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The BEST Activity for Career Exploration (IMO)

This blog is going to be longer than usual... but I (Maya) feel close to this one, and it contains the best advice I can possibly give you at this moment in my life (it involves conducting informational interviews—currently my full-time job).

If you do read it and implement the advice, it’ll probably also be one of the more impactful Psych Mic blogs (and if you’ve tried this out, whether I’m right or wrong please let me know with this survey.)

Sections of this blog: 1. Why is this important to me? 2. How to find people to interview 3. How to reach out to people 4. What to ask in the informational interview 5. What to do after the interview

Why is this important to me?

When I was a rising college senior, I started thinking seriously about what my career would look like after graduating. I felt like I had done things experientially (e.g., rigorous research experiences, meaningful volunteer work, worldview-altering courses) that gave me a clearer sense of self and what I wanted out of my career. But still, I felt like there was more out there to explore, and the thought of discovering all of it — let alone choosing something — was overwhelming. I thought:

"There are too many things I love about psychology and that I want to try. I'm not even sure where to start."

The best way I knew how to tackle this overwhelm was to start talking to people I admired and who shared my passion for this discipline. By working on Psych Mic over the last 1.5 yrs, I've spent about 160 hours in conversation with over 60 experts: Psychologists, physicians, therapists, entrepreneurs, teachers, artists, consultants, scientists, coaches, musicians, counselors — who are applying their psych backgrounds in hospitals, schools, businesses, governments, sports teams, law firms, labs, clinics, prisons, private practices, studios, higher ed institutions, nonprofits... the list goes on.

I knew, in theory, that psychology was everywhere before starting Psych Mic, but now it's tangible.

Interviewing my podcast guests about their career paths, lifestyles, work environments, challenges/rewards, skills, etc. has been the single most rewarding activity of my post-grad life.

Through building this network, I’ve learned about different careers, imagined myself in those roles, garnered invaluable advice, and created fertile ground for work opportunities to present themselves—and I’ve taken them!

It may seem on the surface like I reach out to all these people with ease. However, while it has definitely gotten easier...

...before I started Psych Mic, I was too scared to send a text to a professor who gave me his contact info and invited me to reach out if I had any questions about his career.

And I still get nervous sometimes. Sometimes very nervous. This anxiety is valid, but not rational enough to dictate whether I reach out. I’ve found, overwhelmingly, that professionals like the ones I’ve interviewed are absolutely flattered when you want to learn from them and are so generous with their time. Making the first step is scary but so worth it.

You don’t have to have a podcast to do this.

If you've at all benefited from Psych Mic, resonated with my story, or are feeling lost or curious about what direction to take your career, start conducting informational interviews.

I promise you — and I don't make promises lightly doing the following will be one of the most impactful things you do for your personal and professional development.

"Ok, I'm convinced. But how do I find people?"

There are so many ways to find people to reach out to. Here’s how I’ve gone about it:

  • Created a list of professors, bosses, TAs, or graduate students I’ve known over the years and starring ones I wanted to get to know better.

  • Explored through LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram - followed authors, professors, public speakers, podcast hosts that I like. Play around with hashtags, filters, and other people’s posts on topics you’re interested in.

  • Asked my existing network (e.g., family, friends, professors, teachers, family friends) if they know inspiring people in specific industries.

  • Read books and noted authors whose work I particularly resonated with.

  • Listened to various podcast interviews and Ted Talks.

Some of the people I’ve reached out to barely had any presence online, and others have platforms with hundreds of thousands of listeners or followers. It’s my personal belief that it doesn’t matter how “famous” or “renowned” the person is - if I’m inspired, I’ll usually just reach out (if my imposter syndrome doesn't get in the way). It doesn’t hurt to, but it hurts not to.

"They seem so busy... How do I ask for their time?"

Everyone is busy. If they’re too busy to talk to you, they’ll just tell you (or they won’t respond). It’s not your responsibility to determine if someone has time for you. Don’t let insecurity prevent you from reaching out and keep you in your shell. Let curiosity & authenticity fuel your expansion & growth. Here are some examples and templates to help you make that first move.

It won’t always work out, and you might get a rejection here and there, but be persistent, and reach out to lots of people. That one rejection or non-response won’t mean as much if you've reached out to 10 people - and while I still have to remind myself this, it’s not personal.

A future Psych Mic guest recently sent me this Atlantic article about rejection. It's super validating and encouraging - if you're rejection-averse (which 99.9% of us are), or you find yourself not going for things out of fear of rejection, give this one a read.

"What kinds of things should I ask them?"

Listen to the Psych Mic podcast for inspiration and write down questions you resonate with - but remember that that’s just how I conduct these interviews. You should develop your own style. I usually write down a list of questions ahead of time based on the research I've done on the person, but I received great advice from another podcaster once that

"Your job as an interviewer is to ask the first question you prepared and never get to the rest of them." — Shane Mac

I don't take that advice super literally, but what I do take away is: my job is to ask my first question and then stay present, open, and curious. Indeed, I’ve learned through conducting all these interviews that I actually tend to conduct better ones when I don’t prepare too many questions in advance (or any at all). If I let my curiosity take over, I’m more present for the conversation, it has a more natural flow, and I usually have a stronger connection with the guest (but that doesn't mean you shouldn't do prior research!). If you still need some inspiration:

  • Indeed: Contains a list of questions with tips/context

  • UC Berkeley: Contains a list of questions to ask during an info interview from college student perspective

  • Harvard Business Review: Comprehensive guide and specific questions

"We had a great conversation. How do I keep the spark alive?"

Follow up and say thank you. Mention any insights you gained or talking points you found particularly valuable. Say you’d love to stay in touch. Keep it short! If you clicked with the person, it’s nice to keep checking in with them every few weeks or months. Don't be afraid to share what you have going on in your life, and make note of what they're working on (professionally or personally) so you can ask them about it in the future! You can keep it light. For example, yesterday I was listening to a song that reminded me of one of my podcast guests — so I sent it to her, and said I was thinking about her! It can be that simple.


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