As part of your career exploration process, consider setting up some informational interviews. This is a great way to gain valuable advice and career information about specific fields or career pathways, make contact with professionals in the field, and practice your interviewing skills.
From UW Center for Career Services "Gold Guide":
The Informational Interview
WHAT: A conversation with a professional in a career field you are considering; a technique for gathering occupational information.
WHY: To increase your knowledge about a career field and develop valuable contacts. To develop self-confidence about your own abilities and your "fit" with a particular field.
WHEN: Any time you are trying to make a career decision.
WHO:Contact people in the career field you are investigating; e.g., family members, friends, professional organizations, career fairs, classmates, teachers, employers, alumni, speakers you have heard, acquaintances, etc. There are industry and employer directories at UW's Center for Career Services, and at Odegaard and Suzzallo libraries. How to Find Career Professionals in Your Field of Interest.
WHERE:At a mutually convenient place, preferably where you will be able to observe a typical work setting for that profession.
HOW: Identify a few academic majors or career fields that seem to match your interests and abilities; locate people who are studying, teaching, or working in these fields (click here for suggestions on finding them). Get names, addresses and phone numbers through contacts, referrals, newspaper/magazine articles, directories, or call an organization and ask for the person in charge of the activity in which you're interested. You may want to precede your call with a letter. It is important that you not ask them to call you: you must take the initiative (see example below).
Sample Letter Requesting an Informational Interview
Be Prepared for the Interview
Do some preliminary research. Read about the academic field or occupation. Read about the employer.
Prepare a list of questions (see Suggested Questions below). If you prepare insightful questions before you meet, the meeting will be more useful and you will leave a good impression.
Ask the person to suggest names of others whom you might interview. It is important to talk with several different sources in order to obtain different perspectives.
Keep accurate records - they will be useful later! Write down names, titles, addresses, and telephone numbers. Make notes on topics you discussed, including any suggestions for further exploration. Write down any hard questions you were asked, and insights you gained.
Thank the person for their time and ask permission to keep in touch.
NEVER ask for a job during an informational interview!
ALWAYS follow up with a thank you note!
Suggested Questions to Ask During an Informational Interview
In general, what is your work like as a _____________?
How did you get into this field?
Describe a typical day or week on the job. What do you like most about this position? Least?
Describe what you find most challenging about this job.
What skills and abilities are most important in your work?
How did you prepare yourself for this kind of work? What is your educational background?
What advice would you give to someone still in college, aspiring to a career in your field (e.g., academic major, courses, related work, internships)?
Are there typical credentials required for entry into this field? What is the minimum amount of education usually required in order to be competitive for entry-level openings? ...for advancement?
Is any on-the-job training provided? What are the opportunities for continued learning and growth?
What personal qualities are needed to succeed in this line of work?
How would you advise someone to begin seeking a job in this field?
My strengths include the following: __________ , _________, and ___________. How might they match with positions in this field? I have a resume if you would like to see it.
How does your job fit into the overall operation of this organization? If you could go back in time and redo your preparation for the position you now hold, what changes would you make?
What kinds of skills would you seek in an assistant? What kinds of assignments would you give to a new assistant?
Can you suggest other people I might talk with regarding this field? May I mention that you were the person who referred me?
Where can you find career professionals in your field of interest?
Husky Career Network, a service available free to UW students and members of the UW Alumni Association, allows you to search a database on line for UW alumni career professionals in your field of interest who have expressed a willingness to serve as contacts and mentors.
Student Organizations often sponsor career talks or seminars and bring professionals to campus. Some also maintain lists of professionals who have helped students in the past.
Academic Advisers in UW academic departments can sometimes provide you with contact information or help you to find resources for exploration.
Career Counselors in the Center for Career Services are good resources and often have many contacts with local employers in all fields.
English Faculty can be a good source of direction for related fields and resources.
English Internship Sponsors have worked with English undergraduate majors before and are often willing to set up informational interviews with students.
On-Campus Career Fairs are good places to meet employer representatives, as are career panels presented during the annual Career Week on campus.
UW Libraries Reference maintains career kiosks that include company directories.
Most organizations (including professional and civic organizations) maintain web sites and often feature contact information. Here are a few places to start:
Washington School Districts
WA Community and Techical Colleges
Four-Year Colleges and Universities in Washington
Chronicle of Higher Education
Washington Education Association (WEA)
American Association of University Women
Washington Newspaper Publishers Association
Writer's Guild Online
Magazine Publishers of America
Washington State Association of Broadcasters
Pacific Northwest Writers Association
Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association
Access Washington (State Government Info and Services)
WorkSource Washington Career Pages
Washington Employment Pages links to city governments in Washington
City of Seattle Federal Government Agencies listings