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How to conduct a proper informational interview

(CAREER) Informational interviews comprise a technique in which you ask an employer or current employee to explain the details of their job to you. Try doing this before you transition into your next occupation!

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At some point in your career, you may ask for someone’s time to do an informational interview — a process in which a job-seeker asks questions about a field, company, or position in hopes of receiving information which will inform both their decision to go into the field and their responses to the specific job’s actual interview. Since the power dynamic in an informational interview can be confusing, here are a few tips on how to conduct one. Not how to obtain one, but how to conduct one once both parties agree to connect.

The process of an informational interview typically starts with finding a person who works in your desired field (and/or location if you have a specific company in mind) and setting up a time during which you can ask them a few questions about things like their job responsibilities, salary, prerequisites, and so on. Once you’ve set up a time to meet in person (or via Skype or phone), you can proceed with putting together a list of questions.

Naturally, you should understand the circumstances under which asking for an informational interview is appropriate before requesting one. Your goal in an informational review should be to ask questions and listen to the answers, NOT pitch yourself as a potential hire. Ever. Nobody appreciates having their time wasted, and playing on your contact’s generosity as a way into their company is a sure way for your name to end up on their blacklist.

Once you’ve set up an informational interview, you should start the conversation by asking your contact what their typical day is like. This is doubly effective: your contact will most likely welcome the opportunity to discuss their daily goings-on, and you’ll be privy to an inside glance at their perspective on things like job responsibilities, daily activities, and other positive aspects of their position.

They’ll also probably detail some drawbacks to the position — things which usually aren’t explained in job postings — so you’ll have the opportunity to make a well-informed decision vis-à-vis the rigors of the job before diving head-first into the hiring process.

After your contact finishes walking you through their day, you can begin asking specific questions. However, unless they’ve been unusually brief in their description of their duties, your best course of action is probably to ask them follow-up questions about things they’ve already mentioned rather than asking targeted questions you wrote without context. This will both indicate that you were listening and allow them to expand upon information they’ve already explained, ensuring you’ll receive well-rounded responses.

You should save the most specific questions (e.g., the most easily answered ones) for the end of the interview. For example, if you want to know what a typical salary for someone in your contact’s position is or you’re wondering about vacation time, ask after you’ve wrapped up the bulk of the interview. This will prevent you from wasting the initial moments of the interview with technical content, and it may also keep the contact from assuming a strictly material motive on your part. And be willing to ask “what does someone with your job title typically earn in [city]?” instead of their specific take-home salary which might not be reflective of the norm (plus, it’s rude, and akin to asking someone their weight).

This is also a good time to ask for general advice regarding breaking into the field, though you may want to avoid this step if you feel like your contact isn’t comfortable discussing such a topic or if you’re intending to apply as someone with experience.

Of course, you won’t always be able to meet with your preferred contact directly, especially if they work in a dynamic field (e.g., emergency services) or have a security clearance which negates their ability to answer the bulk of your questions. If this happens, you have a couple of back-up options:

1. Send an email with a list of questions to the contact, or send them your phone number with a wide-open calling schedule. This is useful if your contact has a random or on-call schedule.

2. Ask your contact if there is someone else you could connect with (it could even be their assistant).

3. Speak to the company’s HR branch to see if you can request a company-specific job requirement print-out or link. These will usually be more particular than the industry requirements. But don’t ask for something you can find yourself on the company’s Careers page online.

Nothing beats an in-person interview over a cup of coffee, but — again — wasting someone’s time isn’t a good way to receive useful information about the position in which you’re interested.

Before transitioning to your next position or career field, consider conducting an informational interview. You’ll be amazed at the amount of insider information you can glean from simply listening to someone discuss their day in detail.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

Business News

10 ways to learn about a company’s culture when job hunting

(BUSINESS NEWS) Culture fit is important when job hunting, here are 10 ways to find out if the prospective company is a good fit.

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To quote the American Bard, I’ve been everywhere, man. In my professional life I’ve worked for hippies in the hills, Gordon Gekko business savants, button-down Christian conservatives: name the American archetype, I’ve made them money. I am rich in experience.

Protip: that is not the same as actually being rich.

In the spirit of “memories don’t pay the Netflix bill,” I therefore assert the following: when you’re looking for a job, for the love of Dale Carnegie, remember you actually have to talk to these people.

Business culture can be the making or breaking of a gig. For that matter, it can be the making or breaking of a business. Day-to-day workplace experience is probably the most important question in any job hunt, and definitely the hardest to track. Here are 10 ways to get a sense of workplace culture – this is the important part – before you ambush your boss with a staple remover.

RESOURCES!

1. Comparably provides an interesting service, and an excuse to dust off your junior high compare/contrast skillz. They’re a job review database set up to allow searchers to review multiple positions side by side according to employee assessments. It’s a great tool for thinning out the herd in the first days of a job hunt, or coming to a final conclusion between opportunities.

2. Glassdoor. You know these guys. If you don’t, go forth. We’ll wait. Glassdoor is still the benchmark for workplace Yelp. Reviews are written by actual employees, often with sound and fury, and records of (mis)behavior often go back years.

3. Great Place to Work goes deep. They don’t have quite the breadth or recognition of Glassdoor, but what they do have is serious rigor. GPtW (it’s tiring to type) provides an anonymous survey to current employees of a given business covering the six categories of Atmosphere, Challenges, Communication, Pride and Rewards. Unless you have super strong views regarding workplace decor, that seems to cover matters.

4. Indeed. The best job board in the business has what is manifestly not the best job review site in the business, but a darn good start. They’ll break down your workplace-to-be (or not) on a 1-5 scale according to several things I guarantee you care about, and maintain a Glassdoor-style database of employee reviews.

5. Job Crowd. Job Crowd does a neat thing. They provide the usual employee reviews, but also encourage contributors to dig into their experience in specific job titles with the companies they review. That kind of specificity is a great value-add: if you’re the janitor, you probably don’t care how great the COO’s job is, and vice versa.

6. Kununu. Kununu is Europe’s Glassdoor, with better than a million reviews for over 250,000 companies. They went live in the States last year and haven’t matched that depth on this side of the hemisphere, but they’ve got the backing and the expertise.

7. Vault. Vaut’s a different beast from the above. Rather than being crowd driven, Vault has an in-house research company that puts together the goods on employers. As you’d expect, this costs. Their free content is only passable, but if you want the serious goods, it might be worth the 9.99/month (less with longer subscriptions.

STRATS, TIPS AND DIRTY TRICKS!

8. LinkedIn. I may be committing Internet blasphemy here, but reading the rants of strangers might – might! – not be as informative as communication with an actual human. Reach out to someone you’d be working with if you took the job you’re contemplating. You’ve got 150 characters, so keep it tight: “I’m Namey McNomen. We could be working together soon. Do you have a moment to chat about [issue you’re into]?”

9. Straight up Internet. Get your occupational stalker on. A Google search is, at its heart, a trawl through the greatest trove of gossip in the history of life. Delve into terribly informative and charming news articles like this one. Bone up on blog articles and – just this once! – read the comment sections. Even Facebook is worth a browse. Seriously, who doesn’t talk about work?

10. Get real. If you work in service, make like a customer. If there’s a front-end office, drop by. Watch, listen, get a feel for what’s happening around you. To compound my digital blasphemy, what comes out of glowing rectangles like the one you’re reading this on (thanks!) is great, but nothing compares to immediate experience.

Put some of this together with plenty of the digital resources above, and with any luck you’ll find yourself a gig that might just keep you from attempted murder with office supplies.

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Business News

10 time tracking tools for productive freelancers, entrepreneurs

(PRODUCTIVITY) We’re all obsessed with squeezing more out of each day, but what if we used one of these time tracking tools to inject more chill time into our lives?

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Part of today’s culture is seeing how much one can get done in a day. We’re always so “go, go, go” and we treasure productivity.

This is incredibly true for freelancers, and, as such, it makes total sense that app and software technology would capitalize on this need. The following apps and programs are designed to help you save time and/or increase productivity.

1. Timeular: This app is designed to visually show you how you spend your time and, as a result, become more productive. Instead of wondering where your time goes every day, you’ll see it visually. This is done through a physical time tracker, where you can define what you want to track and customize your Tracker. You then connect via Bluetooth and place the Tracker face up with the task that you are working on (if you’re taking a phone call, the symbol facing up would be a phone). It then tracks all of your tasks into a color-coded visualization of the day’s activities. Dangerous for people like me who waste a lot of time on Instagram…

2. Bonsai: This bad boy is time tracking for freelancers. You can break down each project and track time individually in order to see where your time is going and how much is being spent on each entity. You then are able to automate invoices based on the time spent. Genius!

3. Tasks Time Tracker: Say that three times fast. This is a phone app that has multiple timers so you can track more than one thing at a time. This app gives you the option to input billing rates to easily track your earning. You can then export all of the info in a CSV format.

4. Azendoo: Everything in one place. This is a time-tracking service that assists your team’s needs and workflow. It puts project organization, team collaboration, and time reporting all in one place. A cool feature on this is you can input how much time you anticipate spending on a project, and then Azendoo compares that to how much time you actually spent.

5. Continuo: Similar to Timeular, you get to see all of your activities in a color-coded format on a calendar. This lets you easily breakdown how much time is spent on each activity and allows you to plan for the future. You are able to see your progress over time, and see how you’ve gotten faster and more productive.

6. PadStats: Described as “a simple app will help you to learn more about yourself”, PadStats will help you track and analyze your daily activities or daily routine. This app includes more quanity-based tracking, allowing data to be more user-oriented and stats to be more accurate.

7. Pomo Timer: This productivity boosting app is a “Simple and convenient pomodoro timer based on the technique proposed by Francesco Cirillo in the distant 1980s made in a simple and clear design,” according to iTunes. For those who like visually simplicity, this app is for you.

8. Blue Cocoa: This program overturns the stigma of a smartphone being a distraction, by turning it into a productivity tool. You start by creating a timer and working on something, and, if you get distracted, the timer senses this and tries to help. This is all in an effort to keep you on track of your task, while tracking the time spent.

9. Timely: A fully automatic time app. This features automatic time tracking, project time management, and team time management. It works to improve timesheet accuracy, increase project profitability, and optimize team performance.

10. Toggl: This is a simple time tracker that offers flexible and powerful reporting. It works to crunch numbers that you’ll need for reporting, all while syncing between all of your devices.

Pick one or two of the above ten, and reclaim your time. No need to “go, go, go,” if you’re a more productive person – this way you can “chill, chill, chill.”

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Business News

Beware: The biohacking obsession is attracting scammers

(NEWS) Biohacking is finding ways to gain a competitive advantage, while excluding the medical world. It’s great to increase your output, but be cautious when picking your poison…

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Wanna live better or longer? [Insert biohack here] will solve all those pesky problems. In all fairness, it’s human nature to seek improvement, especially in our jobs or academics — you know, the things that demand a constant, high performance.

Of course our ears will prick up at the slightest mention of attaining that elusive edge. Remember Aderall in college?

Biohacking isn’t a new topic. The term refers to a wide range of activities to affect the body’s biological systems.

The objective is to optimize health, well-being, and focus. If we are able to effectively manage what we put into our body, our output can increase. It’s not inherently evil.

But social media influencers are key in promoting the latest products/diets/supplements/oils, often doing so for money, not to improve others’ lives. And, there’s a darker side of drug use, both prescription and illegal, leading to potentially dangerous and abusive situations.

The misleading aspect of biohacking is that every body is different.

Regardless of social media promises, people should be wary of ingesting additional products.

Despite the fancy names one can give it, biohacking has the same objective of medicine, but product development typically excludes medical practitioners.

Legitimate medical practices take huge amounts of funding and research to figure out and insure safety, and they’re heavily regulated by the federal government.

A random word of mouth promise about some obscure herbal supplement is not the same thing.

There are no shortcuts to improving one’s health.

And biohacking doesn’t necessarily mean making life more complex. It’s important to start with the basics before jumping to elaborate diet regimens, powders, pills, etc. Simple steps like routine exercise, 7-8 hours of sleep, and healthier meal choices may help get you on track.

It’s amazing to realize what you can change about yourself before joining some random Thought Cult you found on Instagram. And in the case that your health needs a modern, helping hand, do the proper research before falling into the dark internet hole.

Or better yet, consult your doctor.

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