Informational interviews are basically fact-finding missions for your career. You arrange a meeting with an established individual in a field in order to learn more about what they do and how they do it in order to gain information and guidance that will help you succeed in your own career.
There are two big reasons why the informational interview has become such a popular career tool: they build networks and they get your foot in the proverbial door. The art of the informational interview is about developing quality contacts. The person you interview can become a mentor, an ally, or an important connection in your network. Even if the informational interview you go on is not in your chosen field, when a job opens up at that company, it might be your name that comes to mind to fill the position.
The interview itself is not an interrogation. You’ll be in a conversation with an experienced mentor with real success. Your job is to keep up, and to keep them interested in helping you establish yourself.
Here are the ins and outs of informational interviewing:
How do you find the subject of your informational interview? There are a few ways. Cold calling is probably the most cross-your-fingers approach to opening up a dialog with someone, but it works. A better tactic would be to have a friend of the person you want to interview put the two of you in touch. This is best done over email: when everyone’s names share the same address field, a barrier breaks down.
In either case, email is the way to make contact. Make sure that you clearly state what you are looking for from the person. Tell them the basic three line synopsis of your life, like a mini CV, and how this relates to what you’d like to ask them about. Don’t begin questioning here. If you wait for a response for more than a week and a half, think about sending a reminder.
Don’t Wing It
Your questions are going to justify the time this person is sacrificing to spend on you. Don’t make them feel as if they’ve wasted their time because you thought you’d just come up with a few things to ask on the spot.
Develop a well-thought out list of questions. Try to develop a line of questioning that will benefit you the most by building on each question that has been asked.
Location Location Location
The location is going to be where the person you’re interviewing feels the most comfortable. If they want to do it at the office or over a table at lunch, picking this location is not something you have to worry about.
The Day After
Make sure that the person realizes how much you appreciated the chance to interview them. The easy way to do this is to send a nice thank-you email. If you want to go a bit further, you could send a thank-you card. Sending a gift is probably a step too far. These little courtesies may not seem like much, but they will go a long way to getting you on even more familiar terms with the person you interviewed. Somewhere down the line this contact could really help you, steering your career in the right direction.