Best Questions for Informational Interviews

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So as an Interior Design student in my senior year I am required to take a course called “Professional Practices in Interior Design”. One of our assignments is to phone interview 5 Interior Designers about their job. In my business classes I have learned that this interview-with-the-purpose-of-getting-information is you guessed it— called an Informational Interview.

Why bother with Informational Interviews if my teacher didn’t assign it?

What’s great about Informational Interviews is that they can give you insight into a company to reinforce the idea that you want to apply there or realize that maybe that place isn’t worth your time. Informational Interviews are especially great for two situations:

1. You’re interested in a company but honestly, their website sucks. They sound great but there just isn’t enough information there to fully justify that and you want to know more.

2. You’ve been pouring over every detail of their website and any other information about them you can get your hands on. You’re convinced this is the perfect company for you and you want to know how to make sure your resume gets into the “YES” pile.

Let me warn you, Informational Interviews can be scary, especially if you choose to do them in person (however in my experience they are never as scary as a “real” interview where a potential job is on the line). On the flip side, they can also be VERY rewarding. Often enough the Informational Interview will land you the in-person Interview (assuming it went well enough). The in-person interview often means you’re one of 5-10 being interviewed so your chances of getting the job just increased exponentially.

The Informational Interview puts you in contact with your potential boss or co-worker and gives you someone’s name you can throw out when write your cover letter (in addition to an inside-view of the company). Almost always the hiring manager will go to the person you spoke with and ask what they thought of you. Few people actually call for Informational Interviews so they will definitely remember you; that’s why it’s so important to make a good first impression with them over the phone (and in any other correspondence such as email).

That brings me to another point. Part of the reason it’s scary is because we are a generation of texters and typers. We rarely talk on the phone anymore except maybe to a select few people. We text and we Facebook and we email. DO NOT simply email your questions, you’ll automatically be downgraded. Feel free to email them to ask about the best time to call them and/or if they are willing to submit to an Informational Interview.

When emailing them, it doesn’t hurt to tell them you are a student or someone considering changing careers. They’ll be more willing to talk openly than if they think you are some employee working for their competitor. Tell them how you received/found their contact information so they don’t think you are a Level-9 Facebook creeper. Company websites and LinkedIn are great sources for this. Be polite and double check everything before you send it. Typos make you look dumb, i’m knot lieing.

Now for what you’ve all been waiting for, the Best Questions to Ask for an Informational Interview:

*When actually doing an interview never do more than 20 questions per interview. In fact, I would say 20 is really pushing it. My personal sweet spot is about 12 or 13, this gives you room to ask follow up questions if they give you an answer that leaves you wanting more without really passing 15-16 questions. Notice hardly any of these are YES or NO questions, you want them to give you as much information as possible but not waste their time.* Your informational interview should probably last 10-20 minutes and you should do your basic research about the company in advance as well as be prepared to introduce yourself when you call.

Advice from your Interviewee:

What are your recommended keywords/ buzzwords to include in a resume or cover letter when job hunting in this field?

Thinking about the most successful interns that you’ve had, what was it about their character, work ethic, abilities etc. that made them exemplary?

What educational preparation would you recommend for someone who wants to advance in this field?

What are the best ways to network in this field?

Do you have any recommendations for places to find job listings in this field?

What do you know now that you wish you knew as a college student looking to enter the workforce?

What courses do you wish you would have taken that would have better prepared you?

If you were a college student again, what might you do differently to prepare for this job?

What skills are indispensable to your job? How did you learn these skills?

What is your educational background as pertaining to this field?

Which classes have you found to be the most useful in your day-to-day work?

Do you think I left out any important questions? Is there anything else I should know?

Can you recommend any other sources that I could do an Informational Interview with?

Questions about the Career Field:

What skills or personal characteristics do you feel contribute most to success in this industry?

What trends in this field would be most likely to affect someone just entering this career now?

Are there professional organizations I should be aware of other than insert popular national organizations for your field?

What professional journals should I be aware of?

As technology grows, in what way is your occupation changing?

How is the economy affecting this industry?

What are the greatest pressures, strains or anxieties in this field?

Questions About Your Interviewee’s Job:

What precisely do you do? What are the duties/functions/responsibilities of your job?

What is your job title? Do other people in your company have the same title? If so, do they have the same job responsibilities?

What does your typical day look like?

How did you get this job?

How many hours do you work?

Do you work set hours or do you have a flexible schedule?

Who/ What positions do you frequently interact with in your position?

To what extent do you interact with customers/ clients?   How much time do you spend with clients?

How does use of your time vary? Do you have busy/slow times or is work fairly consistent?

What are your major job responsibilities?

What percentage of your time is spent on each of your job responsibilities?

What kinds of decisions do you make?   What are the toughest decisions you face at your job?

What interests you least about your job, and what creates the most stress?

What demands/ frustrations typically accompany your job?

If you could change anything about your job what would it be?

What types of technology do you use regularly?

How has your job affected your lifestyle?

Do you ever bring home work with you?

Do you put in much overtime or work on weekends?

To what extent does this job present a challenge in terms of juggling work and family life?

How well did your college experience prepare you for this job?

How much flexibility do you have in determining how to perform or execute your job?

Do you  mostly work individually or in groups or teams?

Are there aspects of your job that are repetitious?

How much job security do you have in your current position?

Questions About Your Interviewee’s Company:

Why did you decide to work for this company?

What do you like most about this company?

How does this company differ from its competitors?

How would you describe the company atmosphere/culture of your workplace?

How would you describe the atmosphere at the company? Is it fairly formal or more informal and casual?

Aside from visible compensation such as money, benefits etc., what kinds of mental dividends (such as job satisfaction) does this career yield?

Where do you see growth or change occurring in your organization/company?

What does the company do to foster innovation and creativity?

What is the management style of this organization?

Is there a typical chain of command where you work?

How are decisions made at your company; is it collaborative or do senior employees primarily make the decisions?

What is the dress code?

What is the pace of your work environment?

What are other typical jobs in your department –entry level, middle and senior roles?

At your company, what are the typical entry-level job titles and functions?

What degree or certifications do you/ your company look for in potential employees?

What is the typical job-interview process at your company? How many interviews do candidates generally go through before being offered a position?

What kind of work experience/ internship experience  are you/ your company looking for in a job applicant?

How does the company evaluate job performance?

What kinds of accomplishments does the company reward?

What social obligations go along with a job in this field? Are there organizations you are expected to take membership in? Are there other things you are expected to partake in outside of work hours?

What does the company do to contribute to its employees’ professional development?

Do people in your department function fairly autonomously or do they require a lot of supervision and direction?

Overachiever Questions:

“I looked through some of the job descriptions on the HR sector of your website in preparation for our interview today, most of the jobs I would be interested in listed insert skill, skill and skill as necessities. Can you tell me how those skills are used in this profession? Also, what skills do managers look for that are not in the job descriptions?

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I did my research: LEED AP ID+C

USGBC LEED symbol
So last December I passed the LEED Green Associate Exam, and that was amazing.
My tips for those of you studying for the LEED GA? Make flash cards of the vocabulary terms you learn from the various books/sources. Learn/memorize those 5-8 ASHRAE standards that relate to green building functions (know the basic function of which is which). Take as many online practice exams as you can find and study harder than you have for anything in your life. Use your best judgement on the questions and you’ll surprise yourself with how good of a score you get—after you think “there’s no way I passed this”.
Okay LEED GA pep talk over, now onto what this post is actually about: my research on LEED v4 and my prospects of taking the LEED AP exam for ID+C. For those of you new to LEED in it’s entirety I will quickly break down the basics:
LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) is a certification body under USGBC (United States Green Build Council). LEED is the main green building/sustainability certification body in the United States (there are others but LEED is the most recognized in the design/building industry). Buildings can be LEED CERTIFIED if they meet a certain amount of sustainable building criteria. There are 4 levels of LEED Certification (from lowest LEED points to highest) Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. An individual working in the design/building industry who is an expert in sustainable building practices would likely have attained this title by being LEED ACCREDITED. The appellation LEED AP stands for LEED Accredited Professional and there are several categories that someone can obtain their expertise in. The one I am interested in as it pertains most closely to my profession is the ID+C  (Interior Design & Construction) specialty. To obtain a LEED AP appellation you have to pass two parts of  the LEED exams: Part One is the LEED Green Associate (LEED GA) portion which can be taken as a student or interested party. The second part is the LEED AP specialty of your choice which is taken after you have real-life experience working on a LEED Certified project and/or under/with a LEED AP.
As far as what I mean by “LEED v4” is that they are in the process of updating the current system and lots of minor changes are being made. Supposedly the tests are going to be more difficult since the structure is changing—(eg. you already learned it one way and now it’s a whole new setup that you have to re-learn) so I’ve been getting bombarded for months with emails telling me to take the LEED AP while its still in the old system. I thought, “Gee that actually sounds like a great idea—why not take it while the LEED GA material is still relevant and fresh in my mind?” Well, it turns out I can’t do this since nothing I have done to date would count for my real-life LEED expereince qualifying me to take the LEED AP exam.
I fully read through the eligibility requirements in the LEED AP candidate exam booklet to find out that I can’t (and shouldn’t) take this test (or any specialty AP exams) until I’ve worked on a LEED project with a LEED AP. I also asked a young instructor from my Professional Practices in Interior Design class her thoughts since she is a LEED AP what her opinion was. She doubted my class project of the LEED home from last year would qualify me —also since you have to know the website inside and out for the exam it helps if you actually used it for a real project. (Makes sense).
For those of you like me who are making progress towards your LEED AP and still need CEU/ credit hours: check out the “Principles of LEED Series” for 6 hours of free credits through USGBC. You choose a “specialty” pathway but since its through USGBC your hours will update automatically on your profile.
I’m still in the process of finding out more about LEED v.4 since that’s coming out “soon” but I’m not really certain how soon “Soon” really is, since right now they are in Beta testing. Here’s what I could find about “LEED v4”,http://www.usgbc.org/leed/v4   it looks like things are combined a bit more as far as rating systems so yes—studying for it will definitely be some un-learning of old ways but that’s okay by me.

Modern Architecture Tour of Toledo & Class Field Trip Fun

Yesterday was actually way more fun than I had anticipated it would be. We had a class field trip for my “Modern Architecture Since 1900” class. We caravaned around Toledo stopping at the Toledo Public Library, My teacher’s personal home  that she designed (she’s an architect), the Glass Pavilion of the Toledo Museum of Art and the Frank Gehry building across the street from the Glass Pavilion—AKA the Art building for the students at the University of Toledo.

At her house we had a DELICIOUS meal of Carribean cuisine and I enjoyed a chicken kabob, the best hummus I’ve ever had and my first taste of baklava. I cannot reitterate enough how delicious it all was. In fact, I wish I had taken photos of the food just so you could drool over it as well. Instead I’ll show off a drool-worthy photo of her bathroom among others from the trip!

I apologize in advance: Sorry if some of these aren’t great quality—I had to take all of them on my iphone since my camera batteries (despite charging them) died about 10 minutes after we started. Also please don’t mind the heads of my classmates!

Toledo Public Library

Lucas County Public Library, Glass addition added in the 1980s, Colored Glass “Vitrolite” PWA art installation and the Rooftop Garden!

Toledo Public Library

Children’s Library: the first of its kind to be on the “piano nobile” or “noble floor” AKA main floor. Children’s libraries were in the basements for seperating the children and keeping them safe–it was an adult free zone unlike today. The area has a Rainbow Fish themed fishtank, many themed areas, child-height doors and fun carpeting!

Toledo Public Library

Since the original building was Art Deco, there were some amazing lighting fixtures: The large pendant over the entrance (left) and the space-age looking pendants that were through the entire main area (right top). The bottom right shows the old lighting fixtures that during the 1980’s addition & renovation were installed under glass as coffee tables!

Modern Architecture Toledo

This is my teacher’s house in Toledo, the front has a large fence closing off the road from the ivy garden. Inside the entire back is a glass window looking out into the woods. Her bathroom has the BEST view!

Toledo Museum of Art: Glass Pavilion

The Glass Pavilion really is glass–from floor to ceiling. They had to install the glass in grooves in the concrete floor and ceiling. Since the ceiling was there from the previous building they built a false exterior of plywood and installed the glass walls from the inside out. The far left shows the first piece installed in the building, a chandelier by Dale Chihuly. The bottom right shows one of the classrooms where glass artists can learn and work.

Frank Gehry Building Toledo

The University of Toledo Art building was designed by Frank Gehry. The inside has very sharp angles and doesn’t really feel like an art school (no art on the walls!) and the outside looks like a modern castle. Our teacher said the majority of people really don’t like this building–and I would have to agree with that group, it was definitely my least favorite of the trip.

 

Overall we had a fun day, luckily I had my friend Kim in the car with me so it wasn’t just me and two architecture students that I didn’t know. Lunch was amazing and all of us in my car had some good laughs about the things our teacher’s husband told us about their house (eg. we commented on how great the bathroom view was and he said “Yeah, we like to spend a lot of time in there”).

10 Tips When Shopping for College Textbooks

Shopping for college textbooks has been interesting every semester and after 10 semesters as a college student here’s my advice:

When buying textbooks first consider if this book might be something you intend to keep long term (books for your major are often helpful to keep vs. books for random required courses). Think about the condition of the book and look into options like paperback vs. hardback. Check your ISBN and make sure you’re getting the right one. Life can be made way harder if you’re using the wrong edition of a book (chapters are often all switched around and there may be things missing from your older edition).

1. Always buy Used (Almost Always):

Buying used often significantly drops the price of the book but usually doesn’t significantly drop the quality of the book itself. Books listed as “Like New” or “Very Good” Condition are my personal picks and I’ve never received a disappointment yet. If there is a CD or some kind of release code with the book that your teacher says is required you will need to buy new.

2. Avoid buying at the campus bookstore, but use their online comparison tool:

Most colleges are going to have some kind of textbook comparison tool or at least give you the price of the book in the bookstore, many of the textbook stores surrounding campus will do so as well. Periodically you will have to buy a book from your campus bookstore (often required writing courses will have books with worksheets and prompts developed by the writing center at your school) so you won’t be able to find these online.

3. Try the library:

Often your campus library, public library (or another campus that does inter-library loans) will be able to let you check out your textbook. Usually as long as  you remember to continually renew the book you can use it all semester–the one downfall to this is you cannot write/highlight directly in the book so get used to using post its for side notes and noting important sentences.

4. (Similarly) Renting books is often a good way to go:

This is especially true if your textbook is on the expensive end of the spectrum and you have absolutely no intention of keeping it. Paying $40 with no buyback money is often a better deal than paying $100 and having a chance at buyback.

Several services offer book rentals and some of my favorites are Amazon.com, BookRenter.com and Half.com. There are lots of others I can’t remember the names to currently and there is a possibility that your school offers a rental program as well.

5. No matter what the school tells you, you are not getting a good deal from them on your book buyback:

The one positive note about school sponsored book buybacks it that often they pay cash on the spot for your textbooks but can pay as little as 1/15th of what you paid. If you’re interested in getting more money for your book rather than fast money try selling it back on Amazon. What’s really nice these days is you can look up your textbook on Amazon and if they are buying it you can confirm your ISBN and ship it free to them (they send you a mailing label) and once they receive it you get paid! (Downfall: the money is not cash nor can it be cashed, it’s Amazon funds which is good towards just about every purchase on Amazon except for Amazon gift cards.)

6. Amazon is Amazing:

As if you didn’t already know this, but Amazon sells through themselves as well as through individual vendors who they have approved. Don’t forget to check out that you have the correct ISBN number, the book’s condition and the percentage rating of your seller before purchasing. Also like I said above, they buy your books back (I’ve actually made money on this once!) and the money you earn can be used towards buying next semester’s books (or anything else you might want) on Amazon.

7. Buy Books soon after you’ve received the list rather than moments before the semester starts:

Periodically a teacher will be a complete butt-wipe and switch all of the books you needed for their class but it doesn’t happen often so it’s better to buy in advance rather than worry if your books aren’t going to arrive in time for your first open-book quiz.

8. eBooks can sometimes be a great option:

eBooks are fabulous if you are someone who loves to carry around your tablet or laptop. They make it really easy to highlight passages and often have special features to help you study or look up vocabulary words.

If your laptop is kind of heavy (or you only have a desktop) and you don’t own a tablet—I don’t recommend this since often your professor will want you to bring your book in to class. Also if you get easily distracted and end up on Facebook or Pinterest…DON’T GET AN EBOOK! You’ll inevitably do it in class and get kicked out of class or miss something important. Also some teachers who have open-book exams don’t permit electronic devices so that’s another thing to consider.

9. Take care of your books after you’ve purchased them:

Don’t leave your books lying around, someone can easily steal them and sell them back to the bookstore for quick cash. Feel free to write/highlight in your books if your purchase of the book allows it (remember, no writing in library books and only in rentals if your agreement says so). If you don’t this can severely damage your likelihood of selling them back and people will judge you for your book looking sloppy (lots of bent pages, warped by spilled Gatorade etc.)

10. Actually read your textbooks:

Whoever is paying for your education whether that’s you, a family member or someone else  benefits the most when you really take school seriously and do your assignments. Often you may be assigned what seems to be an ungodly amount of reading but push through it—take notes and breaks to actually comprehend what you’ve read rather than  reading without absorbing anything. Better yet, read the next section before class so you know which parts didn’t make sense to you and you can ask the teacher for clarification on those areas.

More tips on study habits and effective reading to come, but to my current college students —did I miss anything about good advice when shopping for textbooks?

Pikini–The Creepy App that helps you find photos of your friends in bathing suits

pikinis

I just received the email above. Obviously this is super creepy and any woman in her right mind would do what I did and send the email to Junk mail. After doing some research though, sadly this is a real thing and not just an internet scam—it’s a real app created by guys who I’m sure are real skeezy. An app to find your friends’ “bikini” photos? Jeez. If you want to learn more about how this is unfortunately real—I found a nice article by the Huffington Post.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/25/pikinis-app-facebook-bikini-pictures_n_3154275.html