MONEY Workplace

8 Tips for Coping with an Angry Coworker

illustration of angry coworker throwing papers and supplies off desk
Sarina Finkelstein (photo illustration)—Getty Images (1)

How to deal with a difficult — and potentially dangerous — bully at the office.

Although discussions of workplace violence in the wake of the Virginia shooting have centered around how employers can handle volatile employees, this isn’t just an issue for managers: The people who have to work side-by-side with short-tempered or confrontational workers also need tools to cope with these difficult colleagues.

Obviously, the vast majority of people — even the most unpleasant ones — never commit violence, but working with them can be mentally and emotionally draining. Some of this behavior may fall into the category of bullying, which the Workplace Bullying Institute defines as “abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or… which prevents work from getting done, or verbal abuse.” It says up to one-third of people in the workforce have been a bully’s target at some point in their careers.

Talking to your boss or human resources department and documenting instances of hostile or inappropriate behavior is the standard advice. And yes, you should do these things. But you also need to be able to handle these people on a day-to-day basis (at least until the person causing the trouble is terminated or leaves of his own volition).

We asked career and HR experts how to handle angry, volatile co-workers, and they suggest several steps you can take.

Remember the problem is them, not you. “The source of the problem is external,” the Workplace Bullying Institute says, and it recommends people dealing with a toxic colleague to remind themselves of this regularly: “You did not invite, nor want… psychological assaults and interference with your work. Think about it. No sane person wakes up each day hoping to be humiliated or berated at work.”

Don’t try to fix them. It’s important to remember that there are some people you just can’t reach, says Lorene Lacey, global clinical manager at Workplace Options. “His or her behavior, whether it’s whining, sniping, taking up too much of your time, or something else, is deeply rooted, and may have been going on for years,” says Lacey. This can be a tough realization for some, but trying to “rescue” a perpetually angry colleague is likely to just leave you feeling defeated.

Stay cool. “Displaying self-discipline can deescalate a situation because [you] are aware of [your] attitude and behavior and can make adjustments accordingly,” says Lisa Barrow, a consultant and speaker on workplace bullying. Yes, this is easier said than done, especially if you’re the target of put-downs or other verbal abuse, but you have to remember that if you take the bait when an individual is trying to pick a fight, you’ve given them what they want. “[Don’t] respond to the angry coworker with anger, as this will only escalate the situation,” Barrow says.

Focus on their behavior rather than arguing. “Stop talking about the content of the disagreement,” David Maxfield, an author and speaker on human behavior, advises. Rather than getting sucked into a squabble, take a figurative step back and tell them, “I need for this to be a professional conversation,” he says. Keep the focus on how they’re behaving — tell them that you don’t want to continue a discussion if they’re raising their voice, slamming their hand or an object on the desk, cursing, and the like. “This prevents the other person from ‘winning the argument,’ and focuses on their inappropriate behavior,” Maxfield says.

Use their name. “Hearing our own name causes us to stop and pay attention, and using it several times is a way to subtly take control of the situation,” says Catherine Mattice, owner of consulting company Civility Partners.

Take a timeout. “When tempers flare, adrenaline flows,” Lacey says. This cranks up your heartbeat and breathing rate, and primes your body for a fight-or-flight response. If you’re trying to avoid responding to an attack with an aggressive reply of your own, physically remove yourself out of the situation. “It takes several minutes for adrenaline levels to recede, so cooling off time makes sense,” Lacey says. Take a walk around the building or around the block — just don’t stop for coffee or a cigarette, since stimulants will keep you on edge longer.

Put safety first. There are a few safeguards to remember when dealing with someone who’s very angry, Mattice says. If you’re in your office, don’t allow them to sit between you and the door, and keep a distance of three arm lengths between you and them. “Do not touch the individual, and do not engage in any threatening nonverbal behavior such as pointing your finger or getting in his or her personal space,” Mattice says. You might also consider meeting with them in a public place or “neutral territory” in the workplace, and having another person in the room or nearby.

Don’t try to intervene in a physical altercation. Just like you wouldn’t step in front of a speeding car to stop it, experts say getting involved in a physical confrontation is a bad idea. “Confronting an individual who may be a threat or prone to violence is not a good idea,” Lacey says. “If there is an immediate threat of violence or if that sort of behavior has already occurred … report it to management or the proper authorities.”

MONEY Email

The Secret to Getting People to Actually Read Your Emails

reading email on laptop
Getty Images

And cover letters, and sales pitches...

With all the communication tools at our fingertips today, you think it would be easy to get your point across. But more often than not, our emails, cover letters, sales materials and so forth are a muddled mess — and they’re promptly ignored.

Business communication is often overwrought and stuffed with filler words. The upshot: Recipients lose interest or miss your point. In a new paper, researchers from Colorado State University and the University of Northern Colorado explore what’s going on and how to fix it.

If you’re making a cold contact, the first hurdle is often just getting the recipient to open the email. (It’s not as easy as you think, but a panel of busy CEOs weigh in on how to do that here.)

But success doesn’t just hinge on the recipient opening it. You need to make the reader pay attention, and you need to do it quickly.

“When you’re talking about a business audience, people have 10 to 15 seconds to read a one-page letter,” says Mike Gould, a former Colorado State University faculty member and current consultant who’s one of the authors of the new research paper. If you’re not immediately clear and convincing, “They’ll bypass the context,” he warns.

There are two common problems. One is our tendency to use vague words; for instance, we’ll say we “had a great impact on quarterly sales” rather than “grew quarterly sales by 35%.”

When you go through your correspondence, are there words that could be replaced with numbers? Use those numbers instead.

Gould says you should watch out for words like “many,” “few,” “many,” “most,” “some,” “great” and “small” — they don’t deliver the kind of clarity good business communication needs. A cynical recipient might even think you’re trying to play up or down the reality by deliberately obscuring the details.

The other giant stumbling block is using the passive voice. We use active verbs when we speak, because it’s both quicker and clearer to use active words. But when we write, most of us unconsciously shift into a stilted kind of prose that manages to say less even though it’s stuffed with too many words.

Gould says that prepositions like “to,” “for,” “of” and “in” tend to be the big culprits. For example, instead of writing, “I plan to make a decision,” change it to read, “I will decide.” It’s quicker and more precise.

When it comes to writing, “We’re taught to use excessive information and be vague because then we can mitigate what might be a problem,” Gould says. “People have to be taught to be assertive in communication.”

This takes practice, he adds; in his research, students need an average of eight rewrites to reach their goal. Their (and your) goal: Reduce your passive-voice linguistic junk by 80%.

You could practice this by using the word-find function in your word processor to highlight each offending word one at a time, but there’s also another solution if you’d like to get serious about putting your bloated business correspondence on a diet.

Gould and the study’s co-authors developed a proofreading program called Scribe Bene that works with Microsoft Windows to flag an entire list of junk words at once.

“That’s the reason Scribe Bene is more effective,” Leo Vijayasarathy, an associate professor of computer information systems at Colorado State University and one of the study’s co-authors. While it’s still an academic rather than a commercial project at this point, the program can be downloaded for free from Vijayasarathy’s faculty page (find it under “Selected Publications”).

It’s not a silver bullet, but it will show you writing mistakes you’ve probably been practicing since high school and guide you to writing shorter and sharper messages. “It takes longer to write a short communication than a long communication,” Gould says. “But your outcomes will improve as well.”

TIME pretirement

5 Pre-Retirement Mistakes Even the Smartest People Make

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Abrams/Lacagnina—Getty Images

These are guaranteed ways to make it through the limbo of pre-retirement

Being in the home stretch leading up to retirement can feel great, but financial advisers say even the savviest people can miscalculate or overlook important components when it comes to their retirement plans. Unfortunately, the closer you get, the more harm those errors and omissions can do to your dream of a comfortable retirement. Here are the most common pitfalls you need to watch out for, according to financial planners:

Not creating a Social Security strategy. “One common mistake is not really thinking through when to start Social Security,” says Mike Wilson, owner of Integrity Financial Planning. In general, the breakeven age for Social security is in the low 80s, Wilson says. “If you think you’ll live past the breakeven age…wait as long as possible to start Social Security, because you’ll enjoy more dollars over a longer lifetime,” he says. But if your health is tenuous, claim your benefits early.

Married couples need to factor in the age of each spouse, expected lifespan and their respective work histories to figure out when to start claiming benefits. “If they haven’t already, create an account with the SSA,” Wilson says. “You’ve got to take some ownership and get involved in the process.”

Paying off your mortgage. Conventional wisdom says you shouldn’t enter retirement with mortgage payments hanging over your head, but if you took out a mortgage or refinanced recently, it’s possible that your interest rate is lower than what you would earn if you invested the money, says Rich Arzaga, founder and CEO of Cornerstone Wealth Management, Inc.

For instance, assume your nest egg is netting you a 7% return. If your mortgage interest rate is only 4%, it’s better to keep your money where it is because you’ll pay less to service that debt than you would earn by keeping it invested. (And you get to keep the mortgage interest tax deduction.) “You’re basically leveraging the money, you’re borrowing just like the banks do,” Arzaga says.

Taking your portfolio too conservative too soon. People in pre-retirement often make the mistake of retreating from riskier asset classes too early, says Chris Chaney, vice president of Fort Pitt Capital Group, Inc. Depending on when you retire, you could live another 20 or 30 years. “That’s a long time, and the inclination is to try and secure the cash flow and the value of their portfolio as much as possible,” Chaney says.

People assume they need to shift a big chunk of their portfolio to lower-yielding investments to safeguard it, but they forget about the flip side of investing risk: the creep of inflation. “You need an adequate amount in growth assets to be able to protect the purchasing power of your retirement assets against the corrosive effect of inflation,” Chaney says.

Skipping long-term care insurance. Paying out of pocket for long-term care can drain your nest egg. Living in a nursing home costs more than $80,000 a year, on average. Even assisted living or other forms of support can cost several thousand dollars a month.

When it comes to buying long-term care insurance, “The sweet spot where you get the highest benefit for premiums paid is 53 or 54 years old,” Arzaga says. If you’re in pre-retirement and above that age, it doesn’t mean you’ve missed the boat entirely, but it does mean you have a dwindling window of time to get an affordable policy. “Pre-retirement, the cost of insurance to cover that risk is a lot less expensive,” he says.

Not planning for a post-career life. “A lot of people don’t really think though how they’re going to occupy their time,” says Joseph Heider, president of Cirrus Wealth Management. “It’s a profound new stage of your life. and you want to make sure you’re ready for the change.”

Consider what activities or hobbies you’d like to pursue, and explore social groups and volunteer opportunities. If you’re thinking about moving, especially to a vacation locale, visit when the tourists have departed for the season.

MONEY online shopping

New Poll Shows We’re Total Hypocrites When It Comes to Amazon

Amazon corporate office building in Sunnyvale, California
Lisa Werner—Getty Images

America might feel bad for Amazon workers, but they love being Amazon customers

In the wake of a critical New York Times article about Amazon’s work culture, public perception of the company took a major hit. Nonetheless, the true impact of the controversy may be minimal: It appears as if Amazon’s convenience and low prices are a bigger deal to American shoppers than the e-retailer’s work environment, as most consumers say they’ll still buy stuff on Amazon.

A new poll from YouGov BrandIndex finds that Amazon’s so-called “Buzz Index,” a metric that measures consumer perception of brands, plummeted by 60% last week — a significant drop for a company that grabbed the top spot in consumer perception for both 2014 and 2013.

That’s pretty bad, with the company hitting a level on par with where it fell two years ago after it announced that the threshold to get free shipping would rise from $25 to $35.

The Times story about the company’s hyper-competitive corporate culture, in which current and former employees talked about grueling hours and a lack of empathy for unavoidable misfortunes like a worker’s illness, obviously touched a nerve. Back in 2011, when Amazon took (figurative) heat for the (literal) heat its warehouse workers endured while working in un-air-conditioned facilities, YouGov’s polling showed that Americans’ perception of the company was basically unchanged.

“What is so striking about this particular instance with Amazon is it broke through the Teflon armor, for a change,” YouGov BrandIndex spokesman Drew Kerr says of the recent hit taken by the brand. “Their drop has been very significant.”

What hasn’t budged, though, is our collective desire to be able to order everything from doggie shampoo to flash drives with a couple of mouse clicks. The percentage of YouGov BrandIndex respondents who say they’ll continue to consider shopping at the online retailer fell from 72% to 70%, a drop that’s so small and insignificant it’s within the poll’s margin of error.

“It is tough to argue with the convenience, customer friendliness and pricing of shopping at Amazon,” Kerr points out, calling Amazon “a brand that is truly ingrained in the shopping habits of so many Americans.”

And the Amazon habit seems to be one we’re hooked on, if these results are any indication. “It seems no matter what happens to them, the perception hit is either a blip, or they go down quickly and bounce right back up,” Kerr says.

MORE: The Reason You First Started Shopping at Amazon Is Disappearing

MONEY Credit

Homeowners With Bad Credit Will Pay Double for This Required Expense

The difference could be thousands of dollars.

It’s common knowledge that, in most states, one of the data points insurance carriers use to determine your premium is your credit score. The companies say lower scores are correlated with higher risk, which justifies charging higher rates; consumer advocates like the Consumer Federation of America contend that the practice is unfair and inflicts an onerous burden on low-income Americans.

What many people might not know, though, is that a similar link between credit and pricing exists in the homeowners’ insurance market—and if your credit is poor, you could take a serious financial hit.

A new survey from InsuranceQuotes.com finds that, on average, people with poor credit pay double what people with good credit pay for their homeowners’ insurance. That’s bad news, but what’s worse is that insurance companies in most states are relying even more heavily on credit scores today than they did in the past.

As in the car insurance market, only the states of California, Massachusetts and Maryland prohibit carriers from factoring in credit when they develop their underwriting formulas. (And Florida residents luck out; although the practice is allowed there, InsuranceQuotes finds that insurers there don’t really use it.)

In other states, it’s pretty much a crapshoot. While residents of New York with poor credit only pay 37% more, West Virginia homeowners with poor credit pay an eye-popping 202% more. In Washington, D.C., poor credit earns you a 185% premium hike, on average, which adds up to nearly $3,150 a year. By contrast, D.C. homeowners with good credit pay an average of $1,100 a year. In terms of dollar amounts, Texans with bad credit pay the most: more than $4,350 a year, on average.

Even the discrepancy among people with great and just-OK credit can be significant. While the average across the country is a 32% premium for mid-tier credit, that can climb to as high as 66% for Montana residents.

“They’ve done studies and found that consumers with low credit file more claims, so there is a statistical relationship,” says Laura Adams, InsuranceQuotes’s senior analyst. She acknowledges, though, that many people find the practice controversial, especially as insurance companies are weighting credit more heavily today. The survey found that 29 states, plus Washington, D.C., place more emphasis on credit now than they did a year ago.

Homeowners are caught in a bind, since mortgage lenders typically require homeowners to carry insurance, even though filing a claim can also increase the likelihood that your rate will rise, regardless of your credit.

“I think the takeaway here with consumers is to just get familiar with it, and do everything you can to improve your credit,” Adams says. If your credit has improved, ask your insurance carrier to re-rate you, she suggests. A higher score could mean a lower rate.

Get answers to your questions about credit and debt:
What Is My Credit Score and How Is It Calculated?
How Can I Improve My Credit Score?
Which Debts Should I Pay Off First?

MONEY

Think Your Co-Workers Act Like Children? You’re Right

toddler tantrum in office chair
Sarina Finkelstein (photo illustration)—Getty Images (2)

Older doesn’t necessarily mean more mature

If you think the people you work with sometimes act less like professionals than like spoiled children, you’re not too far off. A new survey from CareerBuilder finds that 77% of workers have experienced some form of childish behavior in the workplace.

“It’s not so surprising,” career coach Roy Cohen says of the survey’s findings. “People are working long hours, and sometimes when you work long hours, you need to blow off some steam.” Cohen also suggests that the influx of millennials into the workplace may have ushered in a corresponding drop in maturity levels (millennials themselves might take issue with this characterization).

CareerBuilder finds that whining seems to be the most common juvenile behavior, with 55% of respondents encountering it on the job. Up next is that other childhood staple of displeasure: pouting, which 46% of workers say they’ve witnessed in their co-workers. Other common offenses, each reported by about a third of respondents, include playing pranks, making faces behind people’s backs, forming cliques, and starting rumors.

It might be frustrating to feel like you’re surrounded by people with the social skills of your average Frozen fan, but you don’t necessarily want to go running to your boss or HR every time you witness a tantrum—especially since 44% of respondents say they’ve seen co-workers tattle on fellow employees.

So how should you respond? Career experts suggest asking yourself the following questions:

Does it fit with the culture? Some workplace cultures have a higher tolerance for pranks, swearing, and other bad behavior than others. You could find yourself swimming upstream if your expectations for workplace behavior aren’t in line with the way most employees behave.

Is it just annoying? For behavior like snickering, eye-rolling, and making faces, the same advice you got in elementary school is still your best bet: Ignore it. While nobody likes sitting next to the person who whines or gossips all day long, these types of infractions probably aren’t really disrupting your work, and they’re annoyances for which you often can find a workaround. “There may be a way to resolve the situation on its own, such as by moving where you sit or wearing headphones to drown the person out,” says CareerBuilder chief human resources officer Rosemary Haefner.

Can you address it yourself? Remember when your mom would tell you to settle petty childhood disputes yourself? True, nobody likes confronting a pouter, rumor-starter, clique “queen bee,” or other adolescent throwback, but going up the corporate ladder should be your last option, not your first. “Try approaching that person one on one,” Haefner says. “Calmly, without passing judgment, explain how his or her behavior is affecting your ability to work.” Sometimes it doesn’t dawn on people that they’re being a jerk or hurting others’ feelings until someone points it out to them.

Is the behavior disruptive to business functions? If so, you should document the specific behavior before going to your boss or HR. “Be able to provide examples of how this behavior is having a negative impact on your work,” Haefner says. It’s important to keep things professional and avoid personal accusations or attacks, she says. Even a legitimate complaint about childish behavior, if delivered the wrong way, can make you look like the problem.

Is it harassment or bullying? There are times when a culture of bad behavior can be toxic. Being on the receiving end of unwanted sexual advances, racial or sexual epithets, being touched inappropriately or physically threatened are all examples of extreme bad behavior for which you might have corporate—and maybe even legal—recourse. “Read your employer’s policy manual to know the rules and how issues are managed,” Cohen advises. “You may be surprised—there may be a protocol already in place” for dealing with your concern, he says.

Can anyone else be your advocate? If the childish outbursts are coming from your boss—and especially if they’re aimed squarely at you—you might want to consider if there’s another senior-level employee who you can talk to about the situation. This is also an option if you’re not sure HR will be able to handle your concerns effectively and in confidence. A senior employee with more experience might have some insight or knowledge that can help you deal with the issue, Cohen says. If they agree that there’s a problem that needs to be addressed, having them in your corner can be a big help, he adds. “Having someone who’s more senior also complain carries more weight.”

Read next: Can I Opt Out of My Office’s Team-Building Activities?

MONEY work life balance

Want a Four-Day Workweek? Here’s How to Make it Happen

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Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy—Getty Images

It's more attainable than you think

The summer is drawing to a close, and if you’ve enjoyed summer Fridays for the past several weeks, you’re probably thinking with some regret about returning to the same old grind.

But what if it didn’t have to be like that? What if you could have a permanent four-day workweek?

It’s not necessarily a pipe dream. More companies than ever are offering workers flexibility when it comes to their hours. A study published last year in the journal Community, Work & Family found that about 40% of 545 employers studied let workers choose alternative options for when or where they get their work done, making it the most common type of flexible work arrangement today.

Before you indulge in your Friday freedom fantasies, however, there are some steps you must take to prepare the ground and assure your boss and colleagues that you’re not taking three-day weekends at their expense.

Look for a flex-time mentor. “[Start] by looking around at your colleagues and seeing if anyone else in the company has a flexible or alternative schedule arrangement,” says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs and founder of Remote.co. If someone does, ask if you can join them on a coffee break (lattes on you, of course) and pick their brain about how they asked for the alternative arrangements and what they’ve done to make it work.

Assess your workflow. “A successful four-day workweek means getting all one’s job responsibilities completed in those four longer days,” says Dayna Fellows, president of WorkLife Performance Inc. Evaluate the type of projects you do to see if your responsibilities can be done in four long days instead of five typical ones. For instance, if you have tasks that have to be completed every single day, or work with a team that meets daily, your job might not be a great fit, Fellows says.

Strike while the iron is hot. “It’s best to go in when you’re on a high performance note rather than a low one, so identify a time that might be ideal,” Fell suggests. Do your due diligence so you’re ready to ask your boss for that meeting to discuss an alternative arrangement right after you’ve just had a stellar month or quarter.

Lay the groundwork by pointing out all the great things you’ve done recently, says Kelly Mattice, vice president at The Execu|Search Group. “You are much more likely to have your request approved if you have a proven track record of going above and beyond and… are responsible enough to manage your workload in four days,” she says.

Make it about them. “Your supervisor wants to hear how the new schedule will enhance your performance at the company and result in a positive outcome for the rest of the organization,” Mattice says. Come prepared with specific examples of ways that an alternative schedule will make you more focused and productive during the hours you are there. For instance, maybe taking one super-long day would be beneficial for working with colleagues or clients in a distant time zone.

Tackle this big objection. One oft-stated management concern is that “if they let one person have a four-day schedule, it opens the door for all employees wanting it, leaving the office empty one day,” Fell says. This is a legit concern, but your response should be to point out that your colleagues all have different personal lives and obligations, so the likelihood that everyone would want the same flex hours are slim. Since an alternative schedule is also a privilege, not a right, you could suggest to your boss that the perk be reserved for people who achieve a certain measurable level of performance. (Then make sure you hit those numbers.)

Be visible. One potential pitfall to a four-day workweek is that, if you’re not physically there, your co-workers might think you’re not pulling your weight. If you’re not in the office every day, Fellows says, it’s crucial to make sure you’re getting in your face time when you are there. “Participate well in meetings [and] take the lead on initiatives,” she says. Be highly available and responsive during the days and hours you are on duty.”

“For example, coming in early, staying late when you can, and taking smaller breaks for lunch and other personal tasks will help prove… your commitment,” Mattice says.

Read next: 3 Strategies for Managing Your Team Remotely

MONEY

You Won’t Believe How Many People Lie on Their Resumes

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Zoran Zeremski—Getty Images/iStockphoto

Fudging the truth can backfire big time.

When working on your resume, maybe you’ve been tempted to make your title sound a little fancier, or say you’re proficient in a computer program you barely know how to pronounce. What’s surprising is just how many of your fellow job seekers follow through on this temptation and lie on a resume to boost their chances of getting an interview.

A new survey from CareerBuilder of more than 2,500 hiring managers found that 56% have caught job candidates lying on their resumes. The most common fib seems to be embellishing skills or capabilities; 62% of respondents say they’ve come across this, and 54% say they’ve caught applicants taking liberties when describing the scope of their responsibilities. A quarter have seen people who claim to be employed by companies they never really worked for.

“One of the reasons candidates may feel okay embellishing their resumes is that they don’t realize hiring managers are actually following up to verify the claims they make on their resumes,” says CareerBuilder spokeswoman Mary Lorenz. Most do, she says, so lying won’t do anything other than get your application thrown out.

“It’s also possible that, knowing how tight competition for jobs is, these candidates are simply trying to stand out and get their foot in the door with hiring managers in hopes to prove themselves later on,” Lorenz says. This might be why nearly a third of survey respondents say they’ve run into people fibbing about their job titles, more than a quarter have encountered candidates who claim to have academic credentials they never actually earned, and 15% have even run into job seekers who report to have been given awards or accolades they never received.

It’s understandable why job seekers might feel pressure to make their resume stand out, even at the risk of getting caught in a lie. Seven out of ten of CareerBuilder’s survey respondents say they spend five minutes or less perusing each resume, and 48% spend less than two minutes.

But lying isn’t the right way to go about getting the attention of a hiring manager, especially because the CareerBuilder survey uncovered something else interesting: 43% of respondents say they’d consider a candidate even if he or she only had three of five qualifications the employer wanted.

Lorenz says past surveys have revealed that companies are willing to train people who are otherwise a good fit, even if they lack a specific skill. “Employers are placing more emphasis on soft skills and cultural fit for positions, so those elements likely play a factor in employers’ decisions to make exceptions for certain candidates as well,” she says.

All the more reason not to blow it by fudging the truth on your resume.

MONEY getting a job

This Is How Much the Right Referral Can Help Your Job Search

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Getty Images—iStockphoto

Where the referral comes from matters a lot.

You probably know that having the right connections can help you land a job, but a new study reveals that who you know matters more than you might think.

The site Glassdoor.com looked at more than 440,000 interview requests that came through its site to find out if it matters how HR gets their hands on your resume. Researchers say that being referred by someone at the company boosts your chance of successfully landing a job as high as nearly 7%.

That may not sound like much, but Glassdoor notes that this is a statistically significant bump. On the other hand, some other common sources of referrals appear to actually dampen one’s chances of getting a job. “Job interviews based on college or university referrals, online applications without any personal contact with employers and recruiter referrals led to significantly less likelihood of an accepted job offer,” Glassdoor notes in a release.

Glassdoor chief economist Andrew Chamberlain says there are a few things to keep in mind if you’re reaching out to a person you know to ask for a job referral. Since you’re essentially asking someone for a favor, make it as easy as possible for them to pass along your information. “The best approach is to craft an email that your contact can forward directly to the hiring manager, so keep it professional and concise,” he says. “This takes the heavy lifting off of your contact and makes it easy for them to refer you.”

Including a quick rundown of your professional background also can serve as a reminder to the person you’re contacting if you only met briefly, or you haven’t been in touch recently. “A short email is a great way to reintroduce yourself, remind them of your skills and past experience and tell them why you want to work for their company,” Chamberlain says. Keep it short, and attach or include a link to your resume that your contact can forward along with your query.

Your note should also express a willingness to reciprocate. “Of course, offer the same in return should they need a referral in the future,” Chamberlain says.

It’s OK to reach out through a professional social network to ask someone you know for a referral, Chamberlain says, but don’t call them. You might be interrupting them, and a phone conversation isn’t something they can easily hit “forward” and send along to HR.

Don’t know anybody working at the place that just posted your dream job? Don’t give up hope: Glassdoor’s research also finds that staffing agency referrals increase your chance of a successful job placement by more than 5%, and in-person referrals — such as meeting a company representative at a job fair and giving them a resume — increase it by about 4%.

Read next: Is It Wrong to Back Out of a Job Offer That I Already Accepted?

MONEY career advice

Here’s the Secret to Creative Problem-Solving

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Pete Ark—Getty Images

Literally anybody can do this

When you’re presented with a particularly thorny challenge at work, “think outside the box” is a common piece of advice. But figuring out how to do that can be nearly as tough as figuring out the answer you’re seeking in the first place. Now, science offers a solution to help anyone tap into their creative thought process to solve problems.

“Having individuals think back on a recent experience in a very detailed way, reflecting on the people, setting, and actions of the experience,” is the key to unlocking creative problem solving, says Kevin Madore, a psychology Ph.D candidate at Harvard University and the lead author of a new study in Psychological Science that looks at how “episodic memory,” as the researchers call it, contributes to a person’s creative problem-solving ability.

In a series of experiments, subjects watched a short video and then were interviewed with the purpose of getting them to remember as many small details about the video as they possibly could. Those subjects did a better job than a control group in the second part of the experiment, in which they were told to think of unusual uses for common household objects like newspaper or a bedsheet.

Madore calls the process of mentally re-creating a scene or an activity “event building.” It’s a process that’s similar to coming up with a creative solution to a problem, because in both cases, you need to fill in lots of details, and get them in the proper place and the right order.

“Priming individuals to be in [that] specific frame of mind… seems to assist them on creativity tasks that also may rely on event building,” Madore says.

Although the study’s experiments took place in a lab setting, Madore says it’s possible to train yourself to practice episodic memory in order to unlock your hidden creativity.

Treat your brain like a recording device, taking down even the most minute details.

Be as specific as you can in your recollection, Madore advises. “What color hair did the people have? What was the layout of the main setting? What order were the actions performed in? How were the actions performed? Thinking on a microscopic level and using focused mental imagery… can be helpful,” he says.

Doing this puts you in a detail-oriented frame of mind, which means that small elements that might have escaped your notice—and could be the key to a creative solution to your particular problem—capture your attention and become accessible to you.

It doesn’t matter what kind of memory you think about, as long as it’s one you can recall in vivid detail. “It seems that any sort of recollection or memory that people can think about in great detail should be helpful,” Madore says.

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