Academia is good at preparing people to be academics. There are clear (if not necessarily readily available) opportunities to teach, design courses, network with professors, hone research skills, and seek advice from mentors.
If you’re considering non-academic careers, however, you may find a shortage of resources and mentors within your department. This is where information interviews come in.
An information interview is a meeting you set up with someone who likely has information that you don’t. When it comes to career exploration, this typically involves talking with people who are doing the sort of work you think you might like to do, to find information you can’t get elsewhere.
In other words, you typically don’t set up information interviews to ask questions you could answer through Career Cruising (if your university has access to it), the websites compiled by your university’s career centre, professional organizations, job postings, career books and other print or digital media.
Unlike those resources, information interviews can address your specific concerns. If you’re considering social work, but have read about the high burnout rate, you can ask what sets apart social workers who don’t burn out. If you’ve wondered about educational consulting, you can ask what someone with a PhD could do to be competitive for the role. In fact, force yourself to ask about credentials. Within academia, it can seem like any closed career door can only be opened by a degree — especially by one we don’t have. When I conducted information interviews myself, I was shocked when an interviewee advised completing a 3-day workshop over a master’s degree. Had I pursued his field, that advice would have saved me a lot of time and effort.
As it turns out, I didn’t pursue his field, because information interviews led me to career advising instead. So, you don’t have to be 100% committed to a field to start interviewing people in it — and information interviewing is a great way to learn about careers you haven’t heard of yet by talking with people in appealing careers you already know of. Maybe you love the fact that your interviewee uses research and analytical skills. They also focus on a short part of one process, however, and you prefer to work on projects start to finish. Wonderful—ask your interviewee who they know who uses all of your preferred skills. Ask what their job title is.
This process sounds scary, and it is — at first. It’s also a great way to get accurate career information and to ask what next steps you should be taking, given your specific set of experiences, skills and education. My next blog will cover why interviewees agree to be interviewed, and how you can set up meetings.