Beginnings in informational interviewing

This past week I had several of what I thought would be informational interviews. But I’m not sure I’m doing it right. Informational interviews, as I understand them, are meant to be conversations in which you ask people whose jobs, or industries, or career paths, are something you’d like to learn more about, to tell you more about what exactly they do.  I had read many suggestions for how to conduct an informational interview, especially at this helpful website. However, in the four conversations I had this week, I never managed to get through all of the suggested questions. Most of the “interviews” instead became casual conversations about what it was like to work in an academic center on a university campus (in one case) or in various aspects of a small college library, in the other three cases.

I usually managed to ask how one gets into the area of work, and what the job entails. I did not always manage to ask the questions that seem possibly very revealing, such as “what do you like least, or most, about this job?”. In the case of the library’s archivist, I learned a lot about the collection holdings, but not much about the background of my interviewee or the field of archives work in general. In the case of the woman working at a university center, I learned a lot about her career path and why she chose to go back to get a master’s in higher education, but not much about what her day-to-day is like. In speaking with the library director, I learned a lot about what happens when you integrate a library and an IT department. When speaking with a reference and circulation librarian, I found out a good deal about the kinds of activities her job involves, but not whether or not helping students with their research queries would feel the same as pursuing my own research projects.

In the end, I think I let each individual interview have its own flavor, as I would have done were I conducting a research project using qualitative interviews. I don’t know if I did it “right,” but I felt comfortable, like I was making new contacts and having interesting conversations, none of which is bad.

What I’m really wondering about, though, is how I’m supposed to use these conversations to figure out what kind of job I might like. Are the metaphorical skies supposed to open up, with a metaphorical voice booming, “This is it! You’ve found your path!” (I’d like that. A booming voice would make things easier). I rather doubt that’s how it works, however! I expect I am supposed to talk to people whose jobs and careers are a little less familiar to me. I’ve worked in academic libraries before, both as a researcher and as an employee, so I know a little about them. I’ve benefitted from the kinds of services offered by the type of center my administrator contact works in. So none of it was terribly mysterious, as these are career paths in which I’m sincerely interested and could actually see myself pursuing. I think, in order to find a bit more cognitive dissonance, I’d need to talk to people a little farther afield, such as those who’ve successfully applied their humanities transferable skills of writing or research to work in a much more business-y context.

Next challenge: to seek out new human voices to speak to, and worry less about booming voices from the sky.




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