Informational Interviews in our Digital Age

One of my most interesting university assignments happened at Taylor University in 1999. Professor Tim Kirkpatrick assigned us an informational interview for our Mass Communications class. I needed to identify an individual whose current professional work resonated with my aspirations. I was the type of student who frequently asked “how will this help me in my life” (sometimes a justifiable question, sometimes not). So this informational interview exercise was right up my alley as I could clearly see the personal application.

So I did some research and tracked down an individual who I wanted to interview: Terry Hutchins, a sports writer for the Indianapolis Star newspaper. At the time, my goal was to be a sports journalist, so the prospects of picking the brain of a writer who wrote about professional sports was very appealing to me.

Terry and I met for a coffee. I scrupulously took notes as Terry shared with me the pros and cons of covering sports. I very much enjoyed hearing his stories and advice. Probably, he enjoyed the opportunity to share his thoughts with a young man who wanted to be in his shoes.

When I got back to my dorm room, I wrote up a paper based on my notes and then submitted it to Professor Kirkpatrick. I got my grade and that was the end of this.

This all happened in 1999, well before blogs and social media existed. While there were so many interesting aspects to this exercise, imagine how this assignment could be enhanced today. Think about what would have happened if instead of writing for an audience of 1 – the professor – I was actually writing an article that would be shared on a public blog or content hub. This would have provided the following benefits:

  • I would have taken part in a more meaningful writing exercise in which my work would have been on display for a larger audience, thus contributing to my digital footprint in a positive way.
  • I would have been able to demonstrate my writing skills for Terry and liaised with him throughout the process of writing the piece and seeking his approval prior to publication.
  • Terry himself would have benefited from the exposure.
  • I would have been able to use social media in a practical way by promoting the article through my own channels.
  • I would have been able to implement a mini “ambassador program” in which I would have liaised with different individuals and groups and asked them to promote the content (the university, the department, my professor and Terry, etc).
  • I would have been able to interpret feedback about my work not just from the professor, but also other readers of the content by looking at the comments to the article and feedback through social media. This would have enabled me to see my strengths as well as identify areas for improvement in a more profound way.

Today, most every educator has the opportunity to provide their students with real life digital communications practice. It is great that there are so many initiatives from both organizations and educators that give students this opportunity. I want to contribute to this experience, which is why I launched the Interview an Innovator course.

In summary, this course guides undergraduate students through the process of identifying and interviewing an innovator that is of personal interest to them. Based on the students’ interviews with their selected innovator, they will then write and publish a compelling article that will be accessible on a public blog. The students need to use social media in different ways to draw visibility to their article. Educators can leverage the 8 short videos either in a blended learning format or during live in-class sessions. You can access the course overview and the introductory module – here is the high school version and here is the program for universities. From there, you can sign up free of charge to view the other videos.

I am looking for educators to pilot this program at no cost, so if of interest feel free to email me.

This article was written by Kevin Anselmo, founder of Experiential Communications and creator the Global Innovators Academy. A version of this article appeared on LinkedIn.