What should I do about all of the requests I get from people who want to “pick my brain” or schedule an informational interview? My friends’ kids are all reaching the age where they are getting serious about having lucrative careers and satisfying jobs, and they’re all following the advice they’re getting to talk to people who have the jobs they think they might want some day. I have to be honest—I gave that advice to my own kid.
The problem is that if I said yes to all the young—and not-so-young—people who ask, I wouldn’t have time to do my actual job. I do have a great job. I’ve been lucky and worked hard. I don’t want to be a jerk, but one more request to have coffee will push me over the edge. How do other people handle this?
Dear In Demand,
That’s a good question—and I had no idea how to answer it, so I asked around and did some Googling. The first thing that became clear is that the frustration is real and universal. Many report that it seems the folks who are requesting an informational interview are actually hoping you might be interested in hiring them or recommending them to someone else.
One woman I know who has a very cool job now does a 30-minute webinar once a month. When she gets a request, she just replies with an email or text invite with the date, time, and link for the next group call. She shares a couple of things that people might not know about her industry and then does Q&A. Sometimes she gets 3 people, and once she had upwards of 30. I thought that was a creative way to deal with way too many requests.
Most people I talked to came up with variations on putting the work back where it belongs—with the person making the request. Ask the requester to send you an email with their specific questions. Advise them to ask questions that they can’t get answered with a little bit of research. If enough people do this, and you write back enough answers, you can create an FAQ that you just respond with. To those who ask really insightful questions, you might offer a 15-minute phone call.
One very successful guy I know invites the interesting and insistent people to meet him at his local park to walk his two dogs with him at 5:00 a.m. That seems to really limit the field to those who are truly committed to a meeting!
You can’t be all things to all people, so you are right to set some boundaries and get a grip on this. Experiment with some of these ideas and find what works best for you. The people who are willing to meet you halfway and will be grateful and will self-select in, and those that are just checking a box will fall away.
About the author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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