while you're in college - what courses, internships and skills to consider - or what graduate program to pursue.
Why talk to people?
Printed material on a career (websites, pamphlets, guidebooks, etc.) can be very useful as you decide you are interested in a particular field; however, you need to check the relevance of that information for YOU through interviews with people currently active in the field. Sometimes no accurate, current printed information exists on your field of interest. (This may be true, for example, in high tech fields, health care, or engineering where change is fast and constant.)
Different professionals have different opinions.
Keep in mind that personal experiences and opinions shape the advice others will give you. Learn to separate opinion/advice from concrete information. Be alert to the problem of accuracy in information you receive. You could apply the journalist's rule - never accept a piece of information unless it is corroborated by another independent source.
What could you learn?
- Learn if your qualifications fit a particular business, industry, or organization.
- Assess future employment prospects in a certain career field for people with your interests and skills.
- Determine where such prospects might be best.
- Seek alternative paths to one career goal.
- Find out about related occupations.
You may interview anyone for information -- parents, neighbors, parents of friends, faculty members, persons whose names you have selected from a company roster or from the Yellow Pages, Hiram College alumni, and others. Contact the Career Center to assist you in finding alumni who can help you.
How should you handle the interview?
Plan to handle an information interview as you would an interview for work. Prepare yourself in advance about the organization (what they do, who their clients are, what problems they face, etc.). Do not go in to an information interview "cold." You must do your share of preparing for the interview, even though you are only seeking information. Follow these guidelines:
- Dress neatly. You are going into their organization. Show them you take this seriously.
- Know the name and title of the person you are to see.
- Be well prepared to ask questions that will uncover the information you want.
- Take notes if you wish.
- Always ask for the name of another person to interview after this interview is over. Build your network.
- Follow your interview with a thank you note (hard copy, not e-mail).
Questions to ask.
The questions you ask during your interview should suit your needs and particular interests, skills, and experiences. Be sure to research the career before your information interview and use the interview to ask more complex questions. Sample questions:
- What do you like best and least about your work?
- What steps did you take to obtain your current job?
- What entry-level jobs are best for learning as much as possible about this field?
- What is the typical career path for advancement?
- What salary can one expect to earn at the entry level?
- If you could start all over again today in launching your career, what steps would you take?
- Re-phrase personal concerns such as "Will I be successful in this field" into a general question, "What skills, education, and experience are needed for success in this field"
Don't be shy!
A major factor inhibiting many from interviewing for information is shyness. In a survey done recently at Stanford University, one out of two people given a "shyness" questionnaire described themselves as shy. Therefore, you may be talking to a professional who also feels shy! Keep in mind, however, that this is not a strained social situation where small talk must be made. The easiest conversations are those between two people with mutual interests and enthusiasm, and the better prepared and the more informed you are, the easier the conversation will be. Remember that this information will be much less formal and relaxed than a job interview and will help to prepare you to handle a formal job interview with more confidence.
Always follow up.
Be sure to send a thank you note to everyone who helps you in your job search. Review briefly the information you received and express appreciation for their help. Be sure to keep contacts updated on your job search.
Remember, the most important thing to gain from the interviews is practical information and a real-life perspective about the occupation/career.