Last week, I met with my direct report to map out some of my professional goals for this summer. I recently began working at Capella University located in downtown Minneapolis (which is the best place I’ve ever worked at BTW) and the culture there is very conducive to this kind of professional development.
Among identifying the areas of knowledge, skill, and virtue that I wanted to grow in, my direct report and I came up with a plan to have me meet with at least 2 people a week for informational interviews. I love meeting and talking with people, so I was definitely up for the challenge.
As of today, I have conducted 10 informational meetings at Capella with several more to go. Here are the 3 most important questions that I have been asking the people that I have been interviewing.
1. “How would you define [insert subject or field]?”
I love to start with this question because it creates a shared understanding between both the interviewer and interviewee. For example, I’m in marketing, so I will typically ask the people that I interview, “How would you define marketing?” The answers that I get are spectacular because marketing is such a broad field and people will have different perspectives on it.
It’s helpful for you to gather as many different definitions of a particular subject/field so that you can then synthesize your own personal definition on that particular subject/field. Starting with this question also helps you to connect with the person that you’re interviewing and communicate your interest in the particular subject/field.
2. “What are some resources that you like to use?”
I tend to ask this question toward the tail-end of the interview. And when I say resources, I mean websites that the interviewee visits regularly, thought leaders that they follow on LinkedIn or Twitter, webinars or TED Talks that they really enjoy, articles that they’ve found educational. Anyone/anything that they go to in order to develop their human capital and sharpen their professional skills.
This question is important to ask for several reasons: 1. It allows you to expand your own resource repertoire 2. It gives you something to go to for insight when your coworkers are unavailable 3. It gives you a practical takeaway from the interview and 4. If you find the particular resource helpful, it gives you something to pass along to your fellow employees. Resource sharing is just a good practice to try in general. You don’t even need an informational interview to practice it! But the context of an informational interview is a good place to begin if you’ve never asked people for a list of their professional development resources. Try it sometime.
3. “Whom would you recommend that I meet with next?”
This is the question that I like to end the interview with. It will give you direction for your next informational interview and it will also allow you to expand your own network. For example, I would say something like, “As you know, I’m trying to further my development as a marketer. Who would be a good person to meet with next for me to continue that development?” or you could phrase it like, “Who is someone in this organization that you really look up to? Could you connect the two of us?”
Like the previous question, this question will give you a practical takeaway from the informational interview. Information is beneficial. Indeed, that is why they are called “informational” interviews, but if you can leave the interview with tangible takeaways, then you will be light-years ahead of the competition.
Feel free to use these three questions during your informational interview! Also, feel free to share some of the key questions that you like to ask in an interview in the comments section or on social media.
I wish you well in your professional development!