We last covered O*NET’s website and how its in-depth database of career information can be an effective tool for preventing career dissatisfaction. While I discussed its many uses, I neglected to mention (trust me, this was on purpose) a major shortcoming of the online database: it’s very impersonal and not always a good indicator of whether or not you will enjoy your work environment.
Sure, O*NET is highly accurate and updated regularly but will it truly give you a feel for the career of your choice? Chances are that it won’t; it should, ideally, be used to weed out careers in which you have no actual interest or compatibility. In order to truly understand a career you must invest a deal of time and personal interest into it.
One effective means of doing this is conducting an informational interview. No, you’re not looking to be hired; you’re looking for information from the most reliable source: a professional in your current field of interest. This information gathered, like O*NET’s, is intended to help you make an informed career decision before you dive into a job or occupation headfirst. Yes, I said gathered. The main difference between a job interview and an informational interview is, in an informational interview, you will be asking all of the questions.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s go over some of the advantages of conducting an informational interview (think of this as added motivation). For one, it’s a great way to network with professionals, increasing the amount of people in the industry you know, which certainly never hurt anyone. Furthermore, since you will be asking the questions, you’re in control of what you learn. Take that opportunity to ask about typical day-to-day activities and relate them to your wants and interests, making sure to note whether or not you can see yourself happily performing these tasks. These interviews also involve much less stress, allowing you to ask questions that are typically taboo during a job interview (for example, benefits, salary, vacation time, etc.).
So how does one go about obtaining an informational interview? Perhaps by social networking; by taking out an ad in the classified section of the paper; by sending an e-mail or personal letter to businesses; or maybe even a simple phone call? Well… yes, actually. All of those are common methods for securing an informational interview with an individual.
Keep in mind, these interviews are informal, so the questions you ask can be very straightforward and honest. Nonetheless, even though informational interviews are informal, there are still some basic ground rules to follow: dress appropriately, be polite and punctual, and, most importantly, prepare the questions you will be asking ahead of time.
There’s nothing worse (and unprofessional) than wasting a participants time by being unprepared. Not only will this lessen the information gathered due to ineffective questioning, but it could also cost you a needed contact, referral, or recommendation. Take the time to think—truly think—about what you need to be asking. You only get one shot with an individual; make it count… trust me.
So—I’m sure this is the part you were waiting for—what questions should I ask during an informational interview? That depends upon you (time to get introspective). You’ve already used O*NET to find careers you’re interested in; now, it’s time to put that career to the test to see if the reality will be right for you, both now and in the future.
Here are some good questions to ask that may prevent future career dissatisfaction:
- Describe a typical day for yourself to me. Do you have a set routine?
- On average, what salary level can I expect in this career?
- What benefits does someone in this profession normally receive?
- What advancement opportunities, if any, exist and how would I take advantage of them?
- What settings or environments can I expect to commonly work in?
- Where is this job heading in the future? What changes can I expect?
- Does a chain of command exist? If so, who will I be working under or over?
- What other career professionals can I expect to work with?
These are just a few of the many examples of questions you should consider asking your interviewee. Be personal by asking questions as simple as possible. If you’re worried you will grow bored of the job, express that to him or her. You have an opportunity to ask questions that are normally off-limits. Don’t waste this chance by asking questions that are easily discovered online on websites such as O*NET.
As a rule of thumb, if you can easily Google the answer, it’s not worth asking.
Remember the person you’re interviewing is participating in this interview mostly for charity. After the interview is over, always send a thank you note. While the choice is up to you, a handwritten note is more personal than an e-mail and shows your appreciation for their time and help. Also, they will be more likely to remember you this way. E-mails get stored inside computers; letters and notes end up on desks and generally stay there for a while.
All of this may seem like a tall order, especially when it’s easier to choose a career and deal with the consequences later. Consider this, you wouldn’t buy a house without walking through it; you wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it; and you certainly wouldn’t marry somebody without getting to know them. Why would you make an important life decision such as a career choice without discovering all the facts?
As I pointed out in part one of our series, a majority of Americans are unsatisfied with their current career. These “dead-end jobs”, as they are lovingly referred to, can be prevented by an investment of your time and effort. Do you want to be another statistic? I didn’t think so.
Presented by Brandon Hayhurst