Learn from Industry Peers with an Informational InterviewBy Kevin Anselmo

Who did you want to be when you grew up?

For me, as an avid sports fan growing up in New Jersey, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of former New York Mets center fielder Lenny Dykstra, basketball legend Michael Jordan, and renowned sportscaster Marv Albert.

As a grown adult, I still ask myself that question, though with a different lens, and a bit more of a pragmatic perspective, realizing I will never grow to 6’6″ and develop incredible leaping ability.

Figuring Out What to Do

In 2013, I took the plunge – leaving the comfort of a regular job and steady paycheck in exchange for the fun and uncertainty of communications consulting.

This decision was quite difficult.

There have been a plethora of individuals who have supported and advised me.

I tapped into my network, and sought counsel and feedback from family, colleagues, and friends as I weighed the pros and cons of taking the leap.

I also made it a point to find individuals online who are at various stages of where I want to be as a communications consultant.

The Informational Interview: Learning from Those We Admire

I learn so much on a regular basis from Gini Dietrich and many of the Spin Sucks contributors.

I decided to ask Gini if I could pick her brain. She was in the midst of getting ready to travel when she managed to take the time to respond to me with some incredible insights that influenced my decision on where to setup my shop.

If it weren’t for this exchange, I could have been writing this post from a completely different location, which, in hindsight, would have been a big mistake.

Chip Griffin, co-founder and CEO of Custom Scoop and editor of 501 Central, graciously responded to one of my emails out of the blue, and agreed to speak on the phone.

Chip shared advice, lessons learned, and kindly entertained my different questions. It was particularly interesting to hear his perspective as a communications entrepreneur who has rolled out particular products, which I hope to do one day.

Donna Papacosta, founder of Trafalgar Communications, also kindly agreed to take some time out of her schedule to answer some of my questions over the phone.

She helped me think through the pros and cons of being a communications generalist, or developing a particular niche within communications (which is the route I ultimately decided to take).

While Chip, Donna, and Gini have been running their companies for several years, I also made it a point to reach out to someone who was relatively new to starting an agency/consultancy.

Through Spin Sucks, I came across Kate Finley, CEO of Belle Communications. She provided me with positive encouragement as someone who had just gone out on her own.

Two other individuals who have been incredibly inspiring and helpful to me are the hosts of the For Immediate Release podcast: Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson. I carefully listen to each weekly episode of their podcast, read their respective blogs, and follow discussions on the For Immediate Releases Google+ Community Page.

Shel and Neville have kindly supported me in launching my new podcast on the For Immediate Release Network. This has been quite an honor and learning experience for me.

Tips for Making the Most of an Informational Interview

If you are already connecting and learning from individuals whom you’ve never met, yet can offer you insights about a specific aspect of your field or future aspirations, you’re ahead of the game.

If not, I encourage you to do this, regardless of your pursuit.

While there are surely different ways to go about this, here are some of things I learned from my interactions with the individuals above:

  • Develop a strategy. Think through a game plan on how you would like to use new interactions to provide clarity on different aspects related to your overall long-term goal.
  • Be diverse. Try to find a mix of individuals who are at various places in the journey you want to create for yourself.
  • Prepare for a structured conversation. It is important to respect your contact’s time and graciousness. Therefore, do your homework and research in advance.
  • Express gratitude and keep in touch.
  • Learn from those who have helped you and give back, be nice and share your knowledge and experiences with others who reach out to you.

What other advice do you have to share from your experiences?

May 2014 be the year where we further develop and learn from our online friends, and give back to complete strangers!

Kevin Anselmo

Kevin Anselmo is the founder Experiential Communications, a consulting company based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He helps learning organizations and executive education providers achieve business goals by devising and executing marketing communications strategies.

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