Ways to Explore

Discover new career paths and gain new insights into your industry.

(1) Informational Interviews

An informational interview is an informal conversation with someone working in an area that interests you who will give you information and advice. It is not a job interview, and the objective is not to find job openings. You may feel awkward making arrangements to talk with people you don't know about their work. However, most people actually enjoy taking a few moments out of their day to reflect on their professional life and to give advice to someone with an interest in their field.

How to Connect & Schedule the Interview

  • Talk to people you know! This includes family, friends, teaching assistants, professors and former employers.
  • Identify names of alumni. Illinois graduates will often take a special interest in current students. Utilize LinkedIn to connect with alums or visit the Illinois alumni directory.
  • Visit the websites of companies you’d like to learn more about for the name of someone working within a particular area of interest.
  • Contact student organizations, professional or trade associations.
  • Contact the person by email (see sample script)
  • Emphasize that you are looking for information, not a job.
  • Ask for a convenient time to have a 20-30 minute appointment/phone call.

Before the Interview

  1. Research the person and organization that you will be interviewing
  2. Develop a short (15-30 second) overview of yourself, including your reasons for contacting this person, as a way to introduce yourself and define the context of the meeting.

Plan open-ended questions to ask:

  • "What kinds of projects do you work on?"
  • "What led you to this position?"
  • "What do you like most and least about your work?"
  • "What are the personal qualities of people who are successful in this field?"
  • "How would you describe a typical week in terms of the percentage of time spent on the different aspects of your job?"
  • "What kinds of backgrounds do people in this organization (field) have?"

During the Interview

  • Dress neatly and appropriately, as you would for a job interview.
  • Arrive on time or a few minutes early.
  • Restate that your objective is to get information and advice, not a job.
  • Give a brief overview of yourself and your education and/or work background.
  • Be prepared to direct the interview, but also let the conversation flow naturally, and encourage the interviewee to do most of the talking.
  • Listen well and show genuine interest in what the person has to say.
  • Take notes if you'd like.
  • Respect the person's time. Keep the meeting length within the agreed-upon timeframe.
  • Ask the person if you may contact them again in the future with other questions.
  • Ask for names of other people to meet so as to gain different perspectives

After the Interview

  • Keep records. Right after the interview write down what you learned, what more you'd like to know and your impressions of how this industry, field or position would fit with your lifestyle, interests, skills and future plans.
  • Send a thank-you note within 1-2 days to express your appreciation for the time and information given. Based on whether the informational interview was relatively informal or more businesslike, this may be a brief handwritten note, an email, or a business letter.
  • Keep in touch with the person, especially if you had a particularly nice interaction; let him or her know that you followed up on their advice and how things are going as a result. This relationship could become an important part of your network.

(2) Internships

Internships (summer or semester)  are vital experiences that you can begin acquiring as early as the summer of your first year on campus. Relevant work experience is the #1 item recruiters are looking for on your résumé.  Internships provide you with a competitive advantage when seeking full-time careers in industry and can enable you to gain up to a full year of professional work. Participating in an internship allows you the opportunity to gain practical experience and to explore engineering-related fields in-depth.

Benefits of participating in an internship:

  • Gain practical experience in an engineering or related field
  • Get paid well
  • Develop your communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and organizational skills, as well as your build your work ethic
  • Build and apply technical knowledge and skills
  • Identify and refine your career goals

ECS has partnered with Parker Dewey to connect students to companies for micro-internships!

Learn More

(3) Job Shadows

A job shadow is an opportunity to see the inside of a company typically for a few hours, days or weeks. Summer or winter break can be a perfect opportunity to use down time productively while discovering more about your career options. Consider shadowing an employer to further develop professional skills, learn about a field or industry that interests you, and start building your network.