This is probably the most overlooked area. We tend to think about interviews in terms of getting a job. How about gathering information that really provides great insights. I used informational interviews everywhere, not just in podcast recordings. I use this approach everywhere. I use it to build new relationships, to ask for advice & guidance, build networks and it truly helps one see different dimensions and aspects about a particular topic.
It’s an approach that Management consultants have perfected. How many times have you heard “We hired consultants and they just validated everything that we knew.” The difference is that the management consultants go in to chat with people with the intent of gaining information & valuable insights to a particular area and they compare it with other companies/individuals that have faced similar situations/obstacles and/or challenges.
Management consultants often refer to this as discovery questions. There are no shortage of reasons to use this approach.
Here are a few typical use cases:
- When you start a new department or company, you want to meet some of the key players (also known as stakeholders) to understand the current challenges in the environment. It provides us insights of what these individuals expect of us. Another ‘AHA’ moment
- When you have a new business idea or potential concept, many of the innovators on the CanInnovate podcast told us that one of the greatest sources of information. They were able to test whether their idea was a problem or opportunity that others would pay for. Providing insights into their potential go to market, their target market, their key messaging and so on. It provides them with such valuable feedback that allows them to fine tune their business idea and potentially gain a few early adopters.
- When you’re looking into jobs and want to know about company culture. What a great tool to use to dive in to understand more about the company. People really enjoy talking about the pros and cons of their company, as its an extension of their values.
- Inspiration & Curiosity. You meet someone that is brilliant and would like to know more about them. They have gotten your attention and you’re curious to know more about them and their journey. Maybe it’s just because you are looking for a little bit of ‘juice’ for inspiration.
All of these different uses, give you an additional benefit. You will get collaboration and actually develop relationships. People that you’ve engaged, will want to be part of your journey. They are a little bit invested in your success. In my book, Connect The Dots: Turn Strangers into Meaningful Network Relationships, I talk about the study that confirms a positive link between asking for a small favour. It’s called the Ben Franklin effect!
The reason why I wanted to talk about the informational interview, was because this is also part of the overall design thinking principles. Asking “What If’, experimenting and testing early, hearing and understanding (Human Empathy) gathering feedback early in the process, focusing on the user experience mindset and most of all, collaboration. Information Interviews really enables you to humanize the problem/situation and possibly identify additional opportunities by TALKING!
There is no shortage of benefits of using information interviews. But, you know me – I like to get tactical.
- Plan: What do you want to learn about or discover? What is the context the purpose – put together 3-4 questions. Don’t forget that you may need to break down questions into smaller questions to reframe questions. Think like a journalist. You’re just getting information and looking for little clues. Don’t forget to prepare a little mini-intro about you & what is the objective for the meeting.
- Engage: Who are potentially some folks that could give you some of these answers. Who in your network should you engage. FREEBIE ALERT! Connect the Dots Companion Workbook. To help put your networking and objectives into perspective. This workbook will help you identify who in your network to engage and more importantly, how to engage and what are some topics that you want to talk about. This will help provide you the basis, for your informational interviews.
- Warm Up: Meet the person and make sure that you take a few minutes to do some warm up questions. Getting to know them. People love talking about themselves. You can ask about how did they get into this field, or what does a day typically look like for them or talk about a hot industry topics. Just make sure you take the time to warm up the conversation.
- Conduct: Conducting the informational interview. Be open to go off script. This is a big challenge for people. The idea is to pick up clues, not to be perspective. You’re trying to discover what you don’t know.
- Reflections: Everytime, you do an informational interview – think about did you get the information that you were looking for. You may need to refine and reframe the question. We need to remember that we just need to get better at asking BETTER questions. By the way, you know I absolutely think Michael Bungay-Stainer’s Book – the Coaching Habit:Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way Your Lead Forever is an essential must read. This book provides such valuable ways to PHRASE questions to get information out.
- Thank you: I cannot express this enough. We need to take a few minutes to say thank you and be grateful for the time. I did an entire blog post about the value of gratitude. I’ll add it to the show notes. Send a handwritten note or email. Just to thank them for their time and the value that they provided. Do NOT ask for favours. You’re just starting to build relationships. You can touch base with them, throughout your journey and give them a little bit of an update.
One thing that I’ve learned, is that people want to genuinely help. However, they also want to know specifically what it is that you want. We get so many requests for our time, so we need to prioritize. Don’t ask for 4 hours of their time, ask for 25-30 minutes over coffee and BE SPECIFIC. “I’d like to learn from you, about what it’s like working as a Business Analyst at Company XYZ” or “I’d like to get your advice and perspective, of how to get more hands on experience with Blockchain technology”.
Information Interviews is another essential business life skill. I’ve got some freebies for you.
I hope you found this helpful and useful. I look forward to hearing from you. Feel free to share the content with others and leave comments. I love feedback.
Connect the Dots Companion Workbook. To help put your networking and objectives into perspective. This workbook will help you identify who in your network to engage and more importantly, how to engage and what are some topics that you want to talk about. This will help provide you the basis, for your informational interviews.
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