Yesterday, I posted about something you can and should do when exploring a new career: an informational interview. But that post only covered how to schedule the interview. You still need to know what to ask during an informational interview. So let’s get started.
Why do an Informational Interview?
This is a low-stakes way for you to
- meet someone in a different career,
- explore how they got into that work, and
- get a snapshot of a typical workday.
In other words, the point of an informational interview is to give you more data points on whether it might be a career that suits you and warrants more exploration.
Who should you ask?
Really, anyone who works in a field you’re interested in. But this article has some better suggestions, including asking around at career services or in your alumni group. Use your campus’ people search to locate people who work in certain academic areas or jobs, and introduce yourself via email.
What Questions Should You Ask?
Once you’ve requested someone’s time and scheduled the interview, it’s time to prepare your questions. You’ll want to start by setting the context, introducing yourself by your name, what you do now, and that you’re there to learn more about career paths in their field. There’s a ton of examples online (use your Google-Fu!) but here’s the most common things you should ask.
Questions about Themselves:
- What led you to get into this career?
- What kind of work did you do before you came to…?
Questions about Qualifications:
- What kind of degree, credentials, or training do people in this field typically need?
- How difficult is it for someone lacking [that degree or credential] to enter the field?
Questions about the Work:
- What is a typical workday like for you?
- What skills, knowledge, and abilities do you rely on daily?
- What do you like most about your job? What do you like least?
- What are the typical characteristics or attributes it takes to “make it” in this field?
- What other kinds of colleagues do you typically work with? (Meaning: what other jobs / professions do you intersect with over the course of your work?)
- This one’s critical – it can help open your mind to other careers you might want to consider.
- Is there anyone else you recommend I speak with?
After the Interview
Once the interview is done, thank them. I get it, it seems old-fashioned, but seriously, you need to send a follow-up email thanking them for their time within a day or two of your informational interview. Personalize it by tossing in something from the interview (i.e., how their recommended website was helpful or how you have reached out to so-and-so as well per their advice). If you are authentically interested in the field, you can also add something along the lines of: “Our discussion confirmed my interest in the field. I would kindly appreciate any industry-specific listservs or job boards that you recommend.” That’s vague enough to alert them that you’re looking but also, and more importantly, not an outright “Soooo….you hiring anytime soon?” 🙂
Finally, follow up with the folks they recommended. You can never do too many informational interviews. Each one is just one person’s take on that field, so you should take advantage of those who are willing to chat to piece together a fuller picture of what that work world is like.