Compelling Conversations logo

Compelling Conversations for English Teachers, Tutors, and Advanced English Language Learners

Informational Interviews Help ESOL Students Succeed and Connect to Jobs

March 1, 2013 by Eric

“If you don’t know where you’re going, you will probably end up somewhere else.” – Dr. Laurence J. Peter (1919-1990), Canadian-American educator

How do you find good jobs in a bad economy? What job search technique is widely taught and practiced at elite private universities, but seldom used at community colleges, adult schools, and high schools? Why do I consider informational interviews an essential skill and outstanding capstone assignment for many English classes?

This Saturday I will again be demonstrating how ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers can add informational interviews to their curriculum and classrooms at the 2013 LA Regional CATESOL Conference.  The large conference, hosted by the USC TESOL Society, will be held on the beautiful USC campus where I also teach international students. As regular blog readers know, informational interviews allow adult, high school, and university students to develop their oral skills, expand their vocational vocabulary, and explore a potential career in a real world context. At USC, I require students to sign up for the Trojan Network, an amazing professional network of USC alumni who have offered to speak with USC students about their career paths. Of course, this network gives students far more social capital than most ESOL students. Further, I can videotape the 8-10 minute student presentations that summarize their informational interviews with classmates, and post the videos on a class website. These social and technological aspects make the informational interview assignments popular and practical. Yet even within these outstanding conditions, the informational interview assignment requires English teachers to carefully scaffold the long, multifaceted assignment into smaller parts for maximum effectiveness.

Can ESL teachers – working with fewer social and technological resources – still make informational interviews work for the English language learners in their classes? How? I will share my observations and suggestions, based on teaching inner city high school students, directing an adult education center, and working with community college students in my presentation. I will also ask participants to identify the barriers and brainstorm together on approaches to expand the social network of immigrants and international students in Los Angeles.

If you teach English now or hope to teach English in the future and live in the Los Angeles area, please consider joining us for this large conference on March 2. I will be giving two presentations -Informational Interviews Help ESOL Students Succeed and Connect to Jobs-  at 10:00 – and another at 1:00 titled “Flip Your Classroom with Search and Share Fluency Activities.” Both will last 45-minutes and include many reproducible handouts for English teachers.  I hope to meet some of you in person.  So far, over 350 English teachers and future English teachers have registered and the conference could easily exceed 500 English language professionals if onsite registrations matches expectations.

The all-day professional development teacher’s conference will go from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM and offers a wide range of activities, workshops, panel discussions, and large publishers’ exhibit hall in Tudor Campus Center.  The four  different time slots of concurrent sessions and workshops allow CATESOL members to select from a rich menu of engaging alternatives. The publishers’ exhibit hall in the modern Ronald Tudor Campus Center should also attract a large audience of educators and TESOL students. Finally, the conference includes 12 poster and technology sessions, and 11 interest group/level “rap sessions” for candid discussions of professional issues facing English teachers. Members and non-members are both welcome to attend, and students enjoy a significant discount on the conference cost of $65.  For more information, including a 52-page conference program with detailed descriptions of events, go to

For readers unable to attend, I will be posting some materials online later. Meanwhile, you can explore this list of resources on informational interviews that can be used to introduce and deploy informational interviews.  KQED, the public radio and television station in San Francisco, has produced an outstanding collection of nine workplace videoclips for adult ESL and community college students called Work Voices. The short clips profile immigrant workers in a wide variety of work environments such as hospitals, restaurants, health clinics, salons, and colleges. This accessible series illuminates how informational interviews can be used beyond elite private universities – and how students already know people they can interview.

Both the UCLA Career Center and University of Berkeley promote informational interviews for their students. I’m particularly fond of the concise, snappy summary on Explore Careers page from the UCLA Career Center – even if UCLA and USC remain friendly cross town rivals.  You can also use the video Conducting an Informational Interview to establish the fundamentals of conducting an informational interview for adult ESL and community college ESL students. Finally, the aptly titled Five Tips for Non-Awkward Informational Interview addresses some of the hesitations of older students in a casual, friendly style. English teachers have to, in many cases, encourage and cajole slightly timid students beyond their limited experiences to go on informational interviews.

Naturally, many students hope to find job leads from their informational interviews even if the rules of the game prohibit asking for a job. While there’s an argument for assigning the informational interview before job interviews, I recommend using mock job interviews first because students are both more familiar with the task and it requires less independence.  (Here’s the chapter of potential job interview questions from Compelling Conversations that I created for community college, adult education, and university students.) Yet pushing students to call strangers, set up an informational interview, and summarize their conversation makes this off-campus assignment both practical and vital. From my perspective, the informational interview remains the almost perfect capstone assignment because it verifies that students are ready to be act independently and develop their workplace skills- in English – and move toward their professional ambitions.

Bottomline: Informational interviews really do help ESL students succeed and connect to jobs.

Ask more. Know more. Share more.

Create Compelling Conversations.