Questions for Informational Interviews

Informational interviews are critical to a successful job search.  Many job seekers don’t do them at all which puts them at a significant disadvantage in the search and others do not do them well so they miss a valuable opportunity to differentiate themselves.  Informational interviewing is the goal of most networking connections.

 

Why do an informational interview?

  • Learn about the company, the culture, current issues, career paths, specific roles, etc. from an insider, gain insights you may not be able to find online
  • Build an advocate within the company for future support

 

What can you gain from an informational interview?

  • Learn about the contact’s industry, company and/or work environment and culture
  • Gain insight into specific jobs, roles, functions and departments
  • Hear advice on how you can translate your skills and experience to new industry, company or role
  • Obtain names of other recommended networking contacts
  • Recommendations for professional associations you should join
  • Gain insight into your career options
  • An inside contact within the organization

 

What an informational interview is not

  • It is not asking for a job or applying for a specific position, instead it is an information gathering adventure and hopefully the start of a mutually beneficial relationship

 

How to Prepare for an Informational Interview

  • Be respectful of the contact’s time and position yourself positively and professionally by being very well prepared
  • Research the company in advance – overview of products, services, target markets, competitors, financial performance, recent news, etc.
  • Research the person you will be meeting with – google them, check Linked In, the company web site
  • Think about what you can offer the contact – can you share networking contacts, professional association connections, information based on shared interests, etc.
  • Define your goals for the meeting clearly
  • Identify questions you plan to ask to support your goals

 

What to Ask in an informational interview

  • Customize the questions to each specific situation and have a reasonable number of questions to respect the contact’s time
  • Jobs/Roles
    • What responsibilities do you have in this role?
    • What is a typical day like?
    • What do you enjoy most about this work and why?
    • What do you find most challenging about this work and why?
    • What are the obstacles for someone entering this field?
    • What are the most critical skills, abilities and personal qualities for success in this field?
    • What is a typical career path to arrive in this position?  What was your path to this role?
    • Companies/Organizations/Work Environment
      • What you like and dislike about the company?
      • Why did you decide to join this company?
      • How are decisions made?
      • How would you describe the corporate culture?
      • How is the Marketing (or other) department structured?
      • How much work is done in teams?
      • What are the companies greatest challenges and how does your work address any of those challenges?
      • Industries
        • How could someone with my background enter this field?
        • What are the major current challenges in this industry?
        • What is current demand for jobs in this field?
        • What do you like most and least about working in this industry?
        • What first attracted you to this industry?
        • Contacts
          • Would you be willing to review my target list of companies and share feedback?
          • What other companies should I be considering given my background?
          • What types of organizations hire people to perform similar functions?
          • Do you know anyone I could speak to in this specific role that interests me?
          • Advice
            • What professional journals and associations do you recommend?
            • Given my experience and skills, what advice to you have to share about target industries, companies or role?
            • If you were in my situation, what options would you prioritize?
            • If you had it to do over again in your career, what changes would you make?
            • What advice to you have for a student interested in entering this field?
            • Giving Back
              • Show your appreciation and offer to assist the person in any way you can

 

Should you bring a resume to a networking meeting?

  • It would be better to bring a networking profile to share.  It highlights and summarizes your past experience but also includes what you hope to do and your target companies.  It makes it easier for a contact to identify opportunities to assist you.
  • If you bring a resume, keep in your portfolio until asked for it.
  • Never open the meeting with a resume.  It could ensure a very short meeting.

 

How to have a successful information interview?

  • Arrive a few minutes early.  Be sure you know in advance how to get there and be prepared with a photo id in case it is needed at security.
  • Dress as the successful business professional you aspire to be.  Make a good first impression.
  • Bring business cards and a note pad so you can take notes.  This demonstrates that you are engaged and that you value the information and insights being shared.
  • Establish rapport with the individual and thank them for meeting with you.
  • Find common ground – the person who referred you, alumni connection, etc.
  • Clarify the purpose of the meeting, this assures them you are not asking for a job.  Instead focus on expanding your professional network, learning more about specific careers and companies.
  • Ask questions and take notes.
  • Answer their questions.  Don’t ramble.
  • Ask for advice and information.
  • Request referrals – who do they know that might benefit you.
  • Always thank them for their time and insights.
  • Keep them posted down the road.
  • Send a handwritten thank you note – it will help them remember you.
  • Demonstrate your enthusiasm – remember to smile.
  • Pay attention – you can pick up clues about the work environment and the culture.
  • Remember, one person’s opinion may not be representative of the whole company.  Talk to multiple people in the same organization if possible.

 

Do shy people really have to do this?

  • Yes, it is a critical part of the process and significantly increases your chances of landing a job you want.  People hire people so having connections in the company makes all the difference.
  • Try to do more listening than talking.  Ask open ended questions.  Get the contact talking about himself and his career.
  • It is about building mutually beneficial relationships – you are listening and asking questions, you are not selling yourself and asking for a job.  Reframing your thinking can help.
  • Be ready to give them a quick overview about you.
  • Take a few deep breaths.
  • Focus on it as a conversation with an interesting person.  It is NOT an interview for a specific job.
  • Start with connections – alumni, former colleagues, a friend’s parent or relative who works at the company.  It can be easier and more comfortable starting with warm connections and a common bond.

 

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