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!