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Informational interviews are an amazing and necessary tool to use during your job search. If you’re not doing them you are missing a great opportunity to not only network, but to further yourself and your knowledge about the industry you’re looking to transition into.

Where do I even start?

Networking is the key to obtaining an informational interview. Getting the interview can be challenging if you are not a well-connected person. Start by asking your close friends and family if they know anyone who would be willing to meet up with you to discuss their career path and your interests in the field. Go to job fairs or networking events and ask for business cards. Reach out to people on LinkedIn who share a connection or alma mater with you. And if you do land an informational interview, don’t forget to ask that person to connect you with more professionals who can offer their advice and guidance.

Ideally, the interview would take place in person, but if that’s unlikely, set up a 30 minute phone call. The important thing to remember is that the other person is doing you a favor, so be flexible and give them options. And if you’re lucky enough to meet for lunch, buy their meal.

Ok, so I have the interview set up. Now what?

Research and prepare! Do not go in thinking you are just going to wing this. Prepare for your informational interview just as you would a real job interview. Research the company, research the professionals you are meeting with, and prepare a list of well thought-out questions about everything relevant. Most likely the conversation will flow naturally, but especially for a phone interview where time is limited and you lack that face to face connection, you want to make sure that the most important questions are answered and you present yourself like the professional you are.

Can you give me some examples of questions I might ask?

I have a list of questions I like to ask, but I usually find myself revising them based on my research and the professional’s area of expertise, which you should, too. But here are a few I almost always find myself asking after introducing myself:

  • As _______ at _______, what are your main duties and responsibilities?
  • What do you like most about working at/in __________?
  • What is the biggest challenge you face as a professional in ___________?
  • Out of all your experience, what has contributed the most to your success?
  • Could you recommend any resources to help me develop myself and my skills for a career in _______?

Remember to NEVER, EVER ask for a job. This is not a job interview and the professional has no obligations to talk about one. If they offer to take a look at your resume, great! If not, it’s ok to ask them to give advice for resume revision or if they would mind keeping it on file in case something comes up in the future. Just don’t be pushy. This is a chance for you to show them your potential as a future professional in their industry. Who knows? If you make a good impression, the possibilities are endless. At the very least you will have a connection at that company, which means a lot these days.

I already have a job. Should I still be doing informational interviews?

Yes! Even if you are gainfully and happily employed, I would 100% encourage conducting informational interviews within your company. Not only does learning more about your company and the people you work with make you a better, more well-rounded professional, but in the case you wish to transition to another department in the future, you will already have the connections in place.

And don’t forget to follow up and thank them!

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Life after college can be tough. If you don’t have a position lined up you could be job searching for months. If you’re not ready for your typical 9-5 experience, or if you have no idea what it is you want to be doing, there are other opportunities out there that will help you find yourself and your passion. It takes a lot of courage and initiative, but if you’re willing to take that step it will change your life forever – guaranteed.

To learn more check out my guest post over at University Ave:

Extending Your Education By Working Abroad.

It’s great to see that the E.E.O.C. is paying attention to structural discrimination and enforcing change to push back against it. You can read the full article by the New York Times here.

Recognizing de facto discrimination and the implications it has on society is the first step to structuring your policy to protect not only your employees, but also your organization from discrimination lawsuits.

Whether we like it or not, we all have inherent preferences for a certain kind of people based on anything ranging from race, age, sex, appearance, religion, etc. If you disagree I recommend you take Harvard’s Implicit Association Test to see where your preferences lay. Don’t worry about anyone seeing the results either; the test is completely anonymous.

I always joke that while I am conversational in Korean, I am completely fluent in Konglish, a mix of Korean + English. Konglish can refer to a number of language styles adopted by Koreans, one being the adoption of English words into the Korean vocabulary. These “Konglish” words may be English, but unless you’re familiar with them, it would be hard to recognize due to the difference in the sounds of the English and Korean alphabets.

서비스 (seo-bi-suh) is one of my favorite Konglish words. Can you guess the English equivalent? It’s “service” and when used in Korean the meaning changes a bit. When we refer to “service” we might be thinking of an act that helps us, something provided to help us, or something useful. The Korean “service”, however, is referring to freebies given to the customer out of gratitude for their service. It’s like a “return the favor” deal. It’s so popular that places that don’t offer “service” would be looked at unfavorably.

Here’s a scenario for you. Korea is littered with beauty shops selling cosmetics, nail polishes, hair products, and the like. Many times there would be an employee standing outside offering customers a free gift for just coming in the store. You didn’t even have to buy anything! And if you did buy something, be ready for a TON of samples thrown in your bag. The more you buy, the more freebies you receive, but occasionally I walked in to buy one nail polish and walked out with the freebies totaling more than my actual purchase.

Not only do they offer freebies, but these shops would be falling behind their competitors if they didn’t offer a point card that could be redeemed for coupons, discounts, and even more freebies.

The larger organizations make sure they’re not falling behind in the service department. Particularly larger stores and banks make sure a greeter is in place to welcome the customers and help them in any way possible from the beginning of their experience all the way to the end. This has proved to be useful many times when visiting the bank, since the greeter will also assist you with the ATMs and other machines in the lobby. Ever walk into a bank and feel out of place and like you don’t know what you’re doing? Not in Korea.

The grocery stores in Korea also have their own special touches when it comes to service. They take being on sale to the next level. It’s not uncommon to find extras taped to your favorite products. Not only is it good incentive to buy that product, but it’s exposure to a new one as well. I used to say that I wouldn’t buy cereal if it didn’t come with something free attached to it – and I was only semi-joking.

Now, does all this happen in the USA? I believe it does, but not to the extent to where we’re really taking note.

Not to say that there aren’t problems with the service in Korea. The main complaints I’ve heard have been that the employees feel the need to lurk or follow you around while you’re browsing, sometimes pressuring you to buy and getting angry if you don’t. It stands to say that making your customers feel uncomfortable isn’t good for business, even if they do end up buying something.

If I could sum up Korean service to you, I would have to emphasize the attention to detail and respect for the customer. Show interest in a certain product? You get free samples of similar ones. Need something gift wrapped for free? A professional couldn’t do a better job. Look even a bit lost and confused? Someone will be there for you in a matter of moments. And you can always expect a friendly hello and goodbye every time.

So you’re single. (Again.) Maybe someone recently exited or was dismissed and you’re looking for a replacement. Or perhaps there have been some recent developments and you find yourself searching for the right person to add to your team. Either way, you know you’re ready to mingle, with the end goal of finding a longtime teammate.

So, according to Full Life Cycle Recruitment strategies, what should come first?

1. Understanding Your Goals

Dating is a disaster if you don’t have a good understanding of who you are, what your needs are, and what is non-negotiable in a partner. Evaluate your situation and having a clear and appealing description of what you’re looking for is vital to positively represent your brand (in this case, yourself) and attract the best candidates. Similarly, a strategic recruiter will research everything they can about the open position to get the best possible idea of the model candidate.

2. Determining and Carrying Out Your Strategy

After you know exactly what you’re looking for, it’s time to devise a plan on where and how to find it. Ideally, this will be one that saves both time and money. You need to identify your talent pools and figure out a way to reach them. When trying to get a date, people typically do all the things a recruiter might. They’ll post a personal ad in the local paper (advertisement for the job opening), ask their friends to set them up (ask for referrals), connect on social media (networking), scour the dating websites (job boards!), visit new places (attend interest groups), and maybe even flip through their little black book (database scrapping, anyone?). It’s also important to differentiate yourself during this stage to reduce competition, since we all know top talent isn’t on the market for long.

3. Interviewing/Candidate Assessment

How isn’t a first date like a job interview? This is the “getting to know you” stage where you might be talking to multiple candidates at the same time, with the goal of narrowing it down to one. If the candidates are impressive in the first interview, they get to go on a second. Just like dating there are different kinds of interviews and assessment techniques: phone calls, background checks (Facebook stalking?), soft skills evaluation, meeting the co-workers/friends, and possibly even technical evaluation, if you want your future boyfriend to be able to fix your computer when it crashes.

4. The Offer and Placement

Okay, here’s where it begins to get a little dicey. In this stage of recruitment, the protocol is pretty clear: make an offer, negotiate, and manage the hiring process and orientation if the candidate accepts. Ideally, dating would be this clear-cut. You have the “talk”, negotiate the terms of your relationship, and then adapt this person into your life. Perhaps if steps 1-3 are followed perfectly you can increase your chances of a harmonious transition.

5. Following Up

After the new role is established, it’s important to maintain that relationship to avoid turnover, which is depressing and expensive, not to mention a major waste of time. Open communication will reduce conflicts or issues down the road. Now comes the part where dating is almost 100% not like recruiting, or at least shouldn’t be. Even in the case that a candidate turns down the interview or offer, a recruiter might try to keep that connection positive and viable. If something changes in the future to draw that candidate back in, or if that candidate could refer someone just as qualified, it’s not a bridge you should be burning.

But if someone rejects you and your offer while dating, you’d be better off lighting that fire and never looking back.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Last week Maryland passed a law prohibiting companies from asking employees or job candidates their social media login information, becoming the first state in the US to do so. Other states are assumed to follow suit, but it seems to be one of those issues people can’t stop talking about after the initial article was posted on AP about a case in Seattle. Everyone has an opinion they want to share, so I figured it was my time to add my 2 cents  into the jackpot.

So, employers requiring employees/candidates to hand over their passwords, okay or not? For personal and legal reasons, I say not.

When I first learned about the instance in Seattle, I was surprised that an interviewer would request that information during an interview. Then I was even more surprised when I learned this practice has gone on in a sheriff’s department in my own state for several years.

The reason why I say I personally disagree is mainly due to the obvious abuse of power in the situation. Especially during a job interview, the interviewee is clearly at a disadvantage, some even more so than others depending on how badly they need the job. Sure, people have said if you want the job badly enough, you’ll do it, but is it ethical to put someone in that sort of uncomfortable position? Invading another person’s social media site is a major invasion of privacy and personally, I’m not sure an organization that works that way is the kind I want to be affiliated with. If the working environment is uncomfortable, I think it would be fair to say that the top talent at the organization will be looking to move on.

Some, however, claim this practice is working in their favor. The sheriff’s office that requires their applicants to sign into their social media sites explained they’re looking for “inappropriate pictures and illegal behavior.” While I understand the illegal behavior part, something bothers me about the inappropriate pictures. While many people could agree on what would constitute as “inappropriate,” some may have a completely different idea. It’s for this reason defining “obscene” is so difficult. This is where I begin to disagree on a legal basis. My point is, there needs to be laws in place to protect not only the employee in the situation, but the employer as well, in the case a discrimination lawsuit arises.

There are a number of topics that cannot be touched on during a job interview according to federal, state, and local laws. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion, or national origin. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that employers cannot require pre-employment medical exams nor can they inquire about disabilities except in very rare cases. Other laws make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and pregnancy. Hairstyle, tattoos, and body piercings have also been an issue in discrimination lawsuits.

Now, with all those protection laws in place, checking an applicant’s Facebook page would open up a number of legality issues. For example, many of those qualities in applicants, such as race, color, sex, etc., can be easily found out during an interview. However, others can not. If it’s illegal to ask whether someone is married, why is it okay to check it on their Facebook? What if your applicant is 100% professional at work, but an interviewer views a picture of him/her displaying tattoos and piercings and deems it to be “inappropriate”? Others may want to keep their personal life, e.g. religion, sexual preference, private from their co-workers due to possible judgement or prejudice. Should we force them to share information that has no effect on their professional ability?

As I mentioned before, I understand why some employers might feel asking employees to log on to their sites is a way to ensure the person will positively represent their organization. I just feel that by requiring that information, they’re actually doing the opposite and as a result, turn off a lot of top performing employees. If you also add in the risk of possible discrimination lawsuits, I’m not convinced this is a beneficial practice for employers to follow.

한국어: 대한민국의 나라문장 English: The coat of arms of S...

한국어: 대한민국의 나라문장 English: The coat of arms of South Korea Español: escudo de Corea del Sur 日本語: 大韓民国の国章 中文: 大韩民国国徽 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This blog is mainly for transitioning into HR, but today I’d like to write more about cultural transition. I’m a huge advocate for working abroad and I truly believe that without global knowledge you are limiting your professional and personal opportunities.

I’ve been back in the States for just over a month now, so between job hunting and trying to stay on top of all things HR-related, I’ve had some time to think about the transition from Asia back to the USA. While the big move has been smoother than I thought it would be, there have been a few unexpected challenges along the way.

In the beginning, the hardest part was getting over the jet lag. They say it takes one day per every hour in the time difference – and they were right. (South Korea is 14-15 hours ahead of Chicago, by the way.) Despite being awake at odd hours it felt almost too easy to get back into a few old routines. Some were nice, like driving to the mall while listening to the radio or spending a weekend with my family. Other habits needed to be restricted, like eating CHEESE for every meal and watching reality TV. I wouldn’t want to further enforce the typical “American” stereotype I’ve fought against for the past 3.5 years.

Everyone had warned me about the reverse culture shock, which I had experienced during previous visits back to the US: the momentary surprise when hearing little kids speaking English, seeing non-Asian employees at the airport, and even the terrible customer service at shops in the mall. Coming back this time around will be even worse, I thought. But the culture “shock” hasn’t been so shocking at all. Maybe I knew what to expect, so this time it’s more like small realizations that pop up now and then that remind me how every day life is very much influenced by our country and culture.

I’ll give you a couple of examples.

One of the “challenges” I found myself facing is the ridiculous amount of CHOICES I have here in America. I was so excited to go to the grocery store once I got back, but when I stepped in and looked just at the cereal aisle, I knew I was in over my head. Likewise, my choices at the movie theater have now increased at least x10. I’m not saying I don’t like having all these choices, but now I wonder how much more of my time will be wasted researching what product I’m willing to spend my money on.

Koreans have just as many wants and needs as Americans, but our economy is less dominated by particular companies and organizations, increasing competition. In Korea, the winners are clear.

Another challenge was every time I came back to the States from Korea I would get a little “shock” or sometimes a bit nervous about social situations. It took me a little getting used to, but after a month or so in Korea I had pretty much gotten all the acceptable social behavior down, e.g. bowing when greeting/saying goodbye, handing something to another person with two hands, facing away when drinking in the presence of elders, etc. So after doing all these things for months and months on end, I had to remind myself that it wasn’t necessary in America.

I remember worrying about accidentally shaking someone’s hand using both hands during a job interview in America, since it is a sign of politeness and respect to do so in Korea and I had done it for so long. While I might still hand something over using both hands, I realized practice makes perfect. And honestly, I’d rather be too polite than not polite at all. Thank you for that, Korea.

Overall, like I mentioned before, the transition has been a smooth one with very few bumps. But this is coming back to my home country, where I spent most of my life. The transition to Korea was much more challenging than anything I’ve ever done in my life. But it was also the best decision I’ve ever made. Sometimes the hardest decisions to make turn out to be the ones that are impossible to regret. I can only hope that my decision to move back to the States and pursue a career in HR will be as rewarding as the one I made 3.5 years ago.

So far, so good.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Today I had the opportunity to participate in the first Twitter discussion (hashtag #peoplechat) lead by PeopleClues, a global provider of assessment technology. The weekly chat sessions will be held every Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. CST. PeopleClues and its moderators will pose questions and encourage discussions on topics relating to HR.

Today’s topic was Culture and HR, which is right up my alley, so I was sure to tune in. I’d never taken part in one of these rapid-fire discussions on Twitter before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It lasted for 30 minutes, but it felt like only 3 by the time everyone signed off and all that was left was the last bit of the high I was getting by just clicking the refresh button over and over again, hoping for yet another great question or answer put out by the many participants, and perhaps, if I was very lucky, another mention directed at me, hehe. (I know, but I don’t think anyone can disagree that it is infinitely more fun to participate when you’re getting positive feedback.)

PeopleClues does plan to post a recap of the #peoplechat discussion tomorrow on their blog, but I’d like to do a mini-recap of my own. Unfortunately it will mostly be from memory alone. Lesson learned: next time, take notes!

The first question that was posed was what you can do to improve culture when it’s less than impressive to begin with. While all suggestions were well thought-out and helpful, a few of the responses were re-tweeted by PeopleClues. Those answers centered around acknowledging that there is a problem, facing it head on, and making a change! My tweet, the idea to ask the employees what they think is the problem and how it can be improved, was also a common theme in the answers for question one. Overall, I guess we learned, if it doesn’t work, fix it until it does!

After ten minutes of discussing how to improve culture, the second question on how to foster an innovative and creative working environment was posted. This time PeopleClues also offered their own answer, suggesting “hire the right people, be the culture, employees will follow!” Another great answer reminded to minimize negativity by taking employee input and feedback seriously. Personally, my favorite theme in the answers for question two was investing in your employees by offering ways to develop themselves and their skills. If your employees are learning and happy, productivity and retention will increase. Can’t go wrong there, folks.

Finally it was time for the last question of the week: “What is one thing you do to develop your culture from the top down?” Suggestions ranged from setting good examples to making sure to be transparent about what’s going on at all times. Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was done. And wait, I think someone also mentioned free yogurt for everyone?

Be sure to join the #peoplechat Twitter discussion next week on Tuesday at 12:30 CST. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next!

The more I think about it, the more I realize how many similarities there are between managing a classroom and managing a workplace. I would like to clarify that I am not equating an organization’s employees to a room full of students. However, I have noticed that many of the methods used in the classroom to increase participation and confidence of the students can be compared to how HR might try to boost performance and morale in the workplace, especially when money is not, or cannot, be a factor. (Since it should not be considered as a factor for students.)

During my time working as a teacher in South Korea, I had the opportunity to learn by experience and from my colleagues what techniques work as an effective motivator for students. I found that students respond most positively to different forms of recognition, appreciation, and praise. Here are a few examples of the methods I used to enforce and how they might relate to those used in the workplace:

Certificates for “Best/Most”

I used to teach themed summer and winter programs for the students during their school vacation. At the end of each week we would have a rewards ceremony, where each student would get a certificate and small prize for the work they had done, e.g. “Most Improved”, “Most Helpful”, “Best Speech”, etc. They loved it because I was recognizing and appreciating their individual strengths, and it made them look good in front of their friends.

Just like I took the time to know my students, I think it’s important to look for and recognize each employee’s strengths and what they are bringing to the table. When performance and morale are low, you might try to consider your own awards ceremony for your company. Let them know it’s coming up, what awards will be given, and what they can do to give them a leg up. Or don’t let them know and hand out certificates randomly for fun. Perhaps every time they get a certificate they can also receive a raffle ticket and your department can hold a raffle at the end of each month. And of course, never underestimate sincere praise.

Parties/Special Activity Days

Sometimes the students need a fun day to look forward to. Even the teacher does at times. When the students were working particularly hard for a few weeks, or when a holiday was coming up, I made sure to plan a fun activity or party to give them something to look forward to. If my students didn’t like the classes, their participation and effort was less than stellar, to say the least. A special day gave them a chance to relax, have fun, and get to know the teacher and their classmates in a more comfortable environment.

Just like the students, if employees never have anything to look forward to at work, their performance may suffer as a result. Even a small thing, like recognizing and celebrating a birthday or length of service could have a positive effect on morale. A team building field trip, a fun outing, or a holiday party could also reinforce a sense of belonging and friendship between co-workers, which in turn would boost morale and performance.

Level Up System

I noticed that students performance would increase if they thought they were going to acquire something. But when they kept acquiring the same prize, such as candy, again and again, they began to get bored and performance would drop. I decided to implement a “Level Up” system where if they collected ten stickers they got a chance to level up to a new title, such as “Captain, Colonel, Vice-President”, and get a prize. Not only that, but the higher the level, the better the prize would be. And some of the higher prizes were mysteries, which of course made them want them even more. This leveling up reward system was by far the most effective I’ve used to increase student performance and participation.

With some modification, I believe a level up system could also be used in the workplace. Maybe instead of the raffle I mentioned earlier, you could keep track of employees’ accomplishments or hand out tickets for a job well done or a “caught you having fun at work” idea. If they collect a certain amount, they could obtain a new “title” or small reward, such as a gift certificate. Or even both. In any event, it would give them a reason to perform well and would act as recognition not only from those organizing the system, but their co-workers and managers as well.

Personalized Rewards

Candy. Chocolate. Snacks. Many students responded very well to those kinds of rewards. But did all? Interestingly enough, some didn’t! In that case, in order to motivate everyone it’s important to know your students and know what kind of reward they will appreciate, because if they don’t want to the reward, why should they do the work to get it?

Just like the students, it’s important to reward your employees accordingly. Similar to how many organizations offer personalized benefits, rewards should be personalized as well. If you have no idea what they want, ask them for ideas. Maybe some would like a day off to spend time with their children. Maybe some would like to leave early on a Friday. Your workplace is made up of diverse people with different backgrounds from different generations. It would be presumptuous to assume the same reward would work for all.

Student/Teacher Outing

If there’s one thing students respond very well to, it’s positive attention from the teacher. One reward in my classroom was a teacher/student outing, where we would go to a movie together, or have a lunch together. I even did this during my elementary school days and absolutely loved it. It’s a good opportunity to build a better student/teacher relationship as well as give the student a chance to feel seen, rather than just another face in the crowd.

Why not try this at work, and organize a lunch with the boss for a small group of employees? Not only will it make the employees feel recognized and appreciated, but it would give the manager the chance to get to know his employees on a more personal level. The supervisor/employee relationship is one not to be taken for granted.

These are just my observations and ideas about the similarities between boosting participation and confidence in the classroom versus increasing performance and morale in the workplace. I hope to someday have the chance to transfer my skills acquired as a teacher to my future company as an HR professional.

What is your opinion about the correlations between the classroom and the workplace? What are your methods and techniques for boosting performance and morale?

Remember my post “Starting the Job Search is Half the Battle” about how just getting over that initial hill was the hard part? Well, I forgot to mention the first hill might just be one of many.

Unless you’re very lucky, the hills in our job search are inevitable. We run into them for various reasons: illness, vacations, personal issues, lack of motivation, etc. In my case, a weeklong trip to Thailand followed by a relocation to the States from South Korea slowed me down quite a bit more than I had anticipated. I found myself having to start the battle once again.

The good news is, you’re not really starting from square one. You’ve got all your basics down from the first round, e.g. your resume, cover letter ideas, job searching strategies, etc., so starting up will come more naturally this time around. But if you’re like me, you’ll want to decrease the chances of ending up at the bottom of a hill once again. That’s when I read an article written by Tim Tyrell-Smith titled “Structure: Is It Missing In Your Job Search?” which I think just might be the solution to this very common problem.

Most people need structure in their life. It gives you a sense of control and it motivates you to continue on with whatever you’re doing. When you are held accountable to adhere to a structure, it is even more effective, such as at work or school.

While many people comment that job searching is a full-time job in itself, it lacks the structure and accountability of most jobs. As the article points out, if you are coming from your typical 8-5 company position to a full-time job search, you may find yourself lacking the motivation and organization necessary to be as successful as you hoped.

The article suggests a few ways to give your job search some structure and, in turn, increase productivity. Personally, I like the tips to set weekly goals and to structure your days in advance. I’ve also heard many times that it is helpful to be as specific as possible in your job search objective, bug I think there should be a little leeway with this. Being specific will help you when searching for positions and while networking and researching, but I think it’s also helpful to remain open to all possibilities.

I’m going to leave you with a few job search goals of my own.

1. Always get an early start. If you want the job, you need to train your body like you already have it. Sleeping in only makes you feel sluggish and might be another excuse to “start fresh tomorrow.”

2. Set a plan for what you want to do each day. For example, the first half of the day might be dedicated to searching and applying, while the second half might be for research or networking. Breaking up your schedule will make your day less monotonous and hold your focus for longer.

3. Find ways to improve your skills. I plan to continue talking to HR professionals, reading HR books, attending classes and meetings, researching and writing, basically anything that will allow me to utilize this free time in a way that will benefit my career.

I’ll let you know how it all goes. In the meantime, what are your job search goals and how do you make sure you stay motivated?