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Informational Interviews and Job Shadowing

Two of the best ways to gather real-world information about your chosen field are informational interviews and job shadows.

Informational Interviews

A photograph shows a man speaking while another man listens. The man at left is the speaker; he is looking down at a point outside the lower edge of the frame and using his left hand to gesticulate. The man at right is watching the speaker’s face.
Sage Ross/Wikimedia Commons.
Informational interviews are just what they sound like: interviewing a person who does a job that you might like to pursue in order to find out more about the job — you're gathering information to help you make a more informed decision. There are several steps to an informational interview:

  1. Figuring out whom and how to ask for an interview;
  2. Conducting the interview;
  3. Last but not least: Sending a thank-you note.

Whom and How to Ask for an Interview

If you've worked on building your network of contacts, this should be pretty easy. Another way to find people to interview is to go to a professional development event for the field that you wish to pursue. Interested in teaching? Attend a National Science Teachers Association conference. Interested in science writing? Go to a National Association of Science Writers meeting. Once there, introduce yourself to people and when you meet someone whose job seems interesting, ask if you could meet them for an informational interview. It's that easy.

Conducting the Interview

Okay, you've got the interview scheduled, now what? There are many questions that you can ask during an informational interview. Just about the only question that you shouldn't ask is: "Do you have a job open?" Remember that you are there to gather information, not to find a job. The following is a list of potential informational interview questions, but you should really tailor your list to the person and the type of position:

  1. What type of training did you pursue for your job?
  2. What is a typical day like for you?
  3. What do you like about your job?
  4. What do you dislike about your job?
  5. Were there any surprises about your job?
  6. What type of professional development do you want?
  7. What advice would you give someone interested in your line of work?
  8. How do you see your field changing in the next five to ten years?
  9. Perhaps the most important question, asked at the end of the interview: Is there anyone else you can recommend that I talk with?

This final question is crucial because it allows you to expand your network further, and you never know where that may lead.

Sending a Thank-You Note

The importance of the thank-you note can't be emphasized enough. Almost no one sends written thank-you notes these days, so sending one to the person you interviewed will instantly make you stand out from the crowd, and the person is more likely to remember you. The note doesn't have to be long; a few sentences thanking the person for taking the time to meet with you is sufficient. The note will be appreciated.

Job Shadows

A job shadow is when you accompany a person while she does her jobs. It can last anywhere from an hour to an entire day. You can ask for a job shadow towards the end of an informational interview, if you feel that the interview has gone well. A job shadow is a great way to find out what an hour or a day on that job is like. Job shadows are especially good for jobs that are highly active, such as nursing, teaching, or research. Other jobs, such as science writing, are best scheduled for specific times, such as when the writer is interviewing someone.


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