Dear Coach Wolfgang,
What is the best way for me to learn about a career I am interested in?
Thank you for the question. You raise a very interesting topic that is also very subjective. What is the best way to learn information about a new career? My answer is… it depends.
The best way depends on a lot of factors, including your preferred learning style, the amount of time you have to devote to this research, and your current level of knowledge of the career.
There are many ways to conduct research that will fit someone’s schedule and learning style, however, in my opinion, the best way to learn about an career is through an Informational Interview.
An informational interview is an interview that you conduct with someone who works in the industry you are interested in. You are not seeking a job from this individual. Instead you are seeking information.
Why Conduct an Informational Interview
If you are new to informational interviews, it is natural to ask why you should do this, especially considering how much research you can do on the Internet. The reasons are very important and include:
- To gain a first hand account of the job responsibilities, demands, frustrations and satisfactions that come with working in that field.
- To learn what skills or education are needed to enter and succeed in the field.
- To understand the job market for that field.
- To gather data to decide if you want to further pursue a career in this field.
How to Conduct an Informational Interview
The first step in conducting an informational interview is to identify who to contact. First look to your network and identify anyone who could provide you with a warm lead to find a good person in that field.
Consider utilizing LinkedIn or Alumni from your school to identify potential individuals to interview. I advise my clients to interview a minimum of three individuals in the field. Each individual will provide you with a unique perspective.
Arrange the Interview
Email or call the individuals you would like to interview. It is even better if you have a friend who can introduce you either in-person or, at least, virtually. The interview can take place in person or on the phone, whichever option works for the individual you are interviewing. Remember, if you ask them to coffee or lunch, be sure to pay for it.
Prepare for the Interview
Come prepared with interview questions. I am often asked for a list of the best questions. Honestly, the questions for the interview need to be customized for each individual. Concentrate on what information would be most helpful for you to know. For example:
- What are the positive/negative aspects for working in this field?
- Is there a defined career path?
- How do you see jobs in this field changing in the future?
- What type of training or education is required for this work?
- What parts of the job do you find most/least satisfying?
- Is there anyone else in this field you think would be beneficial for me to contact?
Always Thank the Interviewee
Make sure to send a “thank you” email to the interviewee. Update the interviewee as appropriate with the advice you followed and the progress you are making. In other words, keep the relationship going!
There are many ways to conduct career research, but informational interviews provide you with an interactive way to obtain elusive information about a specific career. It can go beyond blogs, books, and articles and give you a perspective that only someone currently in the field can provide. The advantage is that you can now make better informed decisions.
Amy Wolfgang is a career coach who founded Wolfgang Career Coaching and co-founded Coaching 4 Good. She brings over 15 years of corporate and coaching experience to help organizations boost employee engagement while simultaneously helping her clients excel in their careers. She is a certified PCM (Professional Career Manager) and has a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology from The University of Texas at Austin.
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