Make sure you present yourself as a professional who can fit well into the company’s culture. It is imperative that you come dressed as if you were going on an actual interview wearing formal business attire. As with all interviews, err on the side of being too formal, even if that is not the standard mode of dress in that company.
Come prepared with a number of questions the answers to which are important to you. Doing so not only provides you with helpful information, but when you are well prepared, your understanding of the field will be obvious to the interviewee as well.
Ask questions like, “What do you see as the pros and cons of your profession?” “What do you see as the future of this field?” “What was your career path?” “What does a person need to do to achieve success in this field?” “If necessary, what course of study should I pursue?” “What professional organizations should I join?” The main questions to ask are: “What actions should I be taking to move into this field and with whom else should I be speaking?”
There are two main goals for this form of interview. To find out the real scoop on the career and your being perceived as professional and interested in the field and as someone the person being interviewed can comfortably refer. This can transform you from just another face in the community to a potentially valuable employment asset. We suggest that students do anywhere from 5 to 10 Informational Interviews to get a balanced view of the industry, career or position.
Most professionals do not want to pass up a valuable asset. Whether they think of you for a position in their company, a great way to earn a referral bonus, or as a way to help one of their colleagues who may need another talented person, you have flipped from asking for help to being of help to them. You have also minimized the risk involved by alleviating some of the concern about your professional capabilities.
It is very important that you do not ask for a job or a referral during your meeting. Doing so can undo all that you accomplished if the interviewee feels that s/he was misled as to your purpose. For the same reason, it is equally important not to offer your resume unless it is specifically requested.
There will be times when no such request is made. Do not show any sense of frustration. You asked to speak about the profession, not to ask for a job. You were granted what you asked for, and you must remain appreciative for the time and effort the interviewee put into the process. To reiterate, if you are not asked, do not volunteer your resume and do not ask if they are aware of any other job openings. Appearing ungrateful is not an attractive professional quality. Whether or not you are asked for your resume, you can respectfully inquire for introductions to other people who may be able to provide further advice. Professionals in a field tend to know their colleagues, and a polite request can open the door to expanding your network exponentially.
Remember to send a thank you letter within 24 hours of your interview. Thank him/her for their time and reiterate some of the useful information you may have learned from your discussion.
Informational interviewing is a great way to build and expand your professional network, to discover the real ins and outs of a particular field, and most importantly to demonstrate your professionalism in the work setting and make referral decisions a lot easier.