Today we bring you a Guest Post by transitioning military member Charles Hulme. He originally wrote this for the Veterans Mentor Network group on LinkedIn and has added some info here. I asked him to post it here because both his process and his questions are smart. I hope you find his first person account ‘from the front’ useful!

I just conducted my first (of hopefully many) Informational Interviews in preparation for my job search this Spring. I thought I would share how it went and what questions I asked.

First, I used LinkedIn to research connections in the company I was interested in and looked for those I had ties to…prior military, schools attended, shared connections, etc. I reached out to connect with this person via LinkedIn which led to some email exchanges. I was fortunate that he was interested in providing help, so it was an easy sell to get the informational interview.

Being a deliberate planner, my first fear was realized immediately…no plan survives first contact. While I had a well thought out and rehearsed list of questions, that wasn’t how it played out. It actually was for the better, as it forced me to engage in conversation and draw out nuggets that I could take away from the meeting and use to my advantage when interviewing for a job later.

Secondly, I went with a dress code just above (33% is what I saw someone reference if you need a number) what I expected the other person to wear. Don’t necessarily jump to coat and tie…had I done that I would have been out of place and inappropriate (part of the interview included a walk through a manufacturing/production facility).

Thirdly, I brought my list of questions to refer to…and even so, forgot one key question I wanted to ensure I had asked. I didn’t take notes, but used it for my brain dump afterwards. Also, think through possible answers they may provide to your questions and be ready to continue a dialog. You don’t want yes or no answers and you want to really have a discussion about each question. With that, be prepared for this to take longer than expected. If you are truly restricted to a time-frame, be aware and be sure you give them an out. But if they are giving you all the time you want, don’t seem eager to leave by constantly asking them…gauge the situation early on.

Lastly, for each question I had a “lead-in” that tied the question to my experience, his experience, public perception, etc. For example, “I’ve been following the company for a while now, and from the outside looking in, at least at a macro-level, the company appears to be very fast-paced, pushing technology advancement, and aggressively working to provide launch opportunities for current as well as future customers. Can you describe at the micro-level, what a typical day at your company is really like?”

My interview lasted over an hour and we got through about 75% of the following questions.

Here are my questions – you will have different ones but may find some of these useful.

  • *What is your experience in the field, how did you make the transition from the military?
    *How did you get your job?
    * What a typical day at your company is really like?
    *What parts of your job do you find most challenging?
    *What parts do find most enjoyable?
    *How would you describe the corporate culture?
    *What kind of personality tends to be most successful here?
    *What is the company’s organizational structure like?
    *In what ways does your job affect your life outside work?
    *How do you see work-life balance issues affecting colleagues?
    *This industry has changed dramatically in the past 5 years. What have you seen from inside the company?
    *Where do you think the changes will happen in the next 5 years?
    *What is the advancement potential in the field?
    *What is a typical path?
    *What does the company look for in candidates?
    *Are there any education or job experience requirements?
    *What skills and attributes are important?
    *What are the growing departments of the company?
    *What tips do you have for breaking into the career/company?
    *How do most people enter this profession?
    *Why do people leave this field? This company?
    *What resources help you keep up with the industry?
    *Which trade/professional associations have you found most useful?
    *What do you think of the experience I’ve had so far?
    *For what types of positions would it qualify me?
    *Can you recommend any courses I should take before proceeding further with my job search?
    *Considering my background, how well do you think I would fit in this profession? This company?
    *Who else in the company could you recommend I meet with as well?
    *Is there any way I could be of help to you?

From the interview I gleaned unique insight into the company, what’s their bottom line, that I can use if I get to an interview with them.  Answers to all those questions feed directly into how I would respond to anticipated interview questions. But I also walked away with a contact for another company for a possible informational interview.

Being the first proactive step to the outside world, I’ve broken through the virtual wall…which is the biggest accomplishment for me! The learning curve will be exponential from here.