As a college student, adults often ask upon meeting us, “What are you majoring in?” or “What do you want to do?” Some people solidly know the answers to these questions, some people casually make answers up, and then others, like me, often answer nonchalantly, “I don’t know. We’ll see!” That answer never seems to satisfy anyone and leads to an awkward and silent end to our conversation. Looking back to those moments, I wish I had known to ask in response: “Did you know at my age?” or “What did you think of your future when you were in college?” Those follow-ups would have allowed me to avoid those awkward silences and potentially learn a lot. But in my first and second years, I was so caught up in figuring out my own life that I didn’t realize that I had some of the best resources standing in front of me. In fact, the ones asking those daunting questions that sent me into a spiral of existential crises were the very people who could help me answer the questions I was asked. They had dealt with those questions too at one point.
Realizing that other people were my best resources for career questions was not something that happened over night. Very interested in career paths and journeys, I became involved in University Career Services as a Career Peer Educator. One of the biggest things I learned at this time was about the winding paths that are careers. I did not need to have one thing in mind of what I would become; I needed to have an open mind. It’s always good to set goals and work towards them but my goals were not my fate. A lot can happen in life to change your course of direction dramatically and the only thing you can do is go with the flow. I didn’t learn that from a book, or from people just telling me, I learned that from having a conversation with my boss at the end of a summer internship. He is the executive director of a non-profit but has a bachelors and masters degree related to filmmaking. I did not know this about him until I took the time to speak to him and hear him tell the captivating story of how his life drastically changed after doing a documentary on homeless people in New York City. While the sharp turn in his career was surprising, hearing him describe his journey made so much sense and I completely understood how he ended up where he was. This conversation, and others, showed me first hand how careers paths can twist and turn.
I decided I wanted to do something that showed my fellow UVA students the value of talking to people about their careers. I wanted to show that careers were winding journeys and not one destination. I found three undergraduates interested in my mission: Ali, Zakiya, and Margaret, and together we came up with a plan. We started interviewing graduate students to learn about how they decided to go to graduate school and what it was like. Then each of them, using networking and research skills, found a professional that they were interested in interviewing to learn more about her profession. We made short documentaries out of each of those interviews. One of my happiest moments in this project, when I knew that it was all worth it, was when one of my team members, Zakiya, completed her interview with her Anthropology professor and described it as one of the most valuable career-related conversations she had ever had. If these conversations could be that valuable to her, and to me, then they had to be for other UVA students as well.
Now we are entering phase two of the project where we are trying to spread the word and get UVA students to watch these videos and contact us to learn more about how to conduct informational interviews. We have found so much value in these conversations that we want to encourage you to engage in them as well. Not only will you get your questions answered, but you will be left with an invaluable contact that may lead to future opportunities or a lifelong mentorship. As a fourth year student about to graduate in a couple of short months, I can honestly look back and say that too many times I got way too caught up in school-work and my extracurricular leadership positions. While those activities were certainly valuable, nothing will be as valuable as taking just an hour to step back, and have a conversation that may change your life, or at the very least give you a new perspective.
Visit careerexplorationsatuva.wordpress.com to learn more about our project, view our videos, and learn how we can help you have your own conversations. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or for help with anything related to informational interviews. We look forward to hearing from you!