External candidates contact me pretty frequently to ask for informational interviews. I understand why they do it and I try to help them understand why I can't grant informational interviews. It could potentially turn into a full-time job for me.
Recruiters at large companies will get a high volume of applicants for each position. I can't tell you how many exactly, but it's a lot. My guess is that some positions get hundreds of applicants. Could I grant each interested person an informational interview? No. Would we grant some phone interviews once we have reviewed resumes and identified some people that potentially match our needs? Yep.
In my opinion, informational interviews don't actually exist. No real interviews exist outside the funnel. This is why we don't recruit by standing on street corners reading out our job descriptions. For large/well known/great employers, there's no reason why they would make themselves available to any/every candidate, resume unseen. It's just not smart. Once the resume has been shared (or some biographical data, something), and a recruiter expresses interest in the candidate's background, then it's an interview-interview. There's some mutual interest.
All interviews should have an informational element to them. The interviews go both ways and candidates should ask lots of questions of the potential employer. But the candidate has to get the attention of the recruiter by representing themselves as someone who could possibly fit a position at their company and/or has some highly sought after competitive skills.
Really, the only people that I think should ask for informational interviews are people that have a well-known, rare or exceptional skill set that speaks for itself. For example, if Jack Welch contacted me for an informational interview, I'd grant it because, well, he's Jack Welch (my first question would be "are you crazy?" and then I'd tell him to go enjoy himself).
But most candidates are trying to use the informational interview to get noticed or to get a foot in the door. Unfortunately, in this age where people can apply to a position with a few mouse clicks, that can be a challenge. Unless you have a personal connection with the recruiter, you'll likely have to make that first impression by resume; where the (purported) skills speak for themselves. I think that for the candidate, it's also challenging when they ask the informational interview of the recruiter versus someone in the business. Recruiters are contacted by so many candidates that it would be very difficult to determine who to say no to and who to say yes to.
One thing that recruiters can and should do is network with candidates for future opportunities (as time allows). I think of this as something different than the informational interview, which implies that the person is looking for a new role right now. Nothing wrong with networking. There are a number of people that I stay in touch with and think of when new opportunities arise. These are people that I have somehow built professional relationships with. Current technology is so easy to use that much of this can be accomplished through LinkedIn or other means (like a CRM solution). Information can be exchanged without the recruiter having to accommodate a meeting wherein the candidate pitches their skills. I mean, that is what an informational interview ends up being more often than not. It's kind of a "now that I got your attention, let me tell you why you should be interested in me". The problem is that with significant workloads, the recruiter has to already be interested in you for you to get their attention with an interview.
Most recruiters hate telling people no but it's something that they have to do in their jobs. In order to manage their work, they have to spend their time with the candidates that most closely match their current openings or with significant promise to match one of their future openings. It's a challenge for the candidate to demonstrate to the recruiter that they are one of those, but that's what it takes.
If you have asked for an informational interview, don't feel bad. We don't blame you for asking. We just can't do it.
PS: I am sure that the last 5 people that have contacted me for informational interviews and happen to read this are going to think this is about them. It's not. : )