I’m no investing expert, but recently I had the opportunity to attend the 2014 Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Meeting in Omaha. Being in the same room—er, stadium—as Warren Buffet, Charlie Munger, and Bill Gates was pretty neat, but most of the five plus hours of question and answers went right over my head.
However, the career counselor in me really honed in on one particular bit of advice Mr. Buffett shared with his adoring audience. A few hours in, one brave young shareholder asked him what advice he would give to people starting out now, in the form of a “what would you do if you had to start over?” question.
Buffett, despite finding his passion in investing early in life, shared the story of his early career days, when he would drop in on coal managers to ask a range of questions—eventually narrowing the scope of his questions to really get the kind of information he was looking for (usually, which coal mine was worth investing in). Ultimately, he concluded that his advice would be to start asking questions, too. He states, “You can really learn a lot just by asking—that sounds like a Yogi Berra quote or something—but it is literally true."
Now, to me, this sounds like a solid endorsement for the power of informational interviewing by none other than Warren Buffett. The benefits are clear. Whether you are exploring what’s out there before choosing a career to pursue, trying to learn more about a specific company to see if it’s the right fit, or figuring out which coal company to invest in, asking questions (and a lot of them!) almost always helps.
To start, follow Elliott Bell’s advice to perfect the art of the ask. Once you’ve secured a couple of meetings, make sure that, like Buffett, you get what you’re looking for out of the informational interview. And repeat. You don’t need to be an investing genius to know that, the more you ask, the more you’ll learn.