One of the easiest and most effective ways to meet people in a professional field in which you are interested is to conduct informational interviews—a networking approach that allows you to meet key professionals, gather career information, investigate career options, get advice on job search techniques and get referrals to other professionals.
The art of informational interviewing is in knowing how to balance your hidden agenda (to locate a job) with the unique opportunity to learn firsthand about the demands of your field. Thus, never abuse your privilege by asking for a job, but execute your informational interviews skillfully, and a job may follow.
How do you set up informational interviews?
One possible approach is to send a letter requesting a brief informational interview (clearly indicating the purpose of the meeting, and communicating the fact that there is no job expectation). Follow this up with a phone call to schedule an appointment. You may also initiate a contact by making cold calls to set up an appointment. The best way to obtain an informational interview is by being referred from one professional to another, a process that becomes easier as your network expands.
How do you prepare for informational interviews?
Prepare for your informational interviews just as you would for an actual job interview: polish your presentation and listening skills, and conduct preliminary research on the organization. You should outline an agenda that includes well-thought-out questions.
Begin your interview with questions that demonstrate your genuine interest in the other person such as, "Describe a typical day in your department." Then proceed with more general questions such as, "What are the employment prospects in this field?" or "Are you active in any professional organizations in your field and which would you recommend?" If appropriate, venture into a series of questions which place the employer in the advice-giving role, such as "What should the most important consideration be in my first job?"
The whole idea is for you to obtain information that will assist you in determining if this is the right field for you, to make a positive impression and to get referrals to other professionals.
Thank You Card
Always remember to send a thank-you letter to every person who grants you time and to every individual who refers you to someone.