Thinking Strategically About Your Organization: The Informational Interview (Part II)

Last week I posted the first in a series of articles about the many purposes for conducting an informational interview. Most commonly, they are used as a tool to build a network in new organizations and career fields. For those of us entering new jobs and career paths, why not use informational interviews to build a network within your own organization?

As mentioned in my last post, I see three primary purposes for conducting an informational interview:

1) Learning more about a new organization or field of work

2) Understanding yours and others’ roles when you start at a new organization

3) Seeking to move up within your current organization

This post will explore this second purpose for informational interviews, building a network within your new organization.

2) Understanding yours and others’ roles when you start at a new organization

It’s a common piece of advice, when starting a new job, to grab a cup of coffee with your coworkers and find out more about them and their role at the organization. The idea of conducting informational interviews with your new coworkers is simply a more strategic approach.

Adding a bit of organization to the process of getting to know people within your new organization can have enormous benefits to your new career:

  • Understanding how the different parts of your organization work together
  • Getting the inside scoop on organizational culture
  • Learning about new initiatives and projects that are in the pipeline
  • Bringing a fresh perspective, and identifying areas where you may help in the future

Some of your coworkers are going to be excited about the projects they are working on, and will be more than happy to answer your questions. With that in mind, here are some tips to get started.

Step 1: Get Ahold of the Org Chart

As you are getting a feel for the people you work with (and for), it is always helpful to check out the Organization Chart. Understanding the formal structure will help you determine whom you should be reaching out to speak with, and steer your conversation toward their area of expertise. That being said, an org chart definitely does not tell the whole story – as you learn more about informal processes and reporting structures it is helpful to make a note of these additional relationships.

There is also the possibility that your organization will not have an organizational chart – it may be so big that the chart just reflects top management, or so small that it isn’t necessary. Keep in mind, just because it’s not printed on a piece of paper does not mean that coworkers don’t have their own ideas about where they are in the pecking order.

Step 2: Talk to the Person You Are Replacing

Up front, I know this is not always possible – if the person unexpectedly left the organization or was let go, you may not want to go there. If they were promoted or are still in good standing with the organization, however, they can be an awesome resource for you.

Set up a time to meet with them, and have several questions in mind for your meeting. Some of these questions should include the major project that they worked on, their biggest accomplishments in the position, and ideas they had that they would have liked to pursue. Most importantly, be sure to ask if they have any advice for being successful in the new role.

Step 3: Branch Out to Other Offices / Departments

During your orientation, you will most likely speak with the folks in your new department and will have formal sit-downs with one, or many, supervisors. If this isn’t part of your formal orientation, be sure to take some time and talk with each of these people, as they will directly impact the work you do each day.

From there, don’t be afraid to branch out to other offices and departments. Offices or departments that work closely with yours can be a good source of information, and may help you think more strategically about the work you are doing, as well as opportunities for innovation.

Specifically, I would recommend speaking with someone on the business side of your organization. Depending on where you work, it may be someone in acquisitions, budgeting, business development, etc. Clearly, if you are working in acquisitions or budgeting this is redundant – but even the policy analysts should know something about their organization’s funding.

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