Informational Interviews: Part 3

Example Questions
As we go through this list of example questions, think about why you are asking each question you prepare. I want you to know the reasoning behind your questions. Let’s jump right in.

  • Where do you see this industry or profession going in the next few years? This question allows them to think about and share their industry or professional expertise.
  • What changes have you seen in the course of your career so far? This question gives them a chance to talk about their experiences while giving you an interesting perspective from an insider, which you might not learn by reading articles.
  • What are the hard to find skills in this industry or what your company is looking for? Too often we go into a situation thinking we know what they need. You might get an insider’s perspective to push past assumptions.
  • Would you choose this field if you had to do it over again? I love to learn from the successes and mistakes of others. This can lead to a really interesting conversation.
  • What are the biggest technology changes influencing the industry? Their answer might help, you know where to focus your learning and position yourself to provide solutions.
  • What are the biggest challenges facing your company and industry? Their answer might help you come up with solutions to big problems, which could lead to contracts, new products, or other opportunities.
  • How do you keep up with developments in your field or industry? This question should reveal sources to help you keep up with developments. It also shows you’re interested in your professional development.
  • Who are the best thinkers in this space right now? This opens the door to one of your objectives, which is to get introductions to people you should have informational interviews with.

Between the introduction and the wrap-up, we likely would not get through this short list of questions. But, better to have smart questions prepared, each aligned with my objectives, than run out of questions.

Preparing the Agenda
Since you asked for the meeting, it is your role to run it. Have a list of points you want to cover or a rough agenda. Every item on your agenda should tie directly to any of the four objectives of an informational interview, which, as a reminder, are to gather information, to brand yourself, to develop professional relationships, and to get introductions or referrals. Remember this, even if the other person tends to take over the conversation, it is still your meeting. It’s your responsibility to work towards any of your four objectives. For a meeting this short, the agenda is pretty simple. First, have the introductions, don’t let this take too much time. Like I said, 30 minutes can go by very quickly. Some sales and network experts suggest you talk about common interests. You might say, oh, I see you like boating, based on a picture that’s hanging on the wall, but that might lead to a conversation about boating for the next 30 minutes and your meeting is over. Of course, this could be okay, you have to be the judge of that. If that happened to me, I would simply ask for another meeting. The next part of your agenda is your time for questions, which might take the bulk of the meeting. If you have good questions and ask them well, you should be able to gather great information, make a strong brand impression, start a professional relationship that can last for many years, and instil confidence so they’re willing to make introductions for you. Make sure you have a good conversation around their answers instead of just reading through your list of questions. Then, it’s time to wrap up your meeting. This is where you ask for introductions. You could say, I’m looking for introductions to people in this industry or this company, can you introduce me to someone in this industry, or company, and then remain quiet, let them think. This is one of the most important parts of the informational interview. If they say you should talk to Jimmy, ask if they will make an introduction. Even though you’re prepared with an agenda, it might go in a completely different direction than what you planned. You have to be flexible. If you don’t get to any of your questions, that could be okay. Achieving any of your four objectives is more important than going through your list of questions. It’s also okay to say, you know, I’ve taken all the time I asked for. Can we meet in a week or two? There are some very specific things I would like to ask you about. If nothing else, the meeting might have been a really good start to a long-term relationship.

Logistics for Meeting Success
We’ve talked about some important things, but if you don’t get the logistics right, all your other preparation might be for naught. When I say logistics. I’m talking about ensuring that you are at the meeting at the right time. Sounds simple, but I want to make sure you plan for it. If you’re meeting in person, where are you going to meet? How will you get there? And do you need to figure out parking? This meeting could be career changing. You don’t want something as trivial as taking a wrong turn or not finding parking to make you late, a little late could mean completely missing the meeting. I actually like to arrive 15 to 30 minutes early. Let me illustrate the importance of logistics with an experience that was pretty painful. I was on an important webinar when something happened to my laptop and the webinar ended unexpectedly. I emailed my contact with an apology and she said, oh, no problem. That happens all the time. You can get back to me next year. This important meeting didn’t only fail, but had a low chance of getting rescheduled. Speaking of laptops and webinars, if you are meeting virtually, make sure you have the right software downloaded and your mic and camera are set up. At work, I might be on five different webinars or screen share platforms on any given day. I might also have at least two microphones and multiple headsets connected. More than once, I’ve found myself saying, hold on, I need to check my audio settings. This distraction and time waster is not a fun way to start the meeting. Another logistical point I find critical is to exchange mobile numbers. That way, if I have a problem getting to the meeting, I can give them a call. I’ve found texting or calling is better than an email or LinkedIn message when someone is waiting for me. Of course, this works both ways. If they’re having a problem, they can let me know. Finally, put thought into what you will wear. I’ve heard you should figure out what the corporate dress standard is and then dress one level up from that. At the very least, I suggest you don’t show up in shorts. What you wear could have an impact on your brand and their first impression of you. Planning the logistics of your meeting can give you peace of mind and help you focus on the meeting objectives instead of trying to recover from distractions.