Welcome to a new edition of Confessions of a Peer Advisor, this time with your Peer Advisor, Vesta.
I’d like to start out by introducing myself, giving you a little bit about my background so you can understand one of my most important tips to Career Discovery: informational interviewing.
If you’ve ever been stressed over figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life, welcome to the club! Seriously, I’ve been there. And that was probably one of the things that caused me the most anxiety during my initial time as a college student at UCLA (and sometimes still does!) My journey of undecidedness has brought me from coming into UCLA as pre-med to an interested-in-science pre-health-something-or-other, to an I-no-longer-want-to-do-science-what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life-HELP sophomore, and finally, a I’m-still-figuring-things-out-but-I’m-happy-while-doing-it junior who transferred into the film school. Yes, you read correctly, film school. I changed my major from science to film, and my career trajectory from pre-med to pre-Hollywood. Big jump, right? How do you think someone (in the right mind) comes about that sort of (literally) life-altering decision? Well the process definitely isn’t easy. But something that really helped me during my frantic, “I need to figure out what direction I’m going to take my life in NOW” mode and guide me towards my ultimate, firm decision was informational interviewing — and I didn’t even know I was doing it!
The concept of ‘informational interviewing’ was conceived by Richard Nelson Bolles, author of the best-selling career handbook, What Color Is Your Parachute? In his book, Bolles describes the process as “trying on jobs to see if they fit you.” He notes that most people choose a career path without taking the time to speak with professionals in their field of interest. As a result, they find themselves in careers that are not a true match for their skills, values, interests, and abilities.
Therefore, an informational interview is conducted when you “interview” someone who has a career you are considering to see if it is really something that you would like to do. Now I’m sure some the more anxious ones of you out there have already partaken in some form of information interviewing, one way or another. It could have been asking a family friend how they liked their job if you were considering that field, or talking to your dentist or doctor about how they got to becoming the healthcare professional they were if you were considering it. These informal interactions are definitely informational interviews in essence. But what if you are interested in a certain career and you don’t know anyone in it to talk about with? Did you know there is a formal informational interviewing process you can be making use of as a college student that could put you into contact with virtually any professional in any career you could be considering? There is! And most students don’t know about it or don’t even believe it to be an acceptable thing.
So what is a legitimate informational interview? Essentially, it is a highly focused information gathering session with a networking contact designed to help you choose or refine your career path by giving you the “insider” point of view. Networking contact, you say? How does one procure one of those, exactly? Well it’s not too hard when you go to UCLA! We have a huge alumni network here, which you can use to find plenty of potential contacts with which to conduct informational interviews. (Use the Alumni function on LinkedIn or see http://alumni.ucla.edu/bruinworks/).
Case study: Me!
Long story short, an important reason behind why I was able to make such an enormous, yet confident, career-path shift during my first two years at UCLA was through informal and then formal informational interviewing. I figured out I didn’t want to be pre-med after an in depth conversation with the director of admissions at Drexel Medical School (who was also a practicing internalist and my mom’s good friend). I did the same thing with researchers in the Psychology lab I volunteered at, and slowly started figuring out which career paths weren’t for me. When I started testing out the waters of the entertainment industry, I decided to take a producing class in the film department where the professor brought guest speakers every week to talk about their specific careers and roles in the industry. Afterwards, I would go up to each professional whose story interested me, and ask them follow-up questions about their job (whether they liked it, where they felt like it was taking them, etc.) The answers that I received gave me a better sense of what it was exactly that I wanted to do. Flash-forward to today, when I am trying to figure out which specific department on the corporate side of the film/television industry that I want to ultimately work in. I recently used one of the networking connections I made in that producing class to conduct my first formal informational interview with, and the experience was amazing.
What happens during a “real” informational interview?
Basically, you arrange with your networking contact to speak with them (usually face-to-face in their professional environment, although it could also occur over the phone) and ask them questions about what they do.
You use their answers to help guide your own career discovery: whether a career like theirs is something you would like to have or not, and if so, to help determine your path to getting there. Networking contacts are almost always more than happy to conduct informational interviews for students like yourself, their advice is 100% free AND helps ensure that you are indeed making the right choice when it comes time to answer that dreadful question: what am I actually going to do with the rest of my life?!
What more can you ask for?
I hope I’ve convinced you to look into informational interviewing and try it out for yourself.
To view some tips about how to find contacts, set up informational interviews and prepare for them, visit http://career.ucla.edu/students/ExploreCareers/WhatIsAnInformationalInterview.aspx. And for more personalized advice, you can always set up an appointment to meet with a Career Counselor at the UCLA Career Center.