Stop Buying People Coffee (or Asking to Pick Their Brain)

Would you ask your boss, a leader in your field, or a coworker to a business meeting without an agenda, a time limit, and an outcome in mind?

Of course you wouldn’t. You think about your goals for the conversation. You also identify the results you want. And you consider the other person’s needs and how to meet them.

How NOT to ask for an informational interview

I make this point because I’m surprised by the number of job seekers I see who ask for an open-ended meeting without a stated goal. Often it’s an invitation to “meet for coffee” or “pick your brain.”

That’s it. No agenda and no specific request for action. And nothing is said about the amount of time involved, though getting together at a local coffee shop may take an hour or more.

Not surprisingly, many busy people now turn down such vaguely worded requests. Indeed, business consultant Marie Forleo has produced a popular video, “How to Say No to People Who Want to Pick Your Brain”, with tips about how to do so.

You can avoid this trap when job hunting – and increase the odds of seeing people with jam-packed calendars — by asking people for informational interviews.

Regular Mac’s List readers know that I’m a big believer in the huge difference informational interviews make in a job search. There is no better way to get insights into what’s happening in your field, identify hidden job opportunities, and grow your professional network.

Make the most of everybody’s time

Here are six steps to take when requesting an informational interview that will make the best use of everybody’s time and help persuade others to say yes to your request.

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1. Share an agenda

Explain the purpose of the meeting and how you believe the person you want to see can help. Don’t leave anything to the imagination. Someone is much more likely to agree to a meeting if you tell them in advance what you want.

2. Use the password

What are the magic words that will persuade a busy person to see you? Tell them who sent you. It’s hard to say no to a referral by an old friend or a trusted colleague.

3. Set (and respect) time limits

Limit your appointment to 20 minutes. The person you meet will be impressed by your focus and meeting management skills. Don’t believe it’s possible to do an informational interview in that amount of time? Read the The 20-Minute Networking Meeting.

4. Bring specific questions

Come prepared with an “ask.” Perhaps it’s an introduction to someone at the company that interests you. Or it could be advice about how to handle challenges you face in switching careers. Whatever the request, be specific.

5. Ask how you can help them

People I meet in informational interviews who ask what they can do for me always stand out. Don’t forget you have much to offer to others no matter what stage of career you are in.

6. Buy coffee

Yes… I know I told you to stop buying people coffee. But if you’re doing informational interviews correctly, you probably should be picking up the tab for the drinks.

No one expects to be rewarded for giving an informational interview. But if you planned to buy coffee anyway, why not include a local gift card for a cup of coffee in your thank-you note. You will create terrific good will.

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