While an informational interview isn't as formal as a real interview, there still are some do's and don'ts that the interview-seeker should consider. Below are some tips for the interview-seeker, given from the perspective of the interview-granter.
1. Research the Company A huge pet peeve of mine is when I meet with someone and they ask me what my company does. No one expects you to be an expert on every company, but it takes a minimum amount of time to visit a company website and understand its basic business. Furthermore, know a little about the company's CSR efforts. It helps guide the conversation and won't make me feel like I would rather be getting work done.
2. Be Clear About Your Purpose Obviously, at the heart of any informational interview is the hope that there's a job opportunity that will be a good fit. But if you're about to ask for an informational interview, it typically means there isn't a job open. So, why do you want to chat? Are you interested in learning about a particular CSR program? Are you trying to get an understanding of how CSR jobs differ from company to company? Are you just learning about what CSR is?
3. Tell Your Story Every company approaches CSR differently. Consequently, jobs look very different from company to company. As someone who's granting an informational interview, I'm happy to help guide you to resources and companies I may know about, but I can't help you unless I have a sense of your interests, experience and goals. You'll get a lot more from the conversation if I know you're interested in sustainable design than if I only know you're currently an MBA student.
4. Ask About Job Experiences You've asked for an informational interview, so you should lead the conversation and ask questions about what I do. If I spend 30 minutes with you and you don't ask about what I do in my role, I'll feel like you're trying to give me a sales pitch. And since we've already established that there's no open job, I have no context in which to absorb your undoubtedly terrific skills and experiences.
5. Be Prepared to Take Notes It's hard to believe, but during our conversation, I may point you to a resource or company you've never heard of. Nothing interrupts the flow of a conversation more than having to pause while you dig around your bag, looking for a pad of paper and asking someone at the cafe table next to us to borrow a pen.
6. Thank the Interviewer I don't mean to sound arrogant, but I appreciate a quick email thanking me for my time. There are many other things I could be doing other than meeting you to chat.
7. Follow Up Let me know what you end up doing! If I've taken a moment to get to know you, I'm interested in learning more about where you ultimately end up. Chances are, if you're in CSR, we'll bump into each other again. Or I may want to call you one day to ask about your job!
These may seem like elementary tips, but you'll be surprised by how often they're broken. At the heart of any informational interview (any meeting, really) is building a relationship. Not only do you want to get immediate information from this conversation, but you ideally will also establish a relationship to which you can turn during the duration of your career.