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Informational interviews are a networking tool, as well as the very best way to find out what working for a company or in an industry is really like.
The purpose of an information interview is to learn, not to score a job.
What it's not
An informational interview IS a networking tool. Initiating discussions with professionals in your field (or in the field you hope to enter) will get your name "out there." It's also the very best way to find out what working for a company or in an industry is really like. A little interview practice never hurt anyone, either.
Who are you supposed to talk to?
The easiest people to get in touch with are people you know, of course, or people you are referred to. But cold calling is an option, too. If you come across someone impressive at a conference, in an article, or by reputation, try calling or writing to him or her. If you make your motivation clear (i.e., you're NOT looking for a job) most people will be flattered by your interest. People love to talk about themselves.
No need for nerves
But for practice-sake, you should treat an informational interview just like it's a real interview-only this time, you're the interviewer. As long as you have the questions, your interviewee is the one who will do most of the talking. Here are some standard questions to get you started:
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