Key Takeaways I Learned From 3 Informational Interviews

By Dan Moseson, Ph.D., CPDC Graduate Career Coach 

Recently, my colleague, Crystal Cory, wrote a superb article about how to network during this unprecedented time. Adding to Crystal’s advice, I encourage you to think outside the box as you seek out new and exciting career conversations. You’ll gain new perspectives on your current work or study, and an expanded sense of what’s possible.

To prove this point, I set up three informational interviews with professionals who work in areas I knew hardly anything about: tornado science, landscape photography, and outdoor education. Below, I’ve broken down three takeaways from each interview: How these professionals built their careers, what I learned that can aid me in my current job, and how I plan to learn more.

Interview #1: Dr. Kim Klockow McLain, Research Scientist and Social Applications Coordinator at NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma

Kim built her career in risk communication by pursuing academic training in weather science and the psychology of risk, then learning to support research during a science policy fellowship in the U.S. Senate. She helps community members learn to protect themselves by “thinking more like the storm”. Kim passed on great lessons in working across disciplines: learn each side’s language, create spaces for overlap, and build trust over time. I can use this advice to help graduate students and faculty re-imagine career paths. I plan to follow-up by surveying jobs at weather and hazard labs where, Kim told me, my students can make a difference.

Interview #2: Dave Koch, Landscape and Real Estate Photographer in Salt Lake City, Utah

Dave studied film in college and got his first job in television, largely by hanging out and engaging with people who already worked in television. He learned photography by taking background images for weather forecasts. The first of two great lessons from Dave: “Take pictures every day” and “Create every day”. You’ll surprise yourself when, one day, you have a good body of work. Second, Dave said how useful it was to shoot on assignment when he worked in television. “If you self-assign things,” he said, “you’ll play to your strengths”. In other words, you may benefit if you’re not in charge right away. I plan to follow-up by speaking with two photographers Dave kindly recommended.

Interview #3: Allison Hughes, Co-Manager of Outdoor Adventures at the University of Utah’s Campus Recreation Services

Allison has built her career through study and a series of recreation and student development roles, despite not growing up outdoorsy. She passed on two great leadership lessons. First, “Confidence is contagious”. If you project confidence, you’ll grow confidence in those you lead. Second, learn to take feedback. You’ll grow faster than those who can’t. Allison recommend that I follow-up by visiting the Association for Outdoor Recreation and Education’s website, which provides information on a wide range of outdoor careers.

I hope these interviews were as enlightening for you as they were for me. I stepped well outside of my field, learned a lot, and made wonderful new connections. Try it out!