I always tell candidates, especially juniors, that there is no such thing as an informational interview. If someone agrees to see you it is because there is the possibility of a job, either now or in the near future.
When people at companies are really, really busy, they just don’t see people. Once someone agrees to see you, there is probably something in your background that they are interested in – it could be as mundane as your school, but it could be your experience or your perspective, based on your background. Once they have agreed to see you, your interview should be approached as if they had a specific job in mind. Besides that, even when there is no specific job, during your interview there may be something you say or an experience you discuss that rings a bell with the interviewer and they end up realizing that you can solve a problem they have. This could lead to them actually making a job for you. It happens all the time.
Why is this advice important? Because, if you approach an interview thinking that it is just for information, your interview will be different than if you believe there is a job. It has to do with mind set. Informational interviews, if purely that, tend to be casual meet and greet affairs. But a real interview becomes purposeful and directed, which is what every candidates should want.
All interviews, no matter what level you are (even entry level) are based on the same premise: past success is indicative of future potential. You must communicate your past successes and how you achieved them. If you go just for information, you are very apt to just chit-chat and then forget to let people know who you really are.
While the purpose of any interview is to gather information about the company you are seeing, the objective of an interview, whether for a specific job or just to meet someone, should be to get passed on. If you are seeing someone with the mindset that you are only there for information, you could easily forget to determine if there are others you should also meet.
Even when an interviewer tells you that there is no job available just now, it is really not an informational interview.
At the end of the interview there are a couple of questions which must be asked. First, ask for the order. Every salesman knows this. Jobs go to the person who asks for them. Make sure the person you are seeing knows that you are interested.
Second, ask if there are other people within the organization you might meet. You can also ask if they know people outside their company with whom they might connect you to. Don’t push too hard, however – no one likes to be bullied by an interviewee.
Finally, ask how they would like you to follow up. When should you call or email and which do they prefer? Then be sure to do what you are told, when you are told to do it.