Sunday, June 17, 2012

Bored over Break? Why Not Try an Informational Interview?

Are you looking for something librarian-ish to do over the week-long break between Spring and Summer Quarters? If so, then why not schedule an informational interview with a professional in the library and information science field? Many librarians will tell you that they not only love what they do, but also that they love discussing what they do with anyone who is interested. Additionally, people in the information profession are especially eager to share their ideas, experiences, and advice with future librarians. So why not use this lull in school-related activity to learn more about the profession directly from a professional herself through an informational interview?

Before scheduling an informational interview, you should first do some internet research about the libraries in your area, especially if you do not have a library or an interviewee in mind. A general rule of thumb is to limit the list of potential libraries to visit according to your own interests, particularly in terms of library type (public, academic, special, etc.). For example, if you think you would like to work in an academic library someday, create a list of academic libraries located near you (try using the College Navigator search on the NCES homepage), find the homepage for the libraries at these colleges and universities, and take a look around each library’s website.

After obtaining a better sense of what each library is like, decide on which libraries you would like to visit. For these libraries, find the staff directory (usually labeled “Staff” on the website’s navigation bar) and take a look around. Not only is a staff directory useful for finding contact information, but it is also a fast way to find out who does what at a library. Depending on the directory, some libraries might list each staff member’s title, credentials, and short professional biography. Even if a directory does not have all of this information, it will almost always list staff members’ titles. Use this information to figure out who is responsible for what interests you about the library (e.g., if you are interested in a library’s information literacy program, find the director of this program on the “Staff” page).  Finally, send emails to these libraries to request an informational interview.

Write your email as you would any professional correspondence (click here to review professional email basics). As for content, explain the purpose for contacting the librarian (you would like to schedule an informational interview), where you found their contact information, who you are as a student (the degree you are working towards, where you go to school, etc.), and a common point of interest (e.g., digital libraries) and/or a compliment on project they have worked on at their library. End the email by listing your availability and by thanking them for considering your request.

Once you receive a response accepting your request, start preparing your questions. You may decide to use stock questions that could work when interviewing any professional (click here to see a list). Stock question are quite useful for obtaining general information about the person and the position they hold at the library. Nevertheless, your questions should become more specific as you work your way down the list, and you will need to tailor these questions to the person being interviewed. To do this, base your questions on what information you found about the person or their position at their library from your basic internet search. By asking these types of questions, you are trying to find information about the key competencies needed for the position, as well as the kinds of non-library-specific skills (e.g., project management) one would need to develop to succeed in the position. While it is important that you come to the interview with a list of questions written down and ready to be asked, you should also allow the interview to follow any interesting or potentially useful tangents that might arise. Also, while you should be respectful and appreciative, you should not be so formal as to make the interviewee uncomfortable.

As with a job interview, you should arrive early to the informational interview in professional attire (click here to review tips on job-interviewing ). Also, as with a job interview, make sure to send the interviewee a “thank you” email afterwards. This type of email is especially important to send after an informational interview because, unlike a job interview, the professional with whom you have met has no immediate incentive for taking time out of their workday to speak with you; in this sense, then, the informational interview is primarily for your benefit, which is why you should express your appreciation to the interviewee appropriately.

Those readers who have taken INFO 520 have already interviewed at least one information professional and so are already familiar with the purpose of and steps involved in informational interviewing. Consider this post, then, a reiteration of what your INFO 520 professor has said about informational interviewing with an additional, first-hand affirmation of its value. To be more specific, two current SCALA officers have been offered internships as the result of conducting informational interviews. While there is no guarantee that you will be made the same offer, the more you put yourself out there and get to know people in the profession before you graduate, the better chances you have of finding a position that suits your interests and needs. Additionally, the more informational interviews you conduct, the more you will learn about the profession and the larger your network will grow. Thus conducting informational interviews is an excellent pre-professional activity in which you can actively engage.

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