You should be meeting with professionals within your field as often as possible. People who have been in the work force for two or three years are the best, as they’ll have information relevant to you, and they’re more likely to enjoy helping someone whose shoes they can still empathize with being in. Plus, your professors might still remember their favorite students from past years and can introduce you.

The concept of meeting someone in your field for coffee or lunch probably isn’t new advice for you. Everyone knows that it’s the best way to prepare for real life outside college, and it’s a good way to build a relationship at the same time. But it only works if you know what to ask about.

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Here’s a list of my favorite all-purpose questions.

The Basics

These questions don’t need much explanation, but are fairly essential conversation starters:

  • How did you get your start?
  • What does your current job entail?
  • What was the biggest thing you learned on the job?
  • If you could go back, what would you change about your job searching process?

Where did you expect your career to go?

If you get someone who’s on the career path that they always knew they’d be on, they’re weirdos. Trust me, the next one will have a cool story about their life getting shaken up, which will probably make you feel better about your post-college crisis.

How comfortable are you with your company’s values?

Working at a cutthroat company might suck your soul away, but working at a bland, underachieving corporation might do the same. It’s a concern that can inform your own decision to accept a position, and you should try to get a handle on it before you start looking.

What are the co-workers like?

The atmosphere makes a difference. Ask how he or she dealt with any issues that might have come up between coworkers, as well.

What was the learning curve like, and how did you deal with it?

Every career has a different type of learning curve, and the best way to find yours is to ask people in the current job market and in the know.

How has your field changed since you entered it?

Everyone needs to adapt to their changing career, and real-life input can you help you when your own career pulls a twist on you.

Are you content? Are you still searching for the next postition?

In my experience, the best workers are always keeping an eye open to the job possiblities around them, even when they’re perfectly happy with their current job. But this flucuates with the field.

Do you know anyone else who might want to chat with me?

You might as well get the next lunch locked in now. Since this professional considered you worth devoting an hour of conversation, they’re likely to have an associate or coworker who feels the same way.

Explain your own career thoughts and ask for input.

Not a question, per se, but it’ll tell you what to expect in your future.

And don’t forget to go with the conversational flow.

Feel free to ditch these questions if your lunch partner keeps riffing on one in particular. Just ask questions in response. The best conversations won’t follow this list question-for-question.


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