Gen Y at Work: The Informational Interview

Small pieces of crumpled colourful paper with black question marks in the middle.

The importance of the informational interview


I am disappointed in many post-secondary institutions.

Simply put, they don’t seem to help their graduates find jobs. Sure, they teach you how to write an effective research paper; or how to think critically. But after imparting such knowledge it feels like they mostly just drop the ball.

Let’s face it. Most people go to university because they were told that they need a university degree to get a job. Regardless of their personal preferences and aptitudes, society (and maybe Mom and Dad) seems to insist on going to university ostensibly to “get a job”.

The stats are horrendous. You graduate from most programs and you are either a) completely jobless or b) stuck in the same dead-end job you’ve had for years. Either way, you aren’t working in the field you studied.

Perhaps this is because most people really have no clue what they want to do or are good at. But there is a fantastic resource for you and sadly one that university does not seem to share with their graduates.

The Informational Interview

The informational interview is one where there is no pressure or stress because there is no job. Important – you don’t just hand in your resume. You have one on hand, but you don’t give it to them until or unless you are asked for it.

Here’s how it went down for me:

Back in my 20s I had graduated with a degree in sociology-anthropology and gone on to graduate from the Public Relations program at our local college. Something was STILL not connecting with me. I was working but kept applying to different job postings. I felt lost, confused and definitely not happy.

I knew that I enjoyed working with young people so I would always apply to child and youth worker positions. One of two things would happen: 1) I would not even get an interview or 2) I would get the interview and completely blow it.

So one day I decided enough was enough. I needed to do something different. I called up a local Community Resource Centre and set up a time to meet with a Child and Youth Worker on staff.

I had no idea that it would be the most important conversation of my professional life.

We met before work as that was her only free time during the day. After a brief introduction, we got down to business. I asked her what her qualifications were, what was her favourite part of the job, what did she like, what did she dislike, what a typical day looked like…and within 20 minutes I knew that 1) I was not qualified for a Child and Youth Worker position and 2) I had no interest at all in ever being a one and 3) my strengths and aptitude did not fit with that career. I knew I needed to find the right fit; one where my natural abilities would shine.

You can do it too!

That is what you need to do. You need to establish a connection with someone who is doing what you want (or at least think you want) to do. You never know what can happen. You may be like me; who crosses that (and similar) positions off your list entirely or you may be like the young man who met with the Director General of the Canadian Space Agency. In his informational interview with the DG, he asked well-crafted questions and her responses solidified his desire to study space exploration.

Either way, this kind of interview is a crucial factor in developing your career, and one which graduating students should be well-versed in conducting.

The informational interview is a fantastic way to build your network. Remember to send an email or thank you card to your interviewer. They took time out of their busy lives to help you.

Next week we’ll be talking about just how to set up an informational interview. Spoiler alert –you may have to venture out of your comfort zone.

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