Career Exploration, Part 2: Reaching Out to Others

After careers have been explored and an action plan has been developed, consider seeking information and mentorship from individuals who are currently in your field of interest.

Two men meeting for coffee outside a business
Photo of two men meeting for coffee outside a business

Occupational Interviews

Occupational interviews are meetings with a professional in your field or position of interest to answer your questions about their work. These types of interviews are conducted with workers who are willing to take the time to speak with you and share their experiences. An occupational interview is not a job interview. Rather, the sole purpose is information gathering, much like how reporters use interviews to find background information to support a story. People willing to talk to you will most likely be enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge and experience, but you—as the interviewer—will be expected to be prepared with a clear sense of what you want to know about the job.

Remember to be prepared, polite, and professional. Preparedness includes planning transportation well in advance, diligent background research on the company, and coming with a list of pertinent questions and a note-taking device to record responses. Politeness includes using appropriate language, being gracious, sending a message thanking the interviewee for speaking with you and being positive. Professionalism includes good hygiene, dressing appropriately, and being early or on time for the interview.

You could send a message to the organization mentioning how great the person was for allowing you to do an occupational interview with him or her and how helpful the experience was for you. Employers always like to know positive information and hear compliments about their employees.

Job Observations

Few experiences will be more valuable to you as a job seeker than an opportunity to observe your job of interest being performed in the real working world. Aside from actually doing a job yourself, job observation is one of the best ways to learn about the realities of any position.

During your observation, it’s important not to judge, criticize, or comment on what you observe. Your goal as an observer is not to assess how the work is being performed but to learn as much as you can about what the job entails on a day-to-day basis. Look at the required duties and responsibilities and think about whether or not the reality of the position is appealing to you.

Remember to express your gratitude and appreciation for the opportunity to observe. A thank-you letter is appropriate after this type of experience.

Mentors

Most successful people will say that there have been important individuals who have influenced their career path, provided career advice, or offered support or an experienced perspective throughout their professional lives. These mentors are crucial members of any professional’s support system. Some mentor relationships will develop naturally throughout your career. Still, when you’re job hunting for the first time, it is a very good idea to seek out a mentor in your field of interest actively.

Remember that mentors are volunteers—they don’t receive compensation for their time or expertise and are not required to help or respond if you are busy when you contact them. It’s important to limit yourself to a few thoughtfully chosen questions so that your mentor can spend their time on the topics that are most important to you. Below is a list of questions you may want to ask your mentor(s) once you’ve established a connection.

  • How did you find your job?
  • How long have you had your job?
  • Where did you receive your training for this job?
  • What jobs did you have before this one?
  • Did you take vocational courses in high school, college or trade school that you recommend I consider?
  • Did you participate in an internship or an apprenticeship?
  • Does your present company offer on-the-job training?
  • What is a typical starting salary for this job?
  • What is your typical workday like?
  • How do you get to and from work?
  • How do you perform your job duties?
  • Do you use specialized tools or equipment to perform your job duties?
  • How did you finance the purchase of any specialized equipment you use on the job?
  • Where and from whom did you receive training to operate the tools you use to perform your job?
  • What related jobs do you know of that I might want to investigate?
  • What are your current career goals?

The Job Seeker’s Toolkit

This article is based on the APH Job Seeker’s Toolkit, a free, self-paced, comprehensive, and accessible guide to the employment process.

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