How Informational Interviews Can Help You Pick a Major (Written for Jumpspark Atlanta Summer 2020)
As if the college application isn’t challenging enough, now you need to give some thought to an intended major and maybe even a minor. So many choices. Lots of ideas. How can you start to narrow down the options?
One of the best ways to figure out what you want to be when you grow up is to set up informational interviews with people working in the industry or role(s) you’d like to explore. An informational interview is an informal conversation you have with someone who works in a particular industry or has a professional role of interest to you. It is not a job interview, and the objective is not to find job openings.
You may feel awkward reaching out to people you don’t know. However, most people actually enjoy taking a few moments out of their day to reflect on their professional life and give advice to someone who expresses an interest in their field. Here are the 8 simple steps to setting up informational interviews for the purpose of career exploration.
Write down a few industries that interest you. Examples: Sports marketing, real estate, law architect or pharmaceutical sales.
Come up with a list of people you know who work in those industries. Chances are you personally, may not know these types of professionals. But you are surrounded by people who can help you. Ask your parents, relatives, professors, college career department, college alumni relations department to help you identify and connect with individuals.
Research the people on your final list. Look on their LinkedIn profile to learn more about their role(s) and accomplishments. Research their companies.
Come up with a list of questions to ask these professionals to help you get clarity on their industry and role. Here are some examples of questions that will you help you discover what their job entails:
- First, start out by asking about their career path; how did they get to where they ae today. (Ask yourself, “Does their story sound interesting to you or boring?”)
- What do they enjoy about their job? It’s okay to ask the person to give you specific examples. (Ask yourself, “Do you think you would enjoy the tasks/projects they describe or no?”)
- What aspects of their job do they find challenging or frustrating? Again, ask for specific examples. (Ask yourself, “Do their answers sound like things that would bother you or would they maybe interest you?” Remember, just because a person indicates something frustrates them, does not mean the same things would bother you. You might actually enjoy the aspects of the job the professional does not enjoy.)
- Ask them to tell you about a specific project they are working on right now. (This question gets people to focus on specifics. Ask yourself “Do the projects sound interesting or boring?”)
- Ask what college courses they would recommend you take if you decide to pursue a career in their industry and/or in the person’s role in particular. (Ask yourself, “Do these classes sound interesting to you or would you prefer not to take classes in these subjects?”)
Reach out to each professional. Call a few of them on the phone and email some of them so you get comfortable with both ways of connecting with people. Briefly, tell them who you are, if someone suggested you contact them and explain you are doing some career exploration and would value their time and feedback. Suggest 3 dates/times to set up a call.
During your call, ask them your list of questions. Don’t just rattle them off, but rather weave them into your conversation. Take notes. Ask for clarity if they use jargon unfamiliar to you. It’s okay. They know you are young and learning. If appropriate, ask them if they can connect you to someone else in the industry who would be willing to talk to you and provide their unique perspective.
Send each professional your best written “thank you” email. Be sure to mention something specific they shared with you that you found interesting. This demonstrates you were paying attention.
Review all of the notes you took during your calls. What have you learned? What aspects of people’s jobs sounded interesting to you? What aspects sounded dull? How did you feel about the college courses the recommended?
If you engage in informational interviews, you will have an easier time identifying potential careers and from there you can backtrack into picking a major. It’s very important to note that your major won’t necessarily lock you into a certain career. If you major in political science or English, there are plenty of career options you could pursue (e.g. law, editor, teacher, lobbyist, public relations specialist, etc). However, with some careers it’s imperative you commit sooner vs. later because your undergraduate degree is essential to entering the profession (e.g. any type of engineering, architecture, many healthcare related professions, etc.)