How to conduct a meaningful informational interview

Over the past few weeks, I’ve conducted numerous informational interviews with undergraduate and graduate students. I enjoy these interviews and welcome the opportunity to talk to students about their career ideas and aspirations. These students are looking for information that will hopefully inform them of whether or not to pursue a potential career, so being able to share insights and stories that can guide them in this process is something I enjoy and welcome.

Last week, I was speaking with a friend who also had done a fair share of informational interviews when they asked me what I thought were the ingredients of a good informational interview. I thought about the many interviews I’ve conducted as an interviewer and interviewee, and came up with a few characteristics.

 

Diligence – Informational interviews are great learning opportunities, but not all questions are best suited for an informational interview. It’s not very valuable for either of us if they ask me questions that can be found on the website.

I respect the people who take the time to do some homework before the interview. Sure – you can’t know everything about the industry or my computer (if you did, you wouldn’t have any use for the  interview!) doing some prep work demonstrates that you value time. To me, that is a sign of respect.

Furthermore, it also shows that you’re putting in effort to really learn as much as you can, not only on the call but also, before and afterward. That investment of time makes someone want to do what they can to help the other person in their pursuit.

Curiosity – I really appreciate and value people who demonstrate curiosity and inquisitiveness. As the saying goes, “those who are interested are interesting.”

Curiosity often breeds interesting questions, thoughtful comments, and a memorable conversation. It also demonstrates a genuine eagerness for learning, which is something I both respect and appreciate. People who are interesting (in a good way) will always be more memorable, especially when it comes to remembering whom to refer for potential interviews.

 

Authenticity – I’ve found the best informational interviews are the ones that are ones that are natural easy-going conversations. Sometimes, I think we get caught up in the formality and professional nature of the discussion that we forget to be ourselves.

Instead of telling stories about our background, we explain key bullet points on our resume. Instead of letting the discussion unfold naturally, we stick to our bulleted list of questions we thought of in advance.

There is an art and a science that comes to an informational interview. Diligence and preparedness take care of the science, but curiosity and truly being your authentic-self take care of the art.

There’s no one right way to conduct an informational interview. Like anything, experience and timing (and perhaps a few mistakes) refines our craft. In your next informational interview, try focusing on these three things and see what you learn.

One question to ask yourself before you quit your job

Over the course of my career I’ve had lots of conversations with friends and colleagues who are interested in leaving their job. As an eternal optimist, I usually try to advocate for people to exhaust their means before pulling the plug in hopes that things turn around. However, we all have our own threshold and once it’s broken there’s no turning back.

Last week, I was speaking with a friend who was in a tough position at work and contemplating whether or not to leave for another opportunity. This was not our first discussion on this topic – We had actually had a similar conversation two years ago. Given that this was not their first rodeo, I walked through my usual list of questions such as:

  • What don’t you like?
  • What’s making you unhappy?
  • What could turn this around?

My final question was this: If you were to walk away, what would you miss most, and how would that make you feel? After mulling it over for an evening, the person emailed me back and told me that even though things weren’t great right now, they weren’t willing to give up some of the core things that were valuable to them in their current job. As such, they decided to stick it out for a few more months.

Sometimes it’s not about what the next job offers that is exponentially better than what you’re current situation offers, but rather, it’s about what you’d have to give up if you chose to leave. For people that have exhausted every opportunity and are ready to move on, a new opportunity could be exactly what’s needed. But for others, reframing the question to not what you’ll get but what you’ll have to give up might help you think through if you’re truly ready to move onto the next gig.

While the grass may seem greener, sometimes its not about the greener grass, but focusing on the grass you’re on. To illustrate this point, I’d like to share a status LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner shared today:

2015-10-05_21-25-44

3 ways young professionals can crush it at work

Starting off your career as a young professional can be a challenging experience. Despite your intelligence, college degree and work ethic, getting a handle of your role and making contributions to your team is not as cut and dried as taking a test or reading a textbook. It rarely happens right away. In fact, it takes most people a few months (or up to a year) to really contribute at their peak capacity.

For those that are college graduates and joining the workplace for the first time it can take even longer. While many of us are hired for our intelligence and experience, there are some lessons that cannot be taught.

I’ve gotten the chance to work alongside incredibly talented professionals who are making incredible contributions to their teams despite their lack of experience. Through my conversations with these high-performing individuals along with my own observations, the following things are things you can do to begin to do to stand out amongst your team.

Tackle the tough projects

When I worked at Deloitte, one of my managers used to tell me, “clients don’t pay us to solve their easy problems, they pay us to solve their hard ones.” Similarly, if you raise your hand to tackle the tough assignments, perhaps the ones nobody else wants to do, you’ll gain the respect and awareness from your manager and your colleagues.

Taking on a tough project can be a daunting task. Oftentimes, we may feel unqualified or unsure of how to proceed. However, raising your hand to tackle a tough project signals initiative, a willingness to roll up your sleeves, and problem solving skills. Furthermore, it opens doors for you, as others begin to take notice. If you’re able to deliver on these projects, you’ll often find that others will come back to you with future opportunities.

Tip: Next time there is an open project up for grabs, sign up for it even if you aren’t sure if you are qualified to tackle it. Then, reach out to some others who you trust to set up time to talk with them about how you can best approach this project.

Share knowledge

In our information-based economy, knowledge is power. The expertise we develop and the experiences we gain are valuable assets, not only to our work but also for others. This is why sharing your knowledge is something that can make you stand out from your peers.

When you share knowledge that is useful and helpful, people will see you as a trusted source of expertise on a particular topic. This helps you build credibility, trust, and respect from your peers, and again, opens you up to countless future opportunities.

Tip: Think about something that you’ve worked on lately and create a PowerPoint presentation on the topic. Consider sharing it with others on your team who might be working on a similar topic.

Solve unidentified problems

Solving a problem that your boss or manager has come to you with is always a good thing. However, the forward-thinking employees tend to spot problems that others don’t see and find ways to solve them before they become bigger issues. Your manager has a million things on their plate, which is why they’ve come to you with a particular problem. They can’t spot every issue or concern, so when you can find one and solve it before they notice they tend to appreciate your diligence.

Tip: This is a little bit harder to teach since it relies a bit on instinct and experience. Start by evaluating a project or initiative your team just completed and identifying ways it could have been done better or any weaknesses or pain points it caused to employees or customers.