An informational interview gives you insight into an industry, institution, or position you are interested in pursuing. It is not a job interview, it is a research exercise. It can replace unrealistic daydreams or insecure apprehensions with honest expectations. Savvy job seekers recognize that informational interviewing is an underutilized tool. We have three guidelines to successfully utilize an informational interview:

1. Ask the right person. Informational interviews are most useful at times of transition in your career. If you are looking to move fields, advance positions, or change institutions, consider what your ideal outcome is. Who is someone you respect in that role and industry? Seek to be as specific as possible in your selection so it will give you the most helpful information.

2. Respect their time. An informational interview is a favor. A successful professional is making time in their busy day to share their experience. Be clear in your request, precise about what you are hoping to learn, and keep the conversation to an hour or less.

3.  Express appreciation. Follow-up with a personal note of thanks. Seek to reinvest the goodwill that they showed by being willing to give an information interview or be a reference yourself for someone else when the opportunity arises.

Finally, a note of caution. Anecdotal wisdom states that “it never hurts to ask.” That is simply not true–and examples of impositions are everywhere. A request is a social exchange. You must be careful not to request too many informational interviews. This can overdraw your social goodwill from colleagues. It can also give you a reputation for being indecisive or not a serious candidate. Informational interviews are a valuable opportunity, but must be used strategically and sparin