While the informational interview does fall into the category of job interviews, it is different because it does not necessarily result in being considered for an employment opportunity. Rather, informational interviews are more of a networking tool. They are a chance for you to learn about an industry without having the added pressure of having your skills and past work experiences (or lack of) put on display.
Just the Facts
If you are a student about to enter the workplace for the first time, or a person changing careers after several years in the work force, an informational interview can be a valuable resource. If you think you may be interested in a particular field but would like to learn more about what it entails, an informational interview allows you to sit down with an industry insider and find out whether or not you would be a good match for this profession.
The easiest way to arrange an informational interview is to enlist the help of any professional contacts you may have. Chances are good that you know someone—or know someone who knows someone—in the field you are thinking of entering. The next and final step is to call this person and try to arrange a time when the two of you could sit down and talk about what she does.
The best part about an informational interview is that you are the one in control of all the questions. The downside? Informational interviews exist only so you may gain more information about a particular job, career, or industry. They are not part of the hiring process.
Even without any industry contacts, it is likely that you could find someone willing to sit down and talk with you about his industry just by picking up the phone and calling around to local companies that are engaged in the business you are interested in. Speaking with someone in human resources might be your best bet.
E-mail is another great resource when it comes to scheduling an informational interview. You can send out a brief message introducing yourself and asking whether anyone would be interested in speaking with you a bit further on what it takes to become an industry professional.
If you do choose to take the e-mail route, remember to use both caution and restraint. Sending out the same e-mail to 300 employees of one company would be overkill. Find out the qualifications and current activities of each of the individuals you might want to talk to and decide which ones are most in line with what you want to do.
As in any type of interview, it is necessary that you heed the rules of proper job interview etiquette. Be sure to extend the exact same courtesies—if not more—to the person who is unselfishly volunteering her time to answer your questions as you would to someone interviewing you for a job. Arrive on time, dress professionally, and send a thank-you note or follow-up letter or e-mail.
After all, even though the end result of this interview is not a job, you never know what could happen. Your sheer desire and willingness to take the time to learn about the industry could impress her enough to consider you for future employment.