Interviewing Firms...
February 22, 2012 5:38 PM   Subscribe

I am a recent graduate. I want to visit to design firms and do short, factual profiles of them on a website for students. What questions should I ask, what will firms not answer, and is this a good idea?

I am a recent graduate. I want to start on a project where I go around on informational visits to firms of my discipline (it is a design discipline) and then do a short profile of them to post on a public blog. This would be to the benefit of students, who I want to be my target audience. In my design discipline, I think there's still a pretty severe disconnect between school and the real world...and students and prospective employers. So this blog is supposed to increase awareness of firms amongst students. But I understand that firms may be private about certain matters that they may not want published and I'd like to know what those touchy subjects are, esp. in the realm of public relations.

For example, all students will want to know the average income of an entry-level at XYZ firm...but I wondering if the firm may not want to divulge that information because that's something they might want to feel out in an any suggestions on how to approach this?

So far I've got it in mind to ask the basics like who owns the firm, how many are employed, what type of projects they do, how long have they been operating, to take pictures of their firm etc. etc. But does anyone have any other suggestions on what to ask?

posted by bluelight to Work & Money (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Most firms will answer, especially big ones. I could probably get my dad to help you with this. Send me a memail message with your e-mail and I will pass on the request.
posted by parmanparman at 5:45 PM on February 22, 2012

Steven Heller's book, Becoming a Graphic Designer, is aimed at students to help them understand what it might be like to be a designer in a variety of different fields. I think the focus is on what types of skills employers are looking for and what a designer would actually be doing all day working for these professionals.

You should check it out just for ideas on what types of questions to ask.
posted by AtomicBee at 5:54 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

ask the basics like who owns the firm, how many are employed, what type of projects they do, how long have they been operating,...

There's nothing wrong with these questions, but they're a little...bland. And you'll probably get pawned off on someone who will give you equally bland answers. Instead, I would aim for senior CDs, or execs who came up the creative track, and ask them what excites them about their work. Asking a successful person that question almost always seems to generate great results. (You may have trouble getting them to stop talking.) And if you're lucky you'll get someone who's senior enough not to be subject to the PR filter.

I realize that this may not meet your requirement of "short, factual profiles"--but it would probably make good content for a site targeted to students, and you can maybe get the numbers questions answered by email or something after you've made that initial connection.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 6:13 PM on February 22, 2012

I'm tring to think about what differs my design firm from others (in the landscape architecture field which probably greatly biases my answer) and what questions I ask my peers about their offices. I'm not sure anyone goes into design for the money, and I'm sure no one at our three person firm would want to tell you starting salary for someone right out of design school (if hiring was an option).

To be honest, what I find valuable are more workflow issues. How do you run a typical project? How much design is done on a computer vs. hand drawing? How much time is spent on site for a typical residential project, commercial project, park project? How much time is spent going to see successful projects (by other firms) in the office? Are there other field trips? How does the firm handle marketing? How does the firm handle pro bono clients? What resources are available for continuing education?

That's my first pass!
posted by Kronur at 6:36 PM on February 22, 2012

I think you need to disclose that you plan to publish the information you get in your interview. I don't know your field, but I treat informational interviews as general and private. I would be very disconcerted to find my comments on a blog without warning.
posted by Miko at 7:03 PM on February 22, 2012

I think you want to ask questions that aren't easily answered on their "about us" pages/somewhere on the internet, because if you do, that's where you'll be directed.

Regarding income/salary, you might be able to get a ballpark figure or a range, but probably not. That information is not something that companies or candidates are usually willing to divulge of certain processes. And even though I accumulate that kind of information for MY job, there's pretty much no way I'd give it out for your purposes.
posted by sm1tten at 7:04 PM on February 22, 2012

Response by poster: @Miko: Oh I would definitely be disclosing that it's an informational visit for information that would be publicized on a blog! To think if I didn't...

Hmm, and I like a lot of the questions that AkzidenzGrotesk and Kronur suggested--I think that is the more sensible and interesting track to go down (esp. in a creative profession!)

Does anyone know of any precedent like this?
posted by bluelight at 7:18 PM on February 22, 2012

It looks like I forgot to mention that they book I linked is a series of very short interviews with creative professionals. So you could just jack some of the more interesting questions for your own interviews.
posted by AtomicBee at 10:37 PM on February 22, 2012

I always suggest that people ask what kind of skills they look for in new hires. And I mean really concretely - what software, what kind of portfolio. That is the most useful information to students IMHO.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:10 AM on February 23, 2012

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