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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Questions to Ask Before You Get Married

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This weekend Theo and I went back to our hometown of Geneva for the annual Grape JAMboree. It reminded me of the last time we passed through when I took this photo: This summer we took a trip to the Rochester, New York Area where his brother, sister-in-law and niece lives. From Toledo that’s quite a drive and we had a great time; I finally got to meet his sweet little niece.

One of the things we did to pass the time was some questions I had found online of “Questions to Ask Before You Get Married”. Below I have listed a bunch of the ones I picked out and categorized for your convenience. There are tons more on the internet so don’t stop here if you want to get to know your significant other better. Theo and I have been together for over 6 years and based on our personality types one of the ways we really connect is through long, thoughtful conversations so this is great for us and we’ve already covered the basics. For example, we’ve already discussed many parenting ideas not just “Do you want to have kids?” “How many?” So without further adieu, here are some more in-depth questions to discuss before you get married AND the bottom has a surprise for you all!

LOVE, COMMUNICATION & SEX

What is the best way for me to show you that I love you?
If I put on weight will it affect our relationship? How?
What turns you off sexually?
Do you think being in love means (1) Never having to say you’re sorry, (2) always having to say you’re sorry, (3) knowing when to say you’re sorry, (4) being the first to say I’m sorry?
Have the been times when you were uncomfortable I behaved with the opposite sex? If so, when?
Suppose we are experiencing trouble in our marriage, in what order will you seek help to resolve our conflicts: (1) divorce lawyer, (2) your parents, (3) sibling(s) [we also included friends here] (4) marriage counselor, (5) me, (6) clergy
Do you believe that you should stick with a marriage if you are unhappy all the time?
When do you need space away from me?
Whenever we have difficult feelings about each other should we (1) remain silent, (2) say something as soon as the difficult feelings arise (3) wait a certain amount of time before raising the issue, (4) do something else (if so, what?)?
What is the best way for me to communicate difficult feelings about you so that you are not offended?
Who should know about the arguments we have?
What makes you not want to talk to me?
Do you feel you could communicate with me under any circumstances about any subject?
When you are in a bad mood how should I deal with it?
What are your views on pornography?

FINANCES

Would you be comfortable transferring all of your money into my bank account?
Do you trust me with money?
What justifies going in to debt?
What are your current personal debts?
Do you feel stress when facing financial problems? How do you deal with that stress?
How often do you use credit cards and what do you buy with them?
How should we prepare for a financial emergency?
Do you feel that lack of money is a good reason not for us to have children?
When our child is very young, will he or she go to daycare or will one of us stay home and take care of the child? (If yes to the second, who would work and who would stay home?)
Will we have a budget?
Who will pay the bills?
How do you feel about helping me pay my debts?
What are your feelings about saving money?
Do you prefer separate bank accounts or assets in different names? Why?
Do you believe our parents should know our financial condition whether good or bad just because they want to? How far should this go?

FAMILY & FUTURE

How would our relationship be affected if for medical reasons we could not have children?
If we are unable to have children, should we adopt?
Who comes first—your spouse or your children?
When we are married do you anticipate spending just as much time with friends, family and coworkers as you do now? Why or why not?
How did your family resolve conflicts when you were growing up? Do you approve or disapprove of that method?
Would you prefer to live in the city, country, by the beach (etc.)? Why?
If I wanted to move away from our families would you support me?
How do feel about having our parents come live with us if the need arises?
How will we schedule holidays with our families?
How long would you like to wait before we have children?
Do you anticipate raising our children (1) the same way you were raised (2) completely different from the way you were raised (3) a mixture of both?
Other than formal schooling what types of education will our children receive and how will they receive them?
When we have children who will change the diapers, heat the bottles, prepare the meals, do the housework, bathe the child, get up in the middle of the night, take the child to the doctor, buy clothing, dress the child?
What types of discipline would you implement to correct a child or teenager’s behavior? Were these practices you experienced or are they new ones you have developed on your own?
What does my family do that annoys you?
How would you react if our son or daughter told us they were gay?
What influence, if any, do you believe my family should have on our relationship?

MISCELLANEOUS

What childhood experiences influence your behavior and attitude the most?
Is trust automatic until something occurs that takes it away, or does it evolve over time?
Would it be permissible for us to open each other’s mail?
How are we different? Could this be a source of future conflict? Do our differences complement one another?
Is there anything about marriage that frightens you?
How would it affect you if I traveled frequently on my own to (1) visit family, (2) earn income, (3) pursue a hobby, (4) deal with stress?
How will you support my hobbies?
Is there anything you would regret not being able to do or accomplish if you married me?
What is nagging? Do I nag? How does it make you feel?
Do you approve without reservation of the way I dress?
If you always say you are going to do something but never do it, what is the most effective way to bring this problem to your attention?
What holidays are most important to celebrate to you?
Are there certain holiday traditions you want to establish or maintain?
Do you harbor any racial/ spiritual etc. prejudice?
How do you feel about having guns in our home?
What health problems do you have?
Have you ever had any psychological problems?
Is there anything in your past I should be aware of?
Do you keep letters/ memorabilia from past relationships? Why or why not?
If I had bad breath or an odor would you tell me? Should I tell you? How should I tell you?
Do you look forward to at least one night out a week, or do you prefer to stay at home?
How would you rank the priorities in your life: work, school, family, spouse, friends, hobbies? Does your ranking reflect the amount of time you spend on each?
Do you prefer to set a daily work schedule or flexible work activities and time tables?
What do you fear?
What is your all-time favorite Halloween costume?

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Theo as a Vampire, what a little cutie!

Here’s your surprise: Theo’s answer to this question was one that he described to me as we were driving in the car. I had never seen the picture. I saw the picture a few days later on Facebook. The first Halloween photo I found of him was above. Typical Theo, flashing a beaming smile even when he was supposed to be Dracula.

What was his actual answer to his favorite Halloween costume of all time?

His mom made him into Uncle Fester  from the Addams Family. His outfit was covered in nails and check out “Thing” (the creepy doll arm) on his shoulder. This was definitely an awesomely creative work of art by his Mom—and potentially the creepiest photo I have ever seen of my amazing boyfriend. My personal answer? I was little orphan Annie one year but there are no photos to show a record of that. I’ll see what I can scrounge up later today for your enjoyment!

Theo's All-Time Favorite Halloween Costume: Uncle Fester from the Addams Family!

Theo’s All-Time Favorite Halloween Costume: Uncle Fester from the Addams Family!

What are your favorite questions that I missed? What is your favorite Halloween costume of all time?

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?

Once A Month Cooking AKA Freezer Cooking

I’m really looking at once-a-month cooking as an option for me. I’m young and live alone and anyone who has done this knows how difficult it is to cook for only one person without A) eating the same thing for days upon days or B) food going bad. I have unfortunately done both and as a result dread cooking that involves pots and pans when I know I’m only going to eat a small portion and don’t have lots of time for dishes.

The option of making things so I can heat up one small portion and then have another individual portion of something else tomorrow is a great idea and a definite time saver when I just want to eat after a long day at work and school. I’ll keep you all in the blog world updated on how this goes and I plan to post pictures and give reviews on how well things froze and reheated as I cook and eat them. Until then, I’m going to continue to look up recipes and freezing techniques so once I move into my new apartment next month I can get started!