Once you have completed online and/or print research and have narrowed your options to a manageable number (i.e., a maximum of three), it is important to verify what you have learned and to obtain more detailed information about a particular occupation you are seriously considering: is it really what you think it is?
One way to confirm your research findings is to conduct an information interview with someone who holds that kind of position. Think of it as engaging people who can mentor you, and initiating in-depth conversations to discover additional information. It is highly recommended that you conduct three to five meetings with people in a variety of settings in order to gain a more accurate and comprehensive perspective on the occupation.
You may be concerned that individuals will not be receptive to meeting with you. Don’t be! Most people are willing to provide information about their work to interested individuals; they may also be flattered that you singled them out as a reliable source of information.
Information interviews are beneficial because they allow you to:
It is very important to prepare for an information interview well in advance. Completing the Self-assessment section is an excellent first step. The better you know yourself, the more professional you will be and the more likely you will be to pursue a career that is both enjoyable and rewarding.
You may choose to use the Information interview worksheet (PDF) to record the information you gather from this learning process.
Decide which areas you would like to explore, and then prepare questions to obtain the information you need. A key way to ensure that you are getting relevant information is to ask questions based on your skills, interests, values, and personality preferences. This will help to ensure that you are not forcing yourself to fit into a job, but that the job and environment are the right fit for you.
You will want to come up with your own questions, but you can also consider these:
After you have completed your occupational research and information interviews for an occupation, job shadowing will give you a close-up view of the occupation.
To locate someone to job shadow, use the same strategy you used in arranging the information interview but ask for a half- or full-day commitment. When you are job shadowing, ask questions similar to those in the information interview. The bonus is spending time with your contact to observe what the individual does at work. You might even find an opportunity to offer your assistance.
By the end of your job shadow experience, you should have good notes about the components of the job, the work environment, interactions with other people, and your likes and dislikes. If the fit is not as good as you had hoped, ask your contact to recommend other organizations or types of work for you to consider.
Within one or two days of your visit, send a thank-you email or letter.
If you set up more than one job shadowing experience, consider investigating different work cultures and environments to get a sense of what you would prefer.
Getting hands-on experience is the best way to determine if the nature of the work you are considering is a fit with your skills, interests, values, and personality preferences.
The following work experience opportunities offer several benefits besides job experience:
The goal of co-operative education is to provide you with the opportunity to gain experience through paid employment that complements your academic program. Alternating work and study terms takes longer than the traditional method of study with a summer break. Co-op positions are full time, usually lasting four months. The advantage for you is in having a formal structure through which you can try out different jobs to see what you like and are good at. With regular performance evaluations by your supervisors, you can acquire an employer's perspective on how well you measure up to other people working in similar roles. By taking positions with increasing levels of responsibility, you will develop your skills and build a solid résumé.
An internship gives you an opportunity to have a structured experience combining work and learning in a field you are considering for your career. The work may be paid or unpaid. It can be part time during an academic term, a full-time block during the weeks between terms, or full time for an academic term or longer. In some cases, a professor from your faculty will oversee the work in conjunction with your employer so that appropriate academic credit can be given. If the internship will not result in academic credit, the experience will still be valuable in that it will permit you to explore career possibilities and develop marketable skills.
To locate internship opportunities, look through information in Centre for Career Development and check out the Internships section on the Centre for Career Development website. Plan to attend the Volunteer Fair organized by Centre for Career Development in the fall and winter terms. Although the Fair caters largely to volunteer positions, some internship opportunities are also represented.
Another option is to create your own internship. Begin by determining what type of work would build on your academic knowledge and interests, and then contact organizations offering such work. Just as in the regular work search process, by networking and establishing relationships, you will learn how you may be of value to an organization, enabling you to propose a mutually beneficial relationship. After you have sourced a potential internship opportunity, check with faculty members or advisors to see whether you may be able to get credit for the experience.
An academic environment may offer government-funded positions. These positions allow you to work up to 10 hours a week over the school term and help finance your education. Carefully read the work-study notices. If the information is vague, obtain more details from the person hiring for the position. Work-study can be a good way to apply your knowledge in different settings. In addition to helping you clarify your career goals, work-study provides you with work-related skills. For further information on work-study at the University of Waterloo, contact the Student Awards office.
Working in different kinds of settings will allow you to experience and observe many aspects of employment. Through experimentation, you will come to know what you like and don’t like, what you’re good at, and in what areas you need to develop expertise. These paid work experiences are especially helpful if you are in an academic program that is not specifically designed to prepare you for a particular profession. These experiences can provide you with the added benefit of gaining work-related skills that your future employers will be seeking. University of Waterloo students can access job opportunities through Centre for Career Development.
Volunteering allows you to investigate options and gain work experience in a variety of work settings and fields. You need to answer two questions: what would you like to give to the community, and what would you like to get in return? To locate volunteer opportunities, look through the directories in Centre for Career Development and check out the Volunteering section on the Centre for Career Development home page. Plan to attend the Volunteer Fair organized by Centre for Career Development in the fall and winter terms. If you are in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, the Volunteer Action Centre is also a helpful source of volunteer opportunities, representing a variety of fields and experiences. Many cities have similar centres you may wish to investigate.
Consider undertaking a special project as a course assignment. Many organizations are unable to research particular topics because of a lack of time or funding. Therefore, you would be adding value while expanding your knowledge of the workplace by linking an academic exercise to a real-world application.
Information interview worksheet [.docx]
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