Discovery Interviews: A Strategy for Organizational and Individual Career Success

By Bryan Lubic

Faced with a need to reconnect with alumni, but without the resources to staff a traditional engagement effort, Georgetown University launched an innovative initiative in 2006 that paired university professionals with student ambassadors to conduct simple, meaningful discussions with alumni to reconnect them with their alma mater. The process and results exceeded expectations, and hold valuable lessons and applications for career development professionals.


What is a discovery interview?
A discovery interview is a structured, purposeful conversation designed to create meaningful dialogue between an institution or organization and its constituents. Frequently used in nonprofit, fundraising, and donor relations functions, discovery interviews are based on the premise that making a meaningful connection with clients, members, alumni or constituents will provide both parties with stronger connections to each other. In essence, a discovery interview is a semi-structured dialogue facilitated by an organizational representative designed to discover and learn the constituent’s story.


How does a discovery interview work?
In a university context, for example, a discovery interview would be conducted by one or more university ambassadors who would interview one or more alumni. Unique to this approach--and the magic to this method--is that current students are included in the interview. Current students are partnered with university professionals and actively participate in a purpose-driven, semi-structured face to face interview with alumni, for the purpose of rekindling and strengthening alumni connections. In the process, alumni share their unique stories, experiences and perspectives while student ambassadors and university professionals use active listening to deepen the connections and relationship, and gather information to improve programs and services.


What are the results of discovery interview conducted by university alumni relations?
Since 2006, Georgetown University has interviewed more than 9,500 alumni. Notable results include increases in giving as well as participation in school programs, like alumni mentor programs, alumni admission interviewers, and volunteers.


How does a discover interview relate to career development?
In career development we call this process “Informational Interviewing,” where a job-seeker or proactive professional would meet with specific people for the purpose of collecting and sharing relevant job, function, industry and network information. Conducted in the same spirit of exploration, informational interviewers usually try to balance their ultimate intention of landing a job with a more neutral approach of learning and discovery. This can sometimes be a difficult nuance for job seekers to be comfortable and confident with. Job seekers, motivated by the urgency to get a job, find it difficult to patiently cultivate longer term relationships that might lead to a job in the future. The discovery interview process, and even the name itself, can be adapted into your career development practice in different ways for positive results.


How can career development professionals adapt the discovery interview approach into their practice?
Here is one example: Patricia Johnson from State University is a junior majoring in Accounting. Her career advisor, Mark Smith, knows that Sarah Thomas, an alumn, works for Intel Accounting Services. Mark arranges for a meeting with Sarah and brings Patricia along. In this example, the informational interview was conducted in pairs, matching job seeker and professional in an interview with a potential organization. Applied to career development, this means the student benefits from the “warm” introduction to a contact by the career advisor, and also enjoys the added benefit of their presence during the interview. The career development professional gains credibility with the contact as well as the student, and stays current through continued practice and connection with professionals in the field..


Another option is for two colleagues or peers to partner up and interview a contact together. For example, two students could partner with each other and interview a professional contact in an organization. This is a great way for peers to increase their own confidence as well as their connections with each other.


In both cases, the partnerships can create powerful effects for everyone: for example, less anxiety and less pressure for any one person during the interview, as well as increased self-awareness and more professional connections.


If the label “Informational Interviews” conjures anxiety in the job seeker, consider describing the process as a “career discovery interview” or a “career discovery conversation.” These phrases may be best suited for clients in career exploration, but feel free to adapt to any client need. For example: “Career Transition Conversation,” or “Professional Mobility Conversation.” In my work with university students, calling the process a “Personal Career Discovery Initiative” has been very well received, and describing the steps and process creates excitement and, most importantly, action.


Finally, consider the different ways you could apply this model to help groups of people partner together, learn more about each other and a specific audience, and create stronger connections and engagement. This approach works within organizations as well: colleagues could partner to interview personnel in other units or divisions, increasing connections and morale along the way.


A Winning Approach
Which aspects of the discovery interview process could you most easily adapt or implement in your practice? By using the power of active listening, and connecting without a specific, immediate agenda, a discovery initiative approach could help your clients discover, learn, and connect with confidence. And in the process, the interviewee develops a deeper understanding of their own connection and relationship with the interviewers. Win all around!



Georgetown University Office of Advancement. (2013). Discovery initiative progress report. Retrieved from http://alumni.georgetown.edu/olc/filelib/GTW/cpages/9003/Library/PDFs/discovery-initiative-2013-progress-report.pdf




Bryan LubicBryan Lubic, M.A., CCMC, is a Professional Development Advisor at San Diego State University. He is also a law school graduate and a certified career coach. Career Convergence and NCDA appreciate his volunteer work as the Associate Editor of the Organizations Department. He can be reached at blubic@ucsd.edu.


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