Informational Interviews for Introverts: A Cheat Sheet

Dear Val:
“I hear informational interviews are important so I can explore career and business ideas, but how does that work? Huh? What? Who do I ask? What do I say? They’ll think I’m weird…”
~from almost every introvert I talk to (at first)

Yes, asking people questions about their path is such a helpful step in finding your own path. And yet, it seems awkward, at first, for many introverts.

Informational interviews are good for when you’re exploring career ideas, business ideas, new niche ideas for your business, retirement ideas, and more. There’s so much gold in there.

I hate seeing so many people get stuck on this step. Let’s make this simple, right here and now.

There are particular concerns that I notice introverts raise about informational interviews. Do you recognize these?

  1. Won’t I be bothering the person if I ask them to speak with me?
  2. How can I find people to interview?
  3. I can’t just cold call some stranger I found online!
  4. I don’t know what to ask. I’ll be tongue-tied.
  5. I don’t know enough about the field to ask good questions. I’ll sound stupid.
  6. I don’t know what I’m planning to do yet, so I’ll seem unfocused.
  7. Is it a call, a lunch invitation, what? What’s the etiquette?

First I’ll give my short answer to each of those classic concerns, then I’ll elaborate and give you some basic steps including what to ask.

Elephants showing us an informational interview

It could be as sweet and simple as this.

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Introverts Can Really Get Talking, If…

When starting my self-employment journey 9 years ago, it occurred to me that specializing in coaching introverts would make my heart happy and would fill a big need. I floated the idea to a couple of business friends, and they both said something like this: “That’s a bad idea. No one will admit to being introverted and they will never contact you or attend your events.”

Hmmmm.

Mind you, this was years before the explosion of introvert pride sparked in 2012 (when the book Quiet came out), so they were right about the negative attitude toward introverts and people’s hesitance to admit to being introverted, but my heart told me the need was there. I wasn’t going to let their opinion stop me.

So I decided to host a free discussion for introverts to talk about their work concerns so I could learn more before jumping in. I posted the invitation on a large email list and I got two kinds of responses:

  1. From many introverts: “When and where?! I’ll be there!”
  2. From a few extroverts: “A discussion for introverts? No one will talk.”

How wrong those extroverts were. So-called “quiet” people have a lot to say.

I’ll explain what gets introverts talking, and what happened in those introvert discussions. It was wonderful.

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Best Careers for Introverts, HSPs, and Other Sensitive Souls

Sensitive souls (including introverts, highly sensitive persons [HSPs], and people with big hearts) need to be careful about our work environments and career paths. We can really thrive and excel in the right environment, and we can wilt easily in the wrong environment.

If you have a yuck feeling about work, I bet it is because the work itself or the work culture are a bad match for you. You have so much to offer. Yes, YOU. The world needs your gifts. I mean it. You can find a better fit. Not overnight, but a better way is possible.

There are low stress jobs for introverts, HSPs, and other sensitive souls.

No, there are no perfect stress free professions. But lower stress is definitely a worthy goal. Yes! Stress is a natural part of life, and we can learn to reduce the challenge of it, but often we simply put up with far too much of it, so that’s what I’m talking about reducing today.

My experience:

I’m a highly sensitive introvert with a big heart. (If you’re a Myers-Briggs Type fan, I’m an INFP which explains a whole range of sensitivity.)

I’ve tried all kinds of work environments from classrooms to cubicles, and many kinds of careers, and there were many rough patches in my work life. Now I have landed happily with being a self-employed coach.

In those various work experiences, sometimes I felt alive and energized and sometimes completely drained and MISERABLE. Oh I can feel the bad memories in my body as I write this. I want to reach out to you if you’re feeling that misery and beg you to believe it can be different.

Now I get what works:

I’ve studied what factors work for me and what works for others with a similar temperament.  Now I can fairly easily tell you what is important for us in choosing our work environments and career paths. Work can feel great, really! I’ll explain what you need to know.

[image - wondering where to go]

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The Introvert’s Easy Path To Going For It… Without Getting Overwhelmed

One of the main worries I hear from introverts sounds like this:

“How am I supposed to put myself out there when I’m too introverted for that?”
OR
“How can I move towards what I want when it feels overwhelming just thinking about it?”

Have you said anything like that to yourself?

I’m an introvert too and I know I’ve said those things. Luckily, I have learned through experience that phrases like “I’m too introverted for that” or “I won’t be able to handle it” are false. Not just for me, but false for all of us. I’m not saying you need to become someone other than yourself either. In fact, don’t do that! It won’t help or feel good. I’ll explain.

The truth is that you don’t have to get overwhelmed or drained when you go for something you want. No matter if you’re introverted, extroverted, or in between. Really.

Our human brains play a trick on us, trying to keep us safe, by telling us that if we leave the comfort zone of the known, we’ll freak out or get overwhelmed, like in the image below. So we feel stuck and we stop moving forward. It’s very common to get stuck right there.

Comfort zone vs overwhelm zone image

This is what your brain tries to tell you, to stop you in your tracks: “Don’t leave the comfort zone or else.”

I’ll explain in the video below with a simple diagram that will give you a big Aha moment. (Making the video was outside my comfort zone so you can watch me facing my discomfort zone in real life.)

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The Joy of Silence… Even If It Makes You Squirm At First

Many people knew I went on a 5-day silent meditation retreat last month and have asked me “How was it!?” I think this captures the range of thoughts behind that question, and perhaps you’ll recognize your own reaction in here:

  • “I don’t know if I could handle that. That’s not for me.”
  • “Hmm, that could be nice but I don’t have time for that. Maybe one day.”
  • “Oh wow, silence for 5 days sounds great.”

When I heard others going away on these retreats over the years, I had that same range of reactions, first starting with the most resistance to gradually more intrigue. Mostly I thought it was for other people.

As my meditation practice has grown more easeful and rewarding over the last few years, I found myself curious if a retreat was for me after all. Something in me felt ready, partly to take on a new challenge, but maybe more so because of an ache in me to hit a reset button.

On the surface my desire for the retreat looked like a simple desire to escape the email inbox for a few days. That alone was starting to sound like nirvana. And I knew it was more than that.

It was a deeper knowing that I was being pulled too far into the sped-up, digital-driven lifestyle. It wasn’t feeling like the true me. I knew I needed to power down and find my true center. Don’t you crave that sometimes too?

Finding Center

 

It was time. I signed up (at Insight Meditation Society) and the sweet anticipation began, for a noticeable wait of 4 weeks.

Now that I’m back, I want to answer “How was it?” but it’s hard to put the power of silence into words. It was profound for me, in fact. I am tearing up as I write this.

I’ll do my best to share my discoveries. In this Western culture, we have such discomfort with silence and stillness… and we have a simultaneous deep need for it. I want to give you a window into the power of it.

I’ll start with this. Let’s take a pause, right here in this moment.

Inhale. Exhale.
Oh, that is kinda nice.
Maybe another inhale, exhale.
The inbox can wait.

Here’s what happened when I hit the giant pause button for 5 days.

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