Getting the Edge: Student Affairs Informational Interviewing
Getting the Edge: Student Affairs Informational Interviewing
I never really knew what informational interviews were until I had done a few dozen of them. Now I wish I could have gone back in time in told my younger self “DO THIS DAVE! IT’LL CHANGE YOUR STUDENT AFFAIRS CAREER!” Alas, I cannot. But I do advise all of my mentees to conduct an informational interview as frequently as they can.
Informational interviews are always about professional development. That could be for curiosity, networking, or perhaps new career prospects. That’s the beauty of informational interviews. They are what you want them to be.
This is why informational interviews are the most flexible and underrated development tools in the student affairs professional’s tool box.
So here’s all the information I wished I learned about informational interviews at the start of my student affairs career.
Why should I spend time doing an informational interview?
Informational interviews are gold mines for learning more about the student affairs field and how you can excel in it. You can accomplish many different things based on the contacts you speak to. You can do everything from clarify your career goals; get information on the next steps to take in your path; broaden your professional network, and also discover future employment opportunities.
But what was the most prominent thing that young student affairs professionals have to gain by informational interviews? It’s a one word answer: confidence.
Often when we step into the field we know a lot about one functional area. That area could be in residential life, student activities, student conduct, academic advising, or athletics.
Informational interviewing helps us broaden our perspectives. Through these interviews we gain understanding. Though understanding we gain confidence. Though confidence we can move forward in becoming better professionals.
Who should I interview?
There are tens of thousands of student affairs professionals out there that you could potentially interview. There’s definitely no shortage of them. Others have advised interviewing family, friends, and other people in your peer group before moving onto someone in a professional field. My advice is to skip that stage and go after those who you truly want to learn from. From that, I’ve recommended my mentees interview the following people:
-Faculty from Undergraduate and/or Graduate programs
-Conference Guest Speakers
-Deans of Students
-Vice Presidents of Student Affairs
-Senior Student Affairs Officers
This is definitely a short list. But it’s enough to get started. These are the people that you want to connect with and learn from. The only thing that should drive your decision to interview one person over someone else is curiosity. What about them or their work makes you curious to learn more? You can’t go wrong with your choice if you’re generally curious about a person.
How to ask for an informational interview
This is where most new student affairs professionals get hung up. They know that they want to conduct an informational interview. They know who they want to ask. They just don’t know how to ask to interview them.
Often the simplest way is the best way. You should start with an introduction. It doesn’t matter if that introduction happens in person, over email, LinkedIn, or social media. You need to start with introducing yourself and your desire to conduct an informational interview. If you were referred to this person by someone else in your network then bring that up too. The next step would be to specify how you’d like to connect and for how long (i.e. 20 minutes over a cup of coffee or 15 minute phone call).
Prepare for the informational interview
Congrats! Your contact has agreed to an informational interview. That’s all there is to it right? Nope. Now you’ve got to prepare and do some legwork to truly get this to work for you. You can start that by doing some basic homework.
This is where your take some time to do some research on the person. Find their LinkedIn page, their website, blog, or anything else you can find out about them online. Find out about their institution and what they do. Do they come from a similar background as you? A different one? Are they doing what you want to be doing in the future? Answering these questions will provide you good insight into what they do in their day to day work and what you could learn from it.
Do the informational interview
You’ve made all the right moves so far. Now it’s time to actually conduct that informational interview. In order to do that, you’ll need to follow some preliminary setup steps which include:
-Call or email the person at least a day before your interview to confirm the modality (meeting place, phone, or web conference)
-Plan to be ready for the interview at least 10 minutes early
-Be prepared for them to ask your questions about your interest in student affairs, their functional area, or their institution
-Be prepared to take notes (either digitally on a tablet / computer or with a notebook)
-Be respectful of their time. Don’t go past the amount of time you agreed to unless you are both okay with it
Most important step: stay connected
So you did it! You conducted that informational interview and you got lots of good information out of it! Now here’s the tricky part: staying connected. This is your best way to making sure that your new connection remembers you throughout your career and keeps you in mind as a promising young professional. You can do that by…
-Sending a follow up email thanking them for their expertise and their time
-Let the person know what information you felt was most helpful for you
-Ask them if there is anyone else in the field that you should speak to
-FINALLY: share that you are always looking for new career opportunities. Specifically ask them to contact you if they discover or have any positions that you would be a good it
Final thoughts and takeaways
Informational interviewing is a powerful and low-cost professional development tool. You are surrounded by more expertise than you can imagine! The only steps that you need to take are to connect with those professionals so that you can learn more and do more.
Conduct an Informational Interview: The Career Center at Illinois. (n.d.). Retrieved July 16, 2019, from https://www.careercenter.illinois.edu/instructable/conduct-informational-interview
Informational Interviewing. (n.d.). Retrieved July 16, 2019, from https://studentaffairs.psu.edu/career/resources/networking/informational-interviewing
Informational Interviewing. (n.d.). Retrieved July 16, 2019, from https://studentaffairs.duke.edu/career/online-tools-resources/career-center-skills-guides/informational-interviewing
Shives, K. (2014, January 30). The Informational Interview: Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved July 16, 2019, from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/gradhacker/informational-interview
Vick, J. M., & Furlong, J. S. (2009, March 24). How to Do an Informational Interview. Retrieved July 16, 2019, from https://www.chronicle.com/article/How-to-Do-an-Informational/44793
Zhang, L. (n.d.). 3 Steps to a Perfect Informational Interview. Retrieved July 16, 2019, from https://www.themuse.com/advice/3-steps-to-a-perfect-informational-interview