The Virtue of the Reverse Interview


We’ve inevitably all been on an interview or two, so the idea of a Reverse Interview sounds a tad contrived at first, but they are one of the most invaluable tools I’ve come across in the professional sphere.  What is a Reverse Interview exactly? Dale Callahan over at Company of One puts it perfectly when he says that:

The basic idea of the reverse interview is that you will contact someone who is where you want to be in a few years, ask them to talk so that you may learn what it takes to get where they have gotten. Nothing fancy.

And really, that’s all there is to it.  Dale’s article is fantastic because it lays some ground rules for the interview itself, but a fair summary of his idea is to completely ignore yourself.  That’s right, no interview, no personal interjection, and absolutely no resume.  This is not a career counselor, so s/he should not review your resume.  The reverse interview is an opportunity for you to get practical insight into your profession.

That said, I’ve done several Reverse Interviews like this and have a number of friends who have done the same.  You forge connections and get valuable “insider” secrets.  I have a good friend who had a great interview and applied for a job at that library a few months later.  She already had her face out there and that helped her stand out among other job candidates.

I bring all of this up because I conducted a reverse interview yesterday with the Dean of Libraries at a large research university.  Sounds fancy, eh?  Not really when you consider that I essentially emailed her cold.  The fact of the matter is that the Dean sat down with me because I made a case for myself — I cited experiences I read about on her CV and LinkedIn pages (both publicly available) and explained why I was asking her for a sit-down specifically.

No offense to Dale, but the real takeaway here is that the mark of a great reverse interview is asking solid questions that probe thought.  I err away from anything addressed in my library classes, focusing instead on that which I cannot get from my classes.  In this case, I asked the Dean about management and administration in an enormous multi-campus university setting.  It ended up being a fruitful discussion, and the Dean invited me to come back to chat more in the future.

The takeaway?  Ask great questions and get yourself out there!


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