There’s a fantastic technique I’ve used for learning from other people. Although I don’t care for the name “informational interviewing,” it’s powerful and useful in all kinds of situations.
A couple of years ago, I was evaluating a range of business coaching companies to find out if I might want to join one. The problem was that information was coming to me in random and unreliable ways, and wasn’t leading me to any clear conclusion.
I needed to use an organized process.
I decided that I wanted to talk with at least five people who had useful information about each company I was evaluating, so I could get a range of viewpoints. I wanted to ask a consistent list of questions, giving me results that I could compare.
I quickly realized that this could take a LOT of time, because setting up appointments with dozens of people is not an easy task. So I decided to try a novel approach: the 15 minute informational interview. I figured that almost anybody would be willing to chat for 15 minutes, and in that time I could get most of what I needed.
After looking at this carefully, I decided that there were just five truly essential questions I needed to ask:
- What is the value that you get from your company?
- How well do you like the people you’re working with?
- What are your biggest frustrations?
- If you were doing this again, what would you do differently?
- What other questions should I be asking?
It turns out that I got some absolutely brilliant information out of this, far beyond what I expected. I uncovered some key concerns, and rapidly refined my decision criteria. When I ultimately joined up with Small Fish Business Coaching, it was based on confidence that I knew what I was getting into. And I haven’t regretted that decision for a moment.
If you’re looking to switch careers, evaluate employers, or join a group, this could be a powerful technique for you. Here’s the principles I learned:
- Have courage – this is important, and if you think through it carefully, you’re not really imposing on others much at all.
- Talk to a range of people. They’ll have different points of view, and each one can help you to refine your understanding.
- Make it as pleasant as possible for the other person. Be gracious and thankful. Keep it short. Buy them coffee or lunch if possible.
- Create a focused set of questions, to get comparable results and to minimize wasting peoples’ time.
- Have them be open-ended questions. Let the person expand in the direction that’s most meaningful to them.
- Be clear about why you’re doing this. People may put up barriers if they think you’re trying to gain advantage or gather information for underhanded purposes.
Give this a try!