The Power of Informal Interviews

When people hear the word interview, there is generally cringing and slight nausea that follows. So bear with me while I share a new concept with you - the informal interview, where the pressure of your future is not on the line. These interviews are more like conversations (albeit one-sided conversations where you ask most of the questions), and can come in really handy for learning, relationship-building, decision-making and goal-setting. Behold the power of the informal interview! Five Types of Informal Interviews to Get You Started Experiment with informal interviews by setting up lunches, 30-minute phone calls, coffee, etc. with at least three people in each category you choose.

  1. New Job or Job Role - One of the best ways to "ramp up" quickly (as we like to say in corp-speak) is to talk to other people who are already doing your job and ask them what advice they have for you, what they've learned, what they wished they knew when they started, and so on.

    For example, I recently got promoted to a management position - yikes! - and it's completely different from my previous role as an "individual contributor." I've scheduled lunches with three managers I respect and admire to get their advice, ask questions and help strengthen those relationships. And one day maybe someone will be scheduling me for one of those lunches!

  2. Big Goals - As you know from my last post, I am going to run the Nike Women's Marathon in October. I'm training by myself rather than with a group like Team in Training, and for that reason I see informal interviews as critical to my success (in addition to reading, online research and getting support from friends). As I encounter other women who have run marathons (including a number of my friends - you know who you are and I will be in touch soon!), I've been making an effort to sit down with them and get advice on things like biggest physical and mental challenges, running trails, diet/nutrition, and most importantly what the experience meant to them (to help motivate me and keep me going).

    This type of informal interview also has two side benefits: a growing support network, and even more iron-clad accountability as you share your goal with more and more people.

  3. Future Career Options - This is different than #1 because it's a different career-path and/or company than the one you are currently in. As you meet people through friends, at conferences, at Starbucks - ask about their job. If any jump out at you as particularly interesting, follow-up and schedule some time to sit down with them and learn more about what they do.

    For example, I've always secretly wanted to be a financial planner - much different than corporate trainer. Interviewing people in that type of role helps me figure out what I like about it, and how I might be able to incorporate it into my future "dream career" as a speaker/author/coach. Before I jumped into the coaches training, I interviewed professional coaches. My next set of informal interviews will be with female entrepreneurs and some of my new coaching contacts who are running workshops for women - an idea I am absolutely enamored with!

  4. People You Admire - This one is pretty self explanatory. In a previous post, I had you make a list of people you admire and qualities they have that speak to you (things they have, what they are "doing" or how they are "being"). Spend more time with these people! Tell them you admire them! Ask them to be your mentors! These are some of your most important relationships because they can help remind you of what you aspire to do and how you aspire to be (while keeping in mind that you are unique and wonderful in your own right, of course).
  5. Help with Decision-Making - Sometimes as great as they are, your friends and family don't have enough information or background to help you through a big decision. For this reason, it's helpful to interview people on BOTH sides of the coin as a way to gather information. More facts = more informed decisions. You're not necessarily asking for advice here - you're asking about what decisions and trade-offs the other people made and how satisfied they were with their choice. If specific advice for you comes out of the conversation, that's a bonus - but it's not a requirement.

    About a year ago I was having a big inner struggle trying to decide whether to take the dreaded GMAT and apply to business school. The "I really should" half of my brain was saying "go to business school! increase your earning potential! learn more about strategy and economics and yada yada yada!" The "I'm not ready" side was saying "stay at your job! you're learning just as much here! give it a few more years! dont you dare make me re-learn math, damnit!" I was torn. So I scheduled about six lunches with managers and MBA Interns at my company who had gone to Business School and ones who hadn't. I asked each about what helped them make their decision to go (or not to go), and what resulted from it (both good and bad). I interviewed people who went in their early twenties, and people in their early thirties. I interviewed current students, both full- and part-time. All of the interviews were incredibly helpful - without them interviews I might still be playing ping-pong with the decision and staring at my unopened GMAT books.

So there you have it - five types of informal interviews to get you started. In addition to the practical benefits, these provide a great way to strengthen your relationships (old and new) and learn interesting things about other people. Your interviewees will enjoy sharing their wisdom, and you will learn new things in the process. And don't forget to send them thank-you notes when you're done!