Make the most of your next informational interview and be sure to ask these eight questions. [TWEET]

One of the best ways to get a feel for a job and a company without interviewing for an actual position, is to line up an informational interview. The informational interview is simply a conversation between yourself and someone who holds a job similar to what you would like to have either now or someday in the future. It’s not about trying to land a job on the spot by talking to this person (there might not even be an open position), but rather it’s about gathering information.

How do you gather information? With the best questions to ask in an informational interview! If you’ve found someone who is willing to give you a few minutes of their time, either by phone or in person, you owe it to them to have good questions ready. That means you’ve done some research and won’t waste their time with things you can find out on your own.

Here are eight of the best questions to ask in an informational interview, to help you get the most out of your time.

1. “I noticed that you’ve worked at company A and company B. How did your career path take you to this job with this company?”

Take the time before your interview to look over the individual’s Linkedin page. Check out their background and take note of any peculiar jumps or shifts that might make interesting talking points. This question is a good one to start out with since it will clearly demonstrate that you have done your background work and are prepared.

What you should learn: The answer here should help you understand the basic career path that leads to this job. That can help you understand what your own career path may look like.

2. “What are the major components of your job on a daily basis?”

You may think you know what this person does because of the job title, but you could be surprised. Perhaps you didn’t understand the job title as well as you thought or maybe this particular company handles things differently. This is a good interview question because it helps you learn what they do on an average day so you can look past the basic job description and see what the job really entails.

What you should learn: Is this job really what you thought it was and does it sound right for you? It could be an eye opener.

3. “What do you enjoy the most about the job?”

This one could also surprise you. Maybe their favorite thing is some menial task that fits their nature. Or, maybe there are perks that you didn’t know about. When you learn what a person really likes about their job, you learn why they continue to do it. It’s the motivator that keeps them coming to work each day. Beware the person who answers, “Payday” unless making money is your only real career goal as well.

What you should learn: What’s the payoff, emotionally, to this job. If you think you’d get excited about the same thing, then this could be a good career fit for you.

4. “What do you like least about your job?”

Remember, this isn’t an actual job interview, so you can venture outside questions to ask in an interview. You’re talking to a regular employee, so they don’t have to blow smoke. They can tell you exactly how it is. It could be the mundane, everyday tasks they hate. It might be office politics. Maybe it’s lack of support from management. Whatever the case, take note. There’s a good chance your own career could battle the same demons.

What you should learn: It’s great to hear the upside of a job, but you need to hear the down side as well. Put them together and you can measure for yourself if this is something you would enjoy.

5. “How do you see this job changing in the next 10 years?”

Think about any career you want and then think about what that career was like 10 years ago. Technology and social media have dramatically changed the world and how we do many jobs. From HR to marketing to construction, things have evolved and will continue to evolve. Not everyone likes change, so be prepared to hear that it’s all going downhill. A good employee should have ideas on where their career and industry is going without clinging to the old ways.

What you should learn: Even if you get a doomsday person that longs for the past, you should be able to get a glimpse of the future and what you’ll need to do to stay ahead of the game.

6. “If you could go back and do anything different on this career path, what would you do?”

Who hasn’t thought, “Oh, I wish I’d gotten this minor instead of that one” or “I should have learned more computer programs when I was younger?” Everyone can look back and think of something they could have done to smooth out their career path. It could be classes, certifications, moving to new locations, or just about anything. Whatever they say here is very important, and you’ll want to keep it in mind as you progress in your career.

What you should learn: Learn from their mistakes. If they’ve realized that a certain computer program would be helpful, learn it. Think about what they said about the future as well and you may be able to prepare yourself even better.

7. “What kind of work samples should my portfolio have?”

If you are looking at a career field, you probably have some experience or at least some interest. But, do you have the experience that companies are looking for? This is a good interview question because your portfolio can be as important or even more important than your resume. Companies don’t just want to hear about what you can do, they want to see it.

What you should learn: Simple. Is your portfolio headed the right direction? Are you missing key elements? This is a great way to learn what employers are expecting before you hand out a subpar portfolio to a would-be employer.

8. “Who else would you recommend that I speak with about this career?”

Don’t leave the interview until you ask this question! It’s great to talk to someone who is currently in the position you aspire to, but you need more than that. If they can recommend one or two more people and possibly connect you, it’s to your benefit to follow up with them. Different people doing similar jobs may have completely different ideas about all of these questions.

What you should learn: The names of more people you’d like to know. People in the industry willing to take the time to help you are people you need to keep as contacts.

Once you’ve finished your interview and completed the questions to ask in an informational interview, be sure to thank them for their time. Think about it. What’s in it for them? They’ve taken time out of their day to help you. That’s it. Send them a nice thank you card or at least an email. Then, connect with them on LinkedIn. Asking the right questions can make an informational interview one of the best ways to kickstart your career. You’ve started to build your network and you’re getting the inside scoop on what it takes to land your dream job. Now, take action on what you’ve learned.

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