Remember that the informational interview is not the same thing as a regular interview. It is simply what it sounds like - a brief talk to get more information on a particular career path, company, or industry. The goal is to soak up knowledge and advice - and maybe glean a few contacts along the way. The greatest fear students have when contacting busy individuals is that they are a mere annoyance. Au contraire. Your contacts will mostly likely be flattered (and welcome the opportunity to discuss themselves). Moreover, if you contact alums through your career office, they may have specifically volunteered themselves as informational resources. But don't count out fellow alums from high school. Everybody's been in the job hunting boat at one time or another.
The best way to set up the informational interview is with a letter or e-mail that mentions your connection to the person (that is, what school you both attended), that you seek information about a career path, and perhaps a word or two on what your career goals are. Include your phone number and email address, and follow up with a phone call.
Most informational interviews last 20 minutes to half an hour. However, there are other kinds of informational possibilities. One of our sources recalls a friend who had extensive experience in PR, but wanted to investigate a career on Wall Street. She contacted a fellow graduate of her school, and spent three hours shadowing the person to get a real sense of their day-to-day experience. "Especially if you're interested in getting an internship - having that kind of experience shows you're really serious," says that insider. Your career office should have good ideas about these kinds of possibilities. Our Vault.com Guide to Schmoozing, can help you muster up the skill and confidence to set up informational interviews.
The fact is, most people's favorite subject is themselves. Luckily, you can harness this fundamental aspect of human nature to help advance your career - through lining up informational interviews. Anyone who's gone within 50 yards of a career office has heard of the informational interview, but don't dismiss its effectiveness for speeding up your job search.