Ever feel like you’re eager to make the leap into a different job or career, but unsure of where to start? An informational interview is an informal conversation with a professional, designed to provide insight into a role or industry that interests you.
In this type of interview, creating a genuine connection is key. Since you are the one seeking information, you’ll want to steer the conversation in a way that is logical and promotes natural flow. People generally like to feel special and talk about themselves, so they’ll likely open up when you express interest in learning about their life and career.
This article will guide you through the questions you should ask in an informational interview.
An informational interview can be a valuable tool when you’re interested in a particular industry, job, or person. Whether you are applying for a job, university, professional program, or starting a business, you can get a head start by chatting with someone who has gone through a similar experience. You can use this initial conversation to build relationships that may lead to future opportunities.
After you’ve decided what you need to know, and from whom, you can reach out to request an informational interview. It can be a simple Zoom call, but if you happen to be in the same place, feel free to suggest meeting for coffee or lunch. The questions below are meant to help facilitate this conversation. When you’re done with the coffee or Zoom call, e-mail them to say thank you and include a call-to-action that might be as simple as “keep in touch.”
Statistical data on the success of converting an informational interview into a job offer are rare, since this type of interview is conducted on a personal basis and informally. Anecdotally, informational interviews can lead to a job offer, but the main goal is to learn and make connections.
When navigating an informal interview, it’s important to ask the right questions to allow conversation to flow openly. If you ask open-ended questions, the interviewee may explain their trajectory and insights without you having to ask very many questions at all.
As long as you are focused on getting what you want from the informational interview, most questions, including explicitly asking about salary and benefits, are fair game. Your questions should reflect that you’ve done all the possible research and that speaking to them was the only way to obtain other more abstract details. Always aim to express your enthusiasm to learn from them and your gratitude for their time.
This question starts off the interview on a high note, filling in the gaps and decisions that factored into their career choices that cannot be gleaned from a LinkedIn page. It shows you did your research and are aware of where they were educated, where they work now, and what position(s) they currently hold. It invites the person to share relevant details about key milestones that got them to where they are today.
Follow-up question: Did you feel it was necessary to [get a master’s degree, complete a bootcamp, stay at the same job for five years, get a mentor, etc.]?
Asking why this person chose this path can be a jumping-off point for building a connection. They might discuss how someone in their life inspired them to follow their passions from an early age, or they might explain that their trajectory was merely a series of timely opportunities and calculated risks. At this point, you can decide whether to continue this discussion of your aligned passions or steer the conversation toward how you can achieve a similar path.
Follow-up question: What do you predict for the future of [role or industry]?
This question demystifies what they actually do on a daily or weekly basis—the concrete, actionable things they do each day. Sometimes, a job or industry can seem glamorous or interesting from the outside, but the day-to-day duties are actually tedious or dull. It might not align with your preferred work (or study) style or provide the fulfillment you imagined this path could offer you.
Follow-up question: What are the most rewarding and most challenging parts of your job?
At this point in the conversation, you’ll have a solid understanding of their trajectory and how this person achieved their goals. In addition to learning what skills you need, you’ll learn how you can build yours from where you are. Perhaps your interviewee attended an in-person coding bootcamp, but they know others who succeeded by taking an online course and creating a portfolio to land their first job. At times, you may find that you possess all the skills you need and simply need to reframe your resume to strategically position yourself to the right companies.
Follow-up question: How can I break into [role or industry] with my current qualifications?
Nearing the end of the interview, this question can help you make the most of this new connection you’ve made—by speaking to more people that you wouldn’t have had access to before meeting this person. This opens you up to potential networking opportunities to gain even more comprehensive and targeted insights.
Follow-up question: What are your favorite podcasts, blogs, magazines, or professional organizations related to [role or industry]?
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