Best Questions for Informational Interviews

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So as an Interior Design student in my senior year I am required to take a course called “Professional Practices in Interior Design”. One of our assignments is to phone interview 5 Interior Designers about their job. In my business classes I have learned that this interview-with-the-purpose-of-getting-information is you guessed it— called an Informational Interview.

Why bother with Informational Interviews if my teacher didn’t assign it?

What’s great about Informational Interviews is that they can give you insight into a company to reinforce the idea that you want to apply there or realize that maybe that place isn’t worth your time. Informational Interviews are especially great for two situations:

1. You’re interested in a company but honestly, their website sucks. They sound great but there just isn’t enough information there to fully justify that and you want to know more.

2. You’ve been pouring over every detail of their website and any other information about them you can get your hands on. You’re convinced this is the perfect company for you and you want to know how to make sure your resume gets into the “YES” pile.

Let me warn you, Informational Interviews can be scary, especially if you choose to do them in person (however in my experience they are never as scary as a “real” interview where a potential job is on the line). On the flip side, they can also be VERY rewarding. Often enough the Informational Interview will land you the in-person Interview (assuming it went well enough). The in-person interview often means you’re one of 5-10 being interviewed so your chances of getting the job just increased exponentially.

The Informational Interview puts you in contact with your potential boss or co-worker and gives you someone’s name you can throw out when write your cover letter (in addition to an inside-view of the company). Almost always the hiring manager will go to the person you spoke with and ask what they thought of you. Few people actually call for Informational Interviews so they will definitely remember you; that’s why it’s so important to make a good first impression with them over the phone (and in any other correspondence such as email).

That brings me to another point. Part of the reason it’s scary is because we are a generation of texters and typers. We rarely talk on the phone anymore except maybe to a select few people. We text and we Facebook and we email. DO NOT simply email your questions, you’ll automatically be downgraded. Feel free to email them to ask about the best time to call them and/or if they are willing to submit to an Informational Interview.

When emailing them, it doesn’t hurt to tell them you are a student or someone considering changing careers. They’ll be more willing to talk openly than if they think you are some employee working for their competitor. Tell them how you received/found their contact information so they don’t think you are a Level-9 Facebook creeper. Company websites and LinkedIn are great sources for this. Be polite and double check everything before you send it. Typos make you look dumb, i’m knot lieing.

Now for what you’ve all been waiting for, the Best Questions to Ask for an Informational Interview:

*When actually doing an interview never do more than 20 questions per interview. In fact, I would say 20 is really pushing it. My personal sweet spot is about 12 or 13, this gives you room to ask follow up questions if they give you an answer that leaves you wanting more without really passing 15-16 questions. Notice hardly any of these are YES or NO questions, you want them to give you as much information as possible but not waste their time.* Your informational interview should probably last 10-20 minutes and you should do your basic research about the company in advance as well as be prepared to introduce yourself when you call.

Advice from your Interviewee:

What are your recommended keywords/ buzzwords to include in a resume or cover letter when job hunting in this field?

Thinking about the most successful interns that you’ve had, what was it about their character, work ethic, abilities etc. that made them exemplary?

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

What are the best ways to network in this field?

Do you have any recommendations for places to find job listings in this field?

What do you know now that you wish you knew as a college student looking to enter the workforce?

What courses do you wish you would have taken that would have better prepared you?

If you were a college student again, what might you do differently to prepare for this job?

What skills are indispensable to your job? How did you learn these skills?

What is your educational background as pertaining to this field?

Which classes have you found to be the most useful in your day-to-day work?

Do you think I left out any important questions? Is there anything else I should know?

Can you recommend any other sources that I could do an Informational Interview with?

Questions about the Career Field:

What skills or personal characteristics do you feel contribute most to success in this industry?

What trends in this field would be most likely to affect someone just entering this career now?

Are there professional organizations I should be aware of other than insert popular national organizations for your field?

What professional journals should I be aware of?

As technology grows, in what way is your occupation changing?

How is the economy affecting this industry?

What are the greatest pressures, strains or anxieties in this field?

Questions About Your Interviewee’s Job:

What precisely do you do? What are the duties/functions/responsibilities of your job?

What is your job title? Do other people in your company have the same title? If so, do they have the same job responsibilities?

What does your typical day look like?

How did you get this job?

How many hours do you work?

Do you work set hours or do you have a flexible schedule?

Who/ What positions do you frequently interact with in your position?

To what extent do you interact with customers/ clients?   How much time do you spend with clients?

How does use of your time vary? Do you have busy/slow times or is work fairly consistent?

What are your major job responsibilities?

What percentage of your time is spent on each of your job responsibilities?

What kinds of decisions do you make?   What are the toughest decisions you face at your job?

What interests you least about your job, and what creates the most stress?

What demands/ frustrations typically accompany your job?

If you could change anything about your job what would it be?

What types of technology do you use regularly?

How has your job affected your lifestyle?

Do you ever bring home work with you?

Do you put in much overtime or work on weekends?

To what extent does this job present a challenge in terms of juggling work and family life?

How well did your college experience prepare you for this job?

How much flexibility do you have in determining how to perform or execute your job?

Do you  mostly work individually or in groups or teams?

Are there aspects of your job that are repetitious?

How much job security do you have in your current position?

Questions About Your Interviewee’s Company:

Why did you decide to work for this company?

What do you like most about this company?

How does this company differ from its competitors?

How would you describe the company atmosphere/culture of your workplace?

How would you describe the atmosphere at the company? Is it fairly formal or more informal and casual?

Aside from visible compensation such as money, benefits etc., what kinds of mental dividends (such as job satisfaction) does this career yield?

Where do you see growth or change occurring in your organization/company?

What does the company do to foster innovation and creativity?

What is the management style of this organization?

Is there a typical chain of command where you work?

How are decisions made at your company; is it collaborative or do senior employees primarily make the decisions?

What is the dress code?

What is the pace of your work environment?

What are other typical jobs in your department –entry level, middle and senior roles?

At your company, what are the typical entry-level job titles and functions?

What degree or certifications do you/ your company look for in potential employees?

What is the typical job-interview process at your company? How many interviews do candidates generally go through before being offered a position?

What kind of work experience/ internship experience  are you/ your company looking for in a job applicant?

How does the company evaluate job performance?

What kinds of accomplishments does the company reward?

What social obligations go along with a job in this field? Are there organizations you are expected to take membership in? Are there other things you are expected to partake in outside of work hours?

What does the company do to contribute to its employees’ professional development?

Do people in your department function fairly autonomously or do they require a lot of supervision and direction?

Overachiever Questions:

“I looked through some of the job descriptions on the HR sector of your website in preparation for our interview today, most of the jobs I would be interested in listed insert skill, skill and skill as necessities. Can you tell me how those skills are used in this profession? Also, what skills do managers look for that are not in the job descriptions?

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