11 questions to help you choose the right career
- Bianca Miller-Cole
How to get the information you need and make a good impression at the same time.
Asking people about their careers is one of the best ways to learn about the kind of career you could one day enjoy. A common problem I see young people coming up against when trying to work out what career’s right for them, is not really knowing where to start. I’ve seen school leavers attend careers fairs with hundreds of employers present, and they don’t make the most of the opportunity to get the best information about how industries compare or which companies are a good fit for them.
To help you avoid falling into the same trap, I’ve divided the questions into three key categories:
- Questions to ask when networking and meeting new people
- Questions to ask at a careers fair
- Questions to ask in an interview
In each scenario the questioning is different but, each time, the goal’s the same – gaining the knowledge to help you in your job search.
Questions to ask when networking and meeting new people
1. What do you do?
Most people enjoying talking about themselves and the elements that make their role interesting so use it to your advantage by asking them what they do. The best way to gain an insight into an organisation, industry or specific role is to ask the right questions of the person in that position. Understand what the job really entails and what a typical day looks like.
2. What does that mean?
Quite often you’ll find that a job description is wrapped in lots of technical jargon or a grand title – don’t be afraid to ask what all those flowery words really mean. Don’t be caught in the cycle of being another ‘noddy dog’ i.e. the people who just keep nodding even though they have no idea what the person is talking about. Asking questions, being honest about what you know and being inquisitive isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s quite the opposite, and people will likely be impressed by your honesty and enthusiasm.
3. What do you most enjoy about your role and what would you like to change?
Ok, I’ve cheated a little bit as that’s technically two questions… but they’re both relevant because to really get into what that career choice means, it’s important to know what the good, bad and the changeable look like.
Questions to ask at a Careers Fair
4.What is this type of firm or business and who are your clients?
Or to use EY as an example, ‘What is a professional services firm and who are your clients?’
This is similar to the question you might ask an individual. Often large multinational organisations like EY use titles that you may not have heard of before, or if you have you may not know what they actually mean. So, ask what the company does, who its customers are, what the staff do to help in the organisation’s ambitions, what the workplace culture’s like, and so on.
I’ve had plenty of conversations with recruiters who complain that not enough students ask them questions and just come up for the free goods and the odd leaflet – they’d rather see an enquiring mind.
5. If I decided to join your organisation, what does your graduate/apprenticeship programme look like?
I’ve seen it happen time and time again, where students go to careers fairs but are too shy to ask the questions they need to know. You absolutely want to know what the programme is like – does it offer a rotation? What does the future look like in this organisation? What does my career in your organisation look like in 5-10 years?
6. What do you look for in the candidates you recruit?
This is the question every school leaver should be asking of potential employers during National Careers Week. This little gem - if asked of the right person (usually the ladies and gents at careers fairs are recruiters for the firm) - should give you the guidance you need to write an excellent application. Remember in any job search the company has a problem – the problem is there is a vacancy and all they are looking for is the solution. So why not ask how you can become that solution?
Questions to ask in an interview
7. How are people in this organisation supported in their career growth ambitions and personal development?
This shows you are interested in a future in the organisation and that the time and money they invest in you won’t go to waste. Also, if you have an extracurricular interest that may be valuable to the organisation this may be a good time to share it and explain why it’s relevant to your personal development.
8. What are you looking for in the ideal candidate?
This question is so important. It allows you to throw the ball back into their court towards the end of the interview and get them telling you what they look for. It also acts as a tick box exercise – they tell you what they want and you can work out any opportunities you may have missed telling them about, and tick the other boxes.
9. Have I answered all of your questions to your satisfaction?
If you haven’t and they tell you, this is your opportunity to correct or reaffirm what has been said. It might seem like a silly question that breaches interview etiquette but really, it’s a smart way to get an idea of how you’ve performed while you’ve still got a chance to do something about it.
10. How do you find working in this organisation?
The interviewer has been listening to you the whole time, give them an opportunity to talk about themselves (where relevant).
11. What are the next steps?
This helps to clarify when you will hear from them next and how the process works.
Bianca Miller-Cole is an award-winning entrepreneur, having started The Be Group in 2012 with the belief that everyone should be able to access personal development services. She was in the final of The Apprentice 2014, and in 2016 was awarded a ‘Power Profile’ from LinkedIn. She recently co-authored Self-Made: The Definitive Guide to Startup Business Success.