Speaking to people is often the best way to find out about their work. What could you ask them?
Informational interviews are simply informal conversations with someone about their work or organisation, which help you to build a better awareness of their role or the sector they work in.
These can provide insights that are not widely available.
You can ask questions about the day-to-day aspects of their job, or the personal characteristics and skills that are required to be successful, or functional questions about the job and its positive and negative aspects. You can find out how an organisation operates - its structure, products, markets, and competitors - to gain a better commercial understanding.
These discussions work just as well on the phone or online, as in person. You may feel awkward reaching out to people you don't know and this is understandable - however, most people actually enjoy taking a few moments out of their day to give advice to someone with an interest in their field. Show your appreciation, afterwards, by thanking them.
How can I find somebody to talk to?
Use the same techniques as you would if you were hoping to organise some work experience - but be clear, when you're making contact with someone, that it's simply information you're asking for.
What questions can I ask?
- What attracted you to this industry, this company and this role?
- What do you enjoy most about each of them?
- What aspects of your career have you found most and least rewarding - and why?
- What would you differently if you were starting again?
- What do you see as possible next steps for you?
- What are you most excited or concerned about for this industry, company or career path in the future?
- If you were in the job market tomorrow, what would you do?
- What are your primary responsibilities? How do you spend your time?
- How do you value/measure your results and effectiveness?
- What do you do in a typical day or week?
- How much time are you in meetings, on the phone, on the road, and working in teams versus working independently?
- What skills are most critical to your success?
- What weaknesses in a person’s skill set would make him or her ineffective in this business?
- What are the most valuable skills in your job? Which experiences enabled you to develop these skills?
- How do you keep skills current? What do you read? What professional associations do you belong to? What seminars or continuing education do you consider useful?
- What would you do differently if you ran this company?
- What are the common misconceptions about working in this company?
- What do you see as the biggest competitive challenge for your company?
- What are some of the defining characteristics of the graduates who have been hired by your company in the past for this position?
- What have been your biggest surprises in this field?
- What motivates you to continue in this business? What do you like most?
- What are the vulnerabilities of this business? What worries you?
- What do you expect of people starting out in this field? What educational and personal qualities in candidates attract you? How do you determine a candidate’s compatibility for the field, including education, personality, and cultural considerations?
- Can you recommend others I can talk to about this field?
- What kind of job responsibilities could I expect as a new graduate?
- Is there anything else you think would be helpful as I consider this field?
- Looking at my CV, what advice would you have for me on next steps if I were interested in a career in this sector or with this company?