About Informational Interviews

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Probably the most powerful tool a professional can have in their toolkit, the informational interview is designed specifically to engage and include an expert or key influencer in your quest. There are many uses for an informational interview including to:

  1. Introduce yourself to a new contact,
  2. familiarize yourself with a new topic/industry, or
  3. test and confirm business concept or idea before you have invested heavily in it.

A welcome outcome of many interviews is increased connections that will promote your idea and the expansion of concept dimensions, creating an even better idea, product or service. There is always a purpose for an informational interview… it is not about just grabbing coffee and shooting the breeze.

It’s a conversation

Although the purpose of an informational interview is to obtain as much information from your subject in 20 minutes, it is important to treat the interview like a conversation, not an interrogation. Follow-up gently with pertinent questions during the discussion. Never talk for more than 3 minutes without engaging your interview subject.

The focus of the interview is to allow you to demonstrate your well-developed listening skills. Always listen to the answer your interview subject gives and ask follow-up questions that demonstrate you understanding and connection with the ideas.

Active listening engages all senses. As you take in and process the information you are receiving, remember to nod your head appreciatively to signal that this is a productive path for the conversation. Listen for key, relevant information and references. Take the opportunity to ask probing questions which will afford deeper insight or details. Take note of the points your interview subject makes which are of particular interest to you.

Informational Interview Structure

The structure of an informational interview is standard. It contains a 1) Set Up, 2) the Interview with specific questions, 3) a Wrap-up.

Set Up

Set up interview appointments with two or three individuals who share areas of genuine interest with you. The objective for you is to acknowledge their expertise, and to obtain their agreement to be interviewed. It is very important that you also recognize how busy they might be.  When you send your introductory note, be sure to be clear about why you desire the meeting, the goal, and provide some suggested times/dates for the discussion. Example first contact …

I’ve been referred to you by [insert name of colleague/contact]. May I ask for 20 minutes of your advice & counsel? I’m not looking for a job or trying to sell you anything. I am interested in speaking with you briefly about [insert topic] because I understand that you [insert why you want to speak with that particular person].

Could we set up a time that is convenient for you? I suggest [insert 1 or 2 dates/times], but if these are not convenient, please let me know what works for your schedule. 

The Interview

Always open the interview by thanking the subject for their time, reminding them about how you came to be speaking with them (ref: Set Up note). Say something like:

Thank you for your time. Your colleague [insert name], mentioned that it might be advantageous for us to have a conversation. I would appreciate getting your advice and counsel on [insert topic]. 

Use Three Key Questions

Tip: The biggest mistake I’ve seen is when someone asks for 20 minutes of an expert’s time and then think that they can ask 20 questions in that time. Plan 3 main, and 2 or 3 back up questions.

  1. Tell them about yourself: “May I take 2 minutes to tell you who I am?” [and why I’m here to seek your advice & counsel?]
    • Provide 2 or 3 prepared (& practiced) messages within two minutes. They should show how your interest is relevant to their areas of knowledge & the discussion and why you are looking for information about the topic.
  2. Ask a question that is relevant to the topic (eg, about their background or expertise).
    • “Could you tell me more about your background & how you came to be here? or “How did you come to be doing what you are doing now?” (or .. hold this position, be an expert in this field, etc.)
  3. Ask a ‘big question’ that gets to the point of your meeting.
    • “What are the big issues, challenges or risks with [the topic under discussion]?” or “What is your assessment of what is happening currently?” or “Any insight on what will happen next… in the coming years?”

Take notes during the interview to capture the most important points.


Approaching the 20-minute mark, say something like: “We are approaching our 20-minute mark.’ and observe their reaction. They may often say that they have a bit more time. Whether they are open to continuing or not, you should have the main information you came for within the required time and wrap up quite close to the agreed end time. By wrapping up on time, you signal that you know how valuable their time is and, in most cases, especially if you’ve done everything correctly, you will be welcome to reconnect in the future.

To close, thank them for their time, summarise 2 or 3 of the most important points and ask if they would be ok with a written follow up if you think of other questions or need clarification of something they mentioned. As well, ask them if they know of anyone else that you should interview. Finally, offer to provide an update on your progress if they are interested.

Remember to send a thank you note within 48 hours of the interview. List some of your next steps, any important comments you took to heart and thank them again for their time. 

Use this handy planning sheet to organise your thoughts.

Competency Inventory

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When working in teams, it is important to understand similarities and differences between team members. As you consider what skills you bring to the table, consider how they dovetail or support other skills in the team to achieve its goals.  

One way to do this is to identify your top three (3) skills/competencies that can be leveraged as a value-add to your team. Take time to explain your selections to your teammates. For a team to be effective it should have different skills as well as overlaps between team members.  


Leadership & Innovation

  • Communicate clearly
  • Set & execute goals
  • Connect with people
  • Evaluate situation & guide people
  • Improve continuously
  • Generate new & original ideas
  • Project self-confidence

Create Understanding

  • Clarify expectations
  • Provide specific examples
  • Create feedback loops
  • Link ideas/concepts to current situation
  • Understand people
  • Listen empathetically
  • Be consistent

Organisational Integration

  • Optimize opportunities
  • Detect synergy & co-operation points
  • Optimize process/people mix
  • Identify potential synergies
  • Encourage cooperation points
  • Follow processes/procedures

Strategic Mindset

  • Think in perspective
  • Benchmark processes
  • Plan, test & modify strategy
  • Measure change/improvement
  • Share astute insights
  • Generate ideas/strategies/insight


Problem Solving

  • Adapt to changing situations
  • Observe interaction of processes / people
  • Identify & analyze critical elements
  • Gather feedback
  • Control emotions
  • Resolve conflict
  • Look for answers / focus on facts

Produce Results

  • Identify critical elements for success
  • Seize opportunities / Take action
  • Course-correct
  • Make correct decisions
  • Work as a team
  • Pay attention to details
  • Verify assumptions/results

Manage Change

  • Take a digital attitude/approach
  • Be flexible / consider possibilities
  • Thrive in ambiguous environments
  • Acquire new knowledge & skills
  • Apply existing competencies differently in new situations
  • Hold a positive mindset
  • Set & follow goals/objectives

Communicate Ideas

  • Convince people
  • Question/explore ideas of others
  • Empower the team
  • Make a good first impression

Managing Difficult Interaction

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Conflict is a fact of life. It can be caused by many things, including …

  • Poor Communication
  • Differing Values
  • Differing Interests
  • Scare Resources
  • Personality Clashes
  • Poor Performance

Sometimes conflict is caused by thinking that there won’t (or shouldn’t) be any conflict! Expecting every interaction to go smoothly, can cause even more stress when conflict arises! There are a few ways people deal with conflict[1]. They may:

  • Avoid addressing the problem
  • Seek compromise
  • Accommodate others
  • Collaborate for a win-win
  • Compete
  • Attack

Of course, it is less stressful to use productive conflict management behaviours rather than engaging in behaviour that can be destructive to career or personal relationships.

The interesting thing about learning to deal with difficult people effectively, is that everyone, at some time or another, could be considered a difficult person. Typically, we may classify someone as being difficult, or a difficult person, because they do not agree with the status quo, our individual belief, or take a stance that threatens our personal agenda consistently.

Conflict is not that difficult to overcome with a planned & strategic approach… Creating a meaningful connection is probably one of the easiest ways to reduce conflict and defuse stressful situations.

The ACIS Method

Here is an approach that can be used to bridge gaps & reduce resistance: building a sense of connection, understanding & engagement.

A – Accept conflict

You will never agree 100% of the time with 100% of the population. There will always be conflict. In fact, most people would be bored if there weren’t any! Don’t shy away from conflict, stay connected. Figure out how you feel or what you believe, and be clear about where you stand. Take time to understand why you think the way you do, but don’t steamroll over others. They will have an opinion that may differ from yours but that does not make them wrong..

C – Calm yourself

Know your triggers. Don’t assume the person is being difficult on purpose. They may just be trying to protect their interests. Choose the right time & place to clarify the issue calmly. Be conscious. Are you taking this personally? Separate your needs from the task at hand. The main goal should always be to maintain the relationship by separating the problem from the individuals.

I Identify the real problem & constraints

Ask authentic questions amicably to get more information. Listen empathetically for cues & clues about your counterpart’s interests. Paraphrase and summarise to elicit hidden meaning & information. Find out what the person is trying to preserve or protect, or what they need. Decide together if it is feasible to fulfil their needs or not. If not, what is the fall-back? Be curious. Ask open-ended questions… “From your point of view, what’s going on here?”, “What bothers you most about this situation?”, “Is there something that would help you do your job better?”, “It sounds like there are quite a few problems here: why have you stayed?” or “Why do you think that person is acting that way?!”

S Solve & Settle

Don’t limit yourself to just getting the job done today. Summarise how you resolved the conflict and agree to using, at least in part, successful conflict resolution strategies in the future. Define a key phrase that can be used to flag issues or conflicts that require a bit more consciousness to resolve. My favourite phrase is – “We may need a Kitchen Table to sort this out!”

Supportive Techniques

The following techniques can support you while you build your conflict management tool kit.

Deep breathing: when you feel your heart start to race, or your temperature rise, take a few slow, deep breaths. This will trick your body into thinking that everything is going well.

Take a break: If things become heated, take a break. Come back when everyone has calmed down.

Rehearse: Preparation is key. Run through a few scenarios with your team. Try to identify anything that might excite emotions and consider what you will do (your coping technique) to prevent escalation.

Signal Empathy & Collaboration: Use phrases like: “I understand what you mean.”/ “That’s a valid point.”/ “I can see your point of view”

Be accountable: Use ‘I statements’. Pay attention to what you are doing, thinking, and feeling and ‘own’ your responsibility for ensuring that all conversations have a great outcome.

Above all, being gracious & dignified during any interaction, is a foundational behaviour that sets the tone for interpersonal success.

  1. Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann, Conflict Styles, 1970 ⤴️

Communicating with Impact

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In this global economy that many organisations call home, communicating with impact is becoming more and more complex. Far gone are the days when we only had to deal with the ‘big personalities’ that would high-jack the meeting. NOW interacting across global communities and locations adds many challenges beyond personalities. Challenges range from technology, to time zones, to culture.

Geert Hofstede describes 6 key cultural dimensions where cultures can be very different or quite similar. From P. Christopher Earley and Soon Ang we learn about Cultural intelligence. The most important aspect of creating understanding between cultures, and people, is keeping an open mind. So don’t be bound by your own assumptions and cultural standards. Give your team time to shine.

Whether you are a fledgling start-up or a global multi-national, setting your team up for cross-location and cross-cultural success is as important as having the correct technology in place. If your company is to truly thrive, follow these 3 simple rules to stay on track with your multi-location meetings.

1. Consider Approach, Aptitude & Attitude

Educate your team about the importance of learning about other cultures. Challenge them to question their own beliefs and assumptions. It is not enough to just keep an open mind, you must communicate it.

  • Remind your team that you are open to suggestions and questions.
  • Encourage everyone to engage in the conversation by building pauses into your speech patterns.
  • Be sensitive to others’ reactions to your comments and questions. Even if you can’t see the person at the other end of the phone, you can learn a lot from the tone of, and inflection in, their voice.
  • Listen actively and openly and continue to learn new ways of conversing with your team.

To communicate with impact, allow others to speak their mind and be part of the conversation. As well as celebrating improvements and successes in your team, consider setting times to talk about what communication style works best. Have 1-to-1 conversation about preferred interaction style. Then follow it up with a team discussion. This signals that you are prepared to follow through with engaging and empowering each person on your team.

 2. Pollinate Across Cultures

One of the most effective ways to open communication is to share personal stories. Whether they are about your experiences in other parts of the world, or observations from working and living in different locations, each story creates a connection. And each connection links you more closely to your team, and to your shared experiences. The principle for cross-cultural pollination is simple:

  • Be mindful & friendly: assume everyone has answers, not just you
  • Be kind & respectful: acknowledge the importance of cultural history and experience
  • Be interested & inclusive: virtually everyone on the planet wants to be part of a team. Make sure they know that they are included!
  • Encourage discussion & disagreement: when someone disagrees with you, be joyful!! You are sure to learn something!

3. Simplify Your Language

Simplicity is a great confidence booster. The simpler the words used in the message, the easier it is to understand. Especially when communicating with a multi-language team!

  • Consider the main objective you wish to accomplish.
  • Take time to reflect upon your message.
  • Keep it simple; 1 to 3 key (bullet) points are easier to understand than several narrative paragraphs.

Especially if you are communicating remotely, remember it takes 1 or 2 seconds for someone to ‘tune in’ to your voice. Whether the message is written or spoke, follow a standard format that incorporates key phrases. This will make it easier for the reader or listener to recognise and understand your message over time.

During Conversation In Correspondence
The purpose of this meeting is to …

The action we require is ….

Please [respond, complete, etc.] by [ date / time]

Use headings and bullet points:

  • Purpose
  • Action Required
  • Follow-up
  • Completion Time

Standardised phrases allow people to ‘tune in’ gracefully. And, if your whole team begins to use the same patterns and phrases, it becomes easier and easier to understand and connect across cultures.

Last of all, remember to keep your sense of humour. Of course, there will be misunderstandings and mis-communication, but a little humour will demonstrate that your intent to to ensure the best conversation possible, and that you don’t take yourself too seriously.

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Download this Post  |  Herrman, Social Cognition |  Earley/Mosakowski: Curltural Intelligence    |  Earley / Ang: Cultural Intelligence   |  Including Team   |   Communicating with Teams[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Sales Savvy: Know Your Customer

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We, in sales, talk about market segmentation a lot, but could we be more savvy by knowing our specific customers better?  If we focus too much on the ‘big picture’ do we lose the customer connection that makes the sale?

Peter Drucker certainly had some sales savvy when he said that ‘the purpose of a business is to create a customer’* and that we should ‘know and understand our customers so well the product/service fits them and sells itself.’

Here is an exercise that every sales person can do to tune into to their ‘ideal buyer’. Take a few minutes to think about your best customer (or buyer). Think about a real person; the one who gives you lots of business and supports you when your company brings out a new line of products, etc. Draw an illustration of that buyer; where they work; who their customers are, or who they work for or with; what they do to build business and what they do outside of business. Don’t worry if you have absolutely no talent for drawing, you don’t have to show your illustration to anyone. Just drawing will active both your right and left hemispheres so you can see your customer with fresh eyes!!

Try to create a well-rounded illustration of that person, and once you have, store it somewhere close at hand. As you think of new aspects of the person, add them to the illustration.

This exercise does two things, it allows you to attune to specific characteristics that you see in your ‘best buyer’ which could be a marker for another fantastic customer. Once you are on the lookout for these characteristics, you will spot prospects who carry these markers more easily – thus allowing you to shorten the sales cycle and gather ‘best buyers’ to you. You will also begin to understand the drivers of those best customers (buyers), to connect with, and understand them more fully. The outcome? Better long-term relationships with your preferred buyer and more business along the way.  Win-Win!!

The Practice of Management New York,: Harper, 1st ed. 1954 ; Routledge, 2012

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Better Plans

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Building Better Business Plans

Imagine the best book you ever read. Think about the opening sentence that enticed you into the book, the twists and turns of the plot that surprised you and enticed you to read on, the aspirational nature of the hero which made you root for their success. That happy, satisfied feeling you experience when you complete the book, when all the loose ends are tied up and you know that everything has turned out well for a reason is the same as the one your reader should experience when they read your business plan.

Confidence Booster

Your plan tells a story; the story of your dreams. It contains the fabric of your aspiration that are not captured in your Business Canvas, and each section paints a picture of your business idea in more and more detail. Considering the high failure rate and gender imbalance of start-ups, your business plan may also become your primary confidence booster, as it provides the ‘numbers behind the story’; financial worksheets & the marketing plan to back up your claims and ideas. And certainly, as you move forward to develop your business, your plan will be the reminder of the great things to come when you are struggling with the challenges that always accompany a new and/or growing business.

With more and more women choosing to leave corporate life due to gender balance disconnects, the business plan can become the primary tool for making that jump – and for women especially, this is important. In 2013, Forbes highlighted the confidence gap between women and men. The findings were a bit shocking; women typically start with less cash, find their money through ‘alternative financing’ and are twice as likely to discontinue their business as men[i]. The business plan is a way to build confidence and to put the right foot forward.

The descriptions of your company, offering and management of main element, help tell your story and form the body of the business plan. Although many believe that the main rationale for most business plans is to obtain funding, every start-up, no matter what size should write a business plan. It helps you clarify you value-add, and understand what makes you unique. It allows you to appreciate how much effort and money it really takes to start a business. It will also help prevent costly mistakes and act as a roadmap for your growth and expansion. Just like a book, your business plan will require several passes to flesh out and to ensure there is good flow and a consistent feel to the plan. Once you think your plan is complete, give it to at least one expert, or someone with experience in that industry, to review.  This review is very important, especially if you are using your business plan to apply for loans or to seek out other forms of capital.

Get Support

There is much support for startups here in Luxembourg. Writing a business plan forces you to do your homework, get advice, test your ideas and to consider important details. It also helps women overcome some of our natural biases and face societal barriers that are challenges to their success[ii]. Remember to think about your audience before you begin writing your plan. Your business plan will be influenced by the type of assistance you want. And check your sources – many organisations have a specific template that you must follow if you want to apply for funding or other assistance like mentoring. You don’t have to build your business plan from front to back. You can choose one section, for example, your offering, and work on that ‘chapter’ until it gives a clear picture of the customer, the value and points of differentiation from your competitors.

Think Big! Think Long-term!!

Currently, in Luxembourg, there is much emphasis on supporting startups but remember, start-ups don’t drive economic growth. Growing companies do. Until your company is big enough to employ 10, 20 or 50 people, you will probably struggle and you will probably not be able to impact the economy in any meaningful or sustainable manner. When it comes down to it, there is lots of support for startups here, but your plan is the best first step to starting effectively, so start with the end in mind! Think big and long-term for your plan.


Download Guide | Download Blog pdf

Forbes: Business Ideas | Forbes: Startup Failure | HBR: Women Starting Businesses | Women Owned Business in the 21st Century | Wharton: Entrepreneurs: Male vs Female | Luxembourg Seed fund for Startups | Luxembourg Entrepreneur Support | Luxembourg: Start a Startup | Luxembourg: Fit for Start | Luxembourg: Support for Innovation | Luxembourg CoC: Mentoring

[i] Pofeldt, Elaine, The Confidence Gap And Women Entrepreneurs, Forbes Entrepreneurs, 2013-05-28, accessed 2016-11-03

[ii] Women Owned Business in the 21st Century, US Department of Commerce, Economics & Statistics Administration, 2010-10, Accessed 2016-11-03

Create Your Story – For Telling

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Ever wondered what special talent you need to be able to create those beautiful corporate stories that stick in your mind and tug, just a bit, at your soul? Although I’ve met some individuals who just had storytelling in their DNA, I’ve met many more who have learned a process for developing their story, that works just as well.

Corporate stories are created to connect people with the product, service or spirit of the company or organisation. Following a clean process will allow you to develop an elegant and memorable story that gets your point across. Here are the steps that I use with my clients:

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Changing Behaviour with Storytelling

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There are three important differences between corporate storytelling and the stories you tell around the campfire or read for entertainment. Corporate stories are created to serve a purpose. Although they can be very entertaining, they are not just meant to entertain. Although they can be riveting, they should not have a ‘surprise ending’. And above all, although they are fashioned to be memorable and repeatable, they must also be designed to put specific focus on an important behavioural or aspirational element of an organisation.

By now, we have all heard at least some of the research that confirms that there is little difference between hearing a story and living it. Most of us have also read that we are all hardwired to remember a good story. But corporate storytellers must go a step further and a bit deeper. Corporate storytelling inspires customers but more than this, it provides guidance and alignment for your team to build exceptional results and connection to the organisation’s purpose.

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Breakfast Meetings? Everyday!!

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Life Work Balance: Breakfast Meetings? Everyday!!

Working as a consultant can be daunting. Unlike most jobs, where you show up and get paid for trying your best to get the work done in a specific amount of time, a consultant attaches a number to everything she does. The first number is the day or hourly rate. The second is the number of clients. The third, the hours available to fulfill client requirements. Like lawyers and accountants, most consultants keep some type of docket and count their billable hours carefully.

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Your Pitch

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Create Your Pitch: 3 Easy Steps

An elevator pitch is something that most people associate with Sales and Cold Calling but it is an invaluable tool for marketing your talent and skills. I have to admit that at first, most of my clients shy away from creating an elevator pitch; they perceive it as being a bit unsavory to create a ‘canned’ description of their work, or associate the elevator pitch with the loud, over-bearing salesmen from the 60s.

But it’s time to look at elevator pitches for what they really are – a tool to help people understand you and to understand if and how you can help them. When speaking with potential clients, having an elevator pitch has helped me explain my career, and what I do. My career has been interesting; it has encompassed …

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