The 18 questions to ask in an informational interview

Informational interviews can be extremely beneficial ways to build contacts in your industry, uncover hidden job markets, and learn more about the hiring process. In order to  get all the advice you need, prepare a list of questions to ask in an informational interview that you can use each time you meet with a professional contact. Ladders compiled a list here to help get you started.

First, let’s dive into what an informational interview actually is, why you want as many as you can get, and  how to land them.

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What is an informational interview?

An informational interview is a meeting that you can set up in order to learn more about a position, company, or industry.

You should always attempt to land a face-to-face informational interview as these will be most useful in the relationship building process. Ask your professional contact if they have time to grab lunch or a coffee- your treat, of course. Use this informational interview email sample to guarantee that a professional industry contact agrees to speak with you.

Conducting multiple informational interviews is the most effective way to enter into your industry, according to Bob Martin, the assistant dean for internships and career placement in the Bellasario College of Communications at Penn State University. “Now we’ve got a network of people who know you, your skills, knowledge and experience and believe you’re qualified,” Martin said. “Hopefully when they hear about that entry level job that they’re not interested in, because they’re on their third or fourth promotion, they think of you instantaneously.”

Make the most out of your conversation by using this list of questions to ask in an informational interview.

These are the important questions to ask in an informational interview if you only have 10 minutes:

  • How did you break into this industry?
  • What do you recommend for someone like me who is looking to land an entry level job?
  • Can I forward you my resume and have you take a quick look at it?
  • I’d love to stay in contact, what form of communication is best for you?

15 questions to ask in an informational interview if you have one hour

  • How did you get into the business?
  • Did you have internships in college?
  • What was your first role after graduation?
  • What did you do when you were in my exact position?
  • Did you make any mistakes during your job search?
  • When and how did you start your job search?
  • What strategies did you employ to find your first post-graduation job?
  • Which strategies were effective? Which were not?
  • What advice do you have for me as a young professional?
  • How can I get started gaining experience?
  • Here’s my resume, can you look at it for 30 seconds and tell me your thoughts?
  • Here’s my portfolio/e-portfolio, can you look it over for a few minutes and tell me what you think?
  • Here are my job search strategies, is there anything in this process that I’m missing?
  • Now that you know how I am positioning myself with my resume and portfolio, do I seem like a strong candidate for an entry-level position in this industry?
  • If not, what should I do differently?

3 magic questions to ask in an informational interview at the end of the conversation

  • What advice do you have for me as an entry level candidate who’s interested in doing what you do?
  • Who are the other people with whom I should be having these conversations?
  • I’d love to stay in touch, what’s the best way to do that for you?

“These magic questions are relationship building questions and they have to go after you’ve built a relationship, otherwise they feel hollow,” said Heidi Robinson, director of career education and training at Wake Forest University.

The second question may provide you with some additional contacts, which could turn into more informational interviews and possibly a job opportunity. According to Robinson, an upcoming graduate should get ready to have multiple informational interviews per week if they’re serious about landing a job.

The last magic question is important in order to keep this connection alive. By asking what method of communication is best for the contact, you’re showing your value their time and preferences.

The one question not to ask in an informational interview

Anyone conducting an informational interview should not ask, “Can you get me a job?” This question turns an informational interview into a transactional experience because your contact can only answer with a yes or a no. This type of experience doesn’t do much for relationship building.

Additionally, you will most likely be meeting this professional contact for the first time during this informational interview. A serious industry professional will not be ready to put their name to you, which is what you’re asking them to do by recommending you for a position. If you impress them during the informational interview, you’re off to a great start for building a relationship with someone who may be able to recommend you for a role down the road.

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