What Makes A Good Informational Interview Question?

With access to hundreds of informational interview questions through just a quick search of the Internet, it might seem like a great idea to simply choose a few and set up your meeting. After all, there are websites that claim to have the “20 Best Informational Interview Questions,” but how do you know if any of them are actually good informational interview questions, or useful for you to ask?

Indicators of Good Informational Interview Questions

At the most basic level, good informational interview questions are those that you actually want to ask, meaning you are not just choosing questions for the sake of picking some, but your questions are written (or selected) to help you learn something. In other words, each of your questions have a purpose! Additionally, if you do some research about the person whom you are going to interview, you can even create questions that seem the most suited for that individual. Let’s say the person you are interviewing majored in what you are studying. Having this common experience would make for a great opportunity to ask a question about any courses they might recommend you take either inside or outside of your major or field of study.

Always take time to determine what you wish to learn.

A good informational interview question is open-ended and the design of the question prompts the interviewee to answer with more than a “Yes” or “No” response (read on to see examples). Think about it: how interesting or valuable will it be if, after a 20-minute interview, you only have a collection of “yes” and “no” responses? Isn’t it more valuable to have actual advice, and to gain ideas that you can apply to your future? Everyone has stories to share, and if you ask well thought out questions you will expand your knowledge and gain insights that can potentially contribute to future career-related decisions.

Here’s an example:
Say you want to learn about specific workplace skills needed to be a competitive job candidate.

A poorly formulated informational interview question would be:
Are there any workplace skills that I should gain to be a competitive job candidate? (Yes/No Response)

A good informational interview question would be:
I am interested in learning more about workplace skills that I should gain to be a competitive job candidate in your field, what are some of the recommendations you have for me? (Open-ended)

Or alternatively:
What are the skills that have most helped you in your role and that you recommend I focus on during my remaining year at UConn? (Open-ended)

When asking informational interview questions you will want to avoid formulating questions that ask the interviewee to share any company or organizational “secrets.” Let’s say the company is known for creating some sort of new technology. It would not be appropriate to create a question that asks about new developments in this area. Employees are not allowed to reveal proprietary information.

While you might be genuinely curious about some of the more personal aspects of the interviewee’s life, a good informational interview question does not venture in this direction. You might be curious about how much money someone makes, and that information might be helpful for you to know as you weigh different career options, but you would not create a question asking this. You could however do research using Glassdoor or Payscale to learn about the salaries of individuals in similar positions.

When writing your own informational interview questions consider testing them on a few different people and seeing how they answer them. Are you getting the types of answers you want? If you are, then this is a good indicator that your questions are well written.  If the person seems confused by a question you are asking, then share the type of information you are trying to gather and invite them to suggest what they might want to be asked. A common mistake is to string several different questions together (e.g. I am curious about what a typical day is like, if you supervise people, and what you like the most about your work?) as the interviewee will often lose track of what you have asked. A good question is also fairly specific. What does this mean? Asking, “What’s it like to do your job?” is too broad of a question and difficult for your interviewee to answer. Asking “What is a typical week like?” would be a more specific question and likely provide some concrete information.

Testing your questions and practicing them will likely mean that your informational interview will go smoothly and deliver great responses from your interviewee!

As you begin to write and gather informational interview questions, you will quickly notice that there are many categories of questions (about the individual, about their job, about the company, etc.) and covering an array of topics can make the interview interesting for you and for the interviewee. Remember, this is a time to gain information only, and it is an added bonus if the interviewee asks you to send them your résumé or tells you about an internship or job opportunity. If your questions sound pleasant and friendly, are genuinely of interest to you, and your interviewee is easily providing responses that are informative and helpful, you are likely formulating not just good, but great informational interview questions. Enjoy the process and you never know where one good question will take you!

 

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By Kay Kimball Gruder
Kay Kimball Gruder Assistant Director of Graduate Student Career Programs and Services Kay Kimball Gruder