If you’re considering a career change or entering the job market for the first time, you may have questions about what it’s like to work in a certain role. An informational interview is a great way to get background information about a job, what you need to succeed, how to get started in the industry and much more.
To help you prepare for an informational interview, here is some background information and several questions you can ask to learn more.
What is an informational interview?
An informational interview is a conversation with someone who works in a role or industry or at a company you’re interested in pursuing. This informal discussion allows you to learn more about a professional’s daily experiences and the qualifications that helped them get the job. It also gives you the opportunity to get expert advice, tips on how to find similar positions and ways you can prepare.
An informational interview is not a part of the hiring process, nor should it be used to share your skills and background in hopes of being considered for an open position. It’s simply a way to find out more about a particular profession or company at the beginning of a job search.
Benefits of an informational interview
Contacting a professional who currently works in a job or industry that interests you has several benefits. Here are a few reasons informational interviews can help your career:
- Get first-hand experience. Conducting an informational interview will help you better understand details about the job from someone currently doing it. Often, this perspective can highlight certain aspects of the position you might not learn from a job description, such as common challenges they face and details they enjoy about their work.
- Learn tips and advice for succeeding in the role. A professional currently working in a role you’re considering can offer useful guidance to help you find, prepare for and do well in your future job. For example, they might be able to explain how to overcome obstacles or perform specific duties.
- Discover what employers are looking for. When you’re preparing to apply for jobs, it’s helpful to know what skills and talents are highest in demand. This way, you can make sure to highlight these abilities on your resume and during your interviews. It can also help you identify areas you need to improve upon before you begin your job search.
- Determine whether you want a similar job. An informational interview will give you a better idea about a day in the life in a certain job. This can help you decide whether or not it’s something you really want to do and learn about similar roles you may prefer instead.
- Build your professional network. Meeting professionals in a field you might pursue will help you build your network. Conducting an informational interview could help you establish a relationship with a future mentor or someone who may recommend you for open opportunities.
How to ask for an informational interview
The first step is finding a professional who works in the field or at the company you’re considering. Start by creating a list of all the companies within the industry you want to pursue. Then, begin asking people within your own network of colleagues, mentors, former teachers or classmates if they know anyone in the exact role you want to learn more about. If not, you may want to contact the recruiting departments of the companies on your list and ask if they can put you in touch with someone in the role you’re investigating.
Here is an example email you can send when contacting a professional for an informational interview:
Subject Line: Informational interview request
My name is Rebecca and I recently graduated from Louisiana State University with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting. I’m interested in pursuing a career as a financial analyst and my former professor, Dev Patel, suggested I contact you to learn more about this profession.
Given your experience as a senior financial analyst for a large firm, I would love to learn more about your career background as well as any advice you may have for a new graduate looking to get into the industry.
If you’re available, I would love to meet for coffee sometime next week. I’m also happy to chat by phone if that’s easier for you.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Louisiana State University ’18
12 Questions to ask in an informational interview
The information you collect from these interviews depends on the questions you ask. Here are ten questions that can help you get insight into the role you want.
1. What educational background do people typically have in this role?
This question will help you determine whether you have completed the right coursework or obtained the right degree or certifications to qualify for the position you want. If you don’t, you can start making plans to get the credentials you need.
2. What professional experience do people typically have in this role?
In addition to your education, you may also need specific job experience for an employer to consider you for a role. For example, if you’re interested in pursuing a career as a social media manager, you may first need experience assisting in managing a company’s social media presence as an entry-level coordinator or intern.
3. How would you recommend getting started in this profession?
Some positions are highly competitive. Ask your interviewer is this is the case — if so, get insight on ways you can increase your chances of getting noticed. For example, there may be extra certifications you can learn, unique skills you can develop or people you can meet.
4. What are some of the most in-demand skills for this position?
Employees are often expected to learn and adapt on the job as an industry changes. If you can identify which skills organizations need the most, you can work to develop in those areas before you begin applying for opportunities.
5. What are some of the most in-demand personal characteristics for this position?
Along with your skill set, there are also certain personality traits that can make someone a great fit for a position. By finding out which characteristics are highest in demand, you can identify which of your best attributes align with those necessary for the job and highlight them on your resume.
6. What does a typical workday look like in this role?
A job description can give you an idea of the work you’ll be doing, but talking with someone who currently has the role can tell you precisely the sorts of tasks, projects or assignments will compose the majority of your time. If you have experience doing similar or related work, you can focus on those when you update your resume.
7. What type of technology should you be familiar with to succeed in this role?
It’s important to find out if there are any types of software or tools you should learn to use before you begin looking for a job. While these things may not be required to qualify for the position, they could help you perform your duties more efficiently.
8. What is most fulfilling about this profession?
It’s always important to identify the most positive parts of the job from the professional you interview. For example, you may learn the position will offer you the ability to help people in need, work on meaningful projects or allow you to exercise creative abilities. Having this information can be motivational and also gives you useful talking points for job interviews.
9. What are some of the most common challenges people face in this profession?
In addition to the best parts of a role, you should also ask about obstacles you’ll have to navigate. While every job faces certain challenges, knowing these details will better prepare you for the reality of what you’re pursuing. It might also help you when asked about how you’ve overcome obstacles in interviews as related to the position.
10. What are the opportunities for advancement in this role?
Before you launch a new career, it’s helpful to understand what the next steps might look like so you can ensure you’re on the right track. For example, you may learn that to move up in a particular line of work, you’ll need an advanced degree or specific set of experiences. The sooner you know, the sooner you can begin preparing for your future.
11. How have you seen people succeed at this company?
While you might not be looking for a job at your interviewer’s company specifically, understanding how people find success in their jobs there can help you set benchmarks for yourself. For example, if they explain that most successful people at their company make it a point to meet and collaborate with other teams on a regular basis, you can start improving your interpersonal skills to find success early on.
12. How do you think this company will grow in the next few years?
Getting more information about the trajectory of a company in the industry you’re interested can help you understand the job outlook. It is important that you have opportunity to grow as the industry develops. You might consider alternative paths if the company or industry has poor job growth.
There are many methods and resources you can use to learn about a job role you want to pursue. However, conducting an informational interview with someone already in the profession or industry will help you uncover details you may not find anywhere else.