Questions to Ask at an Informational Interview
The following questions are intended to help you build a detailed picture of an occupation and position. Use these informational and functional questions only as a guideline. Your interview will be most effective if you come up with additional questions that reflect your genuine curiosity about the particular career.
28 Occupational Questions to Ask
- What is the title of the person you are interviewing?
- What are other commonly-used titles for the position?
- What are the duties performed during a typical day, week, month, year? Does she or he have a set routine? How much variety is there on a day-to-day basis? As the person describes the duties, ask what skills are needed.
- What educational program is recommended as preparation? Inquire about the distinction between courses which are desirable and those which are indispensable.
- What kinds of courses are most valuable in order to gain skills necessary for success in this occupation? Inquire about the distinction between courses which are desirable and those which are indispensable.
- What degree or certificate do employers look for?
- What kind of work/internship experience would employers look for in a job applicant, and how does a person obtain this experience?
- Are any co-curricular activities recommended?
- What steps ( besides meeting educational and experiential requirements) are necessary to break into this occupation (e.g., exam, interview, union membership)?
- What are the important keywords or buzz words to include in a resume or cover letter when job hunting in the field?
- What are the opportunities for advancement, and to what position? Is an advanced degree needed, and if so, in what discipline?
- Which skills are most important to acquire (i.e., which skills do employers look for)?
- What are the main, or most important, personal characteristics for success in the field?
- What are the different settings in which people in this occupation may work (i.e., educational institutions, businesses, non-profits)?
- What other kinds of workers frequently interact with this position?
- Is there evidence of differential treatment between male and female workers with respect to job duties, pay, and opportunities for advancement?
- What are the employment prospects in the advisor’s geographic area? Where are the best employment prospects? What are the employment prospects at the advisor’s company? Is mobility a necessary factor for success?
- What are some related occupations?
- What are the different salary ranges?
- Does the typical worker have a set schedule, or are the hours flexible?
- What are the demands and frustrations that typically accompany this type of work?
- Is there a typical chain of command in this field?
- How can you determine that you have the ability or potential to be successful in this specific occupation?
- Is this a rapidly growing field? Is it possible to predict future needs for workers in this field?
- What types of technology are used, and how are they used?
- Where are job listings found?
- What entry-level positions are there in this field that a liberal arts graduate might consider?
- What does the advisor know now that would have been helpful to know when she or he was in your shoes?
11 Functional Questions to Ask
- How many hours does the advisor work?
- What sort of education does the advisor have?
- What was the advisor's career path from college to present?
- What are the satisfying aspects of the advisor’s work?
- What are the greatest pressures, strains, or anxieties in the work?
- What are the major job responsibilities?
- What are the toughest problems and decisions with which the advisor must cope?
- What is most dissatisfying about the work? Is this typical of the field?
- How would the advisor describe the atmosphere/culture of the workplace?
- Does the advisor think you left out any important questions that would be helpful to learn more about the job or occupation?
- Can the advisor suggest others who may be valuable sources for you?
There’s nothing worse than asking someone to grant you an informational interview and having nothing to say. This person is sacrificing part of her day for absolutely no ostensible benefit, so you’d better make it a pleasant encounter for her, and more importantly, make her feel like she helped. (It’s a scientific fact that people will feel positively toward you if they feel they’ve done something to help you.) Please, don’t subject them to awkward silences for their informational interview questions.
Even for a casual informational interview, go in prepared with as much information as you can possibly acquire. Research the company, and even more importantly, give the person’s LinkedIn a thorough review. Find out where she went to college, where she worked before this, her full job history. If you want to ensure that you hit it off, give her a quick stalk on Twitter, find out a few of her interests and see if you can naturally work one into the initial chit-chat portion of the meeting. Making people like you (and thus, want to help you) is not rocket science.
[Read: Your Guide to Top Interview Questions and Answers]
Yes, do your research. Yes, have insightful questions prepared beforehand. Emerge with new information that could help you. But remember that informational interviews are not Q&As. They are “feel me out and see what you think so maybe you’ll like me and be inclined to help in the future” meetings. What I’m saying is: Be friendly. Be casual, but not too casual. Compliment the person without it being obvious. Crack a joke for God’s sake. Approach it almost like you would a first date: Be interested in the other person and make her like you. Now, to business.
1. I know that you [spent ten years at X before this,] but how did you start out in [this industry]?
After the small talk (don’t skip the small talk), make sure they’re aware that you’ve done your research. Phew, they’ll think. I don’t have to waste time explaining my entire career path to this idiot when it’s right there on my very public LinkedIn page. You’re already ahead of the game.
[Learn: Find Your Purpose]
2. Is there something you wish you’d known or a skill you wish you’d had starting out in [this industry]? Or Is there something you wish you had done differently starting out?
This is a question that will almost definitely get you some useful information. Always take advantage of the opportunity to learn from other people’s mistakes.
3. What’s the culture like at [this company] compared to [prior company]?
In all likelihood, this person has worked at one or more comparable companies. Take the opportunity to get a comparison from the best possible source.
4. What’s your biggest challenge in this role?
If this person’s job is one you hope to do one day, this is a great way to get a better sense of what it takes.
5. What do you dislike about this company?
Unlike a hiring manager, random employees will actually give you dirt on a company.
[Read: The Top 10 Most Interesting Interview Questions]
6. Would you mind taking a quick look at my resume?
If this person has any hand in hiring people for this company in any capacity, you want her to take a look at your resume, which you should have on hand at all times. She can point out flaws that you didn’t even know were flaws.
7. How does my experience stack up to others applying for [X level positions]?
Again, this is only if the person has any hand in hiring.
8. What type of personalities fit in best at your company?
I think this is an absolutely crucial question for any informational interview or official job interview, because certain companies have a definite “type.” And you now have the chance to find out if that type is you before you even apply.
9. What is the best way to get my foot in the door here?
Don’t let the conversation end without any tangible next steps. If you want to work at this company, ask what more you can do.
10. Is there anyone else you think I should speak to?
If your informational interviews don’t spark a trail of more people to talk to, you’re doing something wrong. (I can’t pinpoint what exactly because I don’t have all the details on the company, your work experience, or a full-length film of this meeting, but it’s definitely something.) If you hit it off, Judy should say, “You know who should talk to? Ned. Let me give you his email address.” Maybe Judy can’t help you any further, but Ned probably can. And if Ned can’t, then you’d better get Marcia’s email out of him. And so on and so forth until someone offers you an actual interview. If Judy doesn’t spontaneously offer the name of the next person in your trail, you have to ask for it.
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