3.2 How the Information Interview Worked for One MA Grad
One of my final memories from university took place during the morning of my convocation from my Master’s program. For the Fall 2011 convocation, Indira Samarasekera, the president of the University, addressed the graduating Master’s class. “Congrats,” she told us, “you did it!” She cheered, “you are the largest graduation class of Master’s the University has ever had!” I looked around nervously at my peers in Education, Forestry, Public Health, and the long list of other majors. It was true, many of us and our proud families were present that winter day. According to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, by the conclusion of 2011, I was one of the “one thousand nine hundred and twenty-one” students that completed their MA or PhD that year. I achieved my Master’s, and as elated as I felt in that moment, I was also very anxious about my future outside of the school walls. As I anticipated the ceremonial walk across the Jubilee stage, self-doubt began to surface in my mind and I found myself wondering, “is my Master’s really that special?” What was I going to do for work and how was I going to compete with all the graduates surrounding me? I had once overheard someone say that a Master’s degree is considered the “new” Bachelor’s degree. I did not believe the statement to be true, but it was there, in that moment of worry, taunting me. “What was going to happen to me?” I wondered. Had all my professors lied to me? They told me that I would be highly employable. Images of the comedic YouTube clip, “So you Want to Get a PhD in the Humanities” kept running through my brain. Were all the library visits, essays, conferences, exams, marking, all done in vain?
Well, I am happy to report the answer is no. A resounding NO. On the advice of a co-graduate and friend working towards her PhD, it was suggested that the best way to get your name out into the working scene was to “network.” The dreaded word of any graduate may be “networking.” So if networking is the way to lead to a potential job, I found myself wondering: “how do you do it?”
If you are graduating and making the choice to leave the academic world I would strongly advise that one of the best ways to start your career is to set up “information interviews” with as many companies as possible. A quick Google search of “information interview” provides many examples and strategies of how to go about obtaining a potential job. Ryerson University defines an information interview as a way “to gather information related to suitable careers and work environments from professionals in the field.” In short, by talking to people already in a field that you may want to work in, you are able to network and become aware of what you may need to do to secure employment. The information interview gives you an idea about what a work environment may be like for a particular job you may be interested in. It is important to bear in mind, however, that the information interview is not a job interview. In fact, it is the reverse of a job interview. You get to ask the questions, so come prepared! Think of subjects that are important to you, whether it be questions about benefits, working hours, or job stresses. The mood and tone of the information interview is much more relaxed than a formal job interview, since you are the one asking the questions. Another benefit of an information interview is that it can improve your personal contacts and provide you with possibilities to learn about any potential upcoming job leads.
The informational interview is what allowed me to secure employment. Immediately after graduation, I went onto a website called “indeed.ca.” Indeed.ca is a search engine that gathers jobs that are posted online throughout North America. My search began with the key words “communication” and “writer.” From there, I was able to see hundreds of companies that required someone in a writing or communications capacity. Next, I researched the various companies online. I looked for a “contact us” area on companies’ websites, directly emailed the Human Resources department, or simply searched for a contact’s name in the position in which I was interested. In my experience, if you dig deep enough you can find a person’s email and message them directly in hopes of setting up an information interview.
After this process, the next step is to send out an introductory email. In these emails I would introduce myself and ask the recipient — the manager, the communications specialist or writer — if I would be able to set up an informational interview to learn more about the company and their work. The main trick here is to not be discouraged if you do not hear back from people right away and remember to follow up with a second email. I decided I was interested in a job with the Alberta Motor Association. I sent out introductory emails to the Creative Services, Marketing and Communications department managers. I figured these would be areas that I would like to work in based on my researching, writing and presentation background. I was curious to know what I would need to do to succeed if I was ever going to work in these fields. Also, I wanted to find out what my Comparative Literature degree might be able to bring to a full-time position in these different sectors. One of the best things I gathered from these meetings with professionals working in the field was information about how they started out after University. Every single person’s journey was completely different. For instance, they might have started out as a DJ and then taken night classes and gotten their degree. Or, they too had a Master’s and jumped from job to job doing informational interviews themselves. What was really encouraging to me was that everyone was very interested in what I had worked on during my BA and MA career. Besides the fact that I had written papers and completed a thesis, I realized that being involved in volunteering, organizing conferences, working with a committee, sitting on a council and contributing to an online journal was what a potential employer was interested in. Fortunately, I was given a few more informal get-to-know-you meetings and it just so happened that there was a position opening in the Communications department for which I was able to apply. Success! I eventually secured myself a position in a corporate communications role. Officially, I became a communications and editorial assistant for the Westworld Magazine with the Alberta Motor Association. I was able to interview people and write travel pieces, as well as edit and review writing submissions to the magazine. Beyond that position, I was also asked to assist in the planning, securing and executing of corporate events for the company. These events involved planning for campaigns like the United Way, AMA’s own internal events for staff, and Edmonton Corporate Challenge. It was a great mix of many things I had already done during my academic career when I worked with my colleagues to prepare and organize a conference. My experiences in the academy eventually helped to secure employment for me.
Funny enough, after I found employment, my life did a complete one hundred and eighty degree rotation and I had to end my position with AMA. My husband was offered a position overseas in France and we accepted a four-year posting. The move across the Atlantic Ocean is a very exciting opportunity, but like any big change, it is a bit scary. I am now switching continents and as my husband and I get settled into a new culture, I am giving up my career path for the moment. The expatriate community has what I think is a peculiar name for the spouse who follows another spouse for a job: I am now a “trailing spouse.” I keep telling myself I am, on the contrary, a “trail-blazing spouse,” and I’m hoping the name will stick. My goals currently are to improve my French and to explore Europe. Of course, it is a hope for me as well that within the four years I will be able to obtain a job. For this goal to be achieved, my first strategy is to begin volunteering at one of the local schools. I sent out introductory emails to the local schools and I went in and introduced myself. By volunteering in any capacity I hope that my French will improve, that I will be able to network in the new community, and finally, that I will be able to take advantage of any opportunities given to me.
I am truly thankful that my formal education is complete. I know I received a stellar education. I had the opportunity to study freely without any political or economic restraints. My project was encouraged by my peers and supervisors, and I left university feeling like I had contributed something to the field I had chosen. I plan on always continuing my education and tapping into the skills that Comparative Literature taught me, especially to inquire and wonder about my surroundings.
I never really got a chance to say thank you to all the faculty, professors, colleagues and support staff of Comparative Literature, so I thank you now. Thank you for making class interesting, thank you for thoughtful discussions, and thank you for an environment in which my peers and I were encouraged to grow intellectually and socially. Who knows, maybe the fire will get sparked in me again to research and write, but for now I’m going to spend the next four years exploring life and documenting my travels.
Bon chance to you all!
“Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research: Time to Completion of Degrees by Gender.” gradstudies.ualberta.ca. 2011. Web. 1 Nov 2012.
“Information Interview.” www.ryerson.ca. 2012. Web. 1 Nov 2012.
“So you Want to Get a PhD in the Humanities.” youtube.com 2010. Web. 13 April 2011.
Catherine Melnyk graduated from the University of Alberta in 2011 with a Masters of Arts in Comparative Literature. She has since published works in Westworld Alberta Magazine. Catherine is now a student of the French language continuing her studies at Alliance Française in Bordeaux, France. Catch her trail-blazing spouse musings at travelismyheartbeat.com.