8 June, 2021
By Mike Simpson
In the world of career research, informational interviews are incredibly powerful – and often underutilized – tools. They give you a chance to get the insight scoop about a job, career path, or employer, all directly from someone who knows what’s up. Almost nothing else makes all of that possible.
The thing is, if you want to make the most of these opportunities, there’s one thing you need to get right: your list of questions to ask in an informational interview. After all, you don’t have forever to find out what you need to know, so you need to be ready to get down to it.
So, if you want to make sure you’re prepared, here’s what you need to know about questions to ask during an informational interview.
What Is an Informational Interview?
Alright, it’s usually best to start with the basics, and, in this case, nothing is more basic than talking about what an informational interview even is.
First, understand that it isn’t a job interview. Your goal for the discussion should never be to land a position by the end of it. Instead, it’s all about learning more about the position, company, industry, and the like.
In the simplest sense, an informational interview is a conversation between a potential job seeker and a professional that is working in their target role or field, or at a preferred employer.
Alright, you’re probably wondering, “If informational interviews are mostly just a conversation, do I really need to prepare? Can’t I just, well, talk?” Sure, you could do that, but it isn’t the best approach.
Calling an informational interview “just a conversation” isn’t quite right. Since you have a chance to pick and choose the questions you’ll ask, it’s a bit more strategic than just having a chat.
Yes, the discussion may flow organically, but you’ll also spend quite a bit of time steering it, ensuring you can find out what you need to know.
Plus, it’s an opportunity to forge a stronger connection with someone who could be an asset to your network, serve as a mentor, or may, in the end (but not today), help you land a job. After all, up to 80 percent of jobs are filled through networking, so having a new connection is always a good thing.
By creating a list of questions to ask in an informational interview, you end up with a conversation cheat sheet. It helps you stay on target and ensures you cover all of the details you want to know. Otherwise, there’s a chance to might forget something important, and since you may only get one shot at the discussion, that is something you want to avoid.
Additionally, by preparing in advance, you can make sure that you tailor what you ask to the person or situation. For example, if you’re trying to decide between two potential job options, you might not want to ask the same questions of each person you interview. Instead, you want to focus on their specific role, and that could mean having different questions at the ready.
Similarly, you’ll want to use a different approach if you’re trying to figure out if an employer is right for you than if you want to see if a career path is the best fit. With those, you don’t actually have the same goal, so the questions should reflect that.
For example, while you may want to find out about a company’s culture if you’re considering them as an employer, that isn’t necessary if you’re focusing on whether a career path is right for you. Similarly, asking a person why they choose a particular field is wise if you’re thinking about heading in the same professional direction, but it isn’t necessary if learning more about the company is your main goal.
It’s also important to realize that informational interviews are usually somewhat brief. In most cases, you aren’t going to get more than about 30 minutes of the person’s time, give or take. If you don’t have a good list of questions to ask during an informational interview at the ready, you may have trouble focusing, causing you to waste time on topics that aren’t helpful.
And there’s one more thing you need to keep in mind: informational interviews aren’t about you. While you can certainly let the person know your motivation for speaking with them, try to keep it brief.
In the end, you want to spend most of the meeting encouraging them to share information with you. That way, you can learn as much as possible and, hopefully, make a vital decision about the future direction of your career.
Top 25 Questions to Ask in an Informational Interview
Alright, now it’s time for what you’ve been waiting for: the top questions to ask in an informational interview.
Why are these top questions? Well, because they can help you gather all kinds of information.
Most of the best questions to ask during an informational are open-ended. This gives the interviewee room to share their opinion, talk about their experiences, and really dive into how they feel about their career or employer.
If you ask closed questions – like those that only require a “yes” or “no” answer – you might not get as much out of the experience as you’d hoped. Not everyone you interview will choose to expand upon that initial “yes” or “no,” which isn’t ideal. That’s why it’s better to stick with open-ended ones.
It’s also important to realize that this isn’t an interrogation. Don’t be too forceful, and don’t dig deeper than is appropriate. Also, if the person you’re speaking with says they can’t comment on a topic, move on. If that happens, there’s probably a good reason, and pressing won’t win you any fans.
As we mentioned before, you want to tailor what you ask to the person or situation, as well. That means you won’t need to ask all of these questions during the meeting, as they won’t all align with your main goal.
Additionally, you may need to ask questions that you won’t find on this list. These questions to ask during an informational interview aren’t company- or position-specific, ensuring they have broad appeal. That means you’ll want to add a few of your own to really tailor the interview to the occasion.
With that in mind, here are the top 25 questions to ask in an informational interview:
- Can you tell me about your career path and how you landed in your current role?
- What does your typical workday look like?
- What are your core responsibilities?
- How would you describe the company’s culture?
- How does your position fit within the organization?
- What impact does your role have on the company’s mission?
- Are there any emerging trends in the field that I should be aware of?
- Why did you choose this career path over other options? Which other paths did you consider before moving in this direction?
- Do you feel well-supported by management and your colleagues?
- What do you enjoy most about where you work? What about least?
- Is there anything about working in this field (or with this company) that you find frustrating?
- How did you first launch your career?
- What do you appreciate most about your job and field? Is there anything you don’t enjoy?
- Which skills do you feel are most valuable to people who want to pursue a job like yours?
- How did you find out about the vacancy for the role you currently have?
- If I wanted to stand out as a candidate at this company, what would be the best way to do that?
- Which skills and traits do you feel were most valuable to your success?
- What are some of the biggest challenges that you face in this role or field (or at this company)?
- What has been most rewarding about working in the job (or for this company)?
- If you could give a person one piece of advice before they pursue a job in this field (or at this company), what would it be and why?
- Is there anything about your career (or working at this company) that caught you off guard?
- Where do you see your career heading in the next five years?
- How does your company stand out from its competitors as an employer?
- Are there any other sources of information about the job / career path / company that you recommend I check out?
- Are there any questions that I didn’t ask that I should be?
5 Questions to Avoid Asking in an Informational Interview
While all of the questions above can be excellent additions to your informational interview, there are also quite a few questions that you should consider off-limits. In some cases, they are simply too personal. Others may seem pushy, presumptuous, intrusive, or unprofessional.
An inappropriate question can completely derail the experience. If it’s off-putting enough, the person you’re speaking with may end the meeting right there. Additionally, word may travel that you were out of line, and that could make it harder to expand your network, land new jobs, and more.
Ultimately, while you want to gather critical insights, you also need to make sure you make a good impression. After all, this is a person who may be able to open doors for you down the road or could become a valuable source of career guidance. You don’t want to put that at risk.
Is this an all-inclusive list of questions you don’t want to ask in an informational interview? Not even close. However, it does give you a solid idea of what topics should be off-limits.
So, with that in mind, here are five questions you should avoid asking during an informational interview:
- How much money do you make?
- Could you check out my resume and give me tips on how to improve it?
- What new products or services does the company have in the development pipeline?
- Could you introduce me to your boss?
- Can you get me a job?
Putting It All Together
Ultimately, informational interviews are great tools. By having a list of great questions to ask in an informational interview, you can take the meeting to the next level. You’ll learn a ton, making it easier to decide if a job, career path, or employer is right for you.
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