Now that you understand the roles and responsibilities of each of your career options, you will take the next step so that you can get a true feel for each occupation and the types of duties you would perform on a daily basis. You will move from gathering information to gathering intelligence with a human touch. It is a process we call Field Research or gathering primary information about occupations. Desk research was all about gathering information from published sources. With Field Research, you will be interacting directly with people who are employed in the careers you want to pursue.
Primary research involves obtaining first-hand information directly about the careers you are pursuing. It is designed to answer specific questions of interest to you. Here are some of the questions that you could ask – and answer – during this process:
- What will be expected of me in this career?
- What are the key skills needed for this career?
- How do people in this career feel about their career choice?
- What type of challenges would I encounter if I enter this field?
- How did the person you are meeting with enter this career?
To collect primary information a person must carry out field research. The main methods of field research are:
- Informational Interviews
- Job Shadowing
The following sections describe the two methods above and provide guidance on how to appropriately execute each option. One option is not superior to the other. You can opt to use one or all of the methods. Map out a plan based on the following information.
Informational interviewing should be an integral part of your Field Research. One of the best sources for gathering information about what is happening in an occupation or an industry is to talk to people working in the field. This process is called informational interviewing or research interviewing. An informational interview is an interview that you initiate – you ask the questions. The purpose is to obtain information, not to get a job. This is an important fact to keep in mind. Many people misuse informational interviewing to land a job rather than to learn about various careers and industries. This can cause pain for everyone involved in the process. It could hurt your chances of obtaining future informational interviews, especially if a friend did you a favor and made an introduction. If you engage in this process as a means of discovery, view it as a good fortune that people are making time in their busy schedule to meet with you.
Reasons to Conduct Informational Interviews
- To understand job demands, frustrations, satisfactions and how a certain career has influenced people’s lives.
- To gain solid information that will help you evaluate how your skills and interests dovetail with a particular career or business.
- To gain insight into the hidden job market –employment opportunities that are not advertised.
- To learn what the industry or employer values in its employees.
- To gain confidence when interviewing for a particular position. You are in control of the interview; you decide which questions to ask. Later, you will evaluate the acquired information for personal use.
- To increase your network by leaving a positive impression with someone who could provide encouragement, support, and future access to job leads.
- To find out whether jobs are available in the field or business you want to enter.
- To find suggestions about the career or the employer.
Six Steps To Conducting an Effective Informational Interview
Step One: Identify the Occupation or Industry to Learn About
Assess your own interests, abilities, values, skills, and evaluate labor conditions and trends to identify the best fields to research.
Step Two: Identify People to Interview
Start with lists of people you already know, including friends, relatives, fellow students, present or former co-workers, supervisors, and neighbors. Professional organizations, the yellow pages, organizational directories, and public speakers are also good resources. You may also call an organization and ask for the name of a person by job title.
The following questions may help you schedule your informational interview. Please feel free to modify the questions to better meet your communication style. It is important to keep asking people questions until you find a “warm” lead.
- Do you know anyone who works for COMPANY?
- Do you know anyone in a TARGET position at COMPANY?
- Do you think anyone you know will know someone at COMPANY?
- Do you know anyone who helps hire into COMPANY?
- Are you willing to help me connect with COMPANY or with your friend who can connect me to someone at COMPANY?
We recommend that you meet with a minimum of three people per occupational choice. It is important to meet with people at different companies to get the broadest exposure to your career choices and to minimize bias. We recommend that you structure each informational interview based on three perspectives:
- New to career – Interview someone who just entered your field of interest. This will give you a fresh perspective of the career.
- Experienced in career (likes it) – Interview someone who likes their job and has lots of experience in the chosen career. This will help you gain a balanced perspective, both positive and negative, about what you can really expect on the job and avenues for advancement.
- Departing career – (dislikes it) – Interview someone who dislikes their job and had decided to leave it for various reasons. This will give you food for thought about the things that might annoy you in the job after you have been in it for a while.
Step Three: Arrange the Interview
Contact the person to set up an interview. Be sure to introduce yourself and explain why you are calling. Clearly state your goal and explain the process that you will be using during your investigation. Mention that you have a list of questions and would like to meet with them for less than thirty minutes. If they do not want to meet with you, ask for a referral. In preparing your communication, be sure to do the following:
- Write a brief introduction about yourself.
- Explain why you are writing to this individual.
- Explain your interests in the person’s field, organization, or location.
- Highlight why you would like to converse. Be straightforward.
- Indicate when you will contact this person again. Be specific.
The following script can be used to break the ice when arranging your interview.
|“Mr. Dunn, Linda Ginac at The Ginac Group referred me to you. Linda suggested that I speak with you about your career. My name is Andy and I am interested in the _____________ field. I could use some advice from someone who is in this field. Do you have any time this week when I could meet with you? I know you are busy. I only need about 15 minutes of your time. I would really like to learn more about your company and the __________ field from someone with your credentials and experience.”|
You can contact the referral using a variety of ways by:
- a letter followed by a telephone call
- having someone who knows the person make the appointment for you
Step Four: Prepare for the Interview
Read all you can about the field and the specific company prior to the interview. Decide what information you would like to obtain about the occupation/industry. Prepare a list of questions that you would like to have answered.
Types of Informational Interview Questions
You will need to customize a list of your own questions for your informational interview. We recommend that you pick 10 – 12 questions from the following list:
What do you do as a ____________?
- How do you spend a typical day/week?
- What kinds of problems do you deal with?
- What kinds of decisions do you make?
- What are your major responsibilities?
- What do you find most/least satisfying about your job?
- What part of this job do you find most/least challenging?
- What training or education is required for this type of work?
Tell me about this career field…
- What are the positive/negative aspects of working in this field?
- What are typical jobs for someone with my experience?
- Is there a definite career path in this field? Can you describe it?
- How did you enter the field and what has your career path been?
- What personal qualities or abilities are important to being successful in this job?
- How do you see jobs in this field changing in the future?
- Is there a demand for people in this occupation?
What is it like to work in this organization?
- How does your job fit into the organization/department?
- What are the toughest challenges you face in the organization?
- What is the “corporate culture” here? Is it very informal or formal? Do people work autonomously or under close supervision? Does everyone come early, stay late, or does it vary?
Can you give me advice on how to break into this field?
- Could someone with my background obtain a position in this field?
- What skills, education, and experience are required?
- What are the professional journals in this field which I should read? How can I find them?
- Which professional associations do you participate? Can non-members attend meetings?
- Would you take a quick look at my résumé and give me feedback?
- If I wanted to apply for a job, whom should I contact in this organization?
- What do you think of the experience I have had so far in terms of entering this field?
- What do you think of my résumé? Do you see any problem areas? How would you suggest I change it?
Step Five: Conduct the Interview
Dress appropriately, arrive on time, be polite, and be professional. Refer to your list of prepared questions; stay on track, but allow for spontaneous discussion. Ensure that you have a solid opening statement to describe yourself, your background, and your reason for conducting your career investigation. Before leaving, ask your contact to suggest names of others who might be helpful to you and ask permission to use your contact’s name when contacting these new contacts.
Do not ask this person for a job! If they have opportunities that they believe are suitable for you, they may mention them to you. Before leaving, thank this person for his or her time. However, if they do invite you in for an interview, then go for it.
Step Six: Follow Up
Immediately following the interview record the information gathered. Be sure to send a note of thanks – preferably hand written – to your contact within one week of the interview.