Building a Life Part IV: The Informational Interview (Cont’d . . . )

Since moving to Philadelphia, I have become obsessed with “informational interviews,” which I basically consider to be any coffee date with someone who is not a friend, and not an employer (although they might one day become either) where the aim is learning as much as you can from them about something you’re considering doing.

In the past three weeks, I have gone to coffee with a professor at La Salle University: I called in to her NPR interview and asked a question about volunteers at public libraries; I consequently email stalked her, and then we met for coffee in Chestnut Hill, so I could pick her brain about a volunteer training program I was thinking of developing. I got tea at Le Pain Quotidien with an interfaith supervisor and learned about the training she received in community organizing. I met in a donated office space with a volunteer at SCORE small business center who gave us feedback on our business plan for real estate investments. Last Sunday night I got my fifth coffee of the day (it was a long one!) with the president of my local playground to learn about their fundraising process and ask about ways the civic association and playground could better collaborate and support each other. In the last month I’ve drank my weight in social cappuccinos, meeting with small business owners, bloggers, installation artists, professional coaches, personal trainers – all to learn something I want or need to know, and to make a connection. 

From just those few coffees, I got to learn about literacy in Philadelphia, business planning, fundraising, the basic tenants of community organizing, resources in my own neighborhood, public art construction law, and countless other tidbits – all for free! One can receive quite an education over cold coffee in paper cups in warm cafés with good music.

I'm in Charleston, SC right now - and looking at palm trees from inside this cute coffee place!

I’m in Charleston, SC right now – and looking at palm trees from inside this cute coffee place!

I love informational interviews because they serve a few purposes. First, they let you have a rapid-fire internship for an hour, and learn as much as you can about a profession or project you’re considering without having to commit to it. Second, they give you a chance to get to know someone in the best way possible – by asking them lots of questions about something they care about. Third, it plants you in your coffee date’s mind as someone who shares their interests and passions, and they get to learn about you as well, without your asking for something in return (such as a job or position); they may think of you in the future if an interesting opportunity arises, but it’s not because you asked – it’s because you were compelling, and interested. And, you don’t have to try to figure out when would be a good time to slip in your resumé as your latte dwindles down like sand in an hourglass.

My thought for Husband was that setting up some informational interviews with people who are real estate agents – so that he can learn more about the job and what the day to day is really like –  would be a free way to find out more about this new potential vocation and whether it feels right; it would also let folks know that he’ll be on the market soon, should he choose to move forward with it, and therefore open up some pathways to a future ask in regards to a position at an agency. It might also be interesting for him to talk with  folks in other areas of housing work in Philadelphia (working for the city, for community-based organizations, for development companies, for non-profits specializing in housing & development) to find out if there are related jobs that he doesn’t even know about yet, which might be fulfilling.

I mention all of this because it’s my belief that this is the next great step in the Building A Fantasy Life process – setting up informational interviews with people who are doing the things that are in your fantasy life plan. They might just be doing one sliver, so you might have to meet with many people to gain insight on the various aspects of your personal, idiosyncratic life plan – but that’s part of the fun! Through these meetings, you can find out how they got to where they are, what they love and what leaves them feeling tepid, and how they spend their time. It’s a great way to figure out whether you want to tweak your plan, or move forward. It’s also an excellent way to network, without asking for much from your date (except a bit of their time, which is to be honored, of course).

So – if you look at your life plan, who would you set up informational interviews with? What questions would you ask? What would you hope to learn?

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