Informational Interview Questions

By now, you’re pretty much a networking pro. You’ve connected with other professionals on LinkedIn, attended a few events – asking the right questions to spark a conversation – and now you’ve landed an informational interview.

You’ve done the hard part, now it’s time to sit back and relax, right?

Not so fast.

Before you meet, you’ll need to brainstorm informational interview questions. Someone has given up their time for you – asking nothing in return – so it’s critical you prepare. He or she wants to leave knowing they have helped you, so the worst thing you can do is show up with nothing to say. Even if it’s a casual informational interview, make sure you do your research beforehand and use the information you’ve gathered about the company and the person’s history to craft insightful informational interview questions.

To get started, here are eleven intelligent informational interview questions that’ll enlighten you – and impress your interviewee.

1. Is There Anything You Wish You Would’ve Known Before Starting out in the Industry?

You have a blank canvas on which to map out a bright and brilliant career. It’s not going to be perfect, obviously, but you can make sure it’s the best version of itself by asking a seasoned vet for a bit of advice.

This question will give you so much information about what you can expect in an entry-level job. You can dig deeper and ask if there are any skills your interviewee would suggest you have upon starting, too, so the transition is a lot smoother.

2. What Do You Like Best About the Industry? What Would You Change?

In a traditional interview, you’re selling yourself to an employer while he or she attempts to sell the company to you. Fortunately, an informational interviewee can be a bit franker regarding industry- and company-related opinions.

This question is a great one to have in your holster because it’s sure to generate good conversation. It’s important to remember that no job will be perfect and you’re sure to have your own grievances once you land a position. The positives, however, should be enough to show you that you can — and will — be able to look past them.

3. How Can I Use My Experience to Get Into the Field?

Here’s a great question for industry-hoppers hoping to leverage one set of skills in order to prove they can handle something new. There will be lots of opportunity to hop from field to field, too, since the average worker will have 10 to 15 jobs in his or her lifetime.

With a professional sitting in front of you, you can learn how to market the skills you have to other potential employers. You might even do such a good job that he or she short-lists you for an upcoming opening!

4. What Does an Average Work Day Entail?

Unless your informational interview includes a job shadow, you won’t get to see your contact on the job. The next best thing will be to ask what it’s really like. We can glamorize jobs in our heads or even undercut the amount of excitement they actually entail.

This is, again, a great way to find out if you’re a fit for an entry-level position. If the typical day sounds like something you could handle or aspire to, then you’re barking up the right tree as far as employment goes.

Follow up by asking about their biggest challenges, or even their biggest successes. If you want to follow in their footsteps, this is a great question to find out what it takes.

5. Are There Any Technological Advances I Should Know About? How Are They Shaping the Industry?

Imagine if farm workers in the 1900s had known that, one day, machines would come along and render their manual labor useless. Only 2 percent of the country worked in agriculture in 2000, as compared to 41 percent in 1900.

You probably aren’t interviewing to be a farmer — and you likely won’t have to worry about an industrial revolution endangering your job — but it is good to ask about any new technology that would be helpful to know before you apply for a job in your field. If anything, technology makes white-collar workers more marketable and better at what they’re doing, so ask away and then study up.

6. What Type of Personality Tends to Fit in With Your Office Culture?

If you’re interviewing someone from your dream company, you have to ask this question. You’ll get an idea of what the culture is like — is everyone friendly and are they friends in real life? — and you can portray yourself in the right light when you apply. On the other hand, if there’s not much culture to be discussed, then you might find yourself reconsidering your list of potential employers.

7. What’s the Best Way to Get My Foot in the Door?

You’re sitting with a professional whose career path you admire, don’t leave without next steps. There’s no shame in asking for advice in this step, either. How did your contact get his or her job? What would he or she have done differently? Soak up that wisdom and hone your search afterward.

8. How Does Your Job Affect Your Life Outside of the Office?

There’s more to life than work, even though Americans work an average of 34.4 hours a week. A work-life balance is incredibly important, though, so this question will give you a better idea of what your situation will be like.

You’ll probably find that entry-level employees really work hard to earn their keep. Don’t let this scare you off, though. Once you prove yourself a worthy employee, you’ll likely move onward and upward, like your interviewee has. At the very least, you’ll be prepared for the demands of the job for which you hope to apply.

9. What Resources or Organizations Should I Follow?

So many industries have their own trade magazines, unions and networking events. Even if you don’t have the credentials yet, you can likely still participate and soak up a ton of knowledge on the field. If you’re chatting with someone higher up in your field, he or she is likely involved in these local meetings and events and can let you know when the next one is happening, where to sign up, etc. It won’t hurt to have a familiar face around when you go, either.

10. Would You Choose This Job If You Could Do It All Over Again?

Who doesn’t like a bit of inspiration as they head out into the working world? Your interviewee will likely reassure you of the merits of the field that you’re entering. Even if you’ve discussed the downsides and hiccups along the way, ending on a positive note will leave you even more confident in your choice and more determined in your search than ever before.

11. Could You Recommend Any Other Contacts for Me?

You don’t have to stop after a single informational interview — we live in an information-laden world, after all. Your first informational interview could lead to others, and you have now built a great point of contact to lead you to them.

Let your conversation dictate when you ask. Perhaps your interviewee will mention a friend who took a different career path that interests you or a fellow employee whose background matches yours. At that point, mention you’d like to set up another session and voila — a wider network and another chance to get more information and, potentially, a job.
 

A Bigger Network Equals…

A February 2016 study by the Adler Group and LinkedIn revealed that 85 percent of jobs are filled via networking, and that includes workers actively seeking jobs and those who find out about an opportunity through their networks. By conducting an informational interview, you’re getting the information you want and the face time you need in order to make an impression. Who knows? You might be short-listed for a job in the future because of your proactivity alone. Even if that doesn’t work out, you will be a better person and potential employee for understanding a bit more about how the industry works.

 

How did you leverage an informational interview to your benefit? What questions would you add to the list? Please let us know in the comments before you subscribe to the job search newsletter to get all the Punched Clocks advice.

 

Photo Credit: Nirzar Pangarkar

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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