Five Quick Tips on Informational Interviewing!

Dianne Hull
The summer can be a great time to meet with people for informational interviews. You have probably spent time being interview-ED, but this is your chance to be the interview-ER, where you can hopefully gain some interesting tidbits which will help you in your future job and internship search, as well as hopefully making some connections which can be useful down the road.

1. Do not be afraid to ask!

Many people are anxious about asking others to take the time to speak with them about career options. Remember, you are not asking for a job, you are simply asking for advice. By asking someone for advice, you are implying that they have expertise and knowledge. This is a compliment and many people are flattered that you would even ask them. It is most helpful to ask for informational interview from people whom you have some sort of connection with – alumni are a great place to start.

2. Prepare Ahead of Time

Brainstorm your questions ahead of time – think about what you want to learn from your meeting, and create as many questions as you can think of. You may want to break your questions into two categories, one that is more generic and could be asked of other contacts, and another list of more specific questions, which may only apply, to this particular person and their career. Do not plan to get to ALL of your questions, as you hope to have a conversation that flows naturally.

3. Research Your Contact and Their Career

Thanks to the internet and social media, you should be able to do some background research on your interviewee. Utilize LinkedIn, alumni databases, and old-fashioned Google searches to gain a good understanding of this person’s background – where did they go to school and when? What did they study? How long have they been at their current employer? Not only will this information help to frame the questions you want to ask, but also you will not waste time asking questions that you could have easily found answers to yourself. And your interviewee will be impressed with your preparation!

4. Use Your Time Wisely

When you initially schedule the informational interview, be sure to indicate how much time you think your meeting will take – no more than 30 minutes – and ask if that works for them. Be mindful of the time throughout your meeting. The best way to do this is to wear a watch, as you do not want to be checking the time on your phone during your meeting and create the misconception that you are checking on texts or social media.

5. Follow Up and Final Questions

At the conclusion of your time, be sure to thank your contact for their time and expertise. It is always a good idea to ask them if they have other contacts they might think would be useful to you. You never know whom they might refer you to that might be helpful. After your meeting, be sure to send a thank you note. Make the note specific to your conversation and offer to provide your contact with updates as you progress in your job search. Keep in touch on a periodic basis and will help to keep the door open if they learn of opportunities that may be of interest to you.

Visit Career Services informational interviewing page to learn more about questions to ask. Schedule an appointment with a career advisor to learn more about making informational interviewing work for you!

Achieving Career Goals with a Personal Board of Advisors

Many of you have successfully identified either short-term or long-term career goals but can still struggle with how to “get from here to there” with your plans. If you stop to think about it, you can probably identify some of the things that have helped you achieved past goals you have set for yourself.

What helps us achieve a goal or purpose?

  • Clarity of understanding, enthusiasm or motivation for a goal
  • Information and access to resources
  • Ability to take risks and to take action
  • Accountability (holding self to course of action)
  • Ability to learn from experience, gain insight
  • Recognition of accomplishment (keeps us motivated to tackle the next thing on our list)

A mentor or advisor is someone who can add to our abilities in each of the areas above; who can accelerate the process of attaining goals, minimize both the effects and frequency of derailments, and expand our knowledge as we progress from goal to goal, and celebrate achievements.  That being said, most mentors and advisors do not have every skill or expertise you will need to develop to move ahead in your own professional development.  For example, a great researcher isn’t always a great communicator; a great writer may not be a great connector.  This is where the idea behind having a personal board of advisors for your career comes in:  rather than relying on a single advisor, you are more likely to succeed if you reach out to more people, and have their complementary skills and strengths serve your varying needs and goals.   This is a very strategic form of networking for professional development.

Does this idea intrigue you?  Here are some guidelines for creating a personal board of advisors for your career:

  • Identify people with strengths or experience you seek
  • Identify people with connections to others, or connections to resources that can help you
  • Identify people you respect but who have differing perspectives than your own
  • Identify people who will help you stay accountable

Think about a consortium of 4-5 people that would together have the expertise to meet your short term, and even some long term goals.  Who do you already know that fits one or more of the above criteria?  Personal advisory boards can be made up of individuals from any part of your life; not just school or work: family, friends, teachers, former supervisors, current advisors, coaches, leaders in certain fields of interest, alumni of your school or program.

For example, one of my current career goals is to develop my strengths related to leading a team. My board of advisors currently looks like this:

  • 2 former supervisors who have a lot of experience in my field, career counseling graduate students (strengths and connections)
  • 1 cousin, who has significant managerial experience in a totally different field, management consulting (differing perspectives)
  • 2 friends from graduate school, who provide psychological support, have seen my career grow over time (more than 15 years!), and serve as “cheerleaders” (keep me accountable, recognize accomplishments)

What do you need to do to make the most of the “wisdom” or strengths of your career advisory board?

  • Be prepared to discuss your goal(s)
  • Develop the ability to discuss both strengths and weakness; self-insight is required for this
  • Be open to feedback; and be willing to do things differently or see things differently
  • Have regular contact, including follow up after each interaction
  • Express gratitude and reciprocity (be engaged, appreciate your advisors’ efforts, and even offer to help others)

For more information on this concept, read some of the many articles online (some great ones are linked below), and share your networking and professional development goals by making an appointment with a Penn Career Services advisor:

Personal Board of Advisors articles:

Seasons and Career Transitions

By Sharon Fleshman

Leaves in Fall Color on GroundMy favorite seasons tend to be spring and summer. There is something gratifying about the warmer weather as well as seeing the sprouting of new life and the manifestation of trees and flowers in full bloom.   However, I am particularly drawn to autumn this year.  As I walked behind Steinberg-Dietrich Hall last week, I noticed the beauty of a stream of leaves floating to the ground, almost like raindrops in slow motion.  In the past, I have focused on the falling leaves as a loss of sorts, and it is.  Yet there is also the sense that seemingly barren branches have made room for something new.  And so it goes with seasons.

As seasons and transitions go hand in hand, careers can experience a similar dynamic as well.  If you are conducting a job search with a particular goal in mind, you may need to make room for a different result than anticipated.  You could be exploring the possibility of a new role, industry or context, whether by choice or necessity.  Perhaps you are simply seeking a new paradigm with which to do your current work in a fresh way. Whatever transition you are contemplating, you can facilitate the process in a number of ways — reflecting on past experience, casting vision for the future, conducting informational interviews, speaking with mentors, or meeting with an advisor at Career Services.

Start My Job Search Now?

summersearchStart my job search now? Yes! Whether you will graduate next year or are an incoming student, it’s not too early to start developing your job-search skills. And note that I said “job-search skills,” not “job skills.”

“Job skills” include abilities necessary for a specific type of work (such as lab techniques, programming languages, art skills, knowledge of particular facts) as well as transferable “soft” skills (such as communication, collaboration, organizational skills).

“Job-search skills,” however, include knowing how to explore and find opportunities in the career field(s) of interest to you.

“Job-search skills” are not necessarily as challenging as they are time consuming. So, if you can start now, do! Devoting some time to developing competence in the following abilities will help you get ahead of the game (and make it easier to excel in these practices in the future). These suggestions for developing your job-search skills can also be rather fun!
Talk to People
Be Curious
Pursue Interests
Become an Expert Communicator
Be Amazed
Tell Stories
Send Fan Mail
Be a Sleuth
Get Experience
Start Now!

Continue reading “Start My Job Search Now?”