Informational Interviews: What Should I Ask?

Career Myths and Mysteries

By Marti Benjamin, MBA

Professional Certified Coach | Certified Career Management Coach

Certified Professional Résumé Writer

One of the best ways to learn about an industry, position or company is to talk with someone on the inside. The purpose of this conversation is not to ask for a job, but to learn about the role, industry or company from the viewpoint of a person in that particular job.

Even though you won’t be asking for a job in this conversation, it’s crucial that you approach this as a career-enhancing interview. Be prepared.

  • Do your homework. Research the company: know what they produce or sell, how they differentiate themselves in a competitive landscape, their major initiatives or contracts, what they claim to stand for (i.e., their values and culture).
  • Look the part. Dress for an interview, even if your meeting is taking place in a coffee shop. Sit and stand tall and project confidence (not arrogance) and friendliness.
  • Use your interview time well. Most people are busy and have more on their to-do list than they can ever hope to complete. After about 30 minutes, check with the interviewer to see if they need to conclude the meeting or if they are free to spend more time with you. Watch for clues that they’re ready to end the conversation, things like fidgeting, checking the time or being distracted.
  • Create your list of questions beforehand. Don’t rely on the person you’re interviewing to tell you what you need to know.

Below are sample informational interview questions to get the conversation started and add to your knowledge about a potential career direction. Modify these questions to fit your own voice, but keep them open-ended (requiring more than a yes or no response).

  1. How do you measure success in this field? Is it on the basis of projects, education, certification or training completed, years of experience or something else?
  2. How did you break into this industry (or company, or position)?
  3. How are most positions in this field filled—through networking or through the company’s formal hiring process? Where should I concentrate my attention?
  4. What are the ‘must follow’ websites, professional groups and industry leaders that I should be monitoring to learn about developments in the industry (or company)?
  5. Are there particular LinkedIn discussion groups or professional Facebook pages I should join to monitor the industry (or company)? Which have you found to be most useful?
  6. What are some tips or suggestions you can offer, given the skills I have today and the career targets I’ve set?
  7. Which of my current skills will serve me well in this field?
  8. How do you see this industry (or position, or company) changing over the next five years?
  9. Given my background, what would be a reasonable salary expectation for me as I transition into this field/industry?
  10. What work or volunteer experience should I gain to more easily transition into this field (or company)?

Like a traditional job interview, it’s important to follow an informational meeting with a thank-you note, expressing gratitude for the time, support and useful information shared. Send your note within 24 hours by either snail mail or email.

You can also invite the person you’ve interviewed to connect with you on LinkedIn or other professional social media. Build the relationship through regular contact and serving as a resource.  Keep it professional, always.

Marti Benjamin inspires great work-lives in her career and business coaching practice. While enjoying the best possible job in the world for herself, she guides her clients to find the work that fits them perfectly. Her systems have led clients from fed-up and frustrated to fulfilled in their work-life. www.CareerFromHere.com, www.BusinessEnergetix.com.

 

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