6 Questions To Ask During The Informational Interview

informational interview questions

By Arnie Fertig

"I'm out of work, and need a job-fast!" relates a desperate job hunter to his friend.

"So... what have you been doing so far?" she responds.

"I'm networking like crazy! I'm calling everyone I know and saying: HELP ME!"

The friend continues to probe, "And how's that working out for you so far?"

"Not so well. No one seems to be getting back to me. No one is listening to what I need from them. So much for all this networking baloney I keep hearing about!"

The problem is not that networking doesn't work. The problem is that this job hunter isn't actually networking. He is floundering around and putting his immediate needs in front of building solid relationships.

Who's Hiring For The Holidays
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6 Questions To Ask During The Informational Interview

Seasonal job openings: 5,200

A staple of many shopping malls across the nation, the gourmet gift basket retailer relies heavily on holiday sales to add to its profits. A privately held company, Hickory Farms perennially hires as many as 6,000 seasonal workers to work at its stores, which it calls "Holiday Gift Centers." Though many jobs involve interacting with customers, the company also needs additional workers to fill stock and labor positions, which may include driving in some locations, it says.

Looking for a job at Hickory Farms? Click here to get started.

Seasonal job openings: 50,000+

Though it has no bricks-and-mortar stores to staff, Amazon.com Inc.'s seasonal hiring plans  are nonetheless robust. It needs plenty of additional workers to help fill orders and keep products moving through its warehouses nationwide. The Seattle-based company, which is unveiling a new line of Kindle-brand electronic readers and tablets, also plans to add 2,000 new jobs at three new distribution centers to help deal with demand driven by the new devices.

Looking for a job at Amazon? Click here to get started.

Seasonal job openings: 52,700

The department store operator announced it September that it would ramp up holiday hiring by more than 10 percent from last year to support its business in stores and online. Wisconsin-based Kohl's Corp., which operates 1,134 stores in 49 states, plans to hire an average of 41 workers at each store, a 4 percent increase from last year. The company also expects to add about 5,700 seasonal positions at distribution centers and more than 30 seasonal credit operations jobs.

Looking for a job at Kohl's? Click here to get started.

Seasonal job openings: 45,000

The former No. 1 seller of toys in the U.S., Toys R Us Inc. credits a gradually improving economy and an increase in consumer spending for its decision to hire 11 percent more seasonal workers than the 40,000 it did in 2011. Of those it hired last year, Toys R Us says roughly 15 percent of them were kept on after the holiday sales season ended.

Looking for a job at Toys R Us? Click here to get started.

Seasonal job openings: 50,000+

The holidays are the busiest time of year for the world's largest retailer and the company plans to hire more than 50,000 temporary workers to help keep store shelves and move customers through checkout lines as the 2012 holiday season approaches. Walmart Stores Inc. also plans to give existing employees the chance to work more hours during the season, acknowledging complaints among some workers who said they weren't able to work as many hours as they would have liked.

Looking for a job at Walmart? Click here to get started.

Seasonal job openings: up to 90,000

Though far smaller than rival Walmart, the nation's No. 2 retailer nonetheless plans to hire plenty of holiday season workers in 2012. The Minnesota-based company plans to add 80,000 to 90,000 seasonal jobs, down a bit from the 92,000 it hired last year. Hiring forecasts are likely be held in check by Target's expectations of an "ultracompetitive" holiday sales season. Target Corp., along with Walmart, is keeping an eye on expenses, which of course includes labor costs, so as to lower prices and stimulate sales.

Looking for a job at Target? Click here to get started.

Seasonal job openings: 80,000

The king of all department stores, Cincinnati-based Macy's Inc. said it's hiring nearly 3 percent more seasonal staff than it did last year, in anticipation of higher holidays sales. Sales associates and call center employees are among the positions Macy's is looking to fill, which also include those in its distribution and fulfillment centers, to support the department store operator's growing online business

Looking for a job at Macy's? Click here to get started.

Seasonal Job Openings: 24,000

Best Buy Co. plans to hire about 9,000 more seasonal workers as it did last year, though this year's number is still below the 29,000 it hired in 2010. In July, the world's largest consumer electronics chain cut 600 of its "Geek Squad" employees in response to weak sales. The boost in seasonal hiring is helping to contribute to what analysts say is the best year of seasonal-job creation that the U.S. has seen in five years.

Looking for a job at Best Buy? Click here to get started.

Seasonal Job Openings: 17,000

Much like Best Buy, GameStop has seen its sales erode as more and more consumers turn to buying online. Faced with strong competitors such as Amazon, GameStop has nonetheless managed to hold its own in terms of sales and profits. As with most retailers, the Grapevine, Texas-based company derives much of its sales during the all-important holiday sales season -- and its more than 4,400 stores in the U.S. need more staff to help keep those cash registers ringing.

Looking for a job at GameStop? Click here to get started.

Seasonal Job Openings: 40,000

J.C. Penney Co. has struggled to remake its namesake JCPenney stores into a retail business that's more modern and less reliant on discounts to draw customers. And the coming holiday shopping season will be an important test of whether the signs of improvement that Plano, Texas-based company has lately been showing are real or not. Sales are expected to be tepid this holiday season, but at least one company representative says that won't affect the need for seasonal workers. "[It] looks like there will be another increase this year over last year's hiring," said, Bob Parker, a site manager for JCPenney in Sarasota, Fla., "probably by as much as 10 to 20 percent in some cases."

Looking for a job at JCPenney? Click here to get started.

Seasonal Job Openings: 20,000

The fall is prime season for privately held Party City Holdings Inc., which is perhaps best known as a seller of Halloween costumes. But the retailer also sells party supplies and seasonal decorations, which result in a steady flow of customers this time of year. The Rockaway, N.J.-based company has 600 stores nationwide. In addition to its namesake Party City stores, it also operates The Paper Factory, Halloween City and Factory Card & Party Outlet shops.

Looking for a job at Party City? Click here to get started.

Seasonal job openings: 20,000

It takes a lot more workers to help move the millions of boxes and packages Americans send to each other each holiday season. And though FedEx Corp. expects shipping volume will be up 13 percent, it's hiring about as many workers as it did last holiday season. The company says it can stick with the same number of seasonal workers as last year because it has been hiring staff throughout 2012.

The Memphis, Tenn.-based company, which is closely watched as an indicator of consumer demand and economic health, anticipates handling more than 280 million shipments during the holiday season from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Competitor UPS added about 55,000 workers for the holidays last year, 10 percent more than it hired in 2010.

Looking for a job at FedEx? Click here to get started.

Seasonal job openings: 55,000

With expectations of delivering 527 million packages this holiday season, UPS Inc. is adding 55,000 workers to sort, load and deliver packages, the same number it hired last year, but 10 percent higher than in 2010. Based on the company's forecast, it appears those and full-time UPS workers will be busiest during the final week before the Christmas holiday. UPS says 28 million, or 5 percent of packages, will be delivered Thursday, Dec. 20 -- projected to be the busiest of the year.

Looking for a job at UPS? Click here to get started.


In fact, last year approximately 60 to 70 percent of all those who found new employment were successful because of their networking efforts. Networking isn't, "Hi, what can you do for me?" but rather: "Hi. Let's get to know each other. What can I do for you?" It's about giving to get, paying it forward, and building relationships.

We network all the time, whether we realize it our not. We have the networks of our families, neighbors, social groups, religious organizations, clubs, activities, alumni associations, and many more. And then, there are our business networks: current and former co-workers, suppliers/vendors, professional peers, industry contacts, etc. Everyone we know, in one way or another, is a part of our network.

Most people are more than happy to help out someone they know, and even others referred to them by someone they know. But few enjoy being taken advantage of in the process.

The classic and most effective way of building a business network for job hunters is to engage in the process of embarking on many informational interviews. Ask for 15 to 20 minutes of someone's time-and stick to it. Prepare during this interchange to describe your accomplishments, and be eager to learn about the person with whom you are speaking.

Questions to ask during an informational interview:

  • Tell me about your career path. How did you get to where you are today?

  • Tell me about your company. What are the significant opportunities and challenges you are facing?

  • Tell me about your industry. What is the competition like? Who are the key players?

  • What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were entering this field, but didn't?

  • Based on what you know about me, do you think that I'm being realistic in my hopes and job hunt?

  • Who are the two or three people you know that you think I should speak with? Would you please give them a call and ask them to give me a bit of their time?

Sometimes, the person you are with will change the interview mid-course into a job interview and talk about a specific role in their company. But remember: this is always his or her discretion, and not yours. You are there to ask for information, advice, and to be connected to others-but NOT to ask for a job.

It is always a good idea to be an active listener. Remember that part of your message is always unspoken. You convey a great deal through non-verbal communication. Focus on the speaker, smile, and maintain eye contact. Let your facial expression and body language show interest in what the person you are with has to share with you. Lean forward a bit, with your arms uncrossed.

More:Should You Care About A Prospective Employer's 'Brand'?

Remember that an informational interview is about sharing information, and it goes both ways. Perhaps you have insights that you can convey that you have gleaned from other interchanges you have had, your reading, and your own observations. You may well have information "outside the silo" that the person who has a job finds him or herself in day to day.

You never know when the tables will be turned. Be certain to offer your assistance to the person you are with-now, or at any time in the future.

Keep the conversation going. Be sure to write a prompt follow-up thank you note and keep the person abreast of your progress. Take the time again to write another note of appreciation after you meet with each of the people you were referred to, when you land a job, and from time to time thereafter.

It would be great if everyone who needed a job could snap their fingers and it would appear. But the reality is, most of the time it just doesn't happen that way. Finding a job IS a job. And that job requires the development and proper use of strong networks. While it may seem difficult at first, the more you do it, the easier and more satisfying it will become.

Happy hunting!

Arnie Fertig is the head coach of JOBHUNTERCOACH.COM, where he utilizes his extensive background in HR Staffing and as owner of a recruiting company to help mid-career job-hunters land their next job.

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