30 questions to ask during an information interview
As my readers know, my son is in his first year at UCLA and is hoping to land a summer internship in advertising. But he doesn’t know anything about what advertisers do on a daily basis. Unfortunately, neither do I. My husband was working as an art director at an advertising agency in South Africa in the 80s, but it could just as easily have been during the Pleistocene era, as there was no internet or social media.
My generous colleague, Forbes CMO Network Editor-in-Chief, Jennifer Rooney, worked at Advertising age, and offered to give me a list of people in the agencies where she has contacts. I forwarded the list to my son. But what to do with it? He’s a newbie to job hunting, I thought he should try a series of informational interviews, rather than contacting these people and applying for a summer job. I want him to line up those interviews for the end of March when he returns for spring break. But then he asked me a simple question: what should he ask in such an interview? I realized that I had never covered this aspect of the job search.
To find answers, I called four people I consider to be excellent sources, New York career coaches Eileen Wolkstein and Robert Hellmann, Katharine Brooks, Executive Director of the University Campus Career Development Office. Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and author of You specialized in What? :! and Jill Tipograph, who mentors students and recent graduates through internships and career launches. They each advised a slightly different approach, but together I thought they had some good ideas on how my son should approach the process.
“It’s an indirect way of selling yourself without saying, ‘Can I have an internship? “, Explains Wolkstein. It means that you are selling your personality, your sense of humor and the fact that you are reliable, eager to learn and that you will do a good job. You want to communicate that you will do anything and, most of all, you want to soak up what people are doing all day.
Brooks, on the other hand, says you should stick with gathering information rather than doing what she calls a bait and exchange and trying to make it into a job interview. “It can put people off because it sounds like a sneaky way of looking for a job. An informational interview can turn into a job interview, but should only change course if the interviewee directs it that way, she advises.
While Brooks says you shouldn’t pivot and turn an informational interview into a job posting, she says you should still network by asking if the interviewee can recommend another contact. Tipograph agrees. “Every person you meet is someone you want to add to your network,” she says.
Before you even get to the interview, Brooks says you should be careful about how you ask for someone’s time. Too many students are too laid back and write, “Hey Bill, I’d like to talk to you. Better wander on the formal side, unless the person is close to you in age: “Dear Mr. Smith, I was wondering if you would be able to give me 10 minutes of your time on the phone for an informational interview. . I’m 56 and personally prefer an informal “Hi Susan”, but I understand her point of view. She recommends the telephone because it is the least problem for the interviewee and often the pupil is at school in another city.
A face to face meeting is always the best. If I’m on the phone, I often think of ways to end the call. If you’re in the same city, definitely offer to go to the person’s office or somewhere nearby for coffee and limit your request to 10 or 20 minutes. Since people respond to specific suggestions, suggest two or three different times, such as Friday at 3 or 4 p.m. or Thursday at 5:30 p.m. Always add “or any time that works best for you”. Obviously, if you are in another city, you will have a telephone or Skype interview. Whatever you do, don’t use email unless the interviewee insists.
Prepare yourselves. Read as much as possible about the company to avoid asking questions such as “who are your customers” when customers are listed on the company website. Find the interviewee’s bio on the company website or through LinkedIn. Check out Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
Tipograph says your preparation should go beyond finding the individual and the company. She has some sharp advice for my son. He shouldn’t waste his time with a high-level contact at an agency asking questions that he can answer while doing his homework online. Example: The American Association of Advertising Agencies has a career information tab that describes jobs with advertising agencies, from account coordinator to strategic marketing director. He should read them and digest them. He should also think about interviewing an undergraduate colleague at UCLA who is further in the pursuit of a career in advertising. The university has its own advertising team that runs real campaigns. A member of the student team would be a great resource.
Once you’ve done all your homework, what do you ask? I focused on candidates like my son who are just starting out. But most of these questions work for people who are further along in their careers, considering a change. Here are 30 questions, combining the wisdom of my four sources.
1. Tell me about the career path that led you to your job. Disclaimer: Try to glean information from Linked in or the company website and ask a more specific question eg I understand you are from Des Moines and work there in sales. How did you come to work in advertising in New York?
2. Tell me about your job. What are the basic components?
3. What did you do yesterday?
4. What experiences have you best prepared for your job?
5. Tell me what’s going on in the different divisions of your agency, like the client side, the financial side, the media buying side, the creative side.
6. Who depends on you?
7. Who do you depend on?
8. What are the people who work for you doing?
9. What do you like the most about your job?
10. What is the most difficult part of your job?
11. What types of problems do you encounter on a daily basis?
12. How does it feel to work for this particular company?
13. What sets it apart from the rest of the advertising world?
14. What does the future look like in your field?
15. What are the long-term trends in your business?
16. What is the typical career path at this company?
17. In which city should I live if I want to do this job?
18. What is a typical entry-level security?
19. In your organization, when preparing to hire, what position do people usually enter?
20. What does your hiring process look like?
21. Where do you see your career from here?
22. Where do you see this industry going?
23. Do you hire interns?
24. Who should I tell about the internship program?
25. Who is the best person you have had in the internship program?
26. What skill set is your business looking for?
27. What would you recommend that I study at university to better prepare for this field?
28. What would be some good internship experiences that I should consider? Should I try to work in a small or a large agency?
29. What type of work samples or portfolio should I try to develop as I try to embark on this career?
30. Who else would you recommend that I speak to (mention who else you spoke to in the field)?