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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

Asking the wrong questions can ruin your job opportunity

(BUSINESS NEWS) An HR expert discusses the best (and worst) questions she’s experienced during candidate interviews. it’s best to learn from others mistakes.

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When talking to hiring managers outside of an interview setting, I always find myself asking about their horror stories as they’re usually good for a laugh (and a crash course in what not to do in an interview). A good friend of mine has worked in HR for the last decade and has sat in on her fair share of interviews, so naturally I asked her what some of her most notable experiences were with candidates – the good and the bad, in her own words…

“Let’s see, I think the worst questions I’ve ever had are typically related to benefits or vacation as it demonstrates that their priorities are not focused on the actual job they will be performing. I’ve had candidates ask how much vacation time they’ll receive during an initial phone screen (as their only question!). I’ve also had them ask about benefits and make comparisons to me over the phone about how our benefits compare to their current employer.

I once had a candidate ask me about the age demographics of our office, which was very uncomfortable and inappropriate! They were trying to determine if the attorneys at our law firm were older than the ones they were currently supporting. It was quite strange!

I also once had a candidate ask me about the work environment, which was fine, but they then launched into a story about how they are in a terrible environment and are planning on suing their company. While I understand that candidates may have faced challenges in their previous roles or worked for companies that had toxic working environments, it is important that you do not disparage them.

In all honesty, the worst is when they do not have any questions at all. In my opinion, it shows that they are not really invested in the position or have not put enough thought into their decision to change jobs. Moving to a new company is not a decision that should be made lightly and it’s important for me as an employer to make sure I am hiring employees who are genuinely interesting in the work they will be doing.

The best questions that I’ve been asked typically demonstrate that they’re interested in the position and have a strong understanding of the work they would be doing if they were hired. My personal favorite question that I’ve been asked is if there are any hesitations or concerns that I may have based on the information they’ve provided that they can address on the spot. To me, this demonstrates that they care about the impression that they’ve made. I’ve asked this question in interviews and been able to clarify information that I did not properly explain when answering a question. It was really important to me that I was able to correct the misinformation as it may have stopped me from moving forward in the process!

Also, questions that demonstrate their knowledge base about the role in which they’re applying for is always a good sign. I particularly like when candidates reference items that I’ve touched on and weave them into a question.

A few other good questions:
• Asking about what it takes to succeed in the position
• Asking about what areas or issues may need to be addressed when first joining the company
• Asking about challenges that may be faced if you were to be hired
• Asking the employer what they enjoy most about the company
• I am also self-centered, so I always like when candidates ask about my background and how my current company compares to previous employers that I’ve worked for. Bonus points if they’ve actually looked me up on LinkedIn and reference specifics :)”

Think about the best and worst experiences you’ve had during an interview – and talk to others about the same topic – and see how that can help you with future interviews.

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Business News

AdvoCare MLM was painted as a pyramid scheme! Well color me surprised

(BUSINESS NEWS) AdvoCare is the most recent case of an MLM being called out as a pyramid scheme by FTC, but there’s plenty more MLMs where that came from…

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AdvoCare business structure

It’s always a good day when an MLM (multi-level marketing business) actually suffers legal repercussions. Granted, these days don’t happen nearly as often as we’d like – MLM CEOs have historically had deep pockets and a far reach – which means it’s all the more reason to celebrate when one gets called out.

Today’s culprit is AdvoCare, a Texas-based “wellness” company. AdvoCare has been fined $150 million by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) for operating a pyramid scheme. The company, as well as a few of its top influencers, have been misleading people when it comes to how much money they could earn. This is pretty typical behavior for MLMs in general, though many are careful to couch your potential earnings in vague terms.

For the record, the majority of users lost money, and most who managed to turn a profit made a maximum of just $250. I say ‘just’ because it’s hard to know how long someone would have had to work to not only break even, but manage to turn a profit. MLMs make big claims about earning money, but when you have to pour a hefty sum of cash into the products, it can take a while just to break even.

That’s why many MLMs, including AdvoCare, push contributors to recruit, rather than sell the product. And if you’re thinking that sounds like a pyramid scheme, you’re totally right. This method of putting recruiting first is part of the reason AdvoCare has gotten in trouble with the FTC.

In response, AdvoCare is moving away from multi-level marketing sales and pivoting to selling products directly to retail stores, which in turn sell to customers.

Now, with AdvoCare’s downfall, don’t be surprised if other MLMs insist that they’re different because they haven’t gotten in trouble with the FTC. In fact, plenty of MLMs are quick to tell you that they’re totally legal and totally not a pyramid scheme. Sure, Jan.

First of all, if there’s a big focus on recruiting, that’s obviously a big red flag. There are plenty of pyramid scheme MLMs out there that just haven’t gotten caught yet. But there are other sneaky ways an MLM will try to rip you off. For instance, some companies will insist you buy tons of product to keep your place, and that product can be very hard to unload. Not to mention, many of the products MLMs tout are subpar at best.

AdvoCare getting called out by the FTC is a great start, but MLMs seem kind of like hydras. Cut down one and two more seem to spring up in its place. So be vigilant, y’all. Just because an MLM hasn’t gotten caught yet doesn’t guarantee it won’t still scam you out of your hard earned cash.

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Business News

Bose is closing their retail stores, but we haven’t heard the last of them

(BUSINESS NEWS) Over the last 30 years Bose has become so well understood by consumers that they don’t even need retail stores anymore. We hear them just fine.

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Over the next few months, Bose plans to close all of their retail stores in North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia. The company made the announcement last week. With 119 stores closing, presumably hundreds of Bose employees will be laid off, but the company has not revealed exact numbers.

However, this shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the maker of audio equipment is struggling to stay afloat. Rather, the move marks a major change in how consumers purchase tech gear.

When the Framingham, Massachusetts-based company opened its first U.S. retail store in 1993, it was making home entertainment systems for watching DVDs and listening to CDs. According to Colette Burke, Bose’s vice president of global sales, these first brick-and-mortar locations “gave people a way to experience, test, and talk to us” about Bose products. “At the time, it was a radical idea,” she says, “but we focused on what our customers needed and where they needed it – and we’re doing the same thing now.”

When a lot of this equipment was new, consumers may have had more questions and a need to see the products in action before purchasing. Nowadays, we all know what noise-canceling headphones are; we all know what a Bluetooth speaker is. We’re happy to read about the details online before adding products to our virtual shopping cart. The ability for Bose to close its retail stores is probably also an indicator that Bose has earned strong brand recognition and a reputation as a reliable maker of audio equipment.

In other words, consumers are less and less inclined to need to check out equipment in person before they buy it. For those who do, Bose products can still be purchased at stores like Best Buy, Target, and Apple. But overall, Bose can’t ignore the fact that their products “are increasingly purchased through e-commerce,” such as on Amazon or directly from their website.

In a statement, Bose also said that it has become a “larger multi-national company, with a localized mix of channels tailored for the country or region.” While Bose is shutting down its retail stores in several continents, it will continue to operate stores in China, the United Arab Emirates, India, Southeast Asia, and South Korea.

Burke said the decision to close so many retail stores was “difficult” because it “impacts some of our amazing store teams who make us proud every day.” Bose is offering “outplacement assistance and severance to employees that are being laid off.”

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