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What to ask in an informational interview

In my last post, I suggested six ways to get creative with your job search, all with the goal of ferreting out “hidden jobs.” (If you missed it, read it here.) Five of my six suggestions have something in common: They center around networking. The magic here is in making connections with others who might be able to share information about your career field, or even provide job leads.

Some people wonder what “networking” entails. You know that you’re supposed to do more than simply engage in small talk, but what, exactly should you say?

Well, first you’ll want to have your elevator pitch prepared, so you can rattle it off like a pro.

If your conversation goes well, you might ask for an informational interview. Most people will be happy to schedule 15-20 minutes with you to talk about their current job and their career journey. Pretty much everyone loves to talk about themselves, right?

Though the scope of the interview might vary – a recent college graduate will ask different questions from an experienced worker considering a career shift – the general goal is to learn more through the viewpoint of someone with experience in the career. Here are some tips to get you started:

A specific ask

Be clear on your request. “I’m interested in the work you do / your area of expertise. I’d love to pick your brain so I can better understand the field. Would you be willing to schedule 15-20 minutes in the next week or two to talk with me about your work?”

Avoid the back-and-forth scheduling thing

Don’t: “I’m free anytime next week.” Inevitably, the other party suggests a time that you actually aren’t available and you go back and forth trying to find a time, which is annoying for everyone. Instead, be specific: “Do you have time either next Thursday at 3pm or Tuesday the 22nd at 10 or 11? Let me know and I’ll send a calendar hold.” Be sure to confirm who calls whom, and add phone numbers or the Zoom/Meet/Teams link.

Prepare some questions

What will you talk about? First, explain why you’re interested in speaking. A bit of flattery is appropriate! Then, have several questions ready to ask. Focus on asking and listening; resist the temptation to talk about yourself. Be open to where the conversation leads you. Here are just a few general ideas:

  • How did you get into the field, and what led you to the job you have today?
  • What skills have you developed through your work in this field?
  • What do you find most rewarding about your job / career?
  • What’s your best advice for someone considering work in your field?
  • What does the future of this career look like to you over the next 3-5-10 years?
  • Can you introduce me to other experts in this field? 

This last question can vary. If you’re still gathering information, ask it as suggested. If you’re actively job seeking, you can say: “I’m pursuing opportunities to work as a [title/level] in this area. Does your company have any openings? Or do you know someone else I could speak with who might be aware of available positions?” If the answer is no, you can finish with, “I’d be grateful if you would remember me if you hear of any opportunities.” 

Mind the clock

Be respectful of the time. When you reach the agreed-upon time, if you’re still not done, ask if you might have just a few more minutes. If that isn’t possible, then express your gratitude, then follow up later with a “thanks again” message or email (within a day or two at the most). That way, the other party has your contact information handy.

Follow up, but don’t pester

Following up is good! I always appreciate hearing back from people I’ve spent time with. You can also stay on their radar without being a nag by interacting on LinkedIn: Maybe send a relevant article to them (“This made me think of you because…”), or like and comment on something your interviewee has posted or shared.

Also, contact them to let them know specific ways their effort helped you. Did they connect you with someone who helped you land a new job in the field? Share that news specifically with them. (LinkedIn may place it in their newsfeed, but they’d rather hear it directly from you.)

Further reading

For more inspiration:

From Indeed, The Best Questions to ask during an informational interview

From Career Contessa, 40 questions to ask (includes why you’re asking and what to look for in the answer)

HRB.org has an outline that’s helpful if you’re a college senior or recent grad, and this piece on Ellevatenetwork.com makes the case for informational interviews for experienced professionals

Finally, LinkedIn Learning’s Blog has a great guide (and a link to a course to learn more, if you’re so inclined)

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