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Richard N. Bolles, author of  What Color Is Your Parachute? first coined the term Informational Interviewing.   Wikipedia defines it as “a meeting in which a job seeker asks for advice rather than employment. The job seeker uses the interview to gather information on the field, find employment leads and expand their professional network. This differs from a job interview because the job seeker asks the questions. There may or may not be employment opportunities available.”

This is a great approach for college students in the early stage of exploring careers. It is  low pressure for both parties. The student has to demonstrate interest, ask good questions, be a receptive listener, and exhibit a professional, respectful demeanor. An in-depth background is not required to simply explore a career alternative. The professional is not “on the spot” to identify a job opening for the student. He simply has to offer insights about his career path, biographical perspective, and answer the student’s questions about the field.

How do you identify professionals to interview? Unless you grew up under a rock, you know adults in careers that hold interest for you. Your parents, extended family,  historical friends from high school, church/synagogue/mosque or camp, college roommates, fraternity brothers or sorority sisters, professors, coaches, doctors: and people they know. Remember 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon?

Whether they are young professionals or high-powered veterans, they’re likely to agree, since you are not asking for a job. Ask about rewards and frustrations,  career path, and lifestyle. Remember, people love to share their bio and give advice, so let them! You’d  be surprised how many people out there are really nice, and find it rewarding to give helpful perspective to a young person. Consider asking to “shadow” an individual for a day and find out what “life in the trenches” is really like.


QuintCareers.com offers a comprehensive tutorial on informational interviewing that is well worth your time. A NY Times blog post by Marci Alboher called “Mastering the Informational Interview” also gives some great tips.

It is never too early to explore careers this way. You will not only gain knowledge of career paths within your major field, but you will gain confidence, polish one-to-one interviewing skills, expand your professional network, and make an impression that could potentially translate into a job later on.

I have been surprised at how many college students are unaware of this approach to career exploration and job search. But it is the perfect first step! On campus, you are primarily exposed to academic professionals, rather than adults who are using a background similar to yours in a business, medical or government setting. Expand your circle of advisors beyond professors to all kinds of practitioners in your field. You may discover an application of your training that you never knew existed!


File away everything you learn! Some career paths may not make sense right out of college, but may work for you later on. A new area you discover may inspire you to focus on getting an internship or job in that specialty immediately. Or you may hear cautionary tales about a career path you were previously excited about–such an interview may be disillusioning, but may prevent career disaster.

Relevant reading:You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career by Katharine Brooks, The Career Chronicles: An Insider’s Guide to What Careers Are Really Like–The Good, the Bad & the Ugly from Over 750 Professionals by Michael Gregory, How’d You Score That Gig?: A Guide to the Coolest Jobs and How To Get Them by Alexandra Leavit.

Related posts: Liberal Arts and the Real World, Your College’s Career Center, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship… What To Do?Why Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn?.

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The Daily Beast’s contributor Zac Bissonette recently posted, “Is This The Worst Year to Graduate College Ever?” Whether summer internship or entry level position, it’s a jungle out there. Life has become tougher for the Entitlement Generation, and disappointing for their parents, who wanted them to have everything.

When my 20 year old son was growing up, he listened eagerly to his grandfather’s dinner tales of ancestor immigrant hardships, the Great Depression and WWII. When my son was five, Poppop described having nothing to eat but oatmeal. My son (who carries on the oatmeal-loving gene) exclaimed, “You’re so lucky! Wish I could eat oatmeal all the time.”

At 15, my son expressed almost an envy that his generation was not given the opportunity to face adversity like his grandfather. With wisdom beyond his years, he recognized the role of hardship in eliciting courage and character, as it did for Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation. Looks like they’re going to get their chance.

I don’t mean to trivialize the stress, anxiety, frustration, humiliation and discouragement that a fruitless job search, subpar entry level position, or arbitrary layoff brings. As a parent and career coach, I wince at the thought of young people I care about enduring painful experiences. My posts and  website offer resources for finding a job as quickly as possible in this economy. But this post is about perspective.

Richard Carlson, author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, told a story about a wise man who was consulted by a villager about a series of dramatic events. When the villager asked, “Isn’t this the worst thing that could happen?” the wise man replied, “Maybe, maybe not.” When he asked, “Isn’t this the best thing that could happen?” the wise man replied, “Maybe, maybe not.”

Check Thoughts.com for a quick racap of this insightful story. Someday you may look back on this tragic unemployment situation as the crucible in which you proved the qualities your grandson will admire.

There’s a movie I wish would be re-released right now. It’s based on a true story, Pursuit of Happyness by Chris Gardner, a young African-American homeless single father who became a successful stock broker during the 1970’s economic downturn. Mr. Gardner’s struggles and triumph were immortalized by Will Smith (with real-life son Jaden)  in the award-winning motion picture:

Not everyone will be a Chris Gardner, but this economy might produce a few. It will call upon all your creativity, intelligence, perseverence, hustle, courage, grit, and belief in yourself. You may find yourself taking detours and end up in a far different place than you originally imagined. But hang in there! It just may bring out your best.

Related posts: College Internship and Entry Level Resumes, From College…To the Real World, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship… What To Do?,Take the GMAT While You’re Still Smart, Why Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn?, Time to Apply to B-School? Your College’s Career Center, What Is Informational Interviewing?

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