One of the most common dilemmas students face in career counselling is what career direction to take, and the most common first sentence is: “I’m interested in many careers, but I’m not sure which one is right for me.” Do you recognise yourself in this dilemma?
Even if you know what you’re interested in, there are different companies and positions you can work in, and each one comes with different responsibilities, projects, and tasks. It’s hard to decide where you want to work if you don’t know first-hand what it’s like. One option, of course, is to try out all the jobs that interest you in all the companies and then decide what you want to focus on. However, that’s a bit unrealistic, isn’t it?
There’s a much easier way to find out first-hand what it’s like to work as a project manager or machine learning engineer: an informational interview.
What’s an informational interview?
Although it sounds very serious, an informational interview is nothing more than a relaxed conversation aimed at getting first-hand information about a job, career, or industry. If you’re interested in what it’s like to work in a company, simply contact someone you know who works in that company in a position that interests you and ask them to answer a few questions. This can be someone you already know, have heard about in an interesting lecture, or someone you found on LinkedIn. Most people will set aside 30 minutes for a short interview.
Ask anything you want to know
The beauty of an informational interview is that you lead the conversation. This means you can prepare questions in advance that interest you and ask anything – as long as it’s related to the job, the industry and the position, of course. That’s why it’s important to prepare in advance. Research the person you’re talking to, think about relevant questions and write them down.
How do I choose who to talk to?
There are several ways to reach your interviewee. First, find the companies and jobs that interest you. Then think if you know someone who’s employed in a similar position (friend or friend of a friend). If you don’t know, ask your colleagues, a mentor or a professor you can ask. Think about whether you liked someone at a Job Fair, Career Speed Dating, or some other event. One option that’s always available is to do a LinkedIn search. Type in the name of the company or job you’re interested in and get in touch with someone who works at a place you find interesting. If you don’t have LinkedIn yet, maybe our last blog will convince you that you already need it.
Emphasise that you aren’t looking for a job, but for an informational interview.
When contacting a person, make it clear that you want to find out more about the career path, work tasks and work environment, rather than introducing yourself with the aim of getting a job. At an informational interview, you’ll make contacts with colleagues in the profession, which may later lead to employment, but that’s not the purpose of the informational interview. Introduce yourself, point out the connection to this person, i.e., why you’re specifically contacting them, and focus on the information you want to know. If you show that you’ve a clear goal for the interview, the person is more likely to agree to the conversation.
Ask yourself what exactly you want to learn and gain from the interview and choose the questions that are most important to you. Now you just need to find a person who works in your desired profession. Our suggestion is to find as many of them as possible in different positions that interest you. Good luck!