First, in an informational interview you have an opportunity to learn about a specific company. A lot of jobseekers, particularly young professionals, use informational interviews for this reason. Most of the time we actually know quite a bit about the particular company, and that’s why we’re in the room. We aspire to work there. If this is the case, make sure you ask questions you don’t already know the answer to. Use the knowledge you’ve acquired as a stepping stone to learn more. For example, I’m really interested in your company because of your commitment to _______. How do you see this play out in the work that you do?
Similarly, I recommend asking: In the last year I know you’ve _______. What do you have on tap in the next 6 months to 1-year?
Second, we can use informational interviews to learn about the specific kind of work entailed in a particular job. While conducting an informational interview with a senior leader or hiring manager can be a great way to get your foot in the door, you often get more clarity on the kind of work you are best suited for if you speak with someone currently doing it. (Remember, it’s the tasks you perform daily that will be one of the greatest predictors of workplace satisfaction. While working for a nonprofit start-up might sound sexy because of your interest in social justice, if 80% of your responsibilities will be answering phones or searching for funding, it may not be such a great fit.) Therefore, ask questions like: What does a typical day look like for someone in _______ role? What professional strengths, communication style, professional interests, etc. should someone in _______ role have?
Third, an informational interview is a superb way to learn how we can make ourselves more competitive for the kind of work we aspire to do. If you feel you have forged the foundation for a solid relationship with your informational interviewee, ask her if she would be comfortable reading over your resume and offering 2-3 suggestions for strengthening it. Two of my other favorite questions in this category are: What do you feel would be necessary for my application to ”pop” if I were to apply for ______ position should one become available in the future? What opportunities would you recommend for me to further my learning and growth in _______? Don’t miss out on the opportunity to receive feedback on what you most need to know to be successful with this or a similar company down the line.