I’m obviously of the opinion that you don’t need to know what you want to do for the rest of your life when you’re 16 years old. So it might seem counterintuitive to tell students to take their time finding a career that excites them and also encourage them to conduct informational interviews. But I think one of the reasons students struggle to identify a career path that speaks to them is because they have such a small window of options to choose from.
Ask most kids what they want to do when they grow up, and they’ll probably tell you something you could find on a career card in The Game of Life: doctor, teacher, entertainer, artist, athlete, accountant, salesperson, computer consultant, police officer. But when I look at my friends and my parents’ friends, most of their jobs only connect tangentially to those professions. It wasn’t until I got to college, and more realistically, when I started working, that I could see the absolute plurality of professions available to me.
That’s where informational interviews come in. The UC Berkeley Career Center describes an informational interview as “an informal conversation you can have with someone working in an area of interest to you. It is an effective research tool and is best done after preliminary online research. It is not a job interview, and the objective is not to find job openings.” Informational interviews are also a great way to practice communicating with strangers and scary adults, something you’ll have to do more and more as you get older.
So talk to a few of your parents’ friends or your dentist or the manager at your local Starbucks. Invite them out for coffee and ask them what their job entails, what they like about it, and what they would like to do less of. Ask them how they got into that field, what they majored in, and where they went to college (or if they went to college). If you’re intrigued, ask if you could shadow them for a day or if they need an intern in the office. If you’re not feeling excited yet, pick three more people and do it again. No matter what, you’ll start to see a much broader view of the things people do for work and why they chose those careers. And you might get really lucky and learn about a job that really engages you.