The best way to explore a potential career choice is by speaking with and/or following someone who works in that career.
- Do an informational interview. Learn first-hand about your chosen profession by asking questions about tasks, business environment, and educational background.
- Shadow a professional. Follow someone in your career choice as they go through a typical day or week on the job. Ask questions and observe the work.
Find a Professional
Finding someone to interview or shadow and having them agree to meet with you is much easier than you might think. Ask your parents and your friends’ parents if they know someone you can interview. Ask your professors for recommendations of professionals in the field. Ask the Career Center for a list of alumni who have already said they are willing to help in other SoE students’ career exploration.
Next, call or write a letter requesting an informational interview or opportunity to job shadow. People who like their jobs tend to enjoy talking about them. You compliment the professional by expressing an interest in their career. In your phone call or letter, explain how you found the person you want to interview and request time for an appointment. (If you were referred to that person, make certain you’ve got permission from the referral source to use their name.) Emphasize that you want to find out more about the career—you’re not looking for a job. If you’re lucky, the professional you contact may have other colleagues you can interview also.
Prepare for your appointment
Even though you will be the one conducting the interview, prepare for your informational interview in much the same way you would for a job interview. Research the company and create a list of questions tailored to the information you are seeking. See below for a list of possible questions.
Takes notes during your time with the professional. Here are some questions you might ask:
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About Job Function
- What are your duties and responsibilities?
- What was your undergraduate/graduate major?
- Describe a typical day.
- What do you like most about your job? Least about your job?
- What are your most recent successes on the job?
- How much time do you spend at work? What are your work hours during peak times?
- Can you leave your job behind after work, or is it the kind of job you take home with you?
- What type of people do you interact with?
- What parts of your job are most challenging?
- If you would have done anything differently in your preparation for this career, what would it have been?
About the Organization
- What is the overall philosophy of management in this organization? How is it implemented?
- What are the short range goals of this organization? Long range?
- How are these goals measured? Formally/Informally? How often?
- How hierarchical is the company? When was the last time you interacted with top executives?
- Is there in-house training or opportunities for continuing development?
- Does this company utilize co-ops/interns? Could you suggest any temporary, part-time, or summer work experience that would help a person prepare for your occupation?
- Where or how are job openings communicated within the organization? the career field?
About the Field
- What is the typical career path in your field?
- What is your educational background?
- What courses were most helpful to you and which would you recommend?
- What steps did you take to enter this career field?
- What training/skills are required for someone who wanted to enter this field now? What training/skills are recommended?
- What are the beginning, average, and top salaries in this occupation?
- What are the trends in this field? What are the trends within specific geographic locations?
- What changes have impacted your field in the last five years?
- Will there be a continued demand for this occupation? How secure will employment be in the future?
- What are the latest developments in your field?
- Are there any special problems, concerns, or challenges of which a person should be aware when considering this occupation?
- What other occupations are closely related to this one?
- What other advice or information can you give a person considering/preparing for this career?
- Can you recommend three suggestions to enhance my marketability for the career field, for location, and /or general employment?
- Are you willing to review my résumé and provide feedback?
- Can you give me the names of three other people who share your enthusiasm for this kind of work? How can I contact them? May I use your name when contacting them?
- May I stay in touch with you and let you know of my decision?
- Do you have any additional advice to help me prepare?
Following Up Your Interview
Review your notes. What was your impression? Did you leave the interview feeling as if you can envision a future in this occupation or were you discouraged—you don’t feel you learned enough about the occupation or the job description doesn’t sound appealing any longer?
Take your thoughts and concerns to the career center staff and get feedback on the next step to take in your career exploration. You may want to do additional informational interviews in this career path or you may want to reexamine your goals and find a different path for your interests.
No matter what you decide, send a thank you note to anyone you interviewed or shadowed. Whether you decide to forge ahead on that career path or find another one, this professional may be a good person to network with when you begin your job search.
Adapted from National Association of Colleges and Employers materials.