The One Question You Must Ask in an Informational Interview

If you’re looking for a new job, informational interviews are one of the best, most productive things you can do. There is no better way to learn about a new company or industry, meet key influencers, make professional connections, and (possibly) discover un-posted job openings.

Informational interviews are your opportunity to ask focused questions that can guide you in a job search. But all too often, jobseekers forget the single-most important question they should be asking; the one query that can mean the difference between a positive meeting and one that fails to produce a meaningful connection.

Mac Prichard says that this is the question that makes candidates most standout in informational interviews.

Do you know what it is?

It’s a simple ask: “What can I do for you?”

This powerful question is important for two key reasons.

First, it a professional courtesy that brings the person you’re talking to into the conversation.

You see, while you, the jobseeker, have the most to gain from an informational interview, the conversation isn’t only about you. One of the worst things you can do is ignore the needs of the professional who is volunteering their time to meet with you.

You will always, ALWAYS end up ahead if you show a sincere interest in other people’s challenges. As networking guru, Nathan Perez, noted in the very first episode of Find Your Dream Job “You should never take, take, take. Networking is all about reciprocity. It’s back and forth.”

Second, asking “what can I do for you” positions you as a problem solver–the kind of employee nearly every organization is looking for.

Ask about the challenges the organization is facing. What are the “pain points” in their business? What opportunities are on the horizon? What needs to be done to realize these opportunities? When you understand the contextual issues a professional or business is facing, you have an opening to showcase yourself as someone who can solve these problems.

Remember, informational interviews are about building your network, not asking for a job. But you should take any opportunity you can to demonstrate your skill set. And the more you can align your skills around real organizational challenges, the greater chance you have of being a “known and trusted” candidate for future job openings.

(I speak with some personal experience on this point; I have had job offers materialize out of informational interviews because I showed interest in my interviewers’ needs and demonstrated how I could help them.)

You have a lot to offer to others, no matter what stage of career you are in. When you engage with other professionals in informational interviews, always make sure you offer them your talents, skills, and contacts by asking “What can I do for you?”.