What do hiring committees look for in candidates? What is the minimum requirement? What makes people really stand out? What is the actual state of the competition right now? What do the CVs of people getting appointed look like?
What can you expect in particular institutions? Or at particular stages of career? What kinds of support are available to academics in different institutions? What are the requirements for tenure? Is there a tenure system? If not, are there other kinds of probationary requirements?
What is a reasonably salary? Does that vary by institution? By country? By region? Are faculty unionized? What difference does that make? What about benefits? And cost of living? Raises and promotions?
Believe it or not, there isn’t one answer.
Academic jobs vary. And job candidates vary in their needs, wants, and strengths.
Informational interviews can help you find out the answers relevant to your job search.
You have a network you can access to ask these questions. You meet other academics all the time: at conferences, online and even in the hallway. You can ask them for introductions to people they know who may have useful information about particular places, institutions, or job types that you are interested in.
You are not asking for a job or for preferential consideration. You are asking them to tell you about their own job. What it’s like? What kinds of things they’ve seen on hiring committees they’ve served on recently? What changes seem to be afoot?
You are asking them specific questions that will help you put together a better application. Information that will help you prioritize activities like publishing, getting teaching experience, etc. to make you a more competitive candidate.
And you are letting people know that you’re looking. Because academic departments have discussions about how to frame searches and knowing that there are strong candidates in a particular field makes a difference in those discussions.
While you’re at it, you might as well talk to people you know outside academia as well. You never know. Someone might do a job you find really interesting but never even knew existed. It’s good to have options.