Informational interviews are a great way to help you get a leg up on what it’s really like to work somewhere. They can even help you land an actual interview. Whether you’re newly on the job market, trying to get a new job or trying to change careers, informational interviews are a wonderful opportunity to learn and build relationships.
Getting an informational interview requires that you first find someone willing to spend a little bit of time with you. Asking your personal and professional network to connect you with someone who can spend 30 minutes with you is typically a great way to start. You can also use tools like LinkedIn to help you identify people who may be a good fit for an informational interview.
Once you get someone to agree to talk on the phone or have coffee with you, be sure to respect their time and ask them intelligent questions. If you want to get the information you’re looking for and impress the person who's taking the time to help you out, here are 13 interviewing questions to ask:
1. “Can you tell me why you chose to go into your industry / company”?
Trying to understand why someone went into a particular field or job will help you ascertain whether the position may also be a good fit for you. If you’re looking to earn a lot of money, quickly, for example, and find out that most of the people who are in a particular field don’t go into it for that reason, it may help you avoid disappointment.
2. “What would you tell someone who wants to get into your field or into a role like yours?”
An open-ended question like this allows the person you’re interviewing to express themselves outside-the-box. You may learn surprising things about what it’s like to be in their position or work at their company. You may also hear some helpful career advice!
3. “What do you think are the most important traits or qualities of someone who wants to be successful in your position?”
Almost every profession is better suited for certain personality types compared to others. Asking this question can help you figure out what kinds of people will most likely succeed in this type of job or within this industry.
4. “What is the best way to apply for a position in your department?”
Sometimes, you may want to use an informational interview as an excuse to try to get a leg in the door. You may be interested in what they have to say about their job and industry but it can be a low-key way to network with someone one-on-one.
5. “Would you mind looking at my resume and giving me feedback on how to improve it?”
You’ve probably heard that some resumes get very little attention from recruiters (sometimes as little as 6 seconds of a glance!). Therefore, it’s important to tailor your resume to a specific job opening or company. If you have your resume with you during your informational interview, you can decide to ask for feedback on the spot, or you can wait until after your informational interview and any edits you want to make to it based on your conversation and learnings.
6. “Is there anyone else you think I should meet in order for me to understand this industry better?”
Sometimes the person you’ve got an informational interview with is the best person to speak about the specific questions you have about a job or industry, and other times, they’re providing context and information about a prior job or at a level of seniority that may be a bit removed from what you’re looking to do. In these cases, it never hurts to ask for references to other people who may be closer to the actual position you’re interested in. Plus, you never know if they may actually introduce you to someone who is hiring or in recruiting / HR.
7. “What is the typical career path for someone who wants your job?”
If you’re very new to an industry or trying to change careers, you may want some guidance about how to map out a longer term career plan to break into a particular field. This question allows you to understand whether there is a certain ‘path’ into a particular company or role that you may not realize exists. For example, some positions may be open to MBA holders only, and may be filled typically straight out of business school.
8. “What do you think makes this company different than others in the same industry?”
Say you are going into a field where there are a lot of different companies, like accounting or finance. From the outside, it can seem that many of these companies are similar. Asking a question about this will help you identify whether certain employers are a better culture fit for you. You can also ascertain differences in prestige or pay that may come with working for different players in the same industry.
9. “What career options are available once you get to your level in your career?”
If you’re into long-term planning for your career, you may want to have a sense of what happens once you reach the higher levels of seniority in a particular job or company. For example, if you’re asking yourself what happens once you’ve practiced corporate law at a big firm for 7 years, you would learn about what percentage of those attorneys stay on to become partner, compared to those who work in-house at client companies.
10. “I’m trying to decide on Job X or Y (or to study A or B in school). Do you think one is better if I want a career in your field?”
If you’re in school or starting out as a new graduate in the workforce, you may want to know what you can do to maximize the chances you’ll get that first internship or job interview. Having a certain major or taking a certain kind of job right out of school can increase your odds of breaking into a different industry down the line and it’s good to get the longer-term perspective from someone during an informational interview if they’ve seen different approaches to getting to the same job.
11. “What do you think the prospects are for someone entering your field / line of work today? Are there more or fewer opportunities than when you started working in it?”
Technology and market forces are shaping a lot of job opportunities for the future so that it may become harder to get a certain kind of position or get paid the way you want to get paid in certain industries. If you want to work in an industry that’s changing rapidly, e.g. publishing, retail or technology, you will want to hear about what your prospects are in the future.
12. “What’s the culture of your company or industry?”
If you’re new to an industry or company, it’s always good to hear from an insider about what it’s really like to work somewhere. It’s always good to get a first-hand account and be able to ask questions to ascertain whether the culture of a company would be a good fit for you.
13. “What would you do differently if you had to do it again?”
If you’ve landed an informational interview with someone who has a lot of experience, or whose achievements you greatly respect, you may want to close with this open-ended question to find out whether there’s any nuggets of wisdom that may come from a question that asks for your interviewer to reflect on their career. You never know: it might save you making a common mistake or help you stand out against a crowded field of applicants for a job!
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