All I had to do was ask?

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why didn’t I just talk to somebody about this first?”

Without getting into the formal execution of an informational interview, it’s more important that you simply familiarize yourself with the concept so you can make more informed career decisions moving forward. The great news is that many people are more than happy to share information and give free advice so it’s a lot easier than you may think to make this happen (especially with the advent of LinkedIn) so don’t be shy. Also, it’s not usually going to cost you anything, but even treating somebody to a latte at Starbucks is a worthwhile investment.

If you already know what this technique is (and perhaps you’re already utilizing platforms like LI groups, or, etc.) perhaps it’s time to rethink its ‘universal’ application in both formal and informal circumstances. More specifically, you can effectively apply this approach to almost every aspect of your life; career related or not.  With that said, my goal here is to lead you to water, but ultimately you must take the first sip.

OK. Just imagine the power and benefit of asking direct questions to those that have firsthand knowledge and experience with something that interests you professionally. Whether it’s about a specific occupation, a specific employer, a different department or even a specific domain you might have you’re eye on, somebody with firsthand knowledge or related experience is likely to have valuable information to share with you … all you have to do is ask! An yes… it’s that simple.!

Admittedly I have found over the years that many folks see the ‘Information Interview’ process as formal or they just find it uncomfortable to ask for advice. My suggestion is that you simply approach this in a more informal fashion and keep in mind that people generally like to help others. Whether you’re asking for 10 minutes over coffee,  five minutes on the phone, an inquiry via LinkedIn, etc. the key is to just make it happen and don’t assume you have to go through some formal channel or rigid process to ask questions. Just ask and you are very likely to receive!

For example, I applaud those that have called me out of the blue because somebody within my network suggested they ask me questions about the recruiting industry. That way, before making a career move into my domain, they can get a feel for what the staffing industry is like, what skills/training they may need, what it takes to perform successfully as a staffing specialist, the pros/cons of being in the industry, etc.. As long as you respect the time of others and don’t end run them and ask for a job (often a big turn off for sure), it’s not that difficult to make an informational interview happen.

TIP – When requesting time from others, disclose up front how much time you anticipate you’ll need in an effort to respect their time and give them a chance to modify that window. If calling somebody and you get them live, introduce yourself, disclose the reason for your call and ask if this is a good time to talk or would another time be more convenient. I suggest you initially ask for 5-10 minutes if you’ll be talking on the phone and 10-15 if you’re going to meet somebody in person but it’s something you’ll simply need to feel out. The key is to be mindful of their time above all else. Of course many conversations will naturally and organically last longer, but make sure the feeling appears to be mutual.

I personally connect people all the time with other professionals within my own personal and professional networks because I have always seen the ROI in this approach. In the IT world, I connect technologists up with each other as many times somebody has an interest in a slightly different role and it just makes sense for them to connect with somebody already doing that specific job so they can ask probing questions. Let’s say a Network Administrator is interested in Database Administration. I simply look at my network and connect them with a database person so that they can exchange thoughts. Although you should always carry yourself professionally, my suggestion is to keep things somewhat informal so that both parties enjoy the process. An added bonus to all of this is that Informational interviewing also helps you build your own network for the long run.

TAKE AWAY – By proactively approaching individuals who have firsthand experience with something that interests you is incredibly powerful and something that ‘anybody’ can do. When you think about it, the application of this technique is essentially limitless. The key is not to be shy about tapping into your network or somebody else’s. You’d be surprised how many folks would welcome an unsolicited inquiry from somebody that simply wants to tap into ‘their’ expertise and advice. Just be bold and I’m confident that you’ll be rewarded well for your efforts.