Not Sure What to Do? 10 Ways to Start a Conversation!

I spend a good bit of time in airports and on planes. I’m a cocoon traveler. I bury in a good read or put headphones on signaling I’m not interested in striking up a conversation. However, there’s always a person who breaks through the barrier and we generally have an interesting conversation. Recently it was a business executive heading to Denver. He told me about his son, a history major and graduating senior. He then asked the inevitable question, “What does a history major do for a career?”

When near-strangers ask that question this is what I tell them. Conduct informational interviews. When you are undecided about what you want to do, initiate conversations with professionals in areas of interest to you. Get them to share their experience, ideas, information and advice that can be helpful to you.

An informational interview is not a job interview, and the purpose is not to discuss a possible job. You are talking with people to learn something, to takeaway information and if can build a rapport, to find other people you can talk with and learn from. An informational interview can help direct your job search activities because get answers to your questions and gain perspective to help in your decision-making process. If you haven’t been landing job interviews in the career field or companies you’re interested in, an informational interview helps you gain insights into an industry, its entry-level position titles and job descriptions, companies in that field and the interviewing process. It can set up an opportunity for you to establish a relationship with professionals in your career field that could lead to a potential job offer down the road. And, informational interviews can help you feel better prepared and more confident in your job search and interviews. People want to help; they just need to know how.

It can be challenging to reach busy professionals but once you do, don’t waste their time. Preparation is essential. Here’s a script you can use to get the other person talking. It also helps you get over feeling awkward talking with people about their work when you don’t know and you come across as a professional.

1. How did you get started and what do you think has made you successful in your career?

This gets people talking about themselves and will provide you with insights about how you can get started and what you will need to do to be successful in that field.

2. How have other people you know gotten started in this industry?

You will learn how people get their start in the industry to help you create your job search plan. You might also pick up a few names to follow up on.

3. What are the pros and cons of working in this field?

You will begin to understand if the industry is a good fit for you.

4. What skills or experiences do employers in this industry look for in candidates?

This will help you understand how you can position yourself to employers in the field, and provides a way to evaluate your resumé and other job marketing materials.

5. If you were me, what would you do to try to break into this field?

This will get the person to tell you what you could be doing to find a job in the field at this time. It’s possible that this person will provide you with other contacts in the field.

6. How do you suggest I say on top of industry news? Are there publications, professional associations, or events I should check out?

This will direct you to other valuable resources.

7. Do you know anyone else I can speak to for advice about breaking into this field?

This builds your network even further and may lead to additional insights.

8. Can you take a quick glance at my resumé and give me your feedback?

This is a way of reminding the person you want to find a job in the field, and you might get some ideas on how to improve your resumé. It’s also a great way to maintain contact with this person.

9. If I have additional questions in the future, can I reach out to you again?

This is networking! This keeps the door open for future advice.

10. Is there anything I can do to help you?

This is networking as well. Always look for ways to return the favor when someone has helped you.

And of course, after each conversation ask, “May I connect with you on LinkedIn?”

Remember, you get out of an informational interview what you put into it. Don’t expect any handouts, but do expect that if you put the work in, to reap the rewards.

By Jane Horowitz

Jane Horowitz is a career-launch coach and founder of More Than A Resumé. Jane has championed college students in their job searches from colleges and universities across the country, and with majors from engineering to fine arts, from computer design to banking. Jane has made a measurable and lasting difference in college students’ lives.