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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

How the Lean concept can have the biggest impact on your bottom line

(BUSINESS) Using the Lean business concept and asking the non-sexy question of “What’s dumb around here?” your business will outpace your competitors in no time.

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Entrepreneurs love solving problems. That’s what they’re good at doing. In fact, the more complex, difficult and messy the problem, the more the entrepreneur will enjoy the challenge. Entrepreneurs are especially good at solving problems that nobody knew were there. Think about Steve Jobs: He knew that we needed a pocket MP3 player before we even knew what it was.

While entrepreneurs are coming up with the next “big” thing, we need the non-entrepreneurs in our organizations focused on solving the small problems in our company with the same enthusiasm. Imagine if every one of your team members were consistently looking for opportunities to improve your systems, processes and service delivery. Those subtle changes made in the non-sexy parts of the business usually have the biggest impact on the bottom line.

This is a business concept called Lean, in which a company changes their processes to create the most benefit to the customer using the least amount of resources possible. Lean is commonly used in the manufacturing industry, but its principles can be used in any business to change the way of thinking and doing things.

I recently witnessed a great example of how Lean principles were used to improve one of my clients, LuminUltra – a leading provider of microbiological testing hardware, software and services. The company serves industries that need to know quickly and accurately what’s living in their water. At a recent quarterly planning session at the LuminUltra offices in Fredericton, Canada, COO Charlie Younger shared a powerful story about the company’s manufacturing facility and challenging the status quo.

During the expansion of the company’s manufacturing facility, one of the team members was lamenting to Charlie about how much time it took to complete a lengthy step of the manufacturing process – one specific quality check that was very time-consuming. He remarked that in the history of the company they never had a single machine fail the test. Charlie’s first thought was, do they even need to perform this specific test again?

After more discussion with colleagues, the team realized that the other quality checks performed earlier in the manufacturing process would always identify a defective unit. With this knowledge, the manufacturing team asked for permission to perform minimal testing to still provide assurance with less work. When presented with the information, the company leadership agreed that it was a great idea and would save time and money as well as improve the employee experience. But the bigger question was: Why hadn’t anyone ever questioned this lengthy step of the manufacturing process before?

Charlie, having run Lean programs in the past, has seen this issue before: People continue to do what they’ve always done even if they think there is a better way. He thought this would be a great opportunity to use a fun, simple but elegant technique to capture other status quo breakers – in other words, he decided to use the same principles for changing the company’s production process to make other company decisions.

With that, he posted a whiteboard in the manufacturing room with the title “What’s Dumb Around Here?” and encouraged team members to capture possible “dumb things” to add to it. These topics are discussed and vetted during their Lean process meetings to determine if they can be improved.

When I discussed the new process with Charlie, he noted, “First, you have to create an environment where people are willing to question the status quo. We have always been highly focused on quality and accuracy, so the team thought it was outrageous to openly question a quality check we had been performing for years.”

He continued, “You have to help your management team be open to receiving ideas that might seem crazy and not overreact to the suggestions. Instead, simply ask them to explain their logic. More often than not, the front line knows a better way to do things but does not know how to navigate the change. The beauty of using Lean techniques is that you now have an easy navigation path to discuss, approve and roll out changes. Suddenly, you have an energized front line solving problems with minimal involvement from management – how great is that?”

While LuminUltra continues to grow their product line and expand into new markets, it expects that its implementation of Lean principles will help it make subtle but important modifications to processes that will positively affect its bottom line. The CEO, Pat Whalen, remarked, “If we can produce our products faster and more cost effectively and get them into the hands of our customers faster, we can have an even bigger impact on the water sector with our microbiological monitoring products. I need all of our team members thinking how we can improve every single day. The water sector needs us.”

Every visionary, big-thinking entrepreneur needs a team that challenges the status quo. How are you encouraging your team members to identify, “What’s Dumb Around Here?”

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The 7 communication hurdles stifling your company’s efficiency

(BUSINESS NEWS) Whether communication is too little or too much, or delivered poorly, every company has room for improvement.

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One of the biggest sources of inefficiency in your company is going to be communication. It underlies almost every productive action within your business, whether it’s conveying instructions to a subordinate or disclosing your results to a client or investor; accordingly, even a small inefficiency in your lines of communication can result in a major loss of time/money.

Fortunately, knowing the key hurdles to effective communication—and learning to overcome them—can help you smooth out these problem areas and build a more efficient business.

How Communication Affects Your Efficiency

Ultimately, your business’s efficiency is impacted in three key ways:

  1. Message accuracy. If you convey the wrong information, or the right information in a confusing way, it can lead to errors and misunderstandings.
  2. Time consumption. Every message you send and receive is going to cost time from both the sender and recipient. If that time is excessive, it could result in waste.
  3. Cost. You also need to consider what you’re paying for your communication solutions, and whether each solution is worth it.

The Biggest Hurdles

These effects tend to manifest in response to these seven major hurdles:

1. Obsolete or unreliable tech. If you’re trying to save money by relying on old devices, or platforms that haven’t been upgraded in years, it could have a substantial negative impact on how you communicate. You might experience delays when making phone calls, missed messages in your chat logs, or a serious lack of mobility. Thankfully, making upgrades can make most of these problems go away. For example, investing in newer devices can dramatically improve your connection speeds and mobility, and switching VOIP providers can be a relatively easy transition to prevent delays and hiccups from interfering with your phone calls.

2. A lack of clear communication standards. How are your managers expected to relay instructions to subordinates? How are your subordinates expected to communicate progress to managers? How are your meeting recap emails supposed to be structured? If you aren’t sure of these answers, it’s a sign that you don’t have clear communication standards within your business. Formally documenting these expectations can keep communication clear and consistent for all your employees, in virtually all areas.

3. Inefficient modes of communication. If your employees aren’t using communication mediums correctly, it can also lead to problems. For example, if they frequently call meetings that could have been communicated in the span of a single email, it could waste hours of company time. If they use email instead of having a conversation over the phone, it could lead to confusion and unanswered questions. Each type of communication requires a different approach.

4. Departmental silos. Another major problem is departmental silos, which can make communication more difficult or nonexistent between two groups of people within the company. These silos tend to develop when different departments have different standards and expectations for communication, and when those departments rarely intermingle. You can correct this by integrating your departments more frequently, and getting everyone on the same standards for communication.

5. Unstructured meetings. Meetings are a major source of time waste in companies, since they involve many people at the same time, and often recur on a consistent basis. All your meetings should have a designated leader to keep the meeting on track, a specific intention or goal, and a time restriction to keep things tight and concise.

6. Poor listening. Listening is a vital skill for effective communication — and we aren’t doing enough of it. Too often in business environments, participants in a meeting or conversation are more focused on talking than listening, but listening is more effective for understanding and collaboration. To develop better listening skills, avoid distractions (like checking your smartphone during a conversation), allow time for the other person to speak, and use active listening tactics, like rephrasing what you’re hearing.

7. Overload. Too much communication can be a bad thing. If your employees are sending emails back and forth constantly, or if you’re paying for so many communication apps that you can’t keep track of them, it’s only going to result in confusion. In many ways, fewer, more concise messages are superior modes of communication than message bombardment—and you’ll pay less if you have fewer apps to worry about.

If you can overcome these seven significant communication hurdles, you can make your business far more efficient. While some of these changes may take a few weeks to settle in, others may grant you a positive change immediately — so inspect your company’s internal and external communication, and work hard to make things as streamlined as possible.

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Remote work program offers $10K, free coworking, free housing

(BUSINESS NEWS) Remote workers are being lured out of tech cities, but will they stay gone for long?

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tulsa remote work program

Although Amazon’s new HQ announcement has the internet world clamoring about the utility of recruiting companies, the mid-size city of Tulsa, Oklahoma is also making headlines. Only, it is forgoing the act of wooing corporations entirely and focusing on the new workforce of remote and freelance professionals.

Oklahoma isn’t the only place to pursue this kind of idea. Vermont announced a similar program earlier this year, where they’ll pay enterprising individuals $5,000 a year for two years to find a home among the Green Mountains with a state-sponsored grant.

Tulsa is offering a new program called Tulsa Remote that will pay remote workers $10,000 to relocate to the city and work for a year, in hopes of attracting young talent. Those selected have the option to live in a furnished apartment with discounted rent for the first few months of the program and have free access to a coworking space with other new Oklahomans.

As the cost of living continues to rise in many tech-savvy cities like Austin, Seattle, and San Francisco, more and more workers may end up looking to programs like these. Not only to help ease the transitional pain of moving to a place that can offer them more bang for their buck, but for the built-in community of other digital nomads that they offer.

It will be interesting to see how this remote-recruitment trend develops, especially in the Midwest.

Employment opportunities are only one of the many reasons that rural areas experience brain drain; there are social forces surrounding deeply rooted conservative politics that often drive young populations to seek more open-minded locales.

The basic premise behind these remote-recruitment programs seems to be that once these highly skilled technical workers get a taste of smaller-town America that they won’t want to go back to the megacities that they came from. In order to fully turn these transplants into locals, these smaller cities and states will have to consider the true quality of life that they are offering.

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