When I was in College back in 2006, I was taught that networking was about exchanging a resume for a job instead of actually building a relationship. As a result, it took me eight months and forty interviews, to secure a job upon graduation. I had an incredibly extensive resume with eight internships, seven leadership positions in on-campus organizations and straight A’s, yet my approach to networking was flawed. While on paper you would think companies would be fighting for me, it was my introversion, and lack of networking skills, that stalled my ability to secure a job.
I didn’t learn my tenets of networking until 2006 when I first started my blog and realized the true power in using media (a blog) in order to promote the work of others. See, the problem most people have with networking is that they come off as begging for a job, much like I did in college, instead of finding ways to support others, with the hope of future reciprocation. While I was blogging a dozen times a week, and eventually attracted an audience in 2007, I saw the art of interviewing as a way to network with others. The very content I was creating daily had a following that enabled me to reach out to others and network. Successful people want to be associated with successful people, and since my blog was known in the industry, people started to reach out to me directly or just respond to my emails.
I saw interviewing others as the best way I could network with successful people because I was promoting their work without asking for anything in return. There are two things that every successful person has in common: 1) They want more attention for their work 2) They want to become more successful. Knowing this, I reached out to a professor as my first interview for my blog, asking him five questions and publishing the interview, while sending him a link and promoting it on Twitter. After it was published, and he responded with a thank you note, I immediately saw the bigger picture – that I could build a powerful network by interviewing successful people regularly. My formula for interviewing back in 2007 was to only ask five questions, with the consistent final question asking them for their best three pieces of career advice, and ensuring that it would only take them fifteen minutes of their time by phone, in-person or email. I had the foresight that someday I could aggregate the best pieces of advice from hundreds or thousands of people and turn it into a book – a goal that I still have today! My interviews have always been short because I want to be cautious of their time and push them to give concise responses.
After the first interview was published, I used it as a reference point when interviewing other successful people so that they could see who else I’ve interviewed and what the format would be like. This same formula I had used to build up my writing portfolio, starting with a blog post, then writing for About.com, then BrandWeek Magazine, BusinessWeek, Forbes and TIME. After building an audience of over a million blog visitors from scratch, I started landing bigger interviews such as George Foreman and Jerry Springer. While I was simultaneously building my freelance writing portfolio, I had finally moved my interview series over to Forbes, which enabled me to land even bigger interviews because the general population knows Forbes over my personal blog, of course.
In order to interview higher caliber people, I adopted the new strategy of researching who had books coming out in the future using Amazon’s Advanced Book Search. The idea was that the best time to interview someone is when they have something they need to promote, just like when you watch Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon interview someone and they have a book or movie coming out. The celebrities are less inclined to take interviews when they aren’t actively promoting something because they are usually head down doing the work.
Since 2007, I’ve interviewed over 1,600 successful people, including athlete’s, politicians, authors, movie stars and even an astronaut. Some of the interviews were extremely hard to get and I had to be very patient and clever to land them. Here are my most memorable interview stories so you understand what it takes to speak to the people who many would consider “untouchable”:
- Donald Trump: It took me over three years to get on the phone with Trump for fifteen minutes. My strategy was to interview the people closest to him in order to build the necessary trust for him to take me seriously. I interviewed his favorite daughter, Ivanka, then Larry King and then his co-author Robert Kiyosaki before I was able to speak to him. Also, he’s friends with the Forbes family and trusts that brand. These experiences helped me when I was on the phone with him because I was able to name drop to build some common ground with him.
- Hulk Hogan: Hogan was one of my childhood heros since I was a big WWF wrestling fan as a child, who saw him wrestle the late Andre the Giant in Worcester, where my family is from. Back in 2011, I interviewed millionaire entrepreneur Ryan Blair for Forbes. The article was syndicated to the front page of Yahoo!, which is a dream of any writer and attracts tens of millions of views. Blair called me and said that the article made a huge impact on his life. I later noticed that Hogan endorsed his book so I asked him to set up an interview and he gave me the Hulk’s phone number.
- Chelsea Handler: It took me nine months to interview Mrs. Handler and she was the first person to only answer two questions out of five! I also interviewed her at the height of her celebrity but was able to sneak it in because I was also writing for the Metro newspaper and she was looking to raise awareness for her standup show in New York.
- Tony Robbins: It took me over six years to connect with Robbins, who almost felt untouchable when I first started but I never gave up and have since spoken to him twice. Since Robbins only just came out with a new book after a decade, he didn’t really need much promotion over the years. I wanted to interview him for his new book but Steve Forbes had much more of a priority than me! I ended up interviewing him for my Metro column and his publicist even invited me to his book launch in New York city where I got to meet him in person.
- Warren Buffet: I never reached out to Buffet or his team because I had read that only a few reporters actually have access to him. A publicist had reached out to me asking if I would interview him about his new book for teen entrepreneurs and I obviously wouldn’t turn it down, although I had to interview his co-authors in order to make him respond.
- Colin Powell: Back in 2012, I saw that Powell had a book coming out so I reached out to his team. I was only writing for Forbes.com at that point and his team would only commit if they got in the actual magazine. I used the opportunity to pitch my editor and was able to interview him for print, which was extremely exciting and had a few more print interviews after locking that one down. Powell was extremely generous on the phone, giving me enough time to ask more questions.
If you want to interview to people and build a strong network, then start with someone who may be unknown just to create your own interview formula and for you to get a feeling for your interview style. The art of the interview has exponentially accelerated my career, helped me build my brand by associating it with other successful people and it’s been a thrilling challenge that I will continue until they become a book in the future! You can read the best of my interview series here: danschawbel.com/interviews