Informational Interviewing Part III: What questions should you ask?

Once your informational interview is set, it’s time to consider what questions you want to ask.

The worst question to spring on someone? “So, can you tell me what your job is like?” First, you should have some basic knowledge about the profession before meeting with someone. Second, this particular question encompasses a lot of ground. Asking open-ended specific questions keeps the interviewer from feeling overwhelmed and helps you learn more about the profession. You’re talking to someone doing a job you might want to do someday. Make the most of this opportunity.

Here’s a list of sample questions to consider asking:

Questions about the job

  1. What kinds of tasks do you do on a typical day or during a typical week?
  2. What tasks take up most of your time?
  3. What do you like about your job?
  4. What things do you find challenging or frustrating?
  5. Skills that I really enjoy using include (fill in blank). Do you use these skills in your job?
  6. What characteristics should a person working this job have?
  7. Do you usually work independently or as part of a team?
  8. What is the typical career advancement path for this job?
  9. What advice would you give to a new professional entering this field?
  10. My research showed that an issue this field is facing is (fill in blank). In your opinion is this true?
  11. How is this profession changing?
  12. How is technology affecting this field?

Questions about working conditions

  1. What are your typical hours per day and per week? Are these hours typical for this job?
  2. Does this career require or include travel?
  3. How does this career affect other aspects of your life (family time, leisure time, etc.)?
  4. Is this job typically done in an office?
  5. As a male or female, would I face any unique challenges in this job?

Questions about training and education preparation

  1. What educational background is best suited for this job?
  2. Are there particular courses a student might take that could be beneficial?
  3. What are some examples of out-of-class experiences that would be helpful (volunteering, internship/co-op, campus clubs or organizations)?
  4. What is your educational background?
  5. What previous work or other experience helped you prepare for this field?
  6. When did you decide to work in this profession and why?
  7. What other careers did you consider beforehand?
  8. What general advice would you give to help people prepare?
  9. What resources would you recommend for me to learn more about this profession?

Questions about other careers and contacts

  1. What careers would you say are similar to this profession?
  2. Can you suggest others I could talk to in this profession? Do you have their contact information?
  3. What resources would you recommend for me to find additional contacts?
  4. Is there any other information you’d like to share with me?
  5. May I contact you in the future with additional questions I might have?

Type your list of questions before the meeting and bring the list with you. Additionally, bring a notebook to write down information you learn; but, don’t focus on writing everything down during the interview. Doing so is distracting and takes away from the conversation. Rather, write down your answers and reactions to what you learned immediately after the meeting.

Send a thank-you note to the person with 24 hours after the meeting. Reference specific items you talked about in your conversation. Keep in touch. If you take specific actions as a result of the meeting (select an academic program, volunteer, obtain an internship) be sure to let the person know.

Finally, pay it forward. When you are an established professional and someone contacts you to request an informational interview, say yes.