The Value of Informational Interviews in Moving Forward on a New Venture

by on May 19, 2011

The Value of Informational Interviews in Moving Forward on a New Venture

 

In today’s fast paced society, it is not uncommon for people to want results quickly when they are in need of something.  However, when you are looking to obtain something of value in your life, such as a new job, beginning a new venture or becoming an expert in a field in which you know little or nothing about, quick and easy is just not going to cut it.  When that is the situation you are in, you are going to need to take the time, reach out to others and conduct a thorough research process to build both the knowledge and recognition factor you will need to be successful in your new endeavor.

The informational interview is a valuable tool for you in terms of gaining that knowledge and making inroads into any new venture you are looking to try.  While I first learned of it as a solid skill to use in conducting a successful job search campaign, I can see the value it provides even outside the area of seeking employment.  The informational interview is based on the following:

  • You are seeking to build lifelong relationships with people in the field in which you are interested.
  • You are looking to let those who are already in your area of interest know of your desire to become part of their field, and that you are anxious to learn how to improve your knowledge and skill sets to be part of that fraternity.
  • You are seeking information from the person to whom you are speaking, not specifically a handout or an offer.  Others are usually very willing to share their knowledge and passion when approached properly, and certainly when there are not expectations on the part of the one doing the questioning.
  • You are hoping to make such an impression on the person from whom you are seeking information they are willing to provide you referrals to others who may be able to expand your knowledge further, particularly if your initial contact is not an expert on a particular part of the field in which you are interested.
  • That as you proceed forward with your knowledge building in your new field, that you keep in touch with your contact as to progress you are making, offer them details on new facts you are learning as you continue building your expertise and let them know how you are becoming more and more a part of the field in which both of you share an interest.

While the term “interview” implies a certain formality to the process, particularly when you are reaching out to gather information from someone to whom you have been referred or may have contacted through a letter writing or telephone campaign, it does pay to be prepared.  Know the information you are seeking to learn.  Prepare a list of meaningful questions ahead of time that you are looking to ask the person with whom you are speaking, and make them appropriate to their level of expertise.  When setting up the interview session, be respectful of their time.  If they are a very busy person, ask for only 15 or 20 minutes.  For most others, a 30 minute conversation is an appropriate length.

When in the actual interview, stick to the topic and questions at hand.  Certainly, when you first meet the person to speak, exchange pleasantries and get to know each other.  However, once thanking the person for seeing you and explaining why you are there (this is always something good to do, because you may have made the session for the informational interview several days before, and the person may not remember why you are there to see them), stick to the topic and your questions.  If the other person gets off track, acknowledge their answer, but then get back to your questions.  Certainly also take notes during the session.  This helps in several ways:

  • It will encourage the person to share more as they see you are extremely interested in what they are saying.
  • If you seek out informational interviews with several individuals on your topic of choice, you will know who said what.
  • It helps to keep you on track in terms of keeping the questioning focused on your agenda.

Above all remember, the informational interview is your meeting and your goal is to get all you can out of it.  However, all means gathering the best information possible, not necessarily getting just other names to contact, (that’s nice if it happens but not necessary), and it certainly is not to come out with an offer of a job or whatever particular objective you are seeking.  Be grateful for whatever help another gives you and assume they are doing their best to provide you the best guidance possible.  Finally, remember this is part of a process of building relationships in your field of interest, so certainly look to stay in touch with the person with whom you have spoken, even if that is just an occasional card or e-mail to keep them abreast of your progress.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Csilla Moffat May 19, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Great information, Tony. Thank you. It is so very true that today the western world is in such a hurry for instance success … but following your advise will allow the roots to be established and the seed to germinate.

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