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How to Use Informational Interviews to Get Ahead

Learn how to advance your career through conversations.

By
Lisa B. Marshall,
May 21, 2010
Episode #092

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I’ve received several emails asking if I could talk more about informational interviews. I briefly mentioned them in my book, The Public Speaker’s Guide To Ace Your Interview but it seems I didn’t do a good enough job explaining them. So I decided to write this article.

What Is an Informational Interview?

Traditionally the term “informational interviewing” has been associated with job interviewing. Unfortunately, because of this, I think many people believe asking for an informational interview is just a sneaky way get a job interview. It’s not!!

Informational interviewing is not about asking for a job. It’s also not about asking for possible job referrals. Informational interviewing is about learning something that is not easily available via other resources.

Informational interviewing is about preparing for and developing your career. The idea is to talk with someone to learn more about something, such as their job, the company culture, their career, and maybe their advice. In fact, I started referring to informational interviews as planned coffee conversations (or my case planned “caffeinated career conversations” because I don’t like coffee!)

I prefer to call an informational interview a planned conversation because an interview suggests it’s a one-sided interrogation. By calling it a conversation it suggests a two-sided give and take. Both parties are committing to further develop the relationship and if possible, both parties share information.

Why Have Informational Interviews?

When I was in my twenties, I knew that I wanted to become a professional speaker. So, I had several planned coffee conversations with professional speakers who were members of the local chapter of the National Speaker’s Association. They explained their processes, their success (and mistakes) and some even gave me copies of their contracts and proposals. I held onto my notes and the documents from those conversations for more than a dozen years ;and in fact, one or two of those documents I collected are the basis for what I use today.

At the time, I was very young and didn’t have much to offer in return—except for my enthusiasm for the profession. So, now when I get a call from an enthusiastic young professional asking for similar advice, I return the favor. I think most successful professionals recognize it’s an obligation of leadership to help guide the next generation of leaders and are happy to help when they can.

I recently initiated a caffeinated conversation with a college student because I wanted to be updated on the topic of a class she was completing. She was able to help me learn, and I was able to share some of my insights with her. In fact, our conversation went so well, Whitney, is now doing an summer internship with us. (By the way, you can listen to the recording of that conversation on the facebook page.)

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