5 Right Questions for an Informational Interview

by Diana La Femina, Senior Editor, INALJ Canada
previously published 5/16/13

5 Right Questions for an Informational Interview

diana la feminaI can’t remember how I first heard about informational interviews, but I now believe them to be one of the most powerful and underutilized tools in any professional’s repertoire. (And by “professional” I mean anyone who’s serious about their career, not just people who already have their career established.)

But what exactly is an informational interview? Basically, it’s you interviewing someone else to gain information and insight on their career. I know that might seem a bit obvious, but it’s really important to make sure this hits home: this is you interviewing another person. You ask the questions, you lead the conversation. This is not you sitting down with someone and expecting them to give you advice; you must ask for it and be proactive.

It’s also important for me to firmly state that the entire purpose of an informational interview is to gain information, not a job. Might an informational interview lead to a job or a lead? Yes, of course, that’s a desired outcome. If you go into an informational interview angling for a job, though, you’ll most likely turn the interviewer off. This is about them and the answers they can give you based on their experience.

An interesting fact: people love to talk about themselves. It’s not just a vanity thing; we all view the world based on our experiences, and we relate to others by comparing their experiences with our own. If someone is willing to give you their time and you ask the right questions, it’s amazing how much advice you can get. And things will almost certainly circle back to you and your experiences/challenges. Just make sure to make the informational interview about the interviewer first.

How does one get an informational interview? Reach out. It’s best if you have some connection to the person, but you could also email someone you’ve never connected with but who’s position or field you’re interested in. Introduce yourself, explain why you’re contacting them, and ask if they might have some time for an informational interview (you can offer to buy them coffee or tea, if you like). Remember that you can also conduct an interview via email, so geographic location isn’t necessarily a limitation.

An interview is nothing without the right questions, though. The best questions are open ended ones. Here are a few basic ones:

1. Why did you decide to enter this field?
2. What lead you to this position?
3. What is the most challenging part of your job?
4. What does your day usually look like?
5. Is there anything you wish you knew back when you were deciding to get into this field?

It’s best to go in with a list of basic questions and then let the interview lead where it will. Circle back on things the interviewee says that interest you, build off their answers. And remember to always bring a copy of your resume. 😉


Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list INALJ.com (formerly I Need a Library Job) and former CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of T160K.org, a crowdfunding platform focused on African patrimony, heritage and cultural projects. INALJ was founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard. Its social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ. INALJ has had over 21 Million page hits and helped many, many thousands of librarians find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in one month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this with many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro and many other publications in the past decade. She presents whenever she can, including serving on three panels at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Las Vegas; as breakout presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa; as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting; at the National Press Club in Washington DC; McGill University in Montreal, Canada; the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has been living and working in Budapest, Hungary and Western New York State. She spent years running her husband’s moving labor website, fixed and sold old houses and assisted her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food. She is preparing to re-enter the workforce and is job hunting. Her husband is now the co-editor of INALJ, a true support!  She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 


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