Setting up informational interviews and following through can help you build great interviewing skills while learning valuable information about the different types of jobs that exist in your chosen field.
The following questions are intended to help you build a detailed picture of the person's occupation. Use these informational and functional questions as a guideline to get started. Take the time to research the person's job and make notes of what you'd like to learn more about.
Your interview will be most effective if you ask questions that reflect your genuine curiosity about the particular career.
Prepare for the Informational Interview
Take the time to prepare for each informational interview you contact. Learn more about the employer or career field in question, rehearse your question list, and set up your interview.
Be on time for your meeting, have a notepad and pen ready, and wear a watch to make sure that you are respectful of your interviewee's time and don't overstay your welcome.
Occupational Questions to Ask
The following questions can help you uncover important information about the job held by your interviewee. Some might be more or less relevant to the person you choose to interview. Choose the most useful questions for your needs, and take care not to take up an inordinate amount of time from your interviewee.
- What is the title of the person you are interviewing?
- What are other commonly-used titles for the position?
- What are the duties performed during a typical day, week, month, year? Does she or he have a set routine? How much variety is there on a day-to-day basis? As the person describes the duties, ask what skills are needed.
- What educational program is recommended as preparation? Inquire about the distinction between courses which are desirable and those which are indispensable.
- What kinds of courses are most valuable in order to gain the skills necessary for success in this occupation? Inquire about the distinction between courses which are desirable and those which are indispensable.
- What degree or certificate do employers look for?
- What kind of work/internship experience would employers look for in a job applicant, and how does a person obtain this experience?
- Are any co-curricular activities recommended?
- What steps (besides meeting educational and experiential requirements) are necessary to break into this occupation (e.g., exam, interview, union membership)?
- What are the important keywords or buzzwords to include in a resume or cover letter when job hunting in the field?
- What are the opportunities for advancement, and to what position? Is an advanced degree needed, and if so, in what discipline?
- Which skills are most important to acquire (i.e., which skills do employers look for)?
- What are the main, or most important, personal characteristics for success in the field?
- What are the different settings in which people in this occupation may work (i.e., educational institutions, businesses, non-profits)?
- What other kinds of workers frequently interact with this position?
- Is there evidence of differential treatment between male and female workers with respect to job duties, pay, and opportunities for advancement?
- What are the employment prospects in the advisor’s geographic area? Where are the best employment prospects? What are the employment prospects at the advisor’s company? Is mobility a necessary factor for success?
- What are some related occupations?
- What are the different salary ranges?
- Does the typical worker have a set schedule, or are the hours flexible?
- What are the demands and frustrations that typically accompany this type of work?
- Is there a typical chain of command in this field?
- How can you determine that you have the ability or potential to be successful in this specific occupation?
- Is this a rapidly growing field? Is it possible to predict future needs for workers in this field?
- What types of technology are used, and how are they used?
- Where are job listings found?
- What entry-level positions are there in this field that a liberal arts graduate might consider?
- What does the advisor know now that would have been helpful to know when she or he was in your shoes?
Functional Questions to Ask
Most of the following questions serve to give you a flavor of the interviewee's daily life on the job. You may have different triggers that cause you pressure or stress, for example, but the answers you receive can help you see where you might excel and which items, such as a lot of overtime, might not make sense for your lifestyle.
- How many hours does the advisor work?
- What sort of education does the advisor have?
- What was the advisor's career path from college to present?
- What are the satisfying aspects of the advisor’s work?
- What are the greatest pressures, strains, or anxieties in the work?
- What are the major job responsibilities?
- What are the toughest problems and decisions with which the advisor must cope?
- What is most dissatisfying about the work? Is this typical of the field?
- How would the advisor describe the atmosphere/culture of the workplace?
- Does the advisor think you left out any important questions that would be helpful to learn more about the job or occupation?
- Can the advisor suggest others who may be valuable sources for you?
Follow Up With a Thank-You Note
After the interview, send a thank-you note via email. To cement your connection and show that you really got a lot out of the interview, you could attach a link to an article on something relevant to your conversation, and let the person know they inspired you to read the article.