This is the fourth post in a series on informational interviewing for beginners. Catch up with Part 1: What is an informational interview?Part 2: Finding people for informational interviews, and Part 3: How to request an informational interview

1. Do your research. I try to know enough coming into the conversation to not waste time with questions like, “So what does your company do?” I always spend some time before the meeting reading about the career field in general, the specific company/organization, and whatever I can find about the person I’ll be speaking with.

2. Be flexible. I’m definitely aware that this person is taking time out of their busy day to meet with me, so I try to be amenable to their schedule.  I offer several time windows when I’m available and am willing to meet wherever is most convenient for them. Some people may prefer to talk by phone rather than in person.

3. Prepare your questions. I have several general questions that I try to ask at every informational interview (more on that in a later post), but I also prepare a handful of questions that are specific to the person/company/career field.

4. Arrive early. I always give myself an absurd amount of time to get to a meeting location, and bring the latest issue of The Journal of Physiology (my advisor is reading this, right?) to read when I’m inevitably early.

5. Have your spiel ready. Often an informational interview will start with the question: “Why are you interested in meeting with me?/What can I help you with?” Be ready to (briefly in under 2 minutes) explain your background, your current position, and what you’d like to learn from them. Ex: “I’ve always been interested in how people make decisions, which led me to a PhD program in cognitive psychology, and now I’m looking into how my training might help me pursue a career in organizational development.”

6. Listen carefully. Use your prepared questions only as a guide if you get stuck, not a sequential Q&A script to run through. Pick up on ideas that emerge during the conversation and make connections between what they are saying and your own plans/ideas/experiences.

7. Take notes. I usually check at the beginning of a conversation if it’s ok for me to take notes. I find it incredibly helpful and I certainly wouldn’t be able to recap a conversation from last March on this blog without my notes. It’s also a great excuse to go fancy notebook shopping (…just me?)

8. Mine for resources. If it hasn’t come up already in the interview, I always end one by asking for any recommended contacts or organizations that I should pursue. Most of my interviews happen through these types of recommendations.

9. Write a thank you note. When I was first researching how to do informational interviews, I found a book that insisted on hand written thank you notes. However, this book also suggested that “The library can be a great place to find a computer with access to the World Wide Web!”, so I’m pretty sure that unless your informational interview is with the headmistress of an etiquette school, in 2012 an email thank you will suffice. But do send one!

10. Follow up. Follow up emails are great for strengthening your networking connections, but make sure they have a purpose. If this person told you about an organization or contact that you found particularly helpful, let them know. Some people I’ve met with have also asked that I update them when I do decide what I’ll do next.