I always harp on job seekers to do informational interviews. These meetings are essential in building up your personal network and expanding on your knowledge of organizations in your chosen field. But what are you supposed to talk about during your half hour to an hour chat with a professional in your field?
It’s firstly important to understand the etiquette of such meetings. It is considered untoward and rude to think of an informational interview as a way of getting a job–even if that is your goal, you should not come right out and ask the contact person for a job. They’ll figure out soon enough that you are seeking new opportunities and if you have a good rapport and enough reason for them to talk to you (i.e. a friend of theirs referred you or you have an association or alumni network in common, for instance; or even just that you strike them as a nice person), then they will want to help you without your actually asking. Setting the tone as being an information-seeker and hopefully helpful new contact for them is the best way to start.
Once you are in a meeting with someone, it is your job to keep the conversation flowing. Having done your homework on the organization, you can then have a list of questions to ask. Here are some potential ones to consider asking (remembering you won’t get to them all in the allotted time–and you must respect their time, which they are donating to you):
About Their Career History and Current Job
- How did you get started in this field?
- What inspired you to get into this career?
- How did you get your current job?
- What is the hiring process like for jobs like yours?
- What are some of the typical jobs within your organization?
- What is your favorite thing about your job? What is your biggest challenge?
- What is a typical day like for you?
About This Career Path
- How would someone like me find out about opportunities in this career field?
- What skills, credentials, education, or experience are needed to enter this field? What skills are most in demand?
- What are some trends impacting the field?
- What are some of the other leading organizations in the field?
- What professional associations are most important to join?
- What are the typical salary ranges for people who are entering this field with my level of experience and education?
About Their Organization
- What is the culture of the organization like?
- What do you like best about working for this organization? What is the biggest challenge?
- What is the structure of the organization?
- Who do you work with the most often?
- What are some of your partner organizations?
And to Close
- Can you recommend anyone else for me to contact? Would you be willing to introduce me?
- Do you have any other advice for me?
- How could I be helpful to you going forward?
Be sure to follow up with a thank-you card (an email is a bare minimum). Hopefully, you will have established a good contact who will be willing to be an internal referral for you, give you job search tips, provide job leads, and introduce you to new people–all of which will help you land your perfect job.