Ask, Ask, Ask!!

You’ve done your reading, now it’s time to get out there and ask, ask, ask! Which leads us to building #7.

In the last post, we explored reading resources. Particularly books on job skilling and career development. Another very important step to help you overcome analysis paralysis is getting out and asking questions (to live people). If you are reading a book right now, that’s great! But, know that… your book can only take you so far. You’ll want to take it to the next step… where you can have a live interactive discussion. Practice now and hone your networking skills early (asking questions is part of the networking process), as you will be using throughout your career change and well into whatever vision lays ahead. You’ve heard me say this time and again. You can’t do this alone!

This is a very important step where you’ll be building and leaning on your professional network.

If you are someone who is more reserved in personality… this will be a good exercise in stretching your comfort zones. Whether you are geared more to the quiet side or to the outgoing side of things. This tool is necessary!

Don’t wait till you’ve read a book. Most likely you’ll have questions long before you do a Zen walk at Barnes & Noble. If you’ve been reading something, you’ll have even more questions. How does the information you’ve just soaked up pertain to your personal business venture? As time, progress… so, will your questions. Expect them to evolve. You may find that you need multiple answers from a variety of sources. You will also find that after meeting with couple of contacts… you’re questions change.

Are you ready to start?

First let’s look at where we’re stuck. What questions do you have? Where are you starting from? Be honest. Where do you need help? What are you stuck on?

Make a list. Are you starting something from scratch… or has it been done before? What is the most important information you want to know? Prioritize your list & then start identifying people who can answer your questions. This may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.

OK… who do you know? Who are you connected to that may be able to answer some questions for you? What organization or person within can answer some questions for you? Not sure… this is where LinkedIn come in very handy.

You have a couple different directions you can go in. First, let’s discuss the art of the informational interview.

Networking is about forming relationships. It’s not about collecting as many business cards as you can. An easy place to start… that takes the daunting feeling out of networking is asking questions. After all, you may not have your elevator pitch well developed (I’m still working on mine)… you may not know just what it is that you want to say. Which is what makes the idea of networking less than appealing to most folks. But, in reality, if you start with questions… you’ll feel much more in control and able to connect on a real level. You will be able to “own” the fact that you don’t have it all together and that you are trying “to start somewhere”. It’s OK to convey that to people.

If you are unsure of what the information interview is… take some time to Google it. There are lots of good resources defining informational interview strategies and even more sites including lists of questions. Once you start forming a rhythm of what works for you… you’ll be able to ask questions more detailed to what’s going on for you. Start generic and lead up to more specific.

Something good to note (which helped me immensely) was to see information interviews as the first step in forming relationships with select individuals you want to know better professionally. Not always will every meeting gel. Remember that. Don’t get jaded off of one bad meeting. I once met with a founder of a local nonprofit. I had a bunch of questions on getting started… relating to if I needed to go back to school and get more education. And, he went off talking about creating a board… for the ENTIRE interview. That didn’t help me at all.

Not everyone you talk to will be compatible with you. Think about, how many blind dates or first dates have you been on (or are still going on) to find that right significant other? It’s good for us to keep perspective that even in our professional relationships, not every meeting will prove to have compatible communication. Some folks won’t listen to you, you’ll get irritated, some will talk about themselves or grill you about what you are looking for, some don’t value your time. But, don’t let this stop you. Once you master the art of the informational interview… you’ve got an ace up your sleeve.

Once you meet the folks that do value your time, that listen and allow you to ask the questions that are pertinent to you… your golden. These are the people who you’ll want to add to your network. You’ll have planted a seed and as time goes on, you’ll reconnect with them to continue cultivating your connection. These folks are who you’ll learn from and this is invaluable.

Use your LinkedIn… check out who you are already connected to. Who do you know? Use the groups function and plug into a specific special interest. From there, start asking questions. Or… look at your contact and see who they are connected to and ask for a warm introduction.

Try to get in front of someone (you can do this even with LinkedIn – unless they live in another city/state). Go for coffee (typically you’ll be paying… save your receipts – you can write it off on your taxes.) Send an email to introduce yourself: include how you got their name and what your agenda is for a meeting.  Ask them for coffee… wherever is closest to them. Let them know that you are flexible to meet their needs. Make it casual… for them and for you. I used to wear interview clothes… and now I dress down. Remember they are real people… just like you. Fnd a way to put them at ease… show them that you value their time AND yours. Remember to always ask for a referral at the end and give them your business card.

Something important to note: the point of the informational interview is about gleaning information, not to ask for a job. This breaks the etiquette code. You can ask ABOUT a job…. but, not for a job. Save that for the actual job interview.

Doing this, even if your start is a little bumpy, will give you a sense of satisfaction, control of your situation, and the feeling that you accomplished something big. Plus you’ll be one step closer to achieving what you want. The more questions you ask and the more people you talk to… the more your vision will evolve. You never know what will happen… the more people you talk to… means the more chances something will happen.