Thinking of moving into a different industry or function? Informational interviews are a great way to learn about a profession and how to get there.
Your interviewee is doing you a favor by providing information - and they probably feel good about helping someone. Remember, you're not asking for a job; you're there to learn. It's not a sneaky way in the back door.
Don't Inconvenience Them
Job seekers are frequently under the impression they should ask the person out to coffee. You think you're being courteous, but from the interviewed person's viewpoint, they don't know you and thus have no reason to lose an hour of the day, possibly two.
Instead, keep it to the phone. Introduce yourself, say why you're calling, tell them you're not asking for a job, and ask if they have 10 minutes during which you can soak up their wisdom. If they're willing to talk now, give them a rehearsed, but natural, 30-second summary of your background.
Other than introducing yourself, your reason for calling, and the 30-second summary, you only need a few questions, such as:
- How did you get involved in (industry/field)?
- What do you like about it?
- What don't you like about it?
- What is the best way to get into (industry/field)?
Avoid Touting Your Knowledge
Tempting though it may be, don't say "I know that." Worse, don't waste your time and theirs by telling stories to demonstrate your understanding. This is their time to talk, not yours.
Be Respectful of Time
Keep your eye on the clock because you indicated 10 minutes. They can extend it merely by continuing the conversation, but always ask if they're willing to answer another question or two, if time is running out.
You'll find the more connected to you they are through a third person, they more time they're willing to give. Those who you've called cold may be briefer. The time they take from their day to provide you with advice is out of consideration to you, not to someone you both know, so make sure you're appreciative.
What You Can and Can't Ask
You can ask who they suggest you talk with for further information. Depending on where you are in your readiness to enter the new field or position, you can ask if they know anyone who's hiring. You cannot ask them for a job, because it turns a request for help into a meeting with a presumptuous agenda.
A Sincere Thanks
Send a thank you letter, which can be email or snail mail. If you didn't attach your resume, you can send it with the thank you, but note that it's for the convenience of the person to pass on, if they wish.
Be transparent. Be honest. Be appreciative. Listen. Not everyone is going to be willing to share their time and knowledge with you, so apply common sense and be grateful to those who do.