An informational interview is a meeting or phone call with someone you hope will offer some leads to help you find a job. You may in fact wind up meeting someone who knows directly about a job opening either in his or her company or through someone he knows…but more likely you will be looking to get information from your informational interview to help you find leads and/or names to call where you could use your informational’s name to help you get through to someone who does have or know of an actual job.
Informational interview contacts, often a result of social networking, can be found through online research, newspapers and magazines, friends, relatives, business acquaintances, former teachers, fellow alumni, an online community or professional network or even someone you meet at a social gathering.
It is best to go into one of these meetings NOT looking for that person to give you a job (although stranger things have happened), but instead ask them to become an ally in your job search. It also helps to show interest in the person – sincere interest – and not just see them as a means to an end. (Remember: This person could be a potential ally for the rest of your career. And you may also one day be able to return the favor.)
Some informational contacts will gladly offer names and ideas (and these may lead to other names and ideas, etc.), while others mentally or physically check their watches and hope you will go away. My experience is that the latter is rare and most people are happy to help as best they can, so let the ones that don’t pan out go and focus on finding a few that help you get to your real goal: a good job!
Your job is to engage the person with your personality and enthusiasm so that they actually want to help. Asking about how they got to where they are may be a good way to start to connect. It’s also a good time to ask for their candid advice on your job search – even knowledge of things holding you back is useful. And the best way to end an informational – other than with gratitude, a smile, and a handshake – is making sure to ask for a name or two (if you haven’t already gotten them) before you leave.
NOTE: If you want to suggest changes to this or any other definition in our career dictionary, please feel free to add your suggestions in a comment.