Thinking Strategically About Your Leadership Potential: The Informational Interview (Part III)

For Millennials, there seems to be a constant reminder that the “retirement wave” about to sweep away a significant portion of the Federal workforce will be a tremendous opportunity to enter public service. While it’s always great to recruit new talent, there is also an abundance of talented professionals within government already. Every so often, there is a perceived generational shift within the workforce, and today’s GS 11–13 are tomorrow’s senior leadership.

But how should you position yourself to take on a more senior level role?

This is the final purpose for conducting an informational interview. While you can use informational interviews to learn about a new organization, or become more comfortable in your role at your new job, there is a huge opportunity to advance within your organization by actively seeking out ways to carry on the institutional knowledge that could be lost amidst the wave of retirement.

3) Seeking to move up within your current organization
Sure, if you’ve been at a job for a while you’ve probably worked closely with senior leadership on a number of projects. Why would you set up an interview with someone you already know?

Well, there’s a big difference between tackling the day-to-day issues, sitting in meetings, and giving periodic reports to someone; as opposed to sitting down to discuss their historical perspective on the organization, the evolution of its mission throughout their time there, and their hopes and vision for its future.

Preparing for retirement can be nerve-racking, especially if you feel that no one in your agency is going to be able to keep things on track. Personally taking the opportunity to “interview” senior leaders that are beginning to plan for retirement is a proactive way to plan for your own future within your organization, as well as provide some assurance to your senior colleagues that their legacy will be left in competent and reliable hands.

Step 1: Exercise Organizational Savvy When Approaching Your Interviewee
First, approaching senior members of your organization could be a touchy subject, especially for your direct supervisor. You do not want to get off on the wrong foot by stepping outside of the chain of command, especially if that is important to your boss. My suggestion is to be as transparent as possible about your motivation; let your boss know that you are interested in learning more about your organization. You can always smooth the way by requesting time to speak with them as well!

As some of our most senior leaders in government can attest, choices about when to retire from your career come at all different times. Some leaders are going strong seventy years into their careers, and others may leave earlier than expected to pursue other opportunities. Listen carefully to your colleagues to better understand their paths, and do not make any assumptions!

That being said, typically retiring coworkers are ready to celebrate their career of achievement, and will be happy to sit down with you and discuss their perspective.

Step 2: Do Your Homework!
This advice may sound familiar if you perused my other postings, but it is always important to put a little effort into an interview up front.

Your co-worker was on the ground floor when the Department of Homeland Security began? They transitioned from the military? Began their career in the private sector? They have a lifetime of experiences to share – do your homework so that you can ask pertinent questions about experiences that are of the most interest to you. Be willing to go down a different road with them though, as you never know what unexpected stories may turn up.

Step 3: Establish a Mentoring Relationship
If you have a good rapport with your colleague, it may be mutually beneficial to build from your meeting and establish a mentoring relationship. As a person with significant work experience and a history with your organization, they may be the perfect person to coach you through the challenges your career will likely bring.

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