4 Keys to a Successful Info Interview

Info interviews are critical to networking and actually achieving personal success. If you are wondering what an info interview is or why you should conduct one, check out my earlier post.

The 4 Keys

1. Interview The Right Person
This first step is often botched. Too many of us think too far down the road. You may think “I want to be the VP of marketing,”  so you seek out a VP of marketing to interview. The problem? You are currently an intern for the marketing department of a billion dollar company. Intern to VP is a pretty huge leap. Don’t forget the positions in between your current job and your dream job. Find someone that currently holds the position you will most likely transition to next. Your best bet is to interview a marketing associate. Once you are a marketing associate, interview the senior manager of marketing, then the director of marketing, and finally the VP of marketing. Be smart and get information that you can actually act on instead of information that simply educates you about a job you are not and will not be qualified for in the near future.

2. Prepare
Here’s how:
(a) Research the interviewee’s company and position. Make sure you know the company’s history, products/services, recent achievements and struggles. Be familiar with the interviewee’s basic job functions and what education/skills it takes to fill that position.
(b) Write down 15 to 30 questions ahead of time and make sure the questions are succinct and helpful. Don’t waste time asking questions you can easily find answers to on the company’s website.  
Be prepared to answer the question, “what can I do for you?” In other words, make sure you can clearly state why you are conducting the interview and what you hope to gain from it.

3. Control the Interview
You run the interview – period. Do not wait for the interviewee to ask you questions or give you some magic signal that it is your turn to talk.  Make sure you take control from the very start of the interview. Thank the interviewee for meeting or talking with you and reiterate that you will only take 20 to 30 minutes of their time (Do not go over time unless they specifically tell you they have more to tell you after the 30 minutes is up). Introduce yourself and explain why you want to interview them. You should control the interview, but remember they are doing you a favor by meeting with you. Yield to the interviewee if he or she starts talking, even if it is slightly off topic. Always bring it back around by asking another question that steers the conversation in the right direction. If you have a prepared list of questions, this won’t be difficult.

Structure your questions in a logical way. For example, you may first ask how the interviewee decided to pursue their particular field of work. You may then ask what skills and education helped them get to where they are now. Then you can ask them several questions about their current position (responsibilities, culture of the company, needed skills, work-life balance, etc.).

To signal that you are ending the interview (to be respectful of their time), you should thank them again for making time for you and sharing their experiences. Ask them if it is okay if you stay in touch as you utilize the information they provided to ask any follow-up questions you may have. Lastly, always ask for names of individuals you should talk with to learn even more about the company and/or position. This will help you expand your network and set up additional info interviews.

4. Send a Follow-up Thank You
Send an e-mail, LinkedIn message, hand-written note, or a bike messenger for all I care. Just make sure you send a follow-up thank you to let the interviewee know you really appreciate their time and advice. Neglecting this is irresponsible and will make it more difficult to get future meetings with the interviewee.

What do you believe is the most important question to ask during an info interview?


Learn This 1 Lesson From Billionaire Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban owns the Dallas Mavericks, Landmark Theatres, and Magnolia Pictures. He is the chairman of the HDTV cable network HDNet and stars on ABC’s Shark Tank. Oh, and he’s a billionaire.

Skip Bayless is a sports journalist and television personality for ESPN. Bayless is reportedly a millionaire.

Mark Cuban recently appeared on ESPN and made Bayless look like an idiot. Cuban’s point is not directed at Bayless alone, however. Many of us make the same mistake Bayless makes over and over in the ESPN clip. Watch the clip and cringe. This is how you should feel every time you use Bayless’ approach to understanding your own shortcomings, failures, and successes. Without Cuban’s approach, I guarantee you will not be able to take your success (skill, ability, salary, title, whatever means success to you) to the next level.

Cuban points out that Bayless deals only in generalities. It is impossible to accurately describe  a cause and effect relationship using generalities. Cuban points out how commentators were saying Miami “wanted it more” or the Mavericks “didn’t play hard enough.” That is how they attribute success or failure to professional teams. The problem is that you cannot improve generalities. How do the Mavericks “want it more” or how do they “play harder?” Actual improvement requires more concrete detail. Have fewer turn overs, manage the clock better, keep so-and-so out from under the basket, etc.

We need to avoid this problem in our own professional lives: did you get passed over for that promotion because you didn’t want it enough? The other candidate wanted it more or tried harder? Were you ‘just not feeling it’ the day of the interview so it didn’t go so well? Was the interview just awkward for some reason? If you want to get that next promotion, you need to improve in specific ways. What questions can you answer better? How can you improve your image as a reliable employee who would make a strong manager (be on time to work, turn in high-quality work before the deadline, volunteer for projects, etc)? How can you make an interview comfortable for you and the interviewer (smile, make light conversation, make eye contact, etc)?

Learn from Cuban, deal in facts. What do you need to improve to take your success to the next level?

What common generalities hold us back on a daily basis?

Reach Out to Successful People: They Can Help You

The #1 way to get in touch with successful people (if you are aspiring to become like them) is to conduct an informational interview.

You have conducted hundreds of informal info interviews already. In fact, every time you ask someone about their hobbies, work, or background (say, on a first date or a long flight sandwiched between two strangers), you are conducting a small info interview. You already know how to gather information and build relationships. The key here is to take that knowledge and apply it to a more professional setting.

The Basics of an Info Interview

First and foremost, an info interview requires that you interview a professional. Not necessarily someone in a suit at a corporate office. You simply need to interview someone who is successfully doing what you are trying to do. This should be a one-on-one meeting between you and the professional.

I am about to begin the MBA program at Brigham Young University. Quite a bit of legwork is required before I even start the program. For example, I need to identify the top 3 or 4 companies I want to work for. A Google search or a perusal of a company’s website only yields so much information (usually sugar coated or negatively skewed). It is impossible to get a good feel for a company‘s true culture, what the company expects from employees, or what a typical workday is like for a specific position without talking to someone who works for the company. So, I decided to conduct several info interviews.

LinkedIn is a great way to find potential interviewees. Look up specific companies and find individuals who have job titles or responsibilities you are interested in. Ask one of your contacts to introduce you or send a direct message to ask if they are willing to be interviewed. When you send a request, include the following:

1. Who you are (name, school/company, and location)

2. Why you would like to interview them (learn about their experience with x program/company/profession/position)

3. How much time you intend to take

4. Gratitude for their time

I reached out to several second-year MBA students who are currently interning at companies I am interested in. I used LinkedIn to send a message and ask if they would be willing to talk for 20 to 30 minutes about their experience in the MBA program and their internship. Each person I approached happily accepted my request. The list of companies I am interested in changed dramatically because of these info interviews. I crossed off several companies I thought were perfect for me and added companies I had never considered before.

A well executed Info Interview will grow your network and increase your chances for personal success. In my next post, I will talk about how to conduct an info interview, what you should say, and what you should not say. In the meantime, who will you invite to an info interview?

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Want to Enjoy Your Job Again? Jot These 3 Things Down

Hard time getting a job? I Dare You to Ask for Help

Want to Enjoy Your Job Again? Jot these 3 Ideas Down

Do you stare at unread messages in your inbox and feel absolutely no desire to open them? In fact, do you search for something (anything) to do besides opening those unread e-mails? LinkedIn, Facebook, Google News…

Do you leave projects unfinished because no one will ever notice whether they are finished or not?

Do you work a little, distract yourself, scold yourself, work a little, distract yourself, scold yourself, work a little, get up to get a drink, and then start the whole process over again?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you are either lazy, or underemployed.

Today, I want to talk to the underemployed. You are better than your job and probably better than your boss. You are under utilized, under challenged, and probably losing your edge, which drives you nuts. Don’t give up. The worst thing you could do is doom yourself to your own job for one more day than is necessary. You can enjoy your job again. You can enjoy it for as long as you are in it. If you do the three things listed below, you will enjoy work and you will move on to a much bigger challenge sooner than you think possible. Good things come to those who give their all no matter what.

Jot these three ideas down- and do them! You will notice the difference immediately.

  1. Define your position. Don’t let it define you
    Your job does not describe who you are or what skills you have. You can do everything in your job description and so much more. Make it clear to your boss and co-workers (through performance, not words) that you won’t limit yourself to your job description. You are better, smarter, and worth more than the desk you occupy, so don’t limit yourself to everyone’s image of your position. Blow their mind with what you can make happen from your desk.
  2. Take the initiative. Don’t wait for your boss to give you additional projects
    I bet you string out the work you have because if you really sat down and did it at your normal pace, you’d be done in about 20 minutes. The problem is, if you finish it in 20 minutes, you have to look busy for the rest of the day. Looking busy is much harder than actually being busy. Don’t wait for assignments. Ask for a new project (or propose your own) as soon as you finish your work. Bug your boss until he gets sick of hearing from you. He’ll either give you much larger responsibilities or you will be poached by another department that appreciates work ethic.
  3. Leave your signature on every project you touch
    Make sure you complete every project ahead of schedule, under budget, and/or add awesome features no one else thought of. Every project you touch should have your name written up, down, and across it so everyone knows the quality of your work. Do this, and your name will precede your work. Projects, special requests, and promotions will fall at your feet based on the reputation you create for yourself.

Do these three things and you will be well on your way to enjoying your job again. You will probably be faced with a new problem. You won’t have time to enjoy your current job because you’ll be offered a new one. Enjoy!

See Related Posts:

Hard Time Getting a Job? I Dare You To Ask for Help

Hard time getting a job? I Dare You to Ask for Help

Let’s say you apply for several jobs and never get called for an interview. What do you do next? Right, use the same resume to apply for more jobs and wait longer. Then what? Exactly, send out your resume a few more times. This time, change the font and add more bullet points. If you still don’t get an interview, the job market must be horrible and all the jobs must be going to friends of the hiring managers right? Probably, but it is your fault you aren’t attractive enough on paper to get an interview despite the bad job market or the hiring manager’s nephew’s need for a job.

If you want different results, try a different approach. Have you ever asked someone for help? No, a Google search does not count. Neither does a blog, wiki, or website dedicated to the perfect resume in just 10 minutes. Have you ever asked a real person for help? Is there someone who you trust that is currently employed? Have you asked for a copy of their resume or asked them to take a look at yours? I know it is a hard thing to do. In fact, I used to share my resume in the same way a little boy might burst through the front door at home and thrust his soccer trophy into his father’s hands. So, when I get feedback such as “this part is confusing” or “this section is wordy,” I feel like the little boy whose father says, “I’ve seen better trophies and you missed a couple of easy shots.”

If you think your resume is perfect, your cover letter is flawless, and your interviewing skills are deadly- you are wrong. If you are employed and wrong, no harm done. But if you are unemployed and wrong, we have a problem. The good news is that you can have a killer resume, an attractive cover letter, and a solid interview if you simply ask for help.

I dare you to find a professional friend, workshop, or class to help you develop the skills you need to land the job you want. You will be one of the few that ask for help and thus, one of the few to get a job offer.