8 Reasons Informational Interviews are Useful
I have always been a thinker and a planner. My mother recounts several times when, as a child, in a toy store, I would consider which toy would be the best purchase. If I was like that before I can even remember, it is no wonder that I wanted to do all my research when I was deciding on a career. I did the usual: reading, trawling job descriptions, interning, volunteering, etc. One of the most important pieces of my research, which greatly swayed my decision to pursue an MLIS, was informational interviews. Even now, in my second semester, I still conduct informational interviews – so I have become a bit of an expert on informational interviews. I have found them useful at many stages in my career trajectory; and herein, I’ll give some of my insights into why you should be conducting informational interviews – no matter where you are in your career.
- Networking. Conferences can be overwhelming; and if you’re not working in a library setting, it can be difficult to meet other librarians. By reaching out and asking for a 30-minute informational interview, you can meet an expert in the library and information science field, who might be able to pass on advice or even job leads.
- Learn about the library/information science field. This is pretty self-explanatory. By listening to librarians talk about their jobs, you learn about what it’s like to be a librarian.
- Get a new perspective. Recently, I conducted an informational interview with a corporate archivist. I’ve always worked at nonprofit institutions, so it was really enlightening to hear the differences between for-profit and nonprofit libraries/archives. For example, I learned that while academic libraries push information literacy and instruction, the corporate libraries and archives often take on the brunt of primary research for their patrons.
- Prepare yourself for a career transition. For mid- or late-career librarians (or even us newbies), you might be thinking of making a change – whether upward or parallel. Talk a librarian who has a job similar to the kind you’d like to have. Learn what skills or knowledge you will need for the job; you can even discuss how your skills and knowledge might be assets in such a job.
- Learn about the interview process. Especially for a second-year MLIS student, applying and interviewing for jobs is a top priority. (And surely, it’s important for many others too.) Interviewing a recently-hired librarian can be a unique look at how institutions conduct their job searches. I’ve learned that at some libraries, you’ll be hired within a month of applying; others, it can take 1+ years. Informational interviews with hiring librarians also gives insight into what employers are seeking in their job candidates.
- Take the opportunity to swap stories. No one else might find your stories about strange catalog records interesting – but a fellow technical services librarian might. Or you might learn about the administration who always asks for a particular image of a panda from the archivist, at least twice per month. Swapping stories helps develop camaraderie in the discipline; and it will help you demonstrate that you’re a fun person to deal with – and that you know your stuff.
- Get a set of fresh eyes on your resume. If you’re brave enough, you can ask your new acquaintance to glance over your resume and give you any tips or suggestions they think can think of.
- Find out you really, really want (or don’t want) that job. Once you hear about your interviewee’s job, you can decide whether that would be a good fit for you. I had an informational interview with a Special Collections librarian at a small liberal arts college; I’ve decided that might be the coolest job in existence (and it’ll always be at least a pipe dream of mine to have that job). On the other hand, one of my friends interviewed an archivist; she found that she had no desire to spend any time whatsoever accessioning materials. An informational interview can help you decide whether to pursue a particular career path, or look for a better fit.
Informational interviews are a powerful tool for helping define your goals and career path. The interviewer can learn so much from the experts they interview. For those librarians and professionals who are asked to be the interviewee for an informational interview, I encourage you to set aside a half hour and encourage and mentor aspiring professionals. You never know how important a 30 minute discussion can be!
Rebecca Ciota is a student at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, as well as a staff member at the University Library. She has previously working in Special Collections, a public library, and a special library. She can be reached via Twitter @CiotaRebecca.