Growing up I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career. When it came time to apply to post-secondary, I did a bit of soul-searching and some research online, and figured I’d choose between medicine (there are a lot of doctors in my family) and architecture (I like the creativity of getting to design new buildings).
But before I could choose, I had some questions. What’s it like to be a doctor or an architect? How will I know if either career is something I’d be good at? How would my life be different in one career or the other? I needed answers, and online research could only get me so far. I started with Google, and then moved on to my career-planning secret weapon: informational interviews.
"Informational Interviews" is jut a fancy name for chatting with people about their jobs. I decided to arrange meetings with professionals working in fields I was interested in, to learn about their educational backgrounds and career paths.
How to conduct an informational interview
1. Find people to interview
First you need to find people to talk to. I started by turning to my parents, aunts and uncles, family friends, teachers—anyone I could think of—and asking them if they knew any doctors or architects. As I said, I have a few family members who are doctors, so that part was easy. I didn’t know any architects personally, so I went to Google and searched for architects around the city. Once you know what career(s) you’re interested in, here are a few tips for finding contacts:
- Have family in that field? Perfect, contact them!
- If not, start asking your parents or family friends if they know anyone.
- If you can’t find anyone close to you, hop on Google and search around your city for local professionals.
- Be sure to gather contact information: write down important information like name, position, organization, email, phone number, office number etc.
2. Set up a meeting
Once you’ve found someone you’d like to interview, send them an email or give them a call, either directly or through their main office (within reasonable business hours). You’ve gotta see if they’d be willing to meet with you, so be sure to make it clear what you’re asking for. Touch on the following points in your message/call: who you are, why you’re contacting them, and what you’re hoping to get from them. For example:
“Hi, I’m Kiyo, I’m a grade 12 student at ___ High School. I’m interested in pursuing a career in architecture, and am wondering if you’d be willing to spare 30-45 minutes of your time to meet with me and discuss your educational background and career path?”
When settling on a time to meet, make sure to be accommodating to their schedule. Remember: they’re doing you the favor, so make sure to work around them even if it’s a bit of an inconvenience. Once you’ve agreed on a time and date, thank them and make sure to write it down! Be polite, concise, and thankful for their time.
3. Prepare for the interview
You’ll want to come prepared with about 5-10 questions. It’s a good idea to print them out on a piece of paper so that you can write down their answers during the interview. To come up with this list of questions, start by asking yourself why you’re considering this career, and what’s important to you in a job. From there, start recording questions that come to mind. For example:
- Do you want to work 9-5, five days a week? >> Ask what their usual work schedule is like, and whether they often take work home with them.
- Do you want to express creativity in your work? >> Ask if they have creative freedom in their projects.
- Can you handle spending many years in post-secondary? >> Ask what post-secondary program they took, or what they currently look for in candidates.
- Do you care about how much money you’ll make? >> Ask what the average person in this field makes in similar positions (try to avoid asking them exactly what they make, instead focus on industry averages).
- Do you have a realistic sense of what people in this field actually do? >> Ask what a common day of work looks like (regular duties, responsibilities etc).
Additionally, you might consider a few more open-ended questions like:
- What aspect of your job do you enjoy most?
- Is there anything that especially frustrates you about your job?
- Has your perception of this job changed since working here? If so, how?
- Is there anything that has surprised you?
- What advice can you offer to students considering your career path?
4. Conduct the interview
- Confirm the time/place a day or two before.
- Arrive at least 5-10 minutes early, and bring your questions (and a pen!).
- Before you begin, ask if they mind you taking notes while you talk (they won’t, but will appreciate the consideration).
- Start by sharing a little bit about yourself, where you’re at in school, what your interest in their career is, and what you hope to learn by speaking with them.
- Then, ask them to share their background, and how they got to where they are today.
- From there, you can move into the rest of your interview questions.
- When all your questions have been answered, make sure to thank them for their time! I’d recommend sending a follow-up email the next day thanking them and wishing them luck in the future. If you felt like you had a good conversation, save their information for later, as it’s always good to expand your network.
What’s the benefit of informational interviews?
During these interviews I got a lot of ‘insider information’ that I hadn’t even anticipated. I learned about personal aspects of people’s jobs such as things they hated or loved, and touched on a lot of topics you can’t necessarily just read about online. People were candid and open about their experiences, which I really appreciated.
These interviews taught me that my perception of what it’s like to be a doctor or an architect was a lot different than the reality.
I’m thankful I was able to talk to professionals about the true nature of the careers I was considering, because ultimately these conversations helped me to determine that neither were the right fit for me.
If I hadn’t met with these people, I might have spent years investing time and money in a program that would lead to a career that wasn’t right for me. Instead, this realization started me down a path that eventually lead to where I am today, studying science at the University of Alberta. I’m confident in my decision not to pursue medicine or architecture, thanks to the knowledge I gained from my interviews.
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