Adobe Stock / Stephen Coburn
Informational interviews are a great way to help you get a leg up on what it’s really like to work somewhere. Whether you’re a new job seeker or trying to change career paths, interviews that utilize informational interview questions are a wonderful opportunity to learn vital skills and build relationships.
Once you get someone to agree to a meeting — either on the phone or over coffee — be sure to respect their time and ask them intelligent questions. If you want to get the information you’re looking for to nail your next job interview and impress the person who's taking the time to help you out, here are 13 interview questions to ask.
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. You can also find out if their goals line up with your goals, making it clear if this is the 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.
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!
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.
Sometimes, you may want to use an informational interview as an excuse to try to get a leg in the door and speed up your job search. 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.
As a job seeker, you’ve probably heard that some resumes get very little attention from recruiters (sometimes as little as six 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 your interviewee for feedback on the spot, or you can wait until after your informational interview and add any edits you want to make to it based on the conversation and learnings you had during the meeting.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 the conversation with this open-ended question to find out whether there are 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!
Informational interviews are a great way to give you confidence in your job search. They can even help you land an actual interview.
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 good at asking you informational interview questions, priming you to be the best interviewee you can be.
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