The interview was not going so well.
“So tell me about the Victory Development,” I asked him.
He responded “Well actually that is under wraps right now, I can’t really tell you anything about it.” Bummer. I tried another direction: “So what is it like working here, for you?”
“The guys work probably 60 hours a week or so.” Silence. This had to be one of the toughest, most intense conversations I had ever had with another person. He would just stare at me for what seemed like an eternity after every question I asked. Even though I was in the middle of the 15-20 minutes he had allotted me, I’d already burnt through all my questions I had rehearsed and was now scratching for some topic to get him talking.
Luckily, I’d been in this situation before. It was my 30th or so informational interview in the past three or four months, and not the first tough billionaire I’d come across.
I continued, this time trying to bring down his barriers, talking a bit about family, travel and kids. That eventually wore him down enough to get a few little bits of wisdom, like how he invests, what I should do with my career and how to get started. But it still wasn’t going anywhere. At the end of the interview, though, I asked the little magic question that had gotten me this far:
“Is there anyone you think I should talk to?” I asked.
Bingo. He locked eyes with me again, and said: “I’m glad you asked that question. It is the best question you can ask anyone, and I wouldn’t have respected you if you hadn’t.” I didn’t expect this answer but waited for his response.
He continued: “But before I give you some names, I want you to know: When you come in to do one of these [informational interviews], you need to always these two questions:
‘1) Is there anyone you think I should talk to? and 2) Is there an opportunity for me right now at this company?’
You never know if you could be sitting across the table from someone who could change the course of your entire life. You’d never know if you didn’t ask. Every step along my career I’ve asked those questions and they’ve taken me incredible places.”
I have asked those two questions many more times and seen awesome things happen in my career and life. That interview and countless others are the reason I am writing this book. I want to show you that the most powerful tool in your entire career is the Informational Interview, the same thing I was doing that day. It is one of the least utilized tools for any job searcher, ladder climber, or student, yet can have the most profound effect on your personal trajectory.
Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to do hundreds of informational interviews with professionals ranging from interns to Fortune 500 CEO’s. Through them I’ve been given investment opportunities, jobs, mentorship, new networks, colleagues and friends. Six out of my seven jobs came through them. They can have a profound impact on your life and give you a significant advantage above every other person like you looking for a job or trying to get ahead.
They are the best way to get a job, get a reference, find a new tool, invest, or choose a life path, especially early in your career. Informationals have personally provided me:
- My first job handed to me (Lighting Manufacturer)
- A full ride to undergraduate university (Fresno State)
- My second job handed to me (Home Builder)
- My third job in only two months searching in 2009, the worst real estate market ever (Real Estate Owner)
- Big-time investment opportunity A (Home Flipping Investor)
- My first company launched after three months (Home Flipper)
- Into grad school (University of Southern California)
- Big-time investment opportunity B (Ground-Up Development in Arizona)
- My first job out of grad school before graduating (Commercial Real Estate Developer)
- A mentor (Through a trade organization)
- Big-time investment opportunity C (Land Development)
- My second job out of grad school with no down time (Commercial Real Estate Investment)
I’d be willing to bet that you can get the same results too. I am not charming, attractive, incredibly smart, or talented. I just happen to like people and grabbing coffee with them.
I describe the Informational Interview as: “An opportunity to learn by talking in person to someone you haven’t talked to before, usually over coffee or lunch”. I’ve heard it described as “grabbing a coffee,” “talking about your work” or “catching up”.
Skeptically, you might be thinking: “Why should I read this book about grabbing coffee with someone?” and “Can’t I do this myself?” You can, but I think that you won’t.
After I received my bachelor’s degree in 2009, nobody in my construction management program got a job. They were all spending time applying to jobs online or through our small recruiting program at school. After two months of doing Informational Interviews, I landed a job with the largest owner of real estate in town. During grad school, while I spent every week trying to schedule more and more informationals, my classmates didn’t. My program practically forced us to do some, but most still didn’t or only did the requisite few. Over the course of that year I did over 60 informational interviews. I was the first or second in my class to get a job and others are still looking or are unhappy with what they settled on.
Many people job searching have never heard of informational interviews. Those who have are often intimidated, are unsure of the purpose of doing them, or just didn’t know how to get started. Many continue to follow the worst practical advice out there that is taught to them: “Go to school, apply for jobs online and wait for calls for a job interview.” I am here to assure you that doing informationals are the best route, by far.
I’ve learned a few lessons along the way and want to pass them along, too. This book follows the practical steps of the system I’ve used to source, connect, conduct and follow up on informational interviews.