This article originally appeared in Tips on Life & Love from Simon & Schuster.
You’ve landed an informational interview with someone in the career field you’re pursuing. Congrats! Now, what will you ask them? Start with these savvy questions from career coach Nicholas Lore, author of The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success.
To get you started, below is a list of generic questions, only some of which you may want to ask. Make up your own list. Keep it reasonably short. Refine your questions until you are sure they are to the point. Ask your most important questions first in case you run out of time. Do not ask how much money someone makes.
Take notes. Jot down enough of the answer that you can remember it later. Taking notes will also slow down any tendency to sound like a machine gun—and will show the interviewee you are serious.
Say thank you. Thank the interviewee. He or she took the time to help you. The next day, send a note (by mail, not email) thanking him/her again.
• What do you find most satisfying and most frustrating about your job?
• What changes are occurring in your field and company?
• Are you expected to take work home at night or fulfill social obligations that eat into time away from the job?
• How often and how much do you work odd hours, overtime, and so on?
• How much of your day do you spend working with . . . (people, speedboats, bats, computers, and so on)?
• What functional skills do you use most?
• What personality traits, talents, and skills fit your job best?
• What kind of person does best in this work?
• How often and how do you . . . (use creative problem solving, travel overseas, and so forth) on the job?
• How much of your time do you spend working with things or information, as distinguished from working with people?
• What kind of interactions do you have with peers, colleagues, supervisors, managers, clients, and so on?
• Who do you go to when you need advice or support? Is there enough available?
• How much and what kind of variety and routine does your work include?
• Do you feel you are able to express yourself at work?
• What kind of challenges does your work provide?
• What is it like to work at this organization? (There are many questions you could ask about working in a
• Do you find your work competitive? Cooperative? How so?
• Is it a secure job/field, in terms of income-earning potential, opportunities, future demand, and so forth?
• What kind of relationship do you have with your clients, colleagues, supervisor, staff?
• How much do you work one-on-one with people?
• How much deadline pressure comes with the job?
• Is it important to have a detail orientation?
• How much reading and researching are involved?
• How much decision making is involved?
• How much persuading or selling is involved?
• What are the sources of satisfaction for you in this career?
• What’s a starting salary for this field?
• What is the potential for growth?
• Where do various growth tracks lead?
• Is your job portable?
• What’s a typical day like?
• What do you find stressful, annoying, or unpleasant about your work?
• Why do you feel your work is meaningful, important, valued?
• How much of a typical workday consists of administrative work?
• How predictable is a given day, week?
• What education and certification and other requirements are required for this type of work?
• What would I need to do to become an attractive candidate for a job in this field? What alternatives require less education?
• How long were you in school, training to learn your profession?
• What is your work environment like?
• What is the best way to gain entrance to your field or company?
• Do you belong to a professional association? How do I contact it?
• What books and trade publications do you recommend I read to learn more?
• If you were in my position, how would you go about getting into this field?
• What employers would be most likely to offer what I am seeking?
• May I contact you if other questions arise?
• Can you refer me to other people in your field who could answer further questions, give a different perspective?