No You May Not Pick My Brain: 8 Ways to Squander an Informational Interview

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Image courtesy of Master Isolated Images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Because I’ve been fundraising for more than 25 years, I’m often invited to meet with people to talk about their careers. These are often referred to as “informational interviews” but just as often someone asks to “pick my brain.” I’ve always been happy to talk to people and share what I know about the fundraising field and the nonprofit sector.

Some people come in prepared and make the most of our time together. Others, not so much. The ‘not so much’ have inspired me write this blog post. I’m sharing with you 8 ways to squander the time you have with me or with any other experienced colleague.

  1. Don’t know about my background – in the days of LinkedIn, there is no excuse for this. When you meet with me, it saves us both a lot of time if you have already looked at my background.
  2. Don’t prepare any questions – I’m really not a “stick to the agenda at all costs” kind of person (is that a thing?) but it helps if you think through some things you’d like to ask me. This has everything to do with #1. Look at my background then think of some questions I could answer that would help you.
  3. Don’t offer to treat for the coffee – remember that you invited me. Many times, I won’t take you up on your offer to treat but you should at least offer.
  4. Run late – this is the height of time wasting for me. Remember that you have invited me and I’m taking time away from my paid job to help you. I’m happy to do that or I wouldn’t have accepted your invitation. However, if you are running late, you are taking advantage of my generosity.
  5. Don’t thank me – since my expertise is fundraising, by not thanking me for my time with an e-mail or written note (either will work for me) you are demonstrating a lack of fundraising skill. This will be a challenge later on if I hear of a job that you might have pursued.
  6. Don’t keep me posted – if you don’t touch base every few weeks, I’ll probably forget that you are looking. Just like with the proper thank you, this is a way to demonstrate your skills as a fundraiser. I recently forwarded a job opening to someone who had met with me only to learn they had taken a job in a completely different field. I was deeply disappointed.
  7. Don’t take me up on offers for help – if I’ve offered to help by providing feedback on potential employers and you don’t take me up on it, I’ll assume you don’t need my help and forget about the conversation.
  8. Don’t let me know when you have landed your next adventure – I’ll be honest, the first time this happened it hurt my feelings. The scenario: I met with someone and gave them advice on applying to work for my employer. I learned they had been hired from – someone else in my organization. A simple phone call or e-mail would have been enough.

Before you conclude that I’m a complete grump, I’ll say that most of these interviews go very well. Some have even been the start of a professional friendship that lasts to this day. If you are considering a career change, reach out to trusted colleagues and ask for an informational interview. But make sure you make the most of your time and of theirs.

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