The Informational Interview: 8 Questions to Ask

What is the most effective way to learn about a company?

Follow the social media accounts of that organization?

Good thought, but not what really gives you the inside scoop.

Look at their web site? Review sites like Nope. 

The BEST way to learn about a company is to talk to someone who works there.

I'm referring to what is called an "informational interview," or a relaxed chat with someone who has the inside track on a company, but is not necessarily hiring for any positions.

How can an informational interview help me find a job?

Career development professionals often talk about the "hidden job market" where positions are filled without ever being publicly advertised. When you hear about this "hidden" market, you may wonder how they find candidates? Often they rely on who current employees have recommended. Even if a job opening is posted, it may be a formality if a candidate has already come by way of referral and has impressed the hiring manager.

How do I ask for an informational interview?

I've blogged before about how to find folks to talk with, so if you haven't read my post "How to Meet Your Future Boss," check it out as well. Once you've identified a few people you'd like to meet, craft an email or verbal "pitch" that specifies what you're hoping to learn and how long you'd like to meet, usually about 20-30 minutes.

What questions should I ask?

Here are some questions to consider asking in the informational interview.

  • How did you get into this field?
  • Did you plan to work in this industry, or was it an unexpected turn in your career?
  • What type of training or education does a person need to work in this field?
  • What do you like about working at your particular company?
  • How is your company different from other major competitors in the market?
  • How do you think the industry will change in the next 2, 5, or 10 years?
  • What's a common misconception that outsiders have about people in this field?
  • Do you have any advice for me as I try to carve out a career in this field?

These questions are open-ended and give your interviewee a chance to take the conversation in a different direction if desired. They also give you valuable insights into the industry, company, or job which can help you craft a cover letter, hone a résumé, or nail an interview.

What question should I NOT ask?

Did you notice one question I specifically omitted from this list? During an informational interview, it's impolite to ask if there is a job opening available or if the person could recommend you for a job. This individual graciously offered to share advice and give you an insider's perspective on the company. If a position were open and you were a good fit, a recommendation would come naturally. To ask for one outright puts this person in an awkward position if you're not right for that role.

It went well! Now what?

If the informational interview goes well and the person you spoke with seems amenable, ask for an introduction to another contact (or two) in the field. When you touch base with those referred contacts, mention that you found this meeting helpful and ask if they would be willing to chat with you briefly, as well! This process can lead to a line of new connections, each of whom can share their network with you.

Finally, be sure to send a warm, personal thank you note immediately after the meeting. Even if you think you may never cross paths with this person again, follow up to say thanks.

Send a thank you note after an interview! You may be recommended if a future role opens up.

Do you have additional suggestions for how to navigate an informational interview? What questions would you add to this list? Please share in the comments, hit me up on Twitter @LynnCareerCoach, or post on my Facebook page.

If you could benefit from a career coach to prepare for an interview, drop me a note. You are invited to sign up for my weekly "Career Authentically" newsletter as well.