How Informational Interviews Helped Me Find a Job After Teaching

I found the posting for my current job through indeed.com. Two weeks after submitting my application online, I was contacted for an interview. Two weeks after the interview, they called me with an offer. As I mentioned in my last post, this opportunity came nearly three years after I started exploring the idea of leaving teaching.

At first glance, it looks like I changed careers all by my amazing self, but that’s far from the case.

Besides pure luck, I have to credit the 25 people who were willing to talk to me about their careers in informational interviews.

With their help, I was able to research new jobs, develop non-teaching experience and find out what employers are looking for. If you’re looking to do the same, I’d recommend that you spend as much time on informational interviews as you do on job applications. In fact, on those nights and weekends when you’ll do anything but schoolwork, try researching who your first (or next) informational interviewee might be. It’s much more fun, and more productive, than applying to jobs without a clear direction.

More on why informational interviews were indispensable to my post-teaching job search:

They helped me figure out what I wanted — and what I didn’t want.

I interviewed public relations executives, marketing managers, publicists, writers, editors and even a special assistant to a university chancellor. All were generous with their time and willing to share how they got their jobs, what they liked and disliked about them, as well as the challenges facing their respective fields. Four of the people I interviewed were former teachers. All said they had enjoyed teaching, but none expressed the desire to go back to the classroom! Talking to them made me believe that starting my own fulfilling career after teaching was actually possible.

With each interview, I also began to figure out what I wanted in my next job:

– one that would let me keep sharing good stories (I was an English teacher);

– work on a small team with smart, motivated people;

– work independently on concrete assignments;

– become a better writer; and

– ideally, do something to help people.

I made a mental list of things I did not want from my next job as well:

– work on nights and weekends

– daily interaction with a large number of people

– responsibilities that are emotionally draining (Can you tell I’m an introvert?)

My new job knocks it out of the park on all counts!

They helped me revise my resume and build my non-teaching resume.

During each informational interview, I asked what skills people used in their jobs, what types of people their jobs were best suited for, how I might break into their fields – and I took notes on everything. This helped me tailor my resume (and cover letter) to emphasize what the marketing people said, for example, when I applied to marketing positions.

At the end of each meeting, I asked if they knew anyone else I might speak to. In most cases, people did recommend others to contact, and many made introductions on my behalf as well.

Here’s where the simple math of the process will come to bear: The more informational interviews you do, the more people will know you’re looking for a job. The more people know you’re looking for a job, the more likely you’ll be connected to new opportunities.

For example, even though I wanted to do something related to writing, I didn’t have any clips that were less than five years old. But, because several people I interviewed introduced me to editors who were looking for freelance writers, I was able to get new assignments and start repairing that weakness in my resume. I also pitched several stories to one editor I interviewed that ended up getting published.

They connected me to job leads and interviews. 

Please do NOT go into an informational interview and expect the person to give you a job, i.e. do not utter the words, “Do you think you can hire me?” or “Do you know anyone who can get me a job?”

Your main focus should be information gathering: Do you like the job as this person describes it? Do you think you might be interested in this company or this industry?

However, you might discuss what you like and what you do well; your interviewee might ask you what kinds of jobs you’re looking for; and you might even offer to do something that will be useful to both of you (like when I pitched the editor stories she was interested in publishing).

In my case, several people e-mailed me more than a year after we’d spoken with information about jobs at their companies. Even though I didn’t end up applying to all of them, or getting the ones I applied to, I was still grateful for the information and the opportunity to interview for non-teaching jobs for the first time.

They helped me practice interviewing. 

Every informational interview was an informal conversation that helped me prepare for the real thing.  Each one made me feel more comfortable with meeting new people in a professional context and asking them job-related questions. I also got practice with talking about myself, including explaining how my teaching experience and interests matched what they said was needed to succeed at their jobs.

Informational interviews are also a good time to rehearse your answer to the question that I got asked on every single job interview: “So what made you decide to leave teaching?”

My advice? However unhappy you may be with teaching, stick to the positive and try to tailor your answer to what you learned through informational interviews.

EXTRA: Three Things You Must Do for Every Informational Interview

1. At the end of the interview, ask, “Can you recommend anyone I might speak to?”

This can be a great source of new people to interview. And even if someone says no, he doesn’t know anyone, it doesn’t hurt to ask!

2. Say thank you.

If you’ve ever written a recommendation for a student without a word of thanks in return for your effort and time, you know how meaningful a sincere note of appreciation can be. It also doesn’t hurt to get your interviewee coffee or cupcakes as a small token of your thanks.

3. Follow up.

Update your contacts periodically on your job search with short, personal e-mails (not mass e-mails). Let them know what actions you’ve taken, what jobs you’re looking at and anything they said or did that has helped you. This will keep you on their radar, and let people know the time they spent on you was worthwhile.

Related:

Mastering the Informational Interview (New York Times)

My Pet Peeves About Informational Interviews (New York Times)

Five Good Reasons to Schedule Informational Interviews (Job Jenny)

Next up, a post on transferable skills from teaching!

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21 thoughts on “How Informational Interviews Helped Me Find a Job After Teaching

  1. Thank you for discussing your experiences leaving teaching here. I resigned from my teaching position Monday (my last day is in March) after a couple of years of consideration and then nights wrought with anxiety after I was offered the job I will be starting. So of course on Monday night I Googled various combinations of “leaving teaching” and “quitting teaching” in order to reassure myself. Reading through your blog has been very reassuring and I’m glad that the not-teaching world is treating you well!

    • Christie,

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

      I felt a lot of anxiety too, since I’m generally a risk-averse person who is slow to make decisions. But I got sick of feeling so negative all the time and finally started to try to change my situation.

      Kudos to you for taking the leap as well! Wishing you all the best for your last two months of school and your new job. Life after teaching has been so much less stressful for me, and I hope it will be for you, too.

  2. Out of curiosity, what is your current job? After always believing I would be a teacher, I have come to realize that for my own well-being and happiness I cannot go into this field. I plan on student teaching next semester (I am high school English) so that I can graduate, but after that I need a plan of what career to pursue that is not related to teaching. Everything that you wanted and didn’t want from your next job is on my list.

    • Hi Anna,

      Although you may come to the same conclusions that I did about teaching, try to give student teaching your best effort. At the same time, you should also plan informational interviews with people in several different fields to help you figure out what you might do instead.

      As I mentioned in this post, I talked to several people in public relations/communications, and they helped me understand what to expect from my current job, where I write materials like articles, brochures, newsletters and flyers for a large nonprofit. When I was in college, I had no concept of what PR/communications was, so I hope this helps.

      Best of luck to you!

  3. I’ve been reading through this series of post with interest. I’m wondering…what *was* your answer when you were asked why you left teaching? It’s hard to think of how to frame it without sounding negative.

    • Yup, this is a tricky question.

      My answer was that:

      – I was ready for a new challenge after 7 years of teaching (my first and only job out of college); and

      – I wanted better opportunities for career advancement (which were ostensibly offered by the new field)

      I also made sure to tailor my answer to the specific job. For instance, I talked about how much I missed working on team projects for publication when I interviewed for writing and editorial jobs.

      Overall, I think it’s important to convey that you are serious about a career change and willing to do whatever it takes to succeed in the job. To that end, “show, don’t tell” is your best tactic. The more examples you can give of steps you’ve taken (e.g. courses, certifications, projects) to break into the new field, the stronger you’ll look to employers.

      Good luck!

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  5. Thank you so much for this. I have been teaching for the past 8 years (this is my 9th year) and although I am pretty good at teaching I am unhappy and drained. You give me hope and inspire me to feel the fear and leave teaching. Again, thank you. I am in the process of updating my resume, so I will be reading the next post once I come home from work. lol.

  6. Reading your articles has given me hope about finding a career with my degrees. I liked my student teaching experience but even then I was thinking that this was probably not the career for me. I subbed after graduating and I’m currently in my first year teaching full time and I hate it. I have no life (I commute) and behavioral issues are sucking the life out of me. Im also realizing that I’m pretty traditional and that schools aren’t looking for that anymore. I don’t like being on all the time and there are many things the school espouses that I didn’t know about until I started work that I don’t really jive with. I don’t want to quit because I have no idea what I would say in a job interview since its only been 2 months. However, I don’t know how much longer I’ll last. Im a completely different person than I was when I started. Any advice? I have a bachelors in history and a masters in education.

    • What you describe doesn’t necessarily mean you hate teaching — it could mean that your current school isn’t a good fit. So you might want to look at teaching jobs and non-teaching jobs. Check out school websites and ask questions on interviews to find out if their philosophy of education better aligns with yours. Who knows? You might find a school that’s closer to you with a traditional approach like yours.

      Your history degree shows you have training in writing, research and analysis — skills that are needed in lots of different jobs. You should definitely arrange informational interviews to explore careers that use these skills. To start, take a look at the alumni networks of the schools you attended — you should be able to find people who are doing interesting things with their history degrees outside education/academia.

      Thanks for reading and good luck!

    • Your story kind of sounds similar to mine except that I wasn’t too enamored with student teaching and I subbed for two years afterward. I’m not really big on teaching too but I don’t know where to go and I don’t know if I can get another job (jobs teaching history are pretty hard to find and i’m lucky to have the one I do.

      I guess my next questions is what kind of jobs relate to having a history degree (mine is technically Social Science Education)? I really don’t know what I would consider. I know I would love to get into writing and journalism or even PR or broadcasting but I don’t want to go back to school (I started a sped masters but didn’t finish). All I know is that I want a job with a more positive attitude and where I work as part of a team and not simply as an individual. Also i’m not much of a traditional leader in the sense of leading a classroom. I’m more of an idea person.

      • Nebbyteach,

        Sorry for the extremely delayed response! Hope you have made progress on Life After Teaching since posting. If you’re still exploring ways to apply your history degree, I recommend contacting other alumni of your college who studied history and asking them for informational interviews. Talking to them will help expand your idea of what’s possible and could even lead you to job openings. Hope this helps and good luck!

  7. Did you already know the people you interviewed? If not, can you briefly describe the process of setting up one of these interviews?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Amber,

      Thanks for your questions. I didn’t know most of the people I interviewed — they were either introduced to me through my network, or I found them online.

      In all cases, I arranged the interviews via e-mail/LinkedIn/Facebook. My introductory message included:

      – how I found the person

      – a brief explanation of my teaching background and career change interests

      – why I hoped to speak with the person (“I’m interested in learning about your career path” is one way to start)

      – the actual request for an informational interview (don’t assume that the person has agreed if s/he hasn’t)

      If the person agrees to the interview, follow his/her lead. Meeting in person is best (if possible), but do whatever is most convenient for that person (phone/e-mail/Skype, etc.).

      Hope this helps!

  8. I just wanted to say thank you so much for posting all of these stories about your experiences leaving teaching! They’ve offered me a sense of solace and comfort after anguishing over my own decision to leave the teaching profession. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher and it was the only career path I’ve had since seventh grade. I spent four years earning my degree in education and I was devastated when I came out of my student teaching experience anxious about even thinking about getting a teaching job. Teaching was the only path I knew and to realize I hated the idea of stepping into a classroom was difficult for me to grasp. Now I have a little more confidence in my choice knowing I’m not the only one who feels the same way and that I’m not completely out of choices for another career.

    • Bookworm739, I’m so glad the blog is helping you expand your thinking about your career options and give yourself permission to move on from teaching. As you explore your next career move, you’ll feel even freer and more empowered. Thanks for reading and best of luck to you!

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  11. I love your blog. It makes me hopeful. I’m so overwhelmed and scared to leave teaching… Not to mention the amount of debt I’m in from student loans. I have coworker-turned-friend who is getting her doctorate in education. There is quite a bit of research on teacher burnout and in particular, research on special education teachers. I’m in my 8th year right now. I’ve taught in multiple environments. The longest job I ever stayed at in one place was Starbucks! How I miss that company. Anyway — I like the idea of information interviews. I just wish I wasn’t so scared to leave. Oh my goodness. It’s the bad boyfriend analogy! I have a lot of figuring out to do over winter break. THANK YOU for your blog!!!

    • Thanks for reading, C.J.!

      And congrats on making it to your eighth year of teaching — I only lasted seven… Best wishes for your winter break — I hope you get to relax, recharge, and start your list of potential interviewees!

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