Never play telephone when it comes to learning about the lived experience of working in your prospective career. Get on the telephone instead.
If you would like to learn more about an occupation, seek an opportunity to speak with a professional already established in the field.
Informational conversations are typically one-hour interviews, which you can use to learn about the realities of a particular position, such as the current labour market, what a typical day is like and what experience is required to break into the field.
These discussions can provide you with a vivid image of an occupation which is hard to illustrate through online research alone.
They are also a chance to build a connection with someone who could be an ongoing support to you in your career.
When done correctly, informational interviewing can help you to better understand a profession and make important decisions about your future.
Here are some tips for engaging in this process in a meaningful way.
Find a mentor
Finding someone to chat with in your field can be a challenge, especially if you are just beginning your career.
If you are a U of M student, the Career Mentor Program offered through Career Services is a great place to start. This program boasts a database of over 700 mentors who work in everything from video game development to avalanche forecasting.
After an orientation session, you will be matched with someone in the profession you are exploring, who you can then meet with to chat about their career. While the programming has a $10 fee, students can utilize the service as much as they like after making the one payment.
If you are seeking someone independently, start with a LinkedIn search or contact your professional association for support.
Always be courteous and professional in your communications. Reach out with a phone call or message where you explain who you are and why you would like to meet them for a coffee to learn more about their fascinating career.
Prepare questions before you meet
There is nothing worse than an awkward silence. Prepare yourself for the meeting by drafting about 20 questions, covering what you are most interested in learning about.
Shape your questions around what matters to you in your career, whether that is work-life balance, intellectual challenge or helping others.
Even though you are likely curious, it is always rude to ask how much someone makes. Besides, this information is easily Googled.
It can also be illuminating to ask what the person loves and hates about their job — this can give you a more complete picture of what the profession is truly like.
Do your research in advance
By reading up on the occupation before meeting your mentor, you will be able to formulate more thoughtful questions and come across as more knowledgeable and engaged.
Asking questions that are easily answered online is a waste of both your time and theirs. Instead, focus on exploring aspects of the profession that only an insider can share.
Listen more than you talk
You initiated this conversation to learn, so give your interviewee room to give you detailed answers.
While it might be appropriate to share a little about who you are and your goals, do not let this dominate the conversation.
As you listen, be sure to write down all the valuable advice you receive so you do not forget.
If you are planning to take notes on your smartphone, make sure you explain this is what you are doing so your mentor does not misunderstand and assume you are texting.
Compare occupations of interest
If you are still trying to figure out your career, an informational conversation might be the key to comparing your occupational possibilities.
Interview people working in each of the areas you are considering. Asking similar questions can create clear distinctions between the jobs and allow you to assess how each position measures up against your career wish list.
By putting yourself out there and gathering occupational information in this way, you will become a more informed and better-connected professional.