Career & Life Lessons from C-SPAN Top Interviewer Brian Lamb

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APC-SPAN's Brian Lamb receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.
Brian Lamb, the host of C-SPAN's Q&A and Booknotes, has interviewed a who's who of our intelligentsia from Isabella Wilkerson to Malcolm Gladwell to Charles Krauthammer. He's also written a new book, Sundays at Eight: 25 years of stories from C-SPAN's Q&A and Booknotes. And he was the guest on my NPR-San Francisco radio show.

Here are some of the points he made about career and life issues, plus my comments.

Marty: Do you have a key principle of interviewing?

Brian: Really listen.

Indeed, whether you're interviewing for a job, are a job interviewer, or even on a first date, there's a tendency, after asking your question, to not listen well but to instead think about what you'll say or ask next. Everyone thinks they're a good listener. Most people aren't as good as they think.

Marty: What's your advice on trying to make a living as an interviewer?

Brian: Interview. Start interviewing, anywhere. There are public access TV stations that will let you host your own show for free.

Marty: That "just interview" approach certainly worked for me. One day, my daughter said, "Daddy, I'm bored." We had just bought a cassette tape deck so I said, "Let's pretend I'm interviewing you on the radio." I plugged in the cheapie microphone that came with the tape deck and I interviewed her.

Then, for the heck of it, I sent a copy to each of San Francisco's two NPR stations. Three days later, the station manager at KALW called me: "You're not good but you have potential. Want a show?" I've now had 25 years of joy interviewing some of the world's most interesting people and doing career makeovers on callers.

Please also remember that whether or not you ever end up making a living as in interviewer -- in the media or, for example, as an HR recruiter -- the process of interviewing is a fascinating addition to almost anyone's life. You'll meet interesting people and have conversations you only wish you'd have in real life.

Marty: What lessons did you learn at C-SPAN?

Brian: Put yourself in a place where good things are likely to happen, work hard, and then be patient.

He said that many of the people at C-SPAN started out lowly and ended up high, for example, a camera operator who now is vice-president.

Marty: Have any of your interviews changed your own life?

Brian: Presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley, who visited the gravesites of all the presidents. inspired him to do the same. "And because I'm competitive, I also visited the vice-presidents.'"

Marty: I'd imagine that visiting graves does indeed provide perspective, at minimum, reminding us that our time is limited and how we choose to spend it is key to the life well-led.

Marty: What's next for Brian Lamb?

Brian: I love working with college students. I'm getting older and I want to be sure that I pass on whatever guidance I have to give.

Marty: No matter what our age, pay it forward. I can leave you with no better advice.
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Marty Nemko welcomes your visiting his website: where lots of his writings and radio show are archived. And, if you need career help, you can email Marty Nemko at
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