The art to informational interviewing is in knowing how to balance your hidden agenda (to locate a job) with the unique opportunity to learn firsthand about the demands of your field. Thus, never abuse your privilege by asking for a job, but execute your informational interviews skillfully and and a job may follow.
What motivates professionals to grant informational interviews?
The reasons are varied. Most people enjoy sharing information about themselves and their jobs and particularly, love giving advice. Some may simply believe in encouraging newcomers to their profession and others may be scoping out prospects for anticipated vacancies. It is common for professionals to exchange favors and information, so don't hesitate to call upon people.
How do you set up informational interviews?
One possible approach is to send a letter or email requesting a brief informational interview (clearly indicating the purpose of the meeting, and communicating the fact that there is no job expectation). Follow this up with a phone call to schedule an appointment. Or, initiate a contact by making cold calls and setting up an appointment. The best way to obtain an informational interview is by being referred from one professional to another, a process which becomes easier as your network expands.
How do you prepare for informational interviews?
Prepare for your informational interviews just as you would for an actual job interview: polish your presentation and listening skills, and conduct preliminary research on the organization. You should outline an agenda that includes well thought-out questions.
Begin your interview with questions that demonstrate your genuine interest in the other person, such as, "Describe a typical day in your department." Then proceed with more general questions such as, "What are the employment prospects in this field?" or "Are you active in any professional organizations in our field and which ones would you recommend?" If appropriate, venture into a series of questions which place the employer in the advice-giving role, such as, "What should the most important consideration be in my first job?" The whole idea is for you to shine, to make an impression, and to get referrals to other professionals.
Always remember to send a thank you letter to every person who grants you time and to every individual who refers you to someone.