On several occasions I’ve written about the job interview and steps you can take to be successful. But, there is another type of interview, one less used, but that can be the steppingstone to a position — the informational interview.
The most important thing to remember about an informational interview is that it is not a job interview. It’s an opportunity to get to know the person who has agreed to meet you and to learn more about the industry and the kinds of careers it offers.
The first step is to land an informational interview. Tap people in your network who might be able to connect you with someone in the industry. An introduction will get the interview much easier than cold calls.
When you have a prospect, write a letter of introduction, explaining who you are and why you are writing. If someone in your network has helped open the door for you, be sure to reference that person. End the letter with a promise to call by a specified date, and then follow through.
Once you’ve secured an interview, start preparing immediately. Surf the Internet and talk to your contact to find out as much as possible about the person, his or her company, and the industry in general. Be ready to talk about what you hope the meeting will accomplish and what your career goals are.
Practice answering questions you are likely to be asked. On the morning of your meeting, call to confirm. Dress as for a job interview — professionally and well groomed. You can bring your resume but don’t offer it unless asked for it. Have paper and pen or a tablet at the ready to take notes. During the meeting, focus your conversation as if you are a pupil learning from a teacher. Ask informational interviewers about what motivated them to work in the industry and what they have learned that enabled them to be successful.
As the meeting progresses, keep an eye on the time. Be ready to offer thanks and bring the meeting to a close at the designated time. Don’t overstay your welcome. That afternoon or evening (or the next day at the latest) write a thank-you note. It’s also considerate to send a quick note to your network contact thanking him or her for the introduction and including a recap of how the interview went.E-mail questions about business etiquette to firstname.lastname@example.org.