Asking for time with someone to learn is what is known as informational interviewing. While it was probably something you did back in college when you were exploring career opportunities, it’s a practice that should never be abandoned. You’re never too old or too much of an expert (even if you’re the C.E.O.) to conduct informational interviewing. Yes, you may call it something else, and it may even take on shades of mentoring or best practice generation, but it’s still an exchange of information. I liken informational interviewing (if done right) to an opportunity to have a “life class” in whatever topic or industry that you want to learn more about. Both parties should walk away from the session feeling it was a positive experience. While you will be doing more questioning and listening than telling, you will have a chance to share about you and your goals. Still you are the asker and the facilitator of the session so you need to come prepared.
Recently, I had the experience of someone asking me for an informational interview session. I agreed but felt highly uncomfortable as the session progressed. The individual who wanted to learn from me came without questions and used the time to share his passions only. There were many lengthy lulls in the time we were together, especially after I would ask him a question (as he had only a few for me, other than “How do you get customers?” and “Can you refer clients to me?”).
It was incredibly awkward and I really wasn’t sure what he wanted from me other than my client list. Unfortunately, I will be hard pressed to refer him to business and clients with whom I do work or to introduce him to companies looking to hire someone with his skill set. Now this wasn’t only because he wasn’t prepared, it is because I have no idea what he does or what he wants to do. I asked the question repeatedly and still never got an answer. All I know is that he wants clients for whatever coaching he decides he’s going to do. Talk about cart before the horse.
Don’t make this same mistake and ruin a potentially good network relationship. Instead, come prepared with a list of questions including what it takes to break into the industry, what skills and experiences are needed and what qualities are appreciated by customers or organizational management and how to go about finding the right position. Questions should also extend to referrals for more information and good resources to read or learn from.
How to Be Career Happy? Avoid Informational Interviewing Faux Pas