I was working with a client yesterday who has been conducting informational interviews throughout the summer in hopes of finding a job.  Although he hoped he would have a job by now, he readily admitted that he has a much better understanding of his chosen industry as a result of these interviews.  He sounds more knowledgeable and has been able to crystallize his career goals.

Informational interviews are a great job search tool but need to be used appropriately to make a good impression and eventually land a job.  Here are some things to keep in mind.

First, preparation is key.  You requested the meeting so it is up to you to drive the conversation. Prepare your 30 second commercial to open the meeting.  Be sure to make it clear that you are looking for advice and suggestions, only.  You are not necessarily looking for a job.  Prepare 5 or 6 open-end questions that will give you information on the industry, various entry level job opportunities as well as required skills and experience.

Next, regardless of how you made the connection, present yourself as you would for a job interview. Dress professionally, turn off your cell phone, etc.

Do not monopolize the conversation.  Your job is to listen and learn.

Be conscious of time. If you asked for 30 minutes, keep the meeting to 30 minutes. At 29 minutes, you can say “I realize I asked for 30 minutes.  Can we keep talking or do we need to wrap this up?”

Finally, ask your contact if they can refer you to other people.  Be sure to thank them verbally and always follow up with a customized thank you note.

Susan Kennedy is the Founder of Career Treking, a job coaching firm that specializes in helping college students and graduates identify and find the right job. Since 2005, Susan has helped countless college grads find their ideal position and career path, regardless of college major. Susan has also published a book, The Job Coach for Young Professionals. You can find Susan on Facebook and follow her on Twitter at @SusanCareerTrek.