Make Connections: Informational Interviews and Job Shadows
An informational interview is simply a formal or informal discussion with a professional who works in a role/organization/industry of interest to you. It's a great way to obtain information, establish connections and expand your network, and find potential opportunities. Great things can come from an informational interview! Some students have gained internships and employment opportunities by taking a risk and reaching out to a professional.
You can also take another step in networking by completing a job shadow. Job shadowing is when you are able to observe a professional on site during their workday. You will see their daily responsibilities, meet their colleagues, and spend time in the work environment. Job shadowing may be a one time experience you do for a couple of hours or a full day, and you can shadow a variety of professionals. This inside look into the world of work can give you the information that will help you move forward in your career decision making.
Where to Begin
How to Identify Professionals
- Make a list of everyone you know (family, friends, friends' parents, neighbors, etc). You'd be surprised how connected you already might be!
- GVSU alumni, faculty and staff are great places to start.
- Search LinkedIn or Handshake to find specific people, or identify specific organizations of interest.
- Even though you might not know anyone who works directly in your industry of interest, inform people you know that you are looking to connect with an industry. They may be able to connect you to someone.
- Attend career events- Employers at these events are attending because they want to connect with students, so don’t be afraid to ask about informational interviewing/job shadowing opportunities.
How to Initiate the Conversation
- Initiating the conversation might be the most intimidating part, but professionals are happy (and flattered) to talk with a student interested in the work they do.
- You can reach out to someone formally through phone, email, LinkedIn or in person. Cold calling or reaching out to someone you don’t know is appropriate in these situations. Simply introduce yourself and explain why you would like to talk with them. Be sure to be polite, professional, and prompt in your response. Try to work within their schedule.
- If you don’t get a response from someone, don’t give up! You can appropriately follow-up with the person, or move on to identify other potential interviewees.
What to do During the Interview or Job Shadow
- Beforehand, do your research- researching the career and employer will help you to be prepared and informed. Check out this article on how to research an employer.
- Be on time and ready for your conversation.
- Since this may be your first impression, dress business professionally (dress pants/skirt and a nice shirt).
- Not sure what to say? Check out this sample list of questions. Once you ask a couple of questions the conversation may begin to flow naturally.
- Be mindful of the individual’s time and know you can always set up another conversation if you do not get all of your questions answered.
- No need to ask about salary. This information is typically kept private. The GVSU Career Center can assist you in finding salary ranges for your areas of interest.
- Be present- Make the most of your day by keeping your phone tucked away.
How do I Message a Professional About Setting Up an Informational Interview or Job Shadow?
Setting up an informational interview or job shadowing experience may sound intimidating, but it is actually a common practice in the workplace. When their schedule allows, professionals are often open to students shadowing them. It’s a great networking opportunity for students and employers alike.
- Email or cold call an employer- You can reach out by sending an email or calling. Your message may sound something like this: “Hello ____________________, My name is _____________________ and I am currently a student at Grand Valley State University. I am studying ___________________ and interested in learning more about your career path. If you are open to it and your schedule allows, I would love to set up a time to interview you or job shadow you for the day. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have for me, as well. Feel free to contact me at _________. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to connecting with you.
- Due to the private/confidential nature of some professions, some industries may have more formal job shadowing processes in place. In these scenarios, you may have to apply to job shadow on the organization’s website.
How to Follow Up After Your Experience
- Be sure to say thank you at the end of your shadowing experience. You should also send a thank you note.
- Document your experience. You may need to show proof in the future that you have completed job shadowing. If you need to have a professional sign-off on your shadowing, be sure to bring the paperwork with you. Otherwise, document the details of your experience for your own personal record.
- Reflect on your experience- Ask yourself what did you like and what didn’t you like about your time shadowing. Job shadowing may make you curious to learn more about the field, which is great! You can set up additional job shadowing and career exploration opportunities. However, if job shadowing made you question if this is the field for you, that’s ok! You have gained some valuable information about yourself and the industry. Use this experience to help you redirect your career plans. If you feel like you need some guidance on what to do next, schedule an appointment with your career advisor to figure out how to move forward.