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3 Questions to Ask in an Informational Interview — and 1 You Should Avoid

3 Questions to Ask in an Informational Interview — and 1 You Should Avoid

Winter break is quickly approaching for colleges, and spring graduation season won’t be far behind. How can you use your winter break to investigate potential careers? Informational interviews can help, if you know how to handle them.

An informational interview can be with someone you already know, or through your network. Once you have identified a potential participant, contact them to see if they are interested in in a brief (20-40 minutes) conversation, either in person or over the phone. From there you will move on to preparing questions.

“An informational interview is about getting information about careers, strategy for conducting a job search and for getting feedback,” says Roy Cohen, a career coach and author of “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide,” “The questions that you raise should focus on both you as an individual — ‘What do I need to do?’ — and it should focus on them — what insights can they offer?”

Cohen shared his favorite questions for getting the most out of an informational interview, and one that he says you should avoid the temptation to ask.

How Did You End Up in This Role?

You want to know who they are, what they’ve done and how they landed in this particular career. Some other questions to follow up with:

  • What’s unique about your role?
  • What sacrifices have you made to succeed in this role?
  • What do you like and not like about this role?

If the line of questioning is only about yourself, it will be largely missing the point. You want the person you’re interviewing to talk about themselves, and this should be the premise of your interview, Cohen says. You want to gain insight from them and benefit from their knowledge and experience.

How Would You Approach Finding an Entry-Level Job or Internship in this Industry?

Once you’ve discussed what they have done and how they ended up in their career, Cohen says, the next step is to help map your own strategy to break into the field. To be more specific, you can ask:

  • Do you know of any upcoming internships available?
  • Where do you recommend that I search for a job?
  • My current job is ___; do you think I can make an easy transition?

Knowing the process and asking for recommendations in the field will ease the stress of finding a new job.

What Qualities and Characteristics Do You Look for in Entry-Level Candidates?

This question is a good way to learn specifically what makes a candidate stand out — qualities and characteristics that you can incorporate directly into your résumé, Cohen says. As a corollary to this question, Cohen recommends that you ask “Would it be possible to get some feedback on my résumé?” That way you are able to tie in the characteristics and qualifications with their recommendations on what it would take to get into this industry.

Because they are giving you specific feedback on your résumé, be sure to ask the following follow-up questions:

  • What is the best quality to have in entry-level candidates in your field?
  • What characteristics are welcomed in your workplace?
  • Do I have the right education and experience?

These questions are important because they will help you distinguish yourself from other candidates applying for the job, Cohen says.

One to Avoid: Do You Have Any Job Openings at Your Organization?

This question is a no-no. It will be clear that you’re looking for a job, but they are already doing you a favor by offering to give you advice, so don’t cross the line into asking for a specific job. If the interviewee can provide additional help, they will likely let you know on their own.

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