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As a job seeker, you probably hear the phrase more and more, and ask yourself, what exactly is an informational interview?  What’s the point and should I be doing them?

An informational interview differs from a job interview in that you are not there to get a job offer, you are there to learn something, to take away information.  And, generally, informational interviews are at the job seeker’s request, not the companies’.

If you haven’t been landing job interviews in the areas you’re interested in, an informational interview can also be a valuable way to gain insights into an industry, the positions, and the process.

It’s also a great opportunity for recent grads or anyone undecided about what they want to do or the right areas to pursue, as an informational interview can help give you that push in one direction or another by answering questions and providing perspective to help aid your decision process.

So what’s the point if there’s no job offer?

Informational interviews are great for a variety of reasons.  If you are making a job change into a new field or industry, this type of interview can help you prepare for the transition by answering any questions or concerns you might have.

What you learn in an informational interview can inform you on culture, trends, and what companies are looking for so you can re-vamp your resume and narrow your selection field of companies you might want to reach out to when you are ready to job hunt.

It also provides face time within a company and a great networking opportunity to build relationships, and perhaps even mentorships, that could lead to a potential job offer down the road.

Okay, so how do I get one?

Setting up an informational interview can be as easy as calling into a person’s office or even the HR department of a company, but don’t be dissuaded if it might also take more time and effort than you realized.

Research what companies you are interested in or people who inspire you, and either call into them, network via social outlets such as LinkedIn, or even see if you have someone within your own network who can make an personal introduction.

Remember, you are asking busy people for their time for your benefit, so be considerate and flexible.  Realize how much time they might have, maybe 20-30 minutes by phone or an hour in person if you’re really lucky.

State up front how much you appreciate their time and want to be respectful of their schedule.  You might even consider meeting outside of normal business hours.

Don’t be turned off if you don’t get an immediate response, but also don’t become a stalker if repeated contact attempts are ignored.  Know when to say when and move on to another prospective meeting

Sometimes sending a note, saying you know they are extremely busy, and you realize this is most likely the case why you haven’t received a response, that you understand and appreciate their time anyway, and you will perhaps try to reach out down the road can be enough to guilt a person in a kind way to get back to you.

I’ve got a meeting, what’s next?

First, don’t just go on an informational interview because you can, unless you’re going to take it very seriously, otherwise, you’ll just waste both yours’ and other person’s time, and possibly ruin what could have been a very beneficial relationship.

Treat an informational interview just like a job interview.  Prepare, prepare, prepare.  While the goal of the informational interview is not to get a job, the real goal is to get a job, eventually.

Maybe not with this particular company or at this very moment, but the goal is still to land a position when the timing is right.  And, it hasn’t been unheard of for an informational interview to end with a job offer, internship, or project work assignment–one can dream, and sometimes one can get lucky, so be open to the possibilities, but don’t expect it.

Make sure you have a prepared list of questions you want to ask.  We found this list of  200 Great Informational Interview Questions to Choose From.

Bring your resume along just in case as this can be a great opportunity to get feedback on what you need to highlight or work on in order to land a job in the industry, and you could leave a copy on hand with the HR department should a position open up.

Prepare your personal pitch: who are you, what are you interested, why are you seeking more information?  The person you’re meeting with is taking time to meet with you, they’ll be interested in knowing more about who you are and how they can help you.

Bring your positive, upbeat attitude and treat everyone you meet with respect and as a possible new connection.  If you do intend to apply for a job at the company you are going to meet someone with, you’ll want as many friendly faces to recognize you and be a cheerleader for your employment candidacy.

Research the company and the person you’re meeting with.  Come prepared to show that you mean business and that you respect their work and appreciate their taking time out of their schedule to meet with you.

Find something you might be able to offer in return to the person you’re meeting with.  Don’t make the interview one-sided if you can help it.

Perhaps you have a contact that would be worth their time to connect with, or you might forward an industry article they hadn’t seen that would be an interesting read, or maybe you might offer up a couple hours of freelance or pro bono work and offer them some market research–make it worth their time to have met you and leave a good lasting impression.

And, don’t forget to follow up.  Send a nice thank you note and/or a warm email.  If they were especially helpful by perhaps providing you with a job lead that led to employment or an introduction, or if they’ve become a mentor to you, sending a small token of appreciation might be appropriate as well.

Now what?

If you’ve gone on an informational interview, you should now be better prepared to take the information you’ve learned and apply it to your job search.  Take another look at your resume and make adjustments where necessary.  Continue to build your network and gather more information.  Use your new research to target companies within your areas of interest.

Ask yourself important questions like, is this still your field or area of interest, do I have additional unanswered questions now that need to be addressed, what’s important to me in finding my next employer, did I learn something new, have I increased the value of my network?

Much of the point of the interview is for you to feel better prepared and more confident going into a future job interview.  You have to ask yourself the tough questions before and after to make sure you are making the best use of an informational interview and learning from the process.

Do your legwork, prepare, learn, and apply what you learn and if need be, repeat the process with individuals from other companies or departments to gain different perspectives.

You’ll get out of an informational interview what you put into it, so don’t expect any handouts, but do expect that if you put the work in, to reap the rewards.

Have you had success with informational interviewing?  What have you learned and what suggestions would you give to others?

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