Four tips for your next informational interview request…

First, let me set the scene: Perhaps you are someone looking for your first job or you are someone looking to switch jobs and want to learn more about what is out there. In this process, you are doing unpaid research to see what exists, where you could go, and how to market yourself in the labor market. Let’s say you encounter someone online whose job you think is especially interesting and you could imagine yourself doing, so you decide to approach them for an informational interview.

I study labor and serve as an organizer because I believe it’s the best way I can contribute. I am especially interested in the role of social networks and employment and finding ways to reduce “friction” that people encounter when looking for the right jobs for them. Like many of my peers, I get a LOT of informational interview requests and I try to take as many as I can but it adds up over time. Let’s say 20 people ask me in a week (which does happen sometimes). Each of those 30 minute phone calls adds up, so even if I try to make time for 4 of them in a week, that’s 2 hours of additional unpaid labor a week to my workload. I do it because I believe in reducing the employment “friction” issue, but these are some things I wish people who reached out to me would keep in mind.

1. Do your research and ask me interesting questions. If our conversation is interesting, I will remember you. If you ask me generic questions, I will be frustrated and not impressed. Do not ask me how I got to this job when you can look at my LinkedIn profile and see my history. Do not ask me what I did before or what I studied, again, listed on my LinkedIn profile and my blog. If you did a little research and looked me up you could answer that for yourself. Make this time an interview about things you could not see online and show me you came to the conversation prepared.

2. 30 minutes is not a lot of time for me to get to know you and I will not be able to tell you what you should do. It’s easier if you come to the conversation having a sense of yourself. What do you need in an environment to thrive? What kind of work can you imagine doing day after day without losing your mind?

3. A lot of people show up and tell me about how great my job would be for them, which isn’t a good “sales” strategy. It’s hard to tell from the outside, but you’re much more convincing and appealing if you can tell me how you would play with or build something I do. I’m a researcher, if you want to do research tell me about an experiment you’d run or questions that keep you up at night. I scream internally every time someone generically tells me, “I’m good at research.” Like public speaking, it’s a skill people often take for granted. Show me some concrete evidence, the way a researcher would.

4. After the call, say thank you. Extra points for writing back to me after the call to say thank you for taking time to talk to me. And if you ask for a favor and/or someone follows up with feedback on something, say thank you again. They don’t have to do this… be polite and say thank you.

There are times you need to have a very open and exploratory conversation. I encourage you to have those with peers and mentors, sometimes even your family. I explored jobs by reading websites like the Muse and then following researchers whose work I found especially interesting, see how they got to where they were. I explored skills I had and tried to see how I could market them. I also spent time thinking about what I enjoyed doing day to day, acknowledging things I “thought I should want to do” that I didn’t and leaving those behind. I think it’s a slow discovery process for everyone and it’s ok to ask for help. I share these ideas to help you make the most of your time reaching out to people and to respect the time of those who offer to help you. Good luck!

Photo credit: Nicolas Nova / Flickr

A doctor’s role in a community: reflections from a yale med student

I found Michael sitting in a café on Yale’s campus early on a Saturday morning. I arrived to write up my questions before my last interview on my revisit for the Ph.D. program at the Yale School of Management and was surprised to see someone else here. The café had only been open for 20 minutes and the campus was mostly empty while most of the students were on spring break. There was room at the table beside him, so I sat down and asked him, “what are you reading?”

“A book about eye examinations and diagnosis. It’s for an Ophthalmology class I’m taking at the medical school.” He was holding a highlighter in his right hand, and had been flipping back and forth between pages with a very serious expression on his face when I interrupted him.

“Do you like the class?”
“Yes. The faculty who teach it are trying to convince us to join their specialization.” And after a pause where he looked off into the room behind me absently, he added, “It has instilled a joy of medicine in me that my other courses haven’t.” There was weariness to his tone. Maybe medical school wasn’t what he expected it to be.

“What kind of patients do you want to work with?”
Like he was apologizing to me, he said, “I want to support a patient population that doesn’t trust physicians and who has been under-served by the medical system, like undocumented workers, low-income people, people of color…”

“Does your medical school do a good job reaching out to them?”
He thought for a minute, looking down at his lap as he responded. “Yes, it’s part of our curriculum. We talk about how to take care of them.” Though, it seemed, maybe not as well as he hoped.

“What are the biggest barriers for them?”
He looked up again. “Lack of access — I mean physical and financial access. Distrust of the medical system.”

Overcome with my own curiosity, I asked, “How do people rebuild that trust?”
“Well, you have to be there and follow-up, and be there for a long time. It’s about building long-term relationships. It’s about outreach: going to people’s homes and providing care there, not forcing them to go to a clinic full of people who don’t look like them, not force them into filling out overly complicated forms and navigating payment systems. The offices are gross, they’re covered in Pharma ads, with Pharma pens and Pharma shit everywhere.” I felt a similar frustration towards Pharma, especially with the ACA on the chop block earlier that week.

Michael, trying to convince himself he was a happy med student.

“What kinds of doctors do a good job serving them?”
“Right now, Primary care and family medicine do this well. But we also want other kinds of doctors to do better. Ophthalmology could do better … you need your vision to help your family, lots of space for impact here. People go into poverty because they have vision issues. There are so many easy, low-cost interventions that could fix their vision issues.” Maybe he really was interested in reading about eyes!

“What made you decide to become a med student?”
He crossed his legs, then his arms and leaned back in his chair. He looked down again when he said, faintly, “I want to help people. I want to be a doctor who serves these communities.”

“Do you still believe that you can do that as a doctor?”
He tilted his head and raised an eyebrow at me. “I do. I don’t know what it looks like in practice, what with all the logistical issues of being a physician. I like the idea of providing free care to people who need it. But this is a logistical nightmare… but who has time for it? And all the ethical things that go along with that… so much paperwork…” He was avoiding my eyes now. He had put his book and highlighter down on the table and was now very focused on gathering the crumbs on the table in front of him into a pile.

“Who creates all this extra paperwork?” I couldn’t help but keep poking.
“Insurance. Medicare and Medicaid do. HHS do.” He seemed to be less interested in answering my questions now, so I changed the subject.

“I don’t quite know how to ask this,” I said, “but what do you think about the physician’s God Complex? Do you notice one?”
He looked at me very seriously. “Some do go into medicine for this reason: OBGYN and Surgeons do see themselves as super humans. It exists. But I find this very off-putting. I went into medicine to build relationships with patients, to help them in the long-term. I think having a God Complex means building an inherent distance from the patient. This is off-putting to me. I believe medicine is about empowering patients, not just doing things to them that makes their lives better. It’s a collaboration, I’m not just a service provider.” He looked at me expectantly.,

I found myself without a good response, so I asked quietly, “Is it sometimes hard to remember why you are there?”
“Yes. Especially when you’re memorizing the umpteenth fact about cranial nerve 10 or whatever, it’s hard to remember why I’m doing what I do every day and what it will ultimately lead towards.”
“So then, how do you re-center yourself?”
“I try to go have experiences in hospitals as much as I can, I shadow as much as I can because that reminds me why I am here.”

He looked at his watch, purposefully. I got the message.
“Ok I have one last question and then I’ll leave you alone. What is something you wished people would ask you?”
“I wish people would ask me why my beard is red but my hair is not red. The answer is that it’s a mutation of one gene. I discovered this in med school, when my med school friend told me.” I let out a laugh from deep in my stomach in surprise.

Header image credit: mararie / flickr

Cusco in three vignettes

1. 

I was watching the two women weaving in the courtyard from my perch on the 2nd story balcony of the Museo de Arte Precolombiano and thinking about my mother.

I find myself thinking about her often whenever I am traveling in South America — my parents collect textiles from all over the world, but especially Mexico and Peru. They celebrate the craftsmanship and want to preserve the tradition before it is lost forever to machines. The textiles they’ve collected are stored until the rare dinner party or celebration when one or two of them are brought out to bring color to the table. The colors from the natural dyes the women were using in their weaving remind me of Christmases and happy occasions at home.

I arrived at the museum very early that morning, so I had to return in the afternoon to see the textiles for sale in the museum store. The two weavers were sitting in the corner eating their lunches — corn soup with vegetables — when I arrived. I found a beautiful red and green runner for my table at home, with tiny stitches and beautiful embroidery. I will think of my mother and her pure joy when she sees beautiful artwork every time it visits my living room.

2. 

Every time I walk at my normal required-for-moving-around-new-york-city pace I find myself breathless and a little dizzy, dreading the next block I must go to reach my destination. But then, I make myself walk a little more slowly and in this slower state, I have to look more closely at my surroundings — the ancient Incan stone walls, the brightly clothed women walking their llamas and alpacas, the “gypsy jewelers” with their macramé and stone jewelry that I’ve now encountered in public parks across Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Chile and Brazil. It’s a welcome change in what normally occupies my thoughts while I’m walking. I cannot use my phone here and I’m physically prevented from power walking. It’s nice to be able to spend my days learning to walk again.

3. 

I went into another textile store this afternoon with my friend and fellow traveler because she decided she wanted to purchase something there for her apartment. We had been wandering through the busy market places while I love with my whole informal economist heart and she found very overwhelming. We came to this quieter space, closed off from the busy streets, and spent time admiring everything handing from the walls.

While she made her purchase, the vendor asked her, “Where did your bag come from?” I had given it to her on her birthday and brought it back from a trip to Mexico. She loved it so much she used it all the time — I had a similar one that I brought for this trip as well. I told him I was from Mexico and these were a design I really liked from San Miguel de Allende. He asked for permission to take a few photos of it, explaining that he would like to make something similar but with wool instead of cotton and embroidered like the other work in his store, rather than with the woven stripes on our bags.

He asked me where I was from in Mexico (translated from Spanish):
– Mexico city, I said
– Ah, Mexico City. Well, we are geniuses at creating beautiful things here. Geniuses at some things… terrible at others.
– This is true for us too… I live in the US now.
– Ah, your president…
– Yes, our president…
– Are you afraid? Living there now?
– Yes and no. It seems to get uglier all the time.

I turned back to the retablos, little boxes with scenes in them from flower markets, skeletons celebrating together in a bar, the birth of Christ, and sculptors creating terrifying masks for holidays.

– These are like the little altars we have in Mexico. I have several of them hanging on my walls at home.
– Yes. They might be from Mexico, the design, I mean. Hard to know after a while where something first came from.

I gestured towards the masks on the walls, like the ones people wear for the parades for day of the dead in Mexico.
– we also have a tradition with masks like these.
– Oh really! Where?
– Mexico City, Oaxaca… everywhere for day of the dead. But fewer monsters. More skeletons, people, the devil.

He laughed when I told him their monsters frightened me more than our devils.

 

Anger, a February Salon

[Sharing our Anger Salon email to our salon for this weekend. because I would love to hear what others would add to the readings or how they’d answer some of the questions.]

Hello lovelies,

I don’t know about you, but I am really excited about this topic because it’s hard to figure out what to do with all my anger right now. Even limiting my news consumption is only doing so much…
Some questions: 
1 //  you let yourself be angry? When? Are there other times you try to “turn it off” or hide it?
2 // In your view, are there more acceptable forms of displaying anger? Where did those “rules” come from?
3 // Can anger be productive?
4 // What is making you mad right now? (I think we’ll start with this answer in the intros, feel free to bring a list… I definitely have one right now haha)
Some readings…
Kaela and I talk about Anger a lot because it seems to be an emotion that society has a lot of rules about, particularly in, as Roxane Gay puts it, who is allowed to be angry.
And finally, if you’re at work and like me occasionally need to find some things to channel the anger into, at least until you can go home and use it for something more productive, lifehacker has some ideas.
(Header image credit: Rob Howard / Flickr)

Reducing prejudice and learning to talk to each other

I have been spending a lot of time finding ways into conversations that make me explain my reasoning in different ways, particularly around prejudice.

In the filter bubble age, this is especially challenging at times. I was lucky to go to college with a number of really thoughtful conservatives who would still engage with me though I was an outspoken organizer. They were willing to listen and ask me interesting questions, and they answered my own questions with patience and respect. I reached out to them to ask them what I should be reading now so I can have an informed conversation with more conservative communities. I also started going to church again about 9 months ago so I could learn about faith and how to read/discuss the gospels. In both cases, I’ve learned to examine my decisions in different ways and explain them in new ways. I am expanding the language I have to make my cases and answer questions I didn’t know to anticipate.

But I have a real reason to hope. This talk from TEDxMidAtlantic in 2016 is one I come back to frequently, especially after really hard conversations and times where I cannot find the language to engage with new communities. Deep Canvassing is so effective that this program was written up in Science.

I know this is not accessible to everyone and we each need to do what we can to build civil society together. I recognize my privilege and how I am able to move easily between my different communities and worlds to ask hard questions that may not be accessible to others. I can be a bridge. I don’t think it’s fair to expect everyone to do this all day every day, and those that already do are some of the bravest, strongest and most creative individuals I know.

But for those who can, I encourage you to expand your vocabulary and fluency in arguing your case in different communities across the United States. It’s necessary now, more than ever.

A Sociologist’s Guide to Spanish

TED spends the last two hours of Wednesday afternoons in what we call “Learning Wednesday.” This time is reserved for a lecture, company wide meeting, or a series of workshops created and hosted by the staff.

For this month, I volunteered to host a workshop called “A Sociologist’s Guide to Spanish,” where we explore the Latino/Hispanic communities that coexist in New York City and the differences in the Spanish each of these groups speak. We have a number of native Spanish speakers from different countries on our teams, so we’ll host and discuss language differences together with some of our coworkers who are new to the language. It’s also a neat opportunity to compare pronunciation, slang, and expressions between our communities.

This seemed like a good time to host this workshop as the city comes together to support all of its communities in light of the executive order on immigration and the proposal for the border wall going through the government.

We have many different immigrant communities in our city, all coexisting peacefully, and language is one wonderful way to connect to our neighbors. I would love to be able to teach my coworkers enough Spanish that they could ask for directions or specific groceries in some of the predominantly Spanish-speaking areas of the city. Practicing a language that is foreign to you is humbling. It is good to see what it’s like to stumble through someone else’s words and sentence structures to fully appreciate what it means to learn English as a second language. It’s also about recognizing how cool it is that you can visit a neighborhood like Corona in Queens and practice your Spanish with a short trip on the train.

The guidebook I created includes some basic conversations in Spanish with relevant vocabulary lists, demographic information about different neighborhoods and communities within Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, and our favorite recipes from the different countries represented within our staff.

This was a tiny way I can be a bridge between two of my communities, but it was also a nice way to introduce a broader conversation about the diversity that exists within Spanish speakers in New York and across our hemisphere.

Header Image credit: Chris Goldberg / Flickr

A case for helping your coworkers negotiate their contracts

I believe that one of the best ways to close to wage gap is for each of us to commit to mentoring and supporting our teammates as they negotiate their contracts. I have been really lucky to have great mentors who helped me think through my projects and contracts, so I try to pay it forward with my coworkers friends too.

I advocate for other workers, because I think being honest and supportive upfront reduces turnover and builds a better team.

There are a few ways that I do this to support my communities. I hope by sharing my process, we can all do a better job supporting each other.

1. Help them navigate market wage rates and your own company’s salary scale as best you can.

I was an economics student who was obsessed with pricing and how prices are determined by the market. This made it very easy for me to know where to go to learn about competitive market rates for different skill sets, but many of the workers I’m coached through the years feel like they’re left in the dark about what they can ask for when they negotiate their salaries. Companies have a lot of incentives to keep these numbers quiet. You can help improve transparency here and provide immediate relief for your teammates by helping them gather information through your own experiences and network.

There are plenty of reasons why the secrecy around wages can hurt workers and trust within teams. For now, the best way you can help a coworker may be improving transparency in your own corner or sharing resources you’ve found to describe salaries in your field. Sometimes Glassdoor has some useful information here too.

I realize this can be complicated when you are hiring someone for your team. I think there are roles we can each play in this process, and I encourage you to find one that is comfortable for you.

2. Help them think through what they could ask for (both financially and in terms of other responsibilities and benefits in their jobs)

Once you have some background research together on salary and a benefits package, you can design a “wish list” contract together. I always assume there will be some price negotiation, so I encourage people to ask for a little more than they their ideal salary. Then we talk through the benefits they would like, which could be things like a learning stipend for classes, flexible vacation days or working from home sometimes, getting to shadow someone in the company whose job you’d like to learn more about, etc..

Then, we write up their dream document carefully and talk through which items are absolute priorities that would cause them to keep or reject the opportunity, things that they would be very excited to have at their new job, and things that would be nice to include.

3. Help them practice asking clearly and confidently for what they want.

Negotiating contracts is a terrifying experience for most people, especially for people who have been socialized to be agreeable as a priority. This is an important time to learn to advocate for yourself and your projects down the road. Role playing this conversation out a few times and imagining different scenes playing out can be a really helpful way to build confidence.

I usually start by helping my friend make very clear statements about what they want and what they are willing to negotiate on. Then we work on making them confident and calm while they ask for those things. We talk about when to ask for more time to think about something or ask for a counter offer, when to accept different terms, and how to create space in your head to weigh your options clearly within losing focus to pressure.

4. Talk them through the worst case scenarios.

There is a possibility that this negotiation will not work out as you planned. Sometimes it’s helpful to work through a pre-mortem of the worse case scenarios, such as the company wont negotiate, they tell you you’re asking for too much, they pressure you for an immediate answer. Sometimes going through these scenarios in advance makes it less painful if the negotiation doesn’t go well.

I always finish this part by reminding my friend that this experience, negotiating and being confident asking for what you need and want, is important for every corner of life. It never hurts to have a little more practice. And learning to manage failure is an enormous strength to develop.

5. Celebrate with them if it goes well. Be a warm figure in the office they can turn to when they get nervous or bad news.

I always check in after a negotiation to see how it went. If it went well, we celebrate together! Some victories come from unexpected places, and you may end up with something completely different from where you started, but if the friend is happy with their results, you should be too.

If it’s hard and didn’t go well, I will take the person for a walk and remind them why I believe in them. I remind them that their salary and job description does not define them, but their growth in this moment and similarly challenging ones does. I tell them I am proud of them for asking because this is the only way that it gets better (f*ck the wage gap). AND I remind them that it will be even easier to ask in the future.

Special thanks to my mentors and peer-mentors who helped me gain my confidence in negotiating for myself.

Originally posted on Code Like A Girl.

Header Photo Credit: Melanie