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Friday, December 2, 2011

"Turning the Tables: 11 Questions College Students Should Ask Future Employers in an Informational Interview"


As a college student, you're working toward a career in a field that interests you. Now is the time to learn as much as you can about the path you want to take. The informational interview, a meeting with a professional to learn more about their work, is a great opportunity to find out what it's really like out there and to get insights to help you better prepare. This exposure will also help you decide if you are on the right track towards a career you may want to pursue in the future.

Put some time and thought into the process. Get the most out of the opportunity by having some thoughtful questions in mind, and then know how to interpret the answers. We are often hesitant to ask questions because we don't want to be seen as "pushy" or "aggressive," but a successful executive will welcome thought-provoking questions in this particular setting. Here are some sample questions and what the answers have to teach you.

1. If you had to do it over again, what classes would you take that would better prepare you for a successful career? You may learn that there are some skills that come into play on the job that aren't part of typical training. For example, you might hear that taking a speech class or joining Toastmasters would have been helpful early in the job because the position requires frequent presentations to groups.

2. Are there any skills that I should hone, not related to my college classes, that would better serve me in this work environment? This will tell you what kind of skills they're really looking for outside of whatever job training you bring to the table; is it the ability to network? Organizational skills to help manage projects? Developing a thick skin for surviving in a fast-paced, demanding environment? Knowing what to expect makes the work transition from college to employment easier.

3. What would you say are the most important skills or qualities for someone in this field?
Listen especially carefully here -- this tells you if your abilities and interests are a good fit. For example, if you are interested in a job in public relations because you like talking to people, you may be surprised to learn that writing is an important skill for public relations professionals. The qualities that are most important in this career should be a good match for your personality and skills.

4. What does a typical day look like? This answer will be very revealing. If they get to the office at 6:30 a.m., spend all day in meetings and don't leave until 7:30 p.m., that's information you want to know. You may learn that what you thought the job involved is only a small part of the picture. There is always much more that what most of us see.

5. How much networking is involved? How many times a week are you expected to entertain clients? This will help you understand what is expected of employees beyond the 9-to5 hours. Learning how to effectively build relationships is a leadership skill - it wouldn't hurt to ask what your interviewee what tools he or she has found most effective.

6. How many jobs did you have before coming to this company? How many years have you been here? In this position? This may help you understand the typical progression for this career. It might also hint at if this company tends to hire new employees straight out of college or if they typically hire candidates with a few years of experience under their belts.

7. Can you tell me about the promotions that led to your current position? This gives you an idea of the progression of the executive's career path and a general idea of how long it took your executive interviewee before he achieved his current level of success, keeping in mind that no two people, situations or career paths are the same.

8. What has been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it? You may hear about some of the harder parts of working in this field that you might not have realized were a factor.

9. In your current position, what is your daily top priority? How do you handle it? You may be surprised here. If you pictured someone in technology always developing cool new gadgets or apps, or an advertising executive spending all their time brainstorming celebrity-studded ad campaigns, it might be enlightening to know that they spend a lot of time in meeting with clients, trying to secure new business or supervising others.

10. What do you like most and least about your job? Again, this will open your eyes to aspects of the job that you may not have considered. One teaching student enjoyed her education coursework and developing lesson plans, but learned from being in the classroom during student teaching the discipline issues took up more of the class time than she expected.

11. What experience would help a recent college graduate successfully enter this field? If internships or industry-specific work experience will set you apart at hiring time, include these experiences in your preparation so you are as ready as possible to land a job after graduation.

12. What else can I do to prepare myself for a job in this industry? See if what they suggest matches what you're doing. If it doesn't, factor this insight into your planning. All information is great information because it helps you determine if you are on the right track with your education and focus.

For more timely tips, please visit Diane Gottsman's blog at www.dianegottsman.