This the final post in a five part series on informational interviewing for beginners. I’ve written previously about what informational interviews are and why you should do them, how to find people for interviews, how to request an interview, and my top ten tips for informational interviewing.
What follows is a list of 10 questions that, in my experience, usually elicit particularly enlightening answers. It’s important to spend some time preparing questions before an informational interview, but these questions should not just be used as a script to sequentially run through. Allow the conversation to flow naturally, engage further when interesting threads arise, and remember that unless you are interviewing Sarah Palin on foreign policy, even the simplest questions can lead to informative discussions.
Note: the tone of each informational interview will be different. Some people enjoy telling stories from their grad school days, while others would much rather get down to the specifics of their job responsibilities. It’s also important to consider your goals for the interview: Are you looking for specific career advice? Are you curious about the realities of a professional field? Are you actively looking for a job in that particular company? These questions are general suggestions that should be tailored to the context of each interview.
1. How have your educational and work backgrounds led you to this position? When and how did you decide to move to this field?
2. Can you help me understand the specific responsibilities of your role?
3. What skills/personal qualities/habits would you say are important for success in this field?
4. Can you describe what a typical day is like for you?
5. What is the most difficult/frustrating part about your job?
6. And the most satisfying?
7. How have your responsibilities changed since you began working here? Can you talk about what an entry level position in this field is like? Are there many avenues for advancement?
8. What backgrounds/skills/qualities do you look for during the hiring process? Is there a specific educational degree you generally require?
9. Do you have any advice for someone at my stage who is interested in this type of career? Classes to take, skills to develop, books to read?
10. Do you have any contacts you could connect me with? (Note: this question should be made more specific according to the kinds of connections you are looking to make. It’s always a good question to ask during an informational interview, and is often a nice segway into thanking them for their time and making a graceful exit.)