Planning for and Managing an Informational Interview

Intentional networking is critical to a successful job search.  Seekers must work hard to arrange conversations, web conferencing or face-to-face meetings  with often busy contacts. In order that the search is meaningful and the encounter is productive and enjoyable for both you and your contact, it is important to carefully plan your discussion. The greatest mistake is wasting the time of your contact, or presenting yourself as unprepared. You need to research the company, come with an agenda and clearly know what you hope to gain. 

Here is a sample letter (.doc) requesting an informational interview. 

Planning your questions is perhaps the most important task. They should be relevant, on point and informed.

Below is a list of questions from which you can tailor your own style and circumstance.  

What working at XXX Corporation is like:

1.             Could you describe one of your typical workdays for me?

2.             What skills are required in your position on a day-to-day basis?

3.             What parts of your job do you find most challenging?

4.             What do find most enjoyable?

5.             Are there any negatives to your job or the organization?

6.             How many hours do you work in a typical week?

7.             Which quarters or time frames of the year are toughest in your job?

8.             How would you describe the corporate culture and onboarding process?

Keep in mind that you can use information that you know about the company or industry within your question. This shows your knowledge base and seriousness. An example of how to make question #7 more relevant: “As an accountant at a medium-sized local firm, I’d imagine that your busiest seasons revolve around your clients’ fiscal year ends, which can vary. What would you say would be the most demanding times of the year for your firm’s accountants?”

State of the Industry:

9.             Is this field or market sector growing enough so that there's room for someone like me?

10.          Are too many or too few people entering this profession?

11.          What developments or markets on the horizon could affect future opportunities?

12.          This industry has changed dramatically in the past five years. What have you seen from inside your company? Where do you think the changes will happen in the next five years?  Who  are the key partners in your organization?

13.          How frequently do layoffs occur? How does it affect the morale of employees?

14.          Why do people leave this field or company?

15.          Who are the most important people in the industry today?

16.          Which companies have the best track record for promoting women and minorities?

17.          Are there opportunities for self-employment in your field? Where?

An example of how to make #11 more relevant: “I’ve noticed that the state and federal governments have devoted a great deal of funding to the biotech industry in Western New York. As a salesperson for Life Technologies, what kind of effects have you seen from this extra funding, and how do you anticipate the industry and your company expanding due to this revenue?”

Money and Advancement:

18.          What would be a reasonable salary range to expect if I entered this field? What is the long term potential?

19.          What is the advancement potential in the field? What is a typical path?

20.          How did you get your job?

21.          If you could start all over again, would you change your career path in any way? Why?

22.          How long does it take for managers to rise to the top to Directors or Sr Directors?  To Vice Presidents or  Senior Vice Presidents?

23.          What is the background of most senior-level executives?

An example of how to make # 19 more relevant: “From the alumni database, I see that you graduated from the MBA program just four years ago and you are already a vice president at the bank. That’s impressive. Please share with me the typical path from entry level to a VP position in the banking environment, and what people can do to move fast within that process.”

Skills and Experience:

24.          What educational preparation would you recommend for someone who wants to advance in this field?

25.          What qualifications do you seek in a new hire?

26.          How do most people enter this profession?

27.          Which of my skills are strong compared to other job hunters in this field?

28.          What do you think of the experience I've had so far? For what types of positions would it qualify me?

29.          Can you recommend any courses I should take before proceeding further with my job search?

30.          What companies or industries do you think I should target?

31.          What steps besides meeting educational and experiential requirements are necessary to "break into" this occupation?

32.          What are the important "key words" or "buzz words" to include in a resume or cover letter when job hunting in the field?

An example of how to make #25 more relevant: “I read through some of the job descriptions on the HR section of your Web site in preparation for our meeting today. Most jobs I’d be interested in listed communication, teamwork and decision making skills as necessities. Can you tell me how those skills are used in this profession? Also, what other skills do managers look for that are not written in the typical job descriptions?”

Fitting in:

31.          Do you think my objective is clearly stated, realistic and achievable?

32.          Considering my background, how well do you think I would fit in this company and/or profession?

33.          How does your company compare with others we've discussed?

34.          Would the work involve any lifestyle changes, such as frequent travel or late-night business entertaining?

35.          Considering all the people you've met in your line of work, what personal attributes are essential for success?

36.          Taking into account my skills, education, and experience, what other career paths would you suggest I explore before making a final decision?

An internship-focused alternative to #36 might be: “Thinking about the most successful interns you have had, what was it about their character, work ethic, abilities, etc. that made them exemplary?”

What is important to you:

37.          Is creativity and innovation encouraged?

38.          Is the organization collaborative?

39.          Is there work/life balance?

40.          Is growth encouraged within the organization?

More Information:

37.          Where can I write to get up-to-date information on salaries, employers, and industry issues?

38.          What professional journals and organizations or societies should I be aware of?

39.          Is there anything else you think I need to know?

40.          Who else would you recommend I speak with?

41.          When I call, may I use your name?

It is vastly important that you follow up, in writing, and express your appreciation. If you are referred to another professional for assistance, make sure you let the original contact know the result of your outreach to that new referral.

Lastly, be mindful of the value of your contacts time. Select only the questions you feel most important to your circumstances and leave others for follow-up.

As you build your contacts into a network, is important, too, that you begin giving back. Sharing what you’ve learned. Sharing well considered articles, books, ideas, connections and opportunities, will all advance your goals, as well as those of your contacts.