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Informational Interview: Lessons from Professionals

During my time at George Brown’s School of Business, I took an elective course focused on learning how to conduct informational interview. “Informational Interview” is a fairly loose term used to describe a meeting with an industry professional which is generally conducted by someone looking to understand that industry or role better. These interviews allow you to have a candid conversation with someone you admire and learn about a “day in their life” and their own career path.

I’ll admit, at first I took this course because it seemed like an easy elective to get out of the way. I love to meet new people so this should be easy, right? What I learned, however, was that sometimes reaching out to complete strangers with your professional reputation on the line isn’t that easy and takes careful thought and consideration.  Yet it is unbelievably worth it. The takeaway is often far beyond expectations.

I’ve was lucky enough to participate in 4 of these informational interviews during my course. Each one was better than the last, which may be in part due to my increasing level of comfort, and dare I say, expertise in obtaining and conducting these conversations. The professionals I met with were clearly leaders in their field and I quickly realized just how much I had to learn from them. Each interview gave a soon-to-be-graduate like me optimism and practical advice about my career path. When I thought a particular role would be ideal for me, I learned what that job is really about and that it may not actually match my personality before having actually started in that role. By the end, I was driven to keep reaching out to meet more professionals and to also reconnect with those whom I still had much to learn from, including my past professors. I now have some great mantras and philosophies of my own from hearing those of professionals who have already been there. Without further ado here is some of the best advice I’ve received so far:

Career Paths Don’t Always Make Sense

A lot of the professionals I’ve met studied very different subjects than what they do now. I talking about people who studied Biology or Urban Planning and now work in Marketing.  It’s a common cliche that college students don’t know what they want to do with their lives and I’ve seen this first hand. Even I chose my program because I thought it was a safer bet to study business over fashion design.

What makes the real difference here is two things: how much you apply yourself in school and afterwards and how much hidden value you find in your education. The first point is key. If you’re the type who’s driven to succeed and strives to produce good work while learning from your courses, this often translates to your future work ethic. Those who started off on different career paths are people who never stopped learning, even after school ended. There really is no excuse. If you find yourself even just a bit curious about something it only takes about 10 minutes to find 3 YouTube views and 6 articles that will teach you almost everything on the subject. New knowledge about anything you didn’t know before is never be a waste of time.

The second part is something I believe gets missed by many students. Let’s take the Urban Planning major turned Marketing Director for example. His program would obviously have set him up for a career as an Urban Planner, but there are a lot of transferable skills that may not be so obvious. Everything from learning how to plan and budget to problem solving and creativity are skills he would use as a Marketing Director. In my opinion, it’s your ability to reflect on how much you’ve grown as a person and not just your technical knowledge that will allow you to see your dexterity and this is what will make you versatile in your work life.

Look for the Career That Keeps You Excited About Going to Work

You can’t, and won’t, get a career right out of school that you love. It’s just not going to happen, but eventually you will need to realize whether or not you enjoy what you do. If you don’t enjoy it at all, it’s time to leave.

The trick here is that, like most things in life, no one’s going to go out of their way to make sure you like your job. You have to do it for yourself. You need to look for the moments you look forward to each day. If you don’t find them, ask your superiors if you can start a pet project that uses your talents. If you can explain the clear benefits and still finish your daily work, it’s unlikely they would say no. If they do, try using your talents outside of work. Look for freelance projects, Upwork provides a vast online network connecting freelancers and employers, or perhaps find a non-profit career that will satisfy your desire to help people and communities. Charity Village is a useful job posting site to find opportunities.

Only once you’ve exhausted all your options and still you are not even a little excited to go to work, it’s time to move companies or even careers. It’s not an easy choice, but everyone deserves to have work that fulfills them. There is no shame in changing your mind either. In fact, on average only 30% of Canadians will stay in a job for over four years. Don’t settle, strive for the one that is right for you.

Profit Only Keeps Score

My last piece of advice will become more practical once you’ve entered into your career, but it is nonetheless my favourite. “Profit only keeps score” is a direct quote I learned from a very successful marketer and entrepreneur who enjoyed a long career at one of the top consumer goods companies. The whole idea behind this phrase is to say that while numbers are great; they tell us our ROI, give us goals, and at the end of the day pay our salaries, what truly matters when all is said and done is what that profit actually represents. Did you make a difference in your customers lives? Did you create something you can be proud of? If all you are after is revenue you can easily lose sight of what our jobs are really all about: improving lives.

Whether or not this seems obvious is not the reason I like this quote so much. What struck me about it is who heard it from. This person had worked in Canada, Europe and the U.S., had worked for a large corporation and then a growing start-up, yet at the end of the day he still believed that there was more to life than making money. I often worry that my idealism and optimism will fade away once I am jaded by the working life routine and that I will learn to think only about the almighty dollar, yet here was someone with more experience and success than I could imagine who told me that it doesn’t, and shouldn’t, be that way. That phrase was life changing for me and has given me the drive to trust my own instincts and create work that I can stand behind.

What I’m saying here may not change your whole outlook on life, but isn’t it worth putting yourself out there and meeting professionals who can give you the advice that you will share with someone when they ask to meet a success like you?


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This work (HA0521-045, by Rob Cadman), identified by George Brown Marketing, is free of known copyright restrictions.

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