One thing is clear:  Knowing how to conduct informational interviews is a must if you are looking to find an internship, a job or just get clearer on your career path.  

Three steps that will make informational interviewing a smart, effective and productive process:

Do thorough research about the company or career of interest.  I repeat: Do thorough research, and I mean thorough.  Go beyond the website.  Find alums in your school that work in the company or work in the jobs you would like to have.  One particularly effective technique is to set up Google search for the topic, company or job description you want. This way you will be able to skim through information that has already been compiled for you.

Decide on a specific question to lead with during your interview. Once you become knowledgeable about the company, you can pick a few areas where you can go deeper.  These could be a specific area or products within the company where you see your skills being valuable. Those you are interviewing will be more eager to share their opinion with you if they realize you are really serious about the subject of the interview.

Find decision makers and advocates. Focus on places where decision makers and advocates gather.  Industry and professional associations are the most common places to find them.  Conferences are also good places to network.  Volunteering to any of these venues gets you closer to meeting speakers, authors, and experts.

Take advantage of the opportunity that informational interviewing offers:  to learn about a job or industry of interest while making contact with those actively involved in the field.  The best of both worlds!

Anna Giraldo-Kerr is an award-winning writer and career coach who blogs at the Latinos in College website.

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