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August 7, 2012 > Counseling Corner: Informational Interviewing: An Important Tool When Deciding About Careers

Counseling Corner: Informational Interviewing: An Important Tool When Deciding About Careers

By Anne Chan, PhD, MFT

"Should I make a career change?" and "How do I know if a career in XYZ is right for me?" are two common questions that my clients often ask. It is certainly a difficult decision to make, especially if you do not know anyone who has work experience in your new chosen profession.

So let's say you've dreamed about becoming a nurse and you passionately want to make a difference in people's lives through nursing. You've done a lot of research on becoming a nurse, read about the job requirements and fallen in love with the profession. You can't wait to become a nurse and are eager to start applying to nursing schools.

Before you take that step, however, I'd strongly recommend that you do an additional step of researching the nursing profession from an entirely different angle - informational interviews with actual nurses on the job. Don't get me wrong - the first step of doing background research on the profession is vitally important. And yes, the internet is chock full of valuable information on jobs and careers. However, the internet cannot give you the on-the-job view of what it's actually like to work as a nurse. Nor can it tell you local information about nurses and nursing jobs in your area. Only informational interviews with nurses in your area can provide that kind of strategic information.

An informational interview is NOT a job interview - unlike a job interview, the goal of the informational interview is not to procure a job. Rather, an informational interview is meant to help you gather information about a profession. Also, in a regular job interview, the interviewer is the one who asks most of the questions. In an informational interview, you are responsible for asking questions about the job. Here are some good questions to ask when conducting an informational interview:

* What do you most like about your job?
* What do you least like about your job?
* What advice would you give me about entering this profession?
* What are the characteristics of people who are in this profession?
* What is a typical day like in your job?
* What types of stress do you encounter in your job?
* What are the different paths people take to get to your position?
* How did you decide to choose this career?
* What types of training or schooling are needed?
* What do you find most satisfying about your profession?
* What do you wish you had known about this job when you started?
* What are the future trends of this profession?
* What is the best way to get started in this profession?
* How much paperwork do you do a day?
* How much people contact do you have each day?
* What is the most difficult part of your job?
* What are the possibilities for career advancement in this profession?

Let's get back to our nursing job example. After background research, start locating people for informational interviews. To get a comprehensive view of the profession, interview at least three people who work in different settings where nurses work, say in a hospital, a clinic, and a school. You might want to go further and interview nurses who work in the emergency room, neonatal unit, and other departments of a hospital for even more insight about the profession. It would be a good idea to interview nursing teachers or professors to find out about current trends in the profession.

People often get stumped about how to locate people for an informational interview.

My simple answer... ASK!

Ask in-person, ask in online forums, ask via email; ask anyone and everyone you know. Even if you don't know someone in a particular profession, keep asking around and eventually you will find someone who will be willing to talk to you. Another option is to check into a professional organization and attend their annual conference - you will be sure to meet lots of people in the field. One very enterprising person I know took on a volunteer position in a clinic to get a firsthand look at people working in the field.

I hope this article gives you the boost to do informational interviews to help with your career decision. Be assured that people who love their jobs generally love talking to newcomers about their work - so don't be shy about asking them if you can find out more about what they do at work!

Anne Chan is a career counselor and licensed psychotherapist in Union City. She specializes in helping people find happiness in their careers, lives, and relationships. She can be reached at 510-744-1781. Her website is

(c) Anne Chan, 2012

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