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Richard N. Bolles, author of  What Color Is Your Parachute? first coined the term Informational Interviewing.   Wikipedia defines it as “a meeting in which a job seeker asks for advice rather than employment. The job seeker uses the interview to gather information on the field, find employment leads and expand their professional network. This differs from a job interview because the job seeker asks the questions. There may or may not be employment opportunities available.”
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This is a great approach for college students in the early stage of exploring careers. It is  low pressure for both parties. The student has to demonstrate interest, ask good questions, be a receptive listener, and exhibit a professional, respectful demeanor. An in-depth background is not required to simply explore a career alternative. The professional is not “on the spot” to identify a job opening for the student. He simply has to offer insights about his career path, biographical perspective, and answer the student’s questions about the field. Many professionals are willing to take the time to help a student in this advisory way.

How do you identify professionals to interview? Unless you grew up under a rock, you know adults in careers that hold interest for you. Your parents, extended family,  historical friends from high school, church/synagogue/mosque or camp, college roommates, fraternity brothers or sorority sisters, professors, coaches, doctors: and people they know. Remember 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon?

Whether they are young professionals or high-powered veterans, they’re likely to agree, since you are not asking for a job. Ask about rewards and frustrations,  career path, and lifestyle. Remember, people love to share their bio and give advice, so let them! You’d  be surprised how many people out there are really nice, and find it rewarding to give helpful perspective to a young person. Consider asking to “shadow” an individual for a day and find out what “life in the trenches” is really like.

QuintCareers.com offers a comprehensive tutorial on informational interviewing that is well worth your time. A NY Times blog post by Marci Alboher called “Mastering the Informational Interview” also gives some great tips. It is never too early to explore careers this way. You will not only gain knowledge of career paths within your major field, but you will gain confidence, polish one-to-one interviewing skills, expand your professional network, and make an impression that could potentially translate into a job later on.

I have been surprised at how many college students are unaware of this approach to career exploration and job search. But it is the perfect first step! On campus, you are primarily exposed to academic professionals, rather than adults who are using a background similar to yours in a business, medical or government setting. Expand your circle of advisors beyond professors to all kinds of practitioners in your field. You may discover an application of your training that you never knew existed!

File away everything you learn! Some career paths may not make sense right out of college, but may work for you later on. A new area you discover may inspire you to focus on getting an internship or job in that specialty immediately. Or you may hear cautionary tales about a career path you were previously excited about–such an interview may be disillusioning, but may prevent career disaster.

 

Relevant reading:You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career by Katharine Brooks, The Career Chronicles: An Insider’s Guide to What Careers Are Really Like–The Good, the Bad & the Ugly from Over 750 Professionals by Michael Gregory, How’d You Score That Gig?: A Guide to the Coolest Jobs and How To Get Them by Alexandra Leavit.

Related posts: Liberal Arts and the Real World, Your College’s Career Center, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship… What To Do?Why Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn?.

 

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