informational interviews

A Life of Internships

I think experiential learning is the most important and meaningful form of education. In my humble opinion learning by doing has no peer. The idea of internships may be at least 150 years old. Its origins really come from the medical profession where docs in training learn, under expert supervision, about the body and the various disciplines--to understand the whole of medicine and in part to select a specialty. I love this as an metaphor for life and careers--Continuous education about the "body" of your work and your life. A process to adapt, morph, and sharpen your understanding of what you want and the whole of who you are becoming. 

For students in school, internships may be more important than any elective. A student who graduates without experience: volunteer, internship, apprenticeship, or work is at a serious disadvantage. But more important, the student--now just an alum--has not learned about what they want. One's career development can not come from a book or even a blog for that matter. :)

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.  Confucious

For students of life ( that would be everyone!) the concept of internships has to be adopted as a part of your life. Shorter stints that stimulate your intellectual and spiritual self. Internships are "test drives", career dress rehearsals, due diligence with experiences.

So internships have been elevated to a new level. They enjoy a new popularity and status amongst people who left the ivy covered halls decades ago. Now there is even a movie coming out this summer about this! Why? Simply put, people are trying to adapt. Trying to figure out what they are going to do next. They lack the experience in a field that appeals to them. But this movie and the popularity of internships are too often thought of as an emergency oriented intervention. A drastic last resort step that requires sacrifice and risk to reboot a career. While that can and does work, internships are most effective as a mindset. An open mindset of learning, seeking experiences, and for mentorships. Testing new ideas, interests and embracing failure. 

One of my major gripes is the linear nature of people's approach to education, career development.... There are steps, there is myopia, there is a focus that ultimately ends the same way--too many eggs in the same narrow basket of experience. Wow, is that risky!

How do you become multi-talented, multi-facted? How do you invest in your career to make it more recession proof? More resilient to change, turbulence, and downturns? No financial portfolio that intends to grow and survive is invested in one thing. You need growth opportunities, and less risky investments that "hedge" the downside. You need international and domestic. You need large cap and small cap. The same applies to a career. Silly to rely on a single job to sustain your development.  

Every good job is an temporary assignment that is an adventure, a seminar and is fulfilling. Dick Bolles 

I think life is an internship, many internships. You enroll in internships to continue to grow, experiment, and learn. Your job is your core internship. Your hobby is an internship. Your start-up on the side is an internship. Your volunteer work is an internship. 

Your approach to all of your internships is the same. Who will mentor/teach me? What do I want to learn? What will make this experience meaningful to me? 

If we understand the truth that nothing is permanent. That our expertise is perishable. That our connection to our evolving personal, spiritual, financial, and professional needs needs to be dynamic. Then we realize that doing our job will predictably and inevitably lead to dissatisfaction and worse--the inability to transition to other worlds. This always makes the whole of life less rewarding. So how will you change this outcome? 

Fish out of water
Courtesy of Start-Up You

Throughout my career (of internships) I have worked with and met many people who have used internships well. A few examples:

  • 24 year old employee who asked to do "extra work" at a school mentoring project I was managing. This was an internship added onto her job.  She wanted experience with "education". Today she is a principal of a school.
  • 48 year old consultant with an MBA who interns to use his expertise to help non-profits become more sustainable. 
  • 30 year old lawyer who wanted to go into marketing and volunteered for the marketing committee of her favorite charity. Today she is the head of marketing at a telcom company.

They came to the realization that there current "portfolios" were inadequate. They needed to branch out. They had to diversify.

Here's the kicker, internships super charge your network. New colleagues are a new network. While you should invest in reinvigorating and deepening your network at your job, having a constellation of mentors and networks has gigantic advantages.

So I am advocating that you evaluate your current opportunities for internships. Follow your heart and find intentional experiential assignments both in your job and outside that will deepen your understanding of the body of your work and life.  

Thanks for reading. John


"Informational Interviews" that help YOU

I only accept informational interview requests from warm referrals--people I know and trust. As you might imagine, I meet lots of people. People who want things from me. People who seek my "advice" but are looking for a job. People who read some article or blog (hah!) that told them to meet more people and expand their networks. And I have seen the good, bad and ugly versions of informational interviews.

I think "Informational Interviews" are just a fancy way of saying networking, right? Great value in meeting people in fields, companies, industries that interest you. You prepare for the "interview" like a real interview. Meaning you look like, sound like you are a serious candidate for employment. But isn't this life? I mean aren't we supposed to be constantly ready for opportunities? Don't we believe that opportunity knocks when we least expect it? "Interviewing" is what you do when you are alive! :) People are judging you from near and afar everyday. You have conversations and meet "potential" employers all of the time.  No "interview" is always scheduled, scripted, and orderly. While an informational interview is often scheduled it requires preparation but agility and flexibility as well.  Interview

Yes, informational interviews are an underutilized way of finding leads and more important, finding yourself--more on that in a few. But just as in cooking with confidence, you start to vary the recipe to meet your own tastes. Otherwise every cookie from the cookie cutter tastes and looks the same. The greatest thing about you is you are different and unique. The moment you start following a formula step by step like a poorly trained monkey, you lose all of your differentiation--your YOU-ness. Comprende?

Yet every "informational interview" seems to start in the same way. Somebody told everybody to start by asking the same question: "So, tell me how you got your job (or chose this career) and about your career journey." There are several bad variations on this theme. Don't get me wrong, the essence of this query is important. Understanding WHY and how people got where they are is interesting and instructive. And yes, people, especially me :), like to talk about themselves. The theory is to warm up the conversation. The problem is when it feels robotic, like a line--a parroted phrase from a script. There is a cheesy insincerity that puts the interview into a tailspin if you read from a script.

Informational interviews are networking conversations with a focus. They are a chance for you to get insight into a different world and into yourself through someone who has generously agreed to spend some time with you. But it is a conversation. You should always have questions, but you always allow the exchange to take its course. It is a dance between your specific needs (assuming you can articulate them) and the information that they yield.

The biggest difference in the way I view informational interviews is the information seeker is the interviewer. Let me repeat this: The person who wants information leads the interview.

So the information seeker has to seek information:) They must interview me! They have to have great questions. They have researched and Googled me and my work? They are not there to wing it? (Is there ever a time when we wing it?) We have to prepared 24/7. The interviewer prepares a unique interview. I know this takes extra work, sorry about that. But each "interview" is different. Just like when you send in resumes and cover letters, but I digress.

So here are a few tips to guide your "informational interviewing":

  1. What do YOU want? Always the question that should keep you up at night, but the focus of any interview and career conversation. Whya re you here? Be clear on what you are seeking--not just a job--but the path you are pursuing or considering. Because understanding what your next job means to your trajectory is pretty damn important. Ultimately learning about who you are and what you want are the objectives.
  2. Google/Research/Prepare for the "interview". Seems so obvious, but do your homework! And then prepare questions that are driven by YOUR curiosity and your needs. Write them down in priority order and use them as your guide.
  3. Act as the interviewer. It is your inteview. Start off with why you are there and what you want. Be respectful. Listen. Let the conversation go where it naturally goes. Be curious!(all of the basic and essential rules of any conversation!) But get through as many as your questions without wearing out your welcome. Remember that if this conversation goes well you can ask more questions and get more feedback later.
  4. Seek advice and feedback. In the end you want to get counsel on your thoughts, your strategies, your resume, your goals. You want to get advice. I am reminded of the wisdom I was given about fundraising that applies here. If you want advice ask for money. If you want money ask for advice. The greatest outcome in an informational inteview is to get feedback on YOU. 
  5. Enjoy the conversation. Meeting people, different people and learning new things is fun. Yes, a bit nerve racking, but no mind expanding experience isn't accompanied by a little fear.  Even if the interview is disappointing to you, you will gsin something--an insight, an idea, and another chance to practice your interviewing. So appreciate that and appreciate the time and effort you were provided to reflect on YOU.
  6. Follow-up. Again, common courtesy that is infrequently practiced. You land a job and forget the people who helped you, even a little bit. Of course thank people for the interview, but remember to let them know when you succeed.

Interviewing, networking and mentoring is a lifestyle--it is what you do when you are breathing. 

Lastly, let me just encourage any of you who get requests from warm sources to meet with you about your business and your job--to conduct an informational interview--to do it! YOU will always be the beneficiary of the session. Talking about yourself, why you do what you do, and what advice you have for others, always makes YOU better. That is the transformative and reciprocal power of networking!

Thanks for reading. John