Career Exploration, Part II: 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.
Occupational interviews are meetings set up 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 the way reporters use interviews to find background information to support a story. People who are 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 taking the time to speak 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.
There are few experiences that will be more valuable to you as a job seeker then an opportunity to observe your job of interest being performed in the real working world. Aside from actually doing a job yourself, a 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 actually entails on a day-to-day basis. Look at the duties and responsibilities that are required 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.
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 over the course of your career, but when you’re job hunting for the first time it is a very good idea to actively seek out a mentor in your field of interest.
After becoming a registered user of AFB CareerConnect and setting up your My CareerConnect profile, you can search for a mentor using a keyword that will tell the system in which career or field you would like your mentor to be involved.
Below is a list of tips on contacting mentors, along with some questions that you may want to ask your mentor(s) once you’ve established a connection. Remember that the mentors you find through AFB are all volunteers—they don’t receive compensation for their time or expertise and they are not required to help or respond if they 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.
- Do not share your personal information (last name, phone number, or personal e-mail address) with a mentor.
- For written e-mails or messages, start your note with “Dear CareerConnect Mentor” or “Dear Sir/Madam.”
- Introduce yourself by your first name and explain that you were put in contact with them through the AFB CareerConnect mentor program.
- Tell the mentor a little about yourself and what career path or job you are interested in exploring.
- Let the mentor know that you would like to learn more about the work he or she does. You may ask your own questions or use some of those listed below.
- Thank the mentor for his or her time and for answering your questions.
- You never know where you will make good professional contacts. Spell-check any written messages prior to sending.
- Be appropriate in your behavior and language and act in a manner that demonstrates you are serious about your job search.
- If you are contacting a mentor via the phone, it’s just as important to be appropriate, gracious, and polite. Act in a manner that shows you are serious about your job search.
Before contacting AFB CareerConnect mentors, you may want to write out a list of questions to ask. The following list may contain a question or two that you’d like to include at this stage. DO NOT copy and paste all of the questions below and send them to a mentor at once—be thoughtful about what you really want to know about the mentor’s job at this point and let the conversation evolve from there.
- 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 in how 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 AFB Job Seeker’s Toolkit, a free, self-paced, comprehensive, and accessible guide to the employment process. Set up a My CareerConnect account to get started with the Toolkit—it’s an easy and fast process that will give you access to many helpful job hunting resources!
This article and The Job Seeker’s Toolkit are based on the 2nd edition of The Transition Tote System, by Karen Wolffe and Debbie Johnson (1997, American Printing House for the Blind).