8 Questions to Ask in Informational Interviews

If you're just starting your career or interested in a career change, you've likely been advised to schedule informational interviews. These casual conversations with professional contacts—which shouldn't last longer than 20 to 25 minutes—are meant to help you learn about an industry and develop your network, not land a position. Once you're able to call in a favor and schedule an informational interview, make the most of it by asking these eight questions.

informational interview

1. How did you get started in this field?

Basic human truth: People love to talk about themselves. Break the ice by asking how your contact how they got into the field. Was it right out of college? Did they do an internship (or two or three)? Was their first position with this company, or did they bounce around? Try to map out what your path might look like.

2. What's a typical day look like?

Ask your contact how they might spend a "typical" day. This information will help you decide how compatible you are with this type of position. For instance, if your contact spends all day on conference calls, and you hate talking on the phone, this profession might not be the best choice.

3. What do you enjoy the most about your job?

This answer to this question should be revealing—and it might surprise you. Ideally, your contact will share something meaningful, the "why" that keeps them coming to work each day. Every job has its ups and downs, so for most professionals, "why" must go beyond a steady paycheck.

4. What do you find the most challenging?

The answer to this question should also be thought-provoking. Would you find this challenge fulfilling—or exhausting? Look to the future. If your contact says being away from home for frequent travel is a challenge, and your long-term plan is to have a family, this career might not be the best fit.

5. What should I be doing now to enter this field?

People love to talk about themselves. They also love to give advice. Ask your contact what steps you can take now to best position yourself professionally. Perhaps you should land some internships or volunteer at a nonprofit where you can gain relevant experience. Maybe you should brush up on a second language to make yourself more marketable. You'll glean the best advice from someone who's been in your shoes.

6. Where do you see this industry in five years?

Now it's time for your contact to play prognosticator and give you a sense of the viability of the field. For instance, someone working in journalism might encourage you to develop solid video skills to make yourself more marketable. An educator might suggest pursuing certification in a STEM subject area because of teacher shortages. The job market is no stranger to supply and demand—and someone in the workforce can see where trends are heading.

7. What do you wish you'd known when you started out?

Listen carefully to the answer as it will likely be solid advice. As the cliché goes, hindsight is 20/20, and your contact will have wisdom to impart. They might save you from learning some hard lessons yourself.

8. Do you have any recommendations for other people to talk to?

This is a good way to wrap up your interview. Job-seeking is all about relationships, and many a position has been landed through a friend of a friend. Your contact might know someone with a need for your skill set.

No matter what questions you ask, always follow up with a thank-you note to your contact. An informational interview is almost always granted as a professional courtesy. Show your appreciation to a busy person for sharing time with you.

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