Says Connecticut-based career placement officer Beth Anrig: "I tell all my clients that the best thing to do is to set up informational interviews." One caveat - "never call them that," she says. Informational interviews sound too much like interviews, and that sounds like asking for a job. Everyone is over-networked, in the official sense. No one has the time anymore to do something that is just like a job."
So don't frame the "informational interview" as any kind of interview. Instead, say that you want to talk with them, or get coffee, or chat. Your goal is to have a conversation, not an interview. Ask semipersonal questions: What got you started in this industry? What other careers did you consider? Are you happy in your choice? At the same time, talk honestly and openly about your own career aspirations, and why the industry in question appeals to you. If you click, keep the person up to date on your career progress and decisions.
But never, says New York headhunter Tamara Totah, should you ask for a job outright. "If they don't have one and you ask that, they're going to want to boot you out five minutes later." Totah says. "Believe me, if you're talking about careers, they know you want a job. If they like you and they can help you in some way they will."
When calling someone for an informational interview, make it clear you are not asking for a job. The point is, if they like you, they will help you find a job. Appeal to your contact's expertise. "Everyone likes to give advice," says Anrig. "If you tell them that you are calling because a mutual acquaintance has suggested they are a real authority in their field or an inspiring example, they will be hard-pressed to turn you down."
Though the informational interview isn't a job interview (exactly), it's still important to do your research on the company and the industry. It's rude to waste someone's time during the workday, and it doesn't reflect well on you. "Most people are very generous about helping people make connections," says Wicke Chambers, a communications consultant from Atlanta. "I have a lot of business contacts and am willing to call up and set up informational interviews for people coming out of college, and recent grads. I myself am approached for interviews constantly."
However, Chambers says, "What I do mind is people asking to talk to me about my job and then having absolutely no idea what they want. I've interviewed with people who don't know whether they want to be a florist, an airline pilot or a public relations executive. I don't care a hill of beans if someone hasn't at least got an idea about what they want to do and how I can help."
So what is this thing they call the informational interview? It's not a job interview - exactly. But it does get you face to face with someone in an industry that interests you. Informational interviews are an invaluable opportunity to learn about the career field that interests you. Many people are prepared to spend ten minutes to an hour of their time to talk to those looking for a job, assess their skills and background, and give them some pointers in breaking into their chosen field.