Working Knowledge: Test Careers with Informational Interviews

Article excerpt

Q I have been a technology education teacher for four years. I've also spent 10 years in an elementary classroom and four years teaching history and reading in a middle school. I love encouraging children to read, and I would like to be a school librarian/media specialist, but the educational cost is quite high and I need to be sure it would be worth it. Where can I get informed, unbiased advice to help me decide if this is the right step?

Ready for a Change

A First, keep in mind that you could explore distance-education programs and state schools as ways to keep costs down. But for the more important question of whether it is the correct choice for you, I have just two words of advice: informational interview.

The informational interview is an often-overlooked strategy that is one of the most important tools you can use before making a career change. The term was invented by What Color Is Your Parachute? author Richard Nelson Bolles, who defines it as "trying on jobs to see if they fit you."

An informational interview is not the same as a job interview, where the goal is to obtain a job; instead, the purpose is to get real-world information by talking to people already working in your field of interest. However, that doesn't mean an informational interview can't ultimately help you land a job: The website Quintessential Careers (www.quintcareers.com) reports that one of every 12 informational interviews results in a job offer.

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What can you gain from such interviews?

* A network of contacts.

* Information about internships, practicum experience, and positions in the hidden job market.

* Exposure to the terminology and issues of a particular field.

* Glimpses into different types of organizational cultures.

* An awareness of potential employers' needs and values.

* Practice using interview skills in a less-stressful setting.

Start locating potential interview candidates by asking for names from alumni organizations and former faculty; local library associations; the public relations department of an organization, a school's principal, or the director of a media center; and friends, relatives, and former employers. …