The Informational Interview | 4 Questions to Keep the Conversation Moving

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There are plenty of good reasons to have an informational interview, but ensuring that your meeting helps you take productive next steps rather than simply being an interesting conversation and nothing more can be tricky.

While you’ll want to prepare questions in advance to keep the interview moving along, the ways in which you plan to end the conversation will determine where the new professional relationship may go from there.

Here are four questions to ask that will help you land on tangible next steps once the information interview ends.

“What books or articles would you suggest reading to learn more about this field?”

If your new contact mentions a skill or program that you haven’t heard of, ask them for advice on how to find out more.

Chances are, during an informational interview, you’ll only scratch the surface of what’s out there related to your field of interest. Ideally, you will be familiar with important books or publications in your field before your meeting so you are able to have an in-depth conversation with your interviewee, but to dig a bit deeper, ask your new contact for suggested reading materials to help fill in any gaps.

Your interviewees response should allow you to walk away from your meeting with names of new authors, books, or articles to explore. This question also offers a great opportunity for you to follow up at a later date to discuss the works that your contact recommended once you’ve read them.

“What technical or hard skills would you recommend I learn in order to be successful in this line of work?”

This question may seem oddly specific, but asking for technical or hard-skill recommendations means that you are more likely to get a straightforward answer about gaps in your skill set.

This is not to say that interpersonal or soft skills don’t matter, however. For most jobs, the ability to solve problems, work with others, and communicate effectively are necessities, but it is arguably easier to map out a plan to learn a new software, for example, than it is to map out a plan to generally get better at marketing.

While there is an argument to be made that all skills are useful and transferable in some way, understanding what hard skills are mandatory for your field can help you prioritize what you choose to learn next. If your new contact mentions a skill or program that you haven’t heard of, ask for advice on how to find out more.

“Who would you recommend I talk to next?” 

Ideally, your interviewee will know other professionals who can give you more advice. If your interviewee knows the individual personally, ask if they would be willing to introduce you, or at least mention that they encouraged you to reach out.

Even if you don’t come away with a specific name, your interviewee can still offer a good sense where you may find a promising new contact.

“May I follow up with you in a few weeks for another meeting?”

While your interviewee won’t be surprised to hear from you after your meeting, why not establish the expectation that you plan to reach out them again?

In addition to setting an expectation of future engagement, you also give yourself a timeline by which you will need to act on your interviewee’s advice before meeting again. If your informational interview goes well and your interviewee seems excited about reconnecting sometime in the future, you may even be able to lock down a date for your next meeting right then and there. Aim to get something on the schedule in five or six weeks if possible.

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What other questions do you ask at the end of informational interviews to ensure that you get the most out of your meeting? Let us know in the comments below.

Need a refresh on informational interviews? Read the Idealist Careers informational interviews resource guide here.

Bri Riggio is an NCDA-certified career advisor whose goal is to help others find personal success and fulfillment through career exploration and coaching. She has specific knowledge of careers paths in international affairs, public policy, and education and is an avid writer, storyteller, and gamer.

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