14 Questions to Ask at the Informational Interview
When you’re considering a new career, then knowing everything you can about the position can help you in the transition. Information is what makes us make good decisions. So, how to find this information?
You want to talk to the people who are already working a similar career path to what you want and those people who used to have the same position. By conducting an informational interview, you learn more about the career and gain that valuable information to help you on your journey.
So, what’s an informational interview and what kind of questions should you ask when conducting one? Well, the first answer is simple. An informational interview is a casual conversation you have with someone to gain information on your chosen topic.
And what are the questions to ask to make the most of it? Well, below are 14 of the most important questions you must ask during the informational interview.
1. HOW DID YOU START OUT IN THE INDUSTRY/COMPANY?
This is a good starter question because it shows your interest in the person and not just the information they have. “What did you find so interesting in industry X?” is a good small talk question.
You show the person you’re interested in hearing what makes them tick. The interview starts with the right tone – a friendly and conversational rather than a demand by you for the other person to tell everything.
Of course, this isn’t just about chatter. The answer can also help you see what different people find interesting about the career – perhaps they were drawn in by something you haven’t even thought about yet. You get a nice amount of context to help you further in the conversation.
2. WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON ENTRY POSITION TO GET INTO THE FIELD/INDUSTRY?
While you should always do research into your chosen field in terms of general qualifications and career paths, you can use the informational interview to check how much you already know. You want to have an idea on how to get into the industry but then check if your interviewee thinks the same way.
Knowing how to enter a career doesn’t mean it’s the only route. Therefore, when you ask about the common entry positions, you might actually end up with unexpected information. For instance, the person might say, “Well, as you might know, most start on the stock floor but surprisingly, a lot of my colleagues actually were in banking first”.
A question like this helps you to understand the basics of the industry. But occasionally, you might also learn something new or surprising!
3. WHAT PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE HAS HELPED YOU THE MOST?
You can dig deeper into the requirements of the role by examining the person’s career path. You shouldn’t attend the informational interview without having an understanding of the person’s career path up to this point.
You can simply look at their LinkedIn page and see how they’ve gotten to the position they are in – the education they have obtained and the roles they’ve worked in.
But you can then ask about this route and see which specific jobs or courses they point out as the most important. You might learn about the common things like having a specific degree and so on. But the person might also point out interesting things like taking a gap year because it taught them about leadership and so on.
The experiences they mention can help you prepare for the role. You can find similar experiences in your past to highlight in the application or pursue certain routes that might benefit you.
4. WHAT IS THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOUR PREVIOUS ROLE AT X TO YOUR ROLE HERE AT Y?
As mentioned, you should be aware of the general work history of the person you’re talking to. Now, ask them about the specific route. You want to know if they realized their job X was the wrong choice and so how did they get to job Y. Perhaps they think moving from job X was necessary for gaining job Y.
More importantly, if they are holding similar jobs but at different companies, you really want to pay attention to their answer. Why did they change companies? What is better or worse in the current role?
You must understand that they probably don’t want to talk bad about their past or current employer. You’re not there to dig dirt, so to speak. You simply want to get some insights into differences between companies and the way they operate. Your career path might not always take you directly to your dream company so it’s a good idea to learn more about the different options out there.
5. WHAT DO YOU LIKE/DISLIKE THE MOST ABOUT YOUR ROLE?
Of course, it’s crucial to understand the person’s motivations and to figure out if your career desires and motivations fall within those. The big question is what do they most love or like about the job.
This is important because it might teach you something new or interesting about the role. Perhaps they enjoy a menial task like being able to do a lot of organizing in the role.
Maybe the person enjoys the fact that they meet lots of people. Whatever it is, you can see whether the aspect might be something you’d enjoy or not.
Not everything in a job is likeable and people do often find certain aspects annoying or challenging. You should also ask about these least favorite parts of the role. The answers will, again, reveal a lot – perhaps you wouldn’t even find those parts a negative aspect!
6. WHAT IS THE MOST SURPRISING/UNUSUAL THING ABOUT YOUR DAY-TO-DAY WORK?
When you examine career guides and job profiles, even on company websites, you often get a generic view of the role and position.
The truth is, the same role can look different in different companies and there are many things people in those positions might do that you haven’t thought about. Asking about the actual day-to-day live in the job can be very revealing.
You want to dig deeper and really get an idea what the mundane things look like. So ask the person to tell about the so-called boring stuff they do every day. This ensures you understand what your days might look like aside from the bigger things that appeal to you.
7. WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY IN YOUR CAREER PATH?
We all make mistakes and have regrets. The beauty of mistakes is, however, that you and others can learn from them. Therefore, it’s a good idea to ask if the person your interviewing has any big regrets – any insights into what you definitely shouldn’t do.
It doesn’t have to be anything huge. Perhaps the person hopes they would have learned to code earlier or taken language classes. Maybe they feel they should have been hungrier and asked for a promotion earlier.
All these little things can help you understand the path and to avoid making those same mistakes with your career.
8. WHERE DO YOU SEE THE ROLE/INDUSTRY HEADING IN THE NEXT 10 YEARS?
Many of today’s jobs didn’t look quite the same a decade or two ago. Technology has changed a lot and things like AI, machine learning and so on will continue to transform careers and the wider society.
So you want to get an idea where your ideal career and industry might be heading to prepare for it and to know if you even like the direction.
A person working in the industry will know more about the changes that are on the horizon. They will be able to make judgements and predictions that you can then use as guidance when thinking about the appeal of the industry.
This information is not only good in terms of figuring out whether you’d still enjoy the job in 10 years time. It also helps you in preparation – you can shine at the job interview because you have inside ideas on the direction of the sector.
9. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BEST WAYS TO STAY ON TOP OF THE INDUSTRY?
Information is power and you will never stop learning. Each industry has a lot of special publications, blogs, people and so on you should follow to learn more about it. You can ask about these from the person and get on top of what’s happening.
This kind of information will help you in two ways. First, you learn about new resources that might help you decide whether this career path is for you.
But you will also get the opportunity to prepare for the role or others in the industry. You learn more and so you can excel in the interview.
10. WHAT TYPE OF PERSONALITY WOULD BEST FIT THE COMPANY?
Companies have their specific company culture and this results in them often picking certain types of personalities. For example, a company with a strict hierarchical culture needs to have personalities who don’t reject authority but excel in it. Learning about company culture and the kind of person who excels in the environment is important.
Now, this isn’t just an important question to ask when you’re specifically interested in a specific company.
This can also give you insight into the role in general and the kind of personalities who do well in that job. You get an idea of the ‘right fit’ and this helps you in the application process – especially, of course, if you choose to pursue a career in that particular company.
11. CAN YOU LOOK AT MY RESUME AND GIVE SOME TIPS?
Always have your updated resume with you when you’re meeting people for professional purposes! It can be a valuable ‘business card’ to hand out to people and it’s especially crucial to have it with you at an informational interview.
Ask if the person would be willing to look at your resume and give tips. Perhaps they know the format you’re using is not the best for this particular industry or they think you’re not highlighting the right skills. Any advice they can give can be valuable in terms of your application process.
In some instances, the person might be impressed with the interest you’ve shown and the skills you have that they want to take the resume and give it to the HR department in their company! Things like this can happen so don’t forget about this important part of networking.
12. WHAT IS THE BEST CAREER ADVICE YOU’RE RECEIVED?
As mentioned at the start, you don’t want the interview just to be about your ambitions and hunger for information. You can show your appreciation and interest toward the other person by asking them this question.
The answer is not necessarily going to be directly linked to the role or the industry. But it will, nonetheless, act as a professional tip, from one person to another. You learn what they think is the most important thing to keep in mind in terms of being professionally satisfied.
The question will always help in a networking sense because it creates a deeper connection between you and the person. So always ask it – perhaps at the end of the interview.
13. WHAT ARE THE BEST WAYS TO PREPARE FOR THIS ROLE?
You want the informational interview to give you a good idea on whether you’d like to pursue this career path or not. If the answer is to go for it, you want to start your preparations. You want to ask the person for tips on what are the specific actions you should take.
Perhaps you should take a specific course or maybe there is someone else you could talk to in order to prepare. The person can provide you with valuable help in identifying the preparing steps and getting your hands in on valuable information on the application processes within the field.
14. WHO COULD I TALK TO ABOUT THE ROLE FOR MORE INFORMATION?
A big part of informational interviews is to network with the right people. The person you’re talking to might have a lot of valuable information but they might also know someone who actually has more information.
In fact, you don’t always have to talk to people with the exact job you want but rather find those who can direct you to those people first.
Don’t forget to thank the person for the valuable information but also to check if they know anyone who might be able to still help you. Perhaps they know someone in another company or someone who did the exact same career move. Whatever contact details you get, always use them!
NAILING YOUR INFORMATION INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
The above 14 questions will be beneficial to you when you’re meeting up with someone. They will help you understand whether the career or industry might be for you and help you in preparing for the career move.
Now, when you are conducting an informational interview and talking to people, you should remember three key things during the interview:
|Research the person/company/role||Focus on the information you want to know||Use the opportunity to network|
|Don’t walk into the interview without any background research. You should have a basic understanding of the person’s work history, what the role is like and what the company is doing. This is about getting a deeper insight and hearing personal stories and opinions, not a Google search!|
|The whole point is to clear any questions/queries you might have. Don’t ask about money if you don’t care or waste time talking about education qualifications if you really don’t care to know. Think before what you actually want to know about the role or industry. Otherwise, you’re wasting everyone’s time.|
|The information might not be the world’s most insightful. You might not learn that much valuable information. But you always make a connection so use the interview to network. Especially in terms of growing your network!|
With these tips in mind and the 14 questions in your head, you can walk into an informational interview with confidence and focus. You’ll be able to get a better insight into a career or industry that might turn out to be your dream career!
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