Developing a Large-Scale Informational Interviewing Event Using a Speed-Dating Format
By Leigh Eskin
Conducting career exploration through “informational interviews” is one of the most effective and rewarding avenues of career information gathering, with a long and rich history dating back to the original work of Frank Parsons. In the first decade of the twentieth century, Parsons stressed the importance of a thorough understanding of many factors in the world of work and the integration of this knowledge with the understanding of the self. While there have been many changes in the methods of career development since Parsons’ day, a “speed-dating” method may be a unique way to bring NCDA and the career development field into its second 100 years of development.
One of the drawbacks of informational interviewing with a college student population is that it can be very time-consuming and, for some, quite intimidating. Imagine, then, being able to provide students with the opportunity to conduct more than half a dozen informational interviews with professionals, all in a central location and within the span of two hours. In the event titled: “Fast to the Future: Speed Career Exploration,” this idea became a reality. At the Florida State University, over 250 students with a strong interest in Psychology attended this first-annual speed-dating style informational event.
The Career Center staff recognized the need for an event that allowed students in the broad major of Psychology to narrow their career scope. As a former Psychology major, I was well aware of how confusing and overwhelming it can be to choose a career or select an appropriate graduate program in Psychology. Subsequently, in my role as Intern at the Career Center, I initiated collaboration between the Career Center and the Psychology department advisors to develop an event with a unique layout.
I proposed programming that would follow a group speed-dating format. Instead of professionals and students meeting one-on-one, professionals would speak to the students as a group – an arrangement that would allow more reserved students a chance to listen to information while other students asked questions. The initial goal was to have about 50-100 students in attendance, though the actual attendance far surpassed our goals.
Event Timeframe and Location: The event was two hours in length and was held in the Psychology Building on campus.
Layout: There were 22 tables split between two rooms, with one or two professionals heading each table. There were about 3-4 chairs at each table for students to sit in. Since the turnout was over twice what we had expected and seating was therefore limited, many students stood next to the tables.
Rotations: Each rotation lasted 15 minutes – the first 12 minutes involved conversations between professionals and students, while the remaining 3 minutes allowed time for rotation to the next table. Snacks and beverages were made available during each rotation.
Professionals: Most of the professionals were representatives from graduate programs at the University, though individuals from the community, military, and FBI were also present. One table was devoted to students interested in finding employment with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology.
Several factors were considered as we prepared for this event:
Space: This was our biggest concern and greatest student complaint. We had hoped the location would make it more convenient for students to attend. However, given the unexpectedly high attendance, the space limited students’ ability to move around and hear the speakers.
Professionals: Over 22 professionals were present at the event. Explicit instructions on what topics to discuss and how to prepare were communicated via email.
Marketing: A variety of marketing strategies were implemented, including: e-mail blasts, flyers, speaking to student groups, and advertising through the Career Center website.
RSVP: We created an RSVP system through Simplicity to gather student interest. About 100 students committed to the event, yet over 250 students attended.
Setup: Tables were distributed carefully to allow ample walking room.
Volunteers: The Psychology advisors, Career Center staff, and Psi Chi (the Psychology Honor Society) members worked together to help the event run smoothly.
Feedback and Suggestions
Overall, students provided us with positive feedback – 94% either agreed or strongly agreed that the event was beneficial, 83% of students felt they had gained new information about careers, and 82% enjoyed the “speed-dating” layout of the event. We were also very pleased to see that 94% indicated that they would recommend this event to others, and 85% would like to go to an event like this again the following year.
There were some indications that students would have liked more time at the event to visit tables they were unable to see. The students also provided suggestions that we will consider implementing during the next event:
Allow more space for seating and walking around
Display the career-specific table signs (e.g. Mental Health Counseling) higher so they may be read more easily at a distance
Use an alarm or bell to announce rotations
Have speakers spend more time describing an average day on the job in addition to how to obtain that job
Overall, give more time to rotate between tables and offer more rotations.
It truly was a rewarding experience to lead this event and hear from students how much they enjoyed and learned from it. One student shared, “I loved this event! I found a career that I didn't know existed. As of now, I intend on looking into the program for graduate school. I'm extremely glad I attended this event, it was highly informative.”
While Career Fairs are an excellent way for students to make connections for employment, having an informational event allows students to ask questions and hear about professionals’ experiences without the pressure of seeking employment. An event such as this one allows students to explore careers for themselves, enabling informed decision-making. In addition, it builds enthusiasm for the career exploration process in ways that traditional career events may not. As one student concluded, “I had a wonderful time and learned a lot! I will definitely come back next year and invite friends.”
Leigh Eskin, a graduate student at Florida State University, is working toward an M.S./Ed.S. in Counseling and Human Systems with a concentration in Career Counseling. A graduate of The Ohio State University with a B.A. in Psychology, Leigh currently serves as a career advisor, mock interview mentor, and career counseling intern. Upon graduation, Leigh seeks to work in the Career Counseling and Human Resources fields. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org