TIME Careers & Workplace

How to Set Yourself Apart During Job Interview

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Focus on the strengths

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“Just take a chance on me.”

It was a common line in my cover letters a few years ago, when I was desperate to make the switch out of management and into marketing—without a related degree or experience. Even so, I was so sure that if the employer just gave me a chance, he or she wouldn’t regret it.

But when an employer has a pool of fully qualified candidates, why would he or she take a chance on someone who’s on the edge of meeting the job requirements?

I’ll tell you this much: It takes more than including a pretty unconvincing pick-up line in your cover letter. Here are a few tips to get your foot in the door.

Don’t Draw Attention to Your Lack of Skills or Experience

The key to this whole process isn’t necessarily to convince the hiring manager to take a chance on you, but to get him or her to actually think you’re a good fit for the role. So the very first thing you have to do is stop apologizing for your lack of skills or experience.

Whenever you include a sentence in your cover letter such as “While I’ve never been in a marketing role before…” or “Although I don’t have any management experience…” or even “If you would just take a chance on me…” all you’re doing is telling the hiring manager you can’t do the job.

“Instead of drawing attention to your weaknesses, a better way to move on to your qualifications is to state your skills and ability to contribute directly,” recommends career counselor Lily Zhang. “Stay positive, focus on your strengths, and immediately launch into your transferable skills and infectious enthusiasm for the position.”

Showcase What Sets You Apart

No matter what you’re transitioning from or to, you do have transferable skills.

For example, while my management roles didn’t involve any true marketing, they did require me to network and form relationships with other businesses in the community, manage multiple projects at a time, and communicate effectively with our customers—all of which would be helpful in a marketing role. (Here’s a great cover letter template that can help you show off your transferable skills.)

Even more important is demonstrating your additive skills, says career expert Sara McCord. That means fully embracing your career background and finding a way to express how that background will uniquely suit you for this job.

“Think about it: If you’re slightly underqualified, there’s a reason why,” she says. “If you spent the first two years of your career in a different sector, you bring experience from that industry.”

For example, when I first wanted to write for The Muse, I had absolutely no writing experience—but I did have management experience, which made me an ideal candidate to write management content.

Take a Risk

To get a hiring manager to choose you out of a sea of other applicants, especially when you may not be as qualified as the others, you might as well take a risk to stand out. Otherwise, you may simply pass under the radar. (And let’s be honest: What do you have to lose?)

For example, just take a look at some of the boldest applications we’ve seen around the web: an action figure resume, an interactive resume, and an infographic resume.

These types of applications certainly get the attention of the hiring manager, clearly conveying that the person just might have something the tips the scale in his or her favor. (Just make sure to follow these tips to make sure you’re not going too over the top.)

But maybe you don’t want (or don’t have the means) to be that bold. You can stand out in plenty of other ways, says counselor and Muse columnist Caris Thetford. For example, maybe you submit a project proposal with your application or compile your writing samples in an online profile. This can help you stand out from the other applicants just enough to show the hiring manager that you may deserve another look—and ideally, an interview.

Do Everything Else Right

You can’t afford to slip up when you think your resume might be on the bottom of the pile. That means sending every thank you note on time, following up in a timely (but not annoying) fashion, and proofreading your resume and cover letter a dozen times over to check for errors.

These may seem like small and insignificant gestures, but the smallest flaws can remove a candidate from the hiring process—and you don’t want that to be you.

By proving your worth in your application materials, you’ll have a much better chance of landing an interview—and then, you can showcase your cultural fit and passion face-to-face. Do that well, and you just may convince the hiring manager to take a chance on you.

This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article above was originally published on The Muse.

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TIME Careers & Workplace

10 Words To Remove From Your Vocabulary

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Replace 'leverage' with 'using'

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We’ve all had to work with annoying colleagues—the foghorn who won’t stop talking, the slacker who palms off his work on others, or the kleptomaniac who never returns your stapler. You learn to live with their little quirks. But there’s one type of co-worker who—for my money—beats them all in the irritating stakes: the jargonaut.

Jargonauts don’t contact you, they “reach out;” they never agree with you, but their “vision and goals are aligned with yours;” they don’t do something, they “action the key deliverables.” I’m not alone in finding them and their corporate gobbledygook hard to listen to: A recent survey found that 79% of employees don’t like working with people who use jargon.

So, if you’re guilty of overusing any of these tech terms, it might be time to invest in a thesaurus.

1. Ecosystem

You probably recognize this word from Earth science class. What was originally a term to describe an ecological unit of living organisms and their physical environment was long ago hijacked by Silicon Valley. Now we have a “music ecosystem,” “business ecosystem,” “automotive ecosystem,” and, a personal favorite of mine, “internet of things ecosystem.” See how that rolls off the tongue?

Jargonauts might think the term is a useful way to describe something with a ton of interconnected, moving parts. But most of the time, “industry,” “network,” or simply “system” works just as well.

2. Ideation

“We need to come up with a game-changing new product. Put a SWAT team together and let’s have an ideation session.”

Have you ever looked up ideation? If so, you’ll see that along with meaning the formation of ideas, it’s often used in medical contexts in reference to suicidal thoughts. You can get the same point across by saying you’re “brainstorming,” or even better, use the simplest words possible and say your idea is “in its earliest stages.”

3. Leverage

Too often, people think “leverage” is a fancy way to say “use.” And sure, you could substitute “using” into a line like “Let’s make sure we’re leveraging industry best practices,” and the sentence would still be readable.

However, you may know that leverage actually has technical definitions in science, as well as finance. Yes, you can use this term around the office and people will know you’re not literally referring to mechanical advantage and investments. But leverage is so overused (and misused) that you’re better off with a simpler word for whatever it is you’re trying to say, be it “using,” “learning from,” or “trading off of.”

4. Bandwidth

When someone tells me they don’t “have the bandwidth to take on that project,” I find it difficult not to make a crack like: “Oh, should I switch this discussion over to 4G?”

It’s true that one day a robot will probably be doing your job. But we’re not quite there yet, so let’s stop talking like one. “I don’t have any availability” or “I’m swamped” will do just fine.

5. Disrupt

It’s no longer enough to “innovate.” Now we must “disrupt.”

The person who came up with the concept, Clayton Christensen, still “believe[s] in disruption,” but as far as how the theory (and word) is used, he says: “Everyone hijacks the idea to do whatever they want. It’s the same way people hijacked the word ‘paradigm’ to justify lame things they’re trying to sell to mankind.”

Again, disruption refers to a particular sort of innovation. So, while your ideas may be “new” and “worthwhile,” they aren’t necessarily disruptive.

6. Double-Click

“That’s a great idea: Let’s double-click on that for a moment.” The only redeeming quality of this expression—which comes from the action you take to open something on a computer—is that it’s pushed out other (equally annoying) terms such as “drilling down” and “going granular.”

If you want to look at something in more detail, then just say that.

7. Dogfood

Legend has it that back in the 1980s, a Microsoft executive sent this message to his co-worker before the launch of a new product, “We are going to have to eat our own dogfood and test the product ourselves.” And so the term “dogfooding” was born.

As jargon goes, it’s certainly not the worst out there. But it conjures up some pretty gross images, and can be confusing for anyone not working in the tech industry. Stick to “testing” when around non-techies—or anyone trying to eat.

8. Iterate

“We’re iterating our butts off, dude.” These words were actually spoken by real people at TechCrunch’s 2012 Disrupt conference.

Sure, it’s become pretty commonplace to use “iterate” to mean repeating something to keep making improvements.

But as George Orwell wrote in an essay imploring people to use plain English: “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.” Which means rather than talking about your “latest iteration,” you could just say “version.”

9. Sunset

While this one sounds nice, it’s actually a creepy euphemism for killing off a product or project. Think: “We will be formally sunsetting this feature.”

Unless you want to sound like a Soviet-era politician, do yourself a favor and “sunset” this term. “Remove” and “replace” get the same point across—without the creep factor.

10. Rockstar/Wizard/Ninja/Guru

Are you a customer experience ninja? An accounts wizard? A project management guru? A recruiter looking for rockstar talent?

This isn’t hyperbole; I lifted these titles directly from LinkedIn. Perhaps it’s an attempt to make dull jobs sound exciting, but so many tech jobs use these words that they blend in—and look rather boring.

So, stick with something simple, but less cringeworthy, like “expert.” Or if you do decide to go with ninja, you owe this guy an interview.

Many of us use these words with a goal in mind. We want to be interesting or mix things up, or think this word perfectly expresses what we’re going for. But next time you go to use one of them, remember your colleagues will thank you if you use a simpler word instead.

This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article above was originally published on The Muse.

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How to Track Down Anyone’s Email Address Using Your Gmail

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Use the guess-and-verify technique

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Most of us associate networking with industry events, shaking hands with a friend of a friend of a former co-worker, and grabbing coffee with someone you’d like to get to know better. But it’s 2015, and building a relationship can happen just as easily through email. And, yes, I’m talking about the slightly nerve-racking, but potentially very rewarding, act of sending cold emails to professionals you don’t personally know.

Taking the initiative to message influential people in your industry can reap huge benefits. You can ask for advice based on their career path, secure partnerships for your company or side project, or eventually even get a foot in the door with someone who works at your dream company.

No matter what your request is, however, there’s no way to make it unless you have this person’s email. That’s why I’ve used—and will share with you—the guess-and-verify strategy that has helped me find and connect with successful entrepreneurs like Mashable’s CEO, Spoon University’s founders, and Arianna Huffington.

I will say upfront, though, that this strategy usually doesn’t work if you’re trying to contact someone who’s Beyoncé-level famous, or if his or her email is arranged in an uncommon format (more on this later). (Also, the app required for this technique is currently made only for Gmail.)

With that said, I’ve used this strategy for two years now, and it has worked more than 90% of the time. Follow these simple steps and you, too, can contact the inspiring professionals you’ve been dying to connect with.

Your first task is to download Rapportive, an extension that shows you everything you need to know about your contacts. Once it’s downloaded, you can start guessing possible formats for the contact’s email address.

To do this, you only have to know the contact’s full name and company domain. With this information, you can arrange (and re-arrange) these elements until you find a real email address.

Let’s say, for example, that you’re trying to connect with Kevin Systrom, CEO and co-founder of Instagram.

Here are some potential arrangements for his email. (Pro tip: The larger the company, the higher the chances that the email will use both the first and last name.)

  • kevin@instagram.com
  • kevins@instagram.com
  • ksystrom@instagram.com
  • kevinsystrom@instagram.com
  • kevin.systrom@instagram.com
  • k.systrom@instagram.com

With these guesses in mind, you can start the verification process. Open up a new message in Gmail, and insert a potential email address in the recipient slot. If your contact’s LinkedIn profile shows up to the right—congratulations! The email you guessed is active, and you can move on to messaging him or her.

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Kat Moon—The Muse

And how can you tell if you’ve inserted an incorrect email? Let’s suppose that I guessed ksystrom@instagram.com and pasted that in. As you can see in the below image, nothing appeared in Rapportive—meaning I can eliminate that address from my list.

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Kat Moon—The Muse

Now, not every company’s domain is as straightforward as @instagram.com. If you can’t verify a contact’s email after trying different first and last name arrangements, it’s possible that you don’t have the correct company domain.

When this happens, I go to CrunchBase—the world’s most comprehensive dataset of company activity, covering every organization from Microsoft and Amazon to the newest startups. CrunchBase gives you the most updated domain of whichever company your contact works at. For instance, I had to contact the founder of London-based startup Deliveroo. All of my email guesses ended with @deliveroo.com, but CrunchBase showed me the company domain is actually @deliveroo.co.uk. Sure enough, I verified the correct contact information moments later.

Guess and verify with Rapportive—it’s really as simple as that! Once you have an inspiring professional’s email, be bold and reach out. But before shooting off your message, check out my piece on effective elements that will increase the chances of your cold email getting a reply. No, you probably won’t receive a response for every single email you send. But you know what they say—you’ll never know until you try.

This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article above was originally published on The Muse.

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TIME Careers & Workplace

How to Ace Your Job Interview After a Long Employment Gap

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Expect the interviewer to ask about your unemployment

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After being unemployed for a while, you’ve (finally) landed a job interview. In addition to feeling excited, you may also be a little nervous. Especially since being out of work likely caused your confidence and general outlook on life to take a little dip.

Good news: You’re not alone. A study of German adults published in February in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that “mean levels of agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness,” decreased over time in unemployed participants. However, your comeback interview isn’t the time to dwell on the challenges of being unemployed. After all, this opportunity means you’re back in the game.

Yes, this could be your big chance to return to work! So, shift your focus to acing the interview. Here are three tips that will help you do just that—even if you’re out of practice or lacking your old confidence.

1. Talk it Out

If it’s been a long time since your last interview, you’ll want to practice your conversation skills. Before the interview, chat with contacts in person or on the phone—rather than connecting via email or text. Meet an old colleague for lunch, call a family member, or ask your mentor to meet for coffee. If you practice talking about your experience and career goals, you’ll feel more confident heading into your interview.

Still unsure who to reach out to? Get in touch with your (potential) references. It’s important to connect with them right away and make sure you’re both on the same page as to how you’ll be presenting your unemployment. That way, there won’t be any conflicting accounts if the hiring manager follows up. Once you’ve sorted everything out, use them as interview sounding boards, too.

2. Prepare for the Expected

You know that question is coming. The interviewer will ask about your unemployment—so there’s no reason to be unprepared.

Instead, know what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. Be honest and focus on the positives. Center the conversation on what you’ve learned from your unemployment, the skills you worked on during your time off, the hobbies you picked up, or the volunteer work you did. Highlighting these experiences enthusiastically will make you more desirable to employers.

Remember this throughout the process: Your unemployment does not define you—you are a complex person with multiple skills and interests. Make sure your interview reflects that accurately.

3. Keep the Conversation Moving

Now that we’ve covered how to discuss your unemployment, you know the last thing I’d recommend is glossing over that resume gap. But, at the same time, it shouldn’t be the center of attention either (that honor belongs to you!). Say what you need to say about it, and then move on to discuss your skills and the position.

If you feel the conversation is lingering on the subject, redirect it. Connect your past experience to the current opportunity by discussing skills you acquired that would be applicable to the new role. Find a way to relate the old to the new.

Or, ask the interviewer questions about the position or the company. You can say something like, “I learned a lot from that experience, but I’m really looking toward my future and the opportunity with your company. Can you tell me a little more about X?”

Another great strategy is to follow up on your personal narrative with some facts about the industry. This is an easy way to show the hiring manager that you’re still on top of the latest news and trends. It sounds like this: “When I worked for X company, Y was a big issue. But recently, Z has been a major factor in the industry. How is the company prepared to deal with that?”

Remember, even if the interviewer doesn’t ask any further questions about your familiarity with the sector, knowing that you are prepared will help you feel knowledgeable, relevant, and ready to tackle the job.

Yes, your current situation may be a challenge—but it doesn’t have to be a setback. After all, it’s led you to this interview, which may just start your next chapter. Show the interviewer that you have a positive attitude and are focused on the future by coming to your interview fully prepared.

This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article above was originally published on The Muse.

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This Is How Social Media Could Affect Your Job Search

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It can help you become memorable—or rather forgettable

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Everywhere you look, social media is filled with overused hyperbole.

I tripped on the way to the bathroom today, epic fail.

I am looking for the world’s best quiche recipe. Go!

My husband is the best ever <3

#daverocks

Hyperbole—exaggerated statements or claims not to be taken literally—can be a useful device to make a point, and it brings added spice to a conversations. Spice is good, but who wants to eat a spoonful of paprika? Right, me neither.

The Problem With Status Updates

Social media allows you to be more transparent and more connected than ever before, but it also encourages you to be more superficial, branding yourself in a certain way that hides your faults and gives your friends FOMO. Social media peer pressure subconsciously draws you to conform: You become addicted to likes—tempted to exaggerate further or put out a message people will respond to even if it’s not fully honest.

Many people use this strategy in their job search, unaware that it’s holding them back from being genuine and authentic. Have you ever used an absurd hashtag or related a regular difficulty as an epic fail? If so, you’re participating in social media norms that cause word-inflation—the process by which powerful words mean less and less over time from repetition (e.g., you’re not “dying” over fashion; your life isn’t “over” because you’re late to work; and your ex isn’t “the worst person who ever lived”).

When you post hyperbole as fact regularly, it becomes your standard method of expressing yourself, and it prevents you from learning how to describe—and maybe even assess—yourself and your reality. So while social media is poised to be an outlet where you can learn to be creative and uniquely expressive, it can entrench you in using over-the-top phrases, statements, and slang to convey your thoughts, feelings, and situation.

Social Media and Your Candidacy

When you look for a new job, whether it’s out of necessity or because you’re ready for the next thing, it’s usually a stressful time. When stressed, many people fall back on what they’re used to. And if you’re used to exaggerating on social media, you may not realize the extent to which this language bleeds onto your application, which can make you unlikable—or worse.

Hyperbolic buzzwords such as amazing team player, driven, out-of-the-box-thinker, and results-oriented appear on hundreds of resumes, but they’re never the reason someone is hired. Why? Because they don’t show your unique value. When the majority of the resumes that a hiring manager reviews contain the same buzzwords, how will she know you’re special? What does amazing team player even mean at that point? Nothing.

I have interviewed hundreds of people: There is a stark difference between those who rely on buzzwords because that’s what they think I want to hear and those who have a unique story to tell. One type is forgettable, the other memorable. I’ll let you choose which is which.

Of course, being an amazing team player is a positive and valuable thing to have in an employee. But, when thrown around without context, it actually makes it more difficult to connect with you. First, it throws you into the pool with all of the other “amazing team players,” and second, there are a hundred different ways of being an amazing team player, so without providing specifics, it doesn’t really tell me anything about you.

Are you the person in a group who can understand all of the different ideas being shared and combine them into an action plan? Or are you the person who doesn’t say much but works behind the scenes to make sure all the Ts are crossed and Is are dotted? Do you make sure others are heard? Are you a natural leader or a follower or both? You show your value not by using buzzwords, but by highlighting your specific accomplishments. Prove you are an amazing team player by relaying a story of a time you successfully worked as part of a team.

So, What’s the Solution?

The good news is: The problem is actually the key to the solution. Revitalize your current and future job search by avoiding catch phrases and hyperbole and practicing sincerity and accuracy in your language. Learn to use language creatively to describe or express your thoughts. In the words of Vince Lombardi, “…perfect practice makes perfect,” and social media is a platform on which you can master the use of words to sell yourself, your ideas, and your positions. This mastery will not only help you to better connect with your friends, family, and network, but it will also help you develop skills to describe your value to a new company that will set you apart from all the team players you’re competing against.

Besides, who wants to be a team player on a team of results oriented, outside-the-box thinking team players? I would rather be a member of a team where I can add unique value. Once you do get hired,then you can appropriately share: I got hired for my dream job! #Epic! Dave for the win!

This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article above was originally published on The Muse.

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5 Ways to Be More Likable

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Be generous with 5-minute favors

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Even though there were around 20 of us in the conference room, the atmosphere was pretty subdued. It had been a long, stressful week, and while this work party was supposed to be a celebration of a project we’d finished—it looked like most people were ready to go home and climb into bed.

Then Alex walked in, and the vibe immediately changed. She’s probably the most charismatic, well-liked person in the office, and just having her there made everyone else feel more energized, cheery, and talkative.

We all know people like Alex. For the longest time, I thought Alex’s personality was totally organic—that you couldn’t cultivate likability. Well, I’ve realized that’s not entirely true. Most of us will never be Alex-status, but we can do several simple things on a routine basis to not only become more well-liked, but also happier.

1. Look Out for the Little Things

During a small team meeting, I mentioned I had an idea for a potential new section for our site. Five minutes after we wrapped up, an email landed in my inbox.

It said:

“Hey! Just wanted to say I loved your section idea. I can tell you really put a lot of effort into thinking about why it would benefit our readers and how we could build it out.”

Who was it from? Alex, of course.

Alex is my peer—so this note felt different than getting one from, say, my boss. She didn’t have an obligation to send it, making it that much more meaningful. And her observation was spot-on; I’d spent a long time thinking about the exact things she’d mentioned.

I’m pretty darn sure Alex makes it a regular habit to acknowledge the small things her colleagues are doing well that probably aren’t getting recognized by anyone—because they are relatively minor.

Now I’m following her lead and making a point to say something nice (and genuine!) to at least one professional per day. This requires me to pay attention to what the people around me are working on—but I should be doing that anyway.

2. Ask About People’s Passions

I love podcasts—like, I seriously geek out every time a new episode of Longform comes out. That’s why I was so excited when a user on Twitter took it upon himself to send me some podcast recommendations.

Everyone loves talking about their passions, so give them a chance to get enthusiastic with you! It’s really flattering when someone cares enough about you to a) notice what you like and b) bring it up.

Maybe you notice your boss’ boss occasionally tweets his marathon results. Next time there’s a marathon in your area, email him the link and add, “I heard you’re a runner; are you running in this one?” Right away, you’ve got a connection. (Not a LinkedIn one—a real one.)

Or suppose you see one of your colleagues post an Instagram shot from the last concert she went to. When you bump into her in the hall, say, “I loved that concert Instagram you posted. How long have you been into jazz? Where are your favorite places to go?”

This even works with people you’ve never met before; I still keep in touch with the podcast guy from Twitter.

Talking to people about their interests suggests you see them as more than just their jobs. It shows you care about them on a human level. They’ll like you more for it—plus, you get to learn cool details about people at your company or in your field.

3. Do Five-Minute Favors

One day, I swung by Alex’s desk to ask her to help with me with an Excel spreadsheet that wasn’t formatting properly. She had to make a phone call, so I told her I’d consult someone else. But when I got back to my computer, I saw Alex had messaged me a YouTube tutorial that helped me resolve the issue.

Alex—and other super likable people—are masters of the five-minute favor. They’re constantly doing small good deeds for other people. In turn? Other people are beyond eager to help them out.

Five-minute favors are a huge boon to your reputation, and as this example proves, you don’t have to neglect your own responsibilities to do them.

You can wait for people to ask for help, like I did with Alex. Or you can proactively volunteer it. When the web team unveils the new site, you can take five minutes to send them your thoughts. When you notice two colleagues have mutual interests (because you’re paying attention!), you can offer to introduce them. When someone you know announces a new side project, you can promote it on social media.

4. Say “Hi” Enthusiastically

After watching how Alex interacts with people, I realized she did one key thing that’s so simple, so easy, I can’t believe I had never thought of it before.

She says hi to everyone she sees. And not a lame little “hi,” either, but an enthusiastic, heart-felt, “Hi!”

Most of the time, we’re stressed, busy, anxious, or tired—which means we end up giving perfunctory little nods or smiles to others when we greet them.

But this lack of excitement implies we don’t really care about other people, or at the very least, can’t be bothered to show we care.

I’ve committed to saying “Hey!” or “Good morning!” or “Long time no see!” to everyone I come across, complete with a huge smile. Not only do I end up feeling genuinely more excited to see them, it’s wonderful to see their faces light up and to get a real greeting in return.

5. Say “That Sounds Hard”

I stole this phrase from Paul Ford, the writer, who explained in an essay on Medium you should “ask the other person what they do, and right after they tell you, say: ‘Wow. That sounds hard.’” Why? “Because nearly everyone in the world believes their job to be difficult.”

At first, the idea of saying, “That sounds hard,” to everyone I met made me really uncomfortable. Wasn’t that fake and manipulative? Then I realized everyone’s job is hard. If you’re a Starbucks barista, you’ve got to stand for hours at a time in a small space, dealing with customers who are often angry or irrational. That’s hard. If you’re writing code for a scrappy startup, that’s hard. If you’re managing a department and trying to please both your team and your boss, that’s hard. I can’t think of a single profession that doesn’t have a degree of difficulty in it.

Saying, “That sounds hard,” makes people proud of themselves and their abilities. It also gives them an opportunity to open up and describe either their satisfaction or their frustrations with their jobs, which I promise you will lead to better conversations. Plus, they won’t feel the need to prove themselves, which means you won’t have any of those frustrating ego clashes that often dominate discussions. End result? More honest, genuine discussion!

After reviewing these five habits, I’ve realized they come down to one basic concept: being nice. We can’t all have Alex’s charisma, but we can certainly show other people we care. And they’ll like us for it.

This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article above was originally published on The Muse.

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This 5-Minute Technique Will Get You Noticed By Important People

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This is an easy win-win technique for anyone

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Last week, I scrolled though my Twitter notifications to discover that a very influential professional in the PR world—who’d co-founded one of the agencies I’d love to work for—had started following me.

For context, she has about 15,000 followers but is only following 500. I was pretty excited.

But I wasn’t surprised. You see, for the past month I’ve been doing something very specific on social media that’s helped me get noticed (and followed by!) influential people in every industry.

It only takes five minutes. It has an impressively high success rate. And the best part? It will work for anyone with a Twitter account.

My Five-Minute Strategy

First, I identify whose attention I want to attract. Then, I Google his or her name and “interview.” So if I was targeting, say, Marc Andreesen, I’d google “Marc Andreesen interview.” Andreesen is an influential venture capitalist, so there’s no shortage of articles about him.

I go with a New York Magazine interview.

My next step is to read through it and look for a cool quote. Immediately, one jumps out at me:

“I’m optimistic arguably to a fault, especially in terms of new ideas. My presumptive tendency, when I’m presented with a new idea, is not to ask, ‘Is it going to work? It’s ‘Well, what if it does work?’”

I copy and paste that into Pablo, an insanely easy-to-use free tool that lets you overlay text onto images.

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The Muse

Then I download the image, click on over to Twitter, find Andreesen’s handle, and tweet…

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Why Does This Work?

Movers and shakers are pretty darn accustomed to seeing tweets, posts, articles, and videos about themselves. But making a personalized “quotable” (as I’ve learned they’re called) about someone really breaks through the noise. It says, I think you’re so wise and so perceptive and so experienced I’ve taken the time to craft a custom image with your words on it. It’s pretty hard not to be flattered (and most people will never know how quickly you whipped that picture up).

Sometimes, the person I’m quoting won’t follow me—but he or she will retweet my post. Then I’ll get five or 10 new followers. So even when the plan doesn’t completely work, it’s still beneficial.

And the last bonus? Every time you do this, you’re creating unique, valuable content for your feed. Most people post links to articles, like so:

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If their followers don’t click through to the article, the tweet doesn’t have value.

However, a well-chosen quote does have stand-alone value. Your followers will learn something in the two or three seconds it takes to read your tweet, which will make you stand out… and lead to more followers.

I’ve actually started doing this around once a day. When posts do especially well, I’ll even repost them two or three days later.

Who Should You Start With?

I’ve found this technique to be the most successful with people who have under 10,000 followers. Beyond that, they’re getting so many mentions and shout-outs a day your tweet loses some of its impact.

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! Pulling the whole thing together is certainly pretty quick and low-effort, and as I said, you’ll benefit even if the person doesn’t follow you back.

But when you’re not trying to get Zappos CEO Tony Hseih (who has 2.78 million followers) to notice you, I suggest targeting:

  • Well-known people in your industry
  • Influential employees of the companies you’d like to work for
  • Your favorite authors, bloggers, or writers
  • Professionals who live in the same area as you

I’ve actually started a list in Evernote of people I want to try this with; every time I come across a name, whether that’s on Twitter or LinkedIn, in a conversation, on a company site, or in an article, I’ll add it to the note. Then when I have a spare five minutes, I’ll write up my tweet.

What Next?

Okay, so the best possible outcome happens, and the co-founder of your dream company follows you back.

Right away, I’d tweet, “Thanks for the follow, @JaneDoe! I’ve enjoyed keeping up with your work at @Company.”

Jane might respond, or she might not. Either way, I’m now on her feed.

As Lily Herman explains, “the name of the game is to be intriguing, not overbearing.” You don’t want to go through his or her feed and favorite every tweet from the last five months.

Herman recommends interacting with a person a few times a week. Here are her tweet ideas:

  • If someone gives an opinion on a current event: “Interesting perspective @JaneDoe. But what did you think about [insert other opinion]?”
  • If someone makes an exciting professional announcement: “Congrats @JaneDoe on such great news! When is this awesome change going to be implemented?”
  • If someone tweets a company update: “That’s so cool, @JaneDoe. How did you get the idea for that campaign?”

Hopefully, you’ll build a relationship with someone, which you can eventually leverage to take the connection offline, get connected to other influential people, or even land a job.

But even if none of those things happen, at the very least you’ll have a powerful person seeing your name, reading your updates, and learning your interests.

This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article above was originally published on The Muse.

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TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Tech Skills That Will Help Any Career

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Master these basic building blocks

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Almost every single job out there involves being online in some capacity. That means that, at some point in your career—this year or 30 years from now—you’ll likely have to access the back end of a company site, a blog, or an email marketing service.

Did that sentence scare you?

Don’t worry, it’s not as hard or as complicated as it sounds. Especially once you master a few of the basic building blocks. No, you won’t magically transform into Steve Jobs or Marissa Mayer overnight, but you can gain enough knowledge to talk credibly about website development and design. And that new knowledge might impress your current boss or a future hiring manager.

So, skip the Facebook stalking for a while and spend that time boosting your digital know-how instead. Here are five basics you can get started on right now.

1. Image Editing

Photos aren’t just for selfies and Instagram. They’re also an important tool for marketing, technical documents, and of course, a company’s online presence.

If you can do a little image editing with tools like Photoshop, you can:

  • Resize images for blog posts or websites
  • Crop images for social media headers or profiles
  • Create images for online marketing campaigns, emails, and digital newsletters

For quick and easy image editing, check out Pixlr, a photo editor you can use for free on the web or mobile devices. Or download a free 30-day trial of Photoshop and try the free tutorials on the site.

2. SEO

There’s no getting away from the fact that most people head to Google when they need information nowadays. You can help your company take advantage of that fact by understanding how SEO (search engine optimization) works and how it can improve your company’s business. If your company has any kind of online presence, SEO can only help it.

With a bit of SEO, you can:

  • Optimize images so they’re also searchable
  • Create links that best describe what’s on your site
  • Write content that gets you noticed by search engines

To start unraveling the secrets of SEO, check out Google’s free “Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.”

3. HTML

HTML, or HyperText Markup Language, is what’s used to put content on websites or web-friendly emails. You probably won’t be able to build a whole site after studying HTML for a few hours, but you will be able to do surprisingly important tasks with only a handful of code.

For example, with HTML, you can:

  • Finally correct the typos on your company’s site
  • Put content in a CMS (content management system) like WordPress
  • Write marketing emails with a service like MailChimp or Campaign Monitor
  • Create links to track the performance of marketing campaigns

You can learn HTML basics and even create your own web page in the free Skillcrush 10-day Bootcamp. You’ll also learn interesting and useful tech terms along the way that’ll wow your colleagues when you start casually tossing them out.

4. CSS

CSS (a.k.a., Cascading Style Sheets) is like the yin to HTML’s yang: It’s the code that formats and styles HTML content. By changing just a little CSS, you can completely change how a web page or other digital content looks.

If you know CSS, you can:

  • Create an email newsletter that matches your company’s brand
  • Style blog posts so they’re easier to read
  • Customize a Tumblr or Squarespace theme
  • Change the appearance of entire web pages

Check out this quick explanation of CSS to take a look at some actual CSS code. Then, have some fun playing with CSS live in the CSSDesk online editor.

5. Website Inspectors

Once you know more about websites and digital content, you can go behind the scenes with a website inspector. This is a tool that lets you see all the code that web pages are built with and—get ready for this—even edit it if you like. (Don’t worry though. The changes you make will only show up on your computer, so you won’t bring the internet down with your tweaks.)

Using an inspector is a great way to understand more about HTML and CSS—and to see how changes look before you make them on a “real” site.

Two of the most popular inspectors are Mozilla’s Firebug and Google Chrome DevTools, both of which are free. And you can get going with both inspectors with just a couple clicks by installing the Firebug Lite extension for any browser or right-clicking on any web page in Chrome to bring up DevTools.

So, what are you waiting for? Pick the building block that looks the most interesting to you, and set aside time this month to learn the fundamentals. You might even realize that you’ve discovered a new passion and decide to get a foundation in tech to advance your career. Or not. Either way, learning new tech skills can only help your career.

This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article above was originally published on The Muse.

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TIME Careers & Workplace

15 Words You Need to Eliminate From Your Vocabulary

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Start with 'things' and 'stuff'

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Newsprint is on life support, emojis are multiplying faster than hungry Gremlins, and 300 million people worldwide strive to make their point in 140 or fewer characters.

People don’t have the time or the attention span to read any more words than necessary. You want your readers to hear you out, understand your message, and perhaps be entertained, right? Here’s a list of words to eliminate to help you write more succinctly.

1. That

It’s superfluous most of the time. Open any document you’ve got drafted on your desktop, and find a sentence with that in it. Read it out loud. Now read it again without that. If the sentence works without it, delete it. Also? Don’t use that when you refer to people. “I have several friends that live in the neighborhood.” No. No, you don’t. You have friends who. Not friends that.

2. Went

I went to school. Or the store, or to church, or to a conference, to Vegas, wherever it is you’re inclined to go. Instead of went, consider drove, skated, walked, ran, flew. There are any number of ways to move from here to there. Pick one. Don’t be lazy and miss the chance to add to your story.

3. Honestly

People use honestly to add emphasis. The problem is, the minute you tell your reader this particular statement is honest, you’ve implied the rest of your words were not. #Awkward

4. Absolutely

Adding this word to most sentences is redundant. Something is either necessary, or it isn’t. Absolutely necessary doesn’t make it more necessary. If you recommend an essential course to your new employees, it’s essential. Coincidentally, the definition of essential is absolutely necessary. Chicken or egg, eh?

5. Very

Accurate adjectives don’t need qualifiers. If you need to qualify it? Replace it.

Very is intended to magnify a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. What it does is makes your statement less specific. If you’re very happy? Be ecstatic. If you’re very sad, perhaps you’re melancholy or depressed. Woebegone, even. Very sad is a lazy way of making your point. Another pitfall of using very as a modifier? It’s subjective. Very cold and very tall mean different things to different people. Be specific. She’s 6’3″ and it’s 13 degrees below freezing? These make your story better while also ensuring the reader understands the point you’re making.

6. Really

Unless you’re a Valley Girl, visiting from 1985, there’s no need to use really to modify an adjective. Or a verb. Or an adverb. Pick a different word to make your point. And never repeat really, or very for that matter. That’s really, really bad writing.
If you are visiting from 1985? Please bring the birth certificate for my Cabbage Patch Doll on your next visit. Thanks.

7. Amazing

The word means “causing great surprise or sudden wonder.” It’s synonymous with wonderful, incredible, startling, marvelous, astonishing, astounding, remarkable, miraculous, surprising, mind-blowing, and staggering. You get the point, right? It’s everywhere. It’s in corporate slogans. It dominated the Academy Awards acceptance speeches. It’s all over social media. It’s discussed in pre-game shows and post-game shows.

Newsflash: If everything is amazing, nothing is.

8. Always

Absolutes lock the writer into a position, sound conceited and close-minded, and often open the door to criticism regarding inaccuracies. Always is rarely true. Unless you’re giving written commands or instruction, find another word.

9. Never

See: Always.

10. Literally

Literally means literal. Actually happening as stated. Without exaggeration. More often than not, when the term is used, the writer means figuratively. Whatever is happening is being described metaphorically. No one actually “waits on pins and needles.” How uncomfortable would that be?

11. Just

It’s a filler word and it makes your sentence weaker, not stronger. Unless you’re using it as a synonym for equitable, fair, even-handed, or impartial, don’t use it at all.

12. Maybe

This makes you sound uninformed, unsure of the facts you’re presenting. Regardless of the topic, do the legwork, be sure, write an informed piece. The only thing you communicate when you include these words is uncertainty.

13. Stuff

This word is casual, generic even. It serves as a placeholder for something better. If the details of the stuff aren’t important enough to be included in the piece? Don’t reference it at all. If you tell your reader to take your course because they’ll learn a lot of stuff? They’re likely to tell you to stuff it.

14. Things

See: Stuff.

15. Irregardless

This doesn’t mean what you think it means, Jefe. It means regardless. It is literally (see what I did there?) defined as: regardless. Don’t use it. Save yourself the embarrassment.

Whether you’re ghostwriting for your CEO, updating a blog, selling a product, or finishing your master’s thesis, you need to keep your reader engaged. These 15 words are a great place to start trimming the fat from your prose. Bonus? You’ll sound smarter.

This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article above was originally published on The Muse.

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Read next: What Do the Words You Use Say About You?

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3 Secrets That Will Enhance Your Cover Letter

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Pretend you are a stranger reading your cover letter

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You know that it’s beneficial to have a second set of eyes review your application materials. Someone who can tell you that your resume looks good—except for that part where you misspelled your own name (FYI, you can check that, too!). Or that your writing sample is impressive, but that it would be even better if you used the correct version of “their.”

But sometimes, no one is available. Maybe a contact said he would help but hasn’t replied since, and you don’t want to pester him. Or maybe you’re taking a chance in your letter and you’re afraid feedback from your stuck-in-the-mud roommate will make you lose your nerve and play it safe.

So what should you do? Write your very best letter, and then, before you hit send, try these three tips.

1. Pretend You’re a Stranger

You know why you’re perfect for this job. That’s great, but that context can prevent you from spotting what’s missing in your cover letter. In other words, you might know that you excel at building strong bonds with difficult clients or that you’re an ace public speaker, but if your cover letter uses bland language like “connect with stakeholders” and “has led multiple presentations,” the hiring manager will have no way to know the depth of your skills.

So, take the advice that you surely received from some English teacher at some point, and “Show, don’t tell.” If you led “record growth,” employ the same strategies you did on your resume to quantify your achievements. In lieu of saying I could “adapt to change,” I’ve written this: “I have routinely found myself in inaugural or transitioning roles, such as a first-time admin role that became a communications position, or taking a position once held by two people and rolling it into one.”

Ask yourself, if a stranger handed you your cover letter, what impression would it make? Would you think this person has achieved what you have achieved or could contribute what you know you can?

2. Make Yourself Take a Risk

You’ve probably seen some advice suggesting you step outside of the standard “My name is Sara and I’m applying for such-and-such position…” (If you haven’t, look here, here, and here). But even if you spice up the intro a bit, you might hold yourself back from getting too creative, because as Muse contributor Dave Meadows writes, “Spice is good, but who wants to eat a spoonful of paprika?”

Honestly, one of the best cover letters I ever wrote was also the riskiest. And how I got over my fear of writing something over the top is that I reminded myself that I didn’t have to submit it. I didn’t write it in one of those finicky, little, online application boxes. I didn’t write in the same document as my pristine, go-to letter. I saved it under a different name and gave myself an hour to write down stories I thought exemplified who I was as an applicant and why I was right for the open role. Another time, I applied for a freelance writing position by submitting my cover letter in the form of an article—and yes, I landed an interview.

So, make yourself take a risk. Fill a document with words you’d use to describe yourself or slightly wacky, attention-grabbing first lines and examples. Then compare each document, and see if pulling a line or two from your risky letter will make your go-to stronger and more memorable.

3. Get Old School

Step one: Run spell check. Do not skip this step!

Step two: Locate a printer. If you don’t have access to a printer, it’s time for a field trip. Because in order to truly edit a cover letter, you’ll have to proofread it, and the most effective way to do that is to get it off of your computer screen and out in front of you—on paper.

So, print your cover letter and then read it out loud. Don’t breeze through it. Go slow, maybe use different voices—a super impressive voice, or an “I can’t believe I’m doing this” voice, or whatever works. As an editor, I can tell you that you’ll be surprised how often this tactic will show you that you’re actually missing a “the” and that without that three-letter word, your big, powerful sentence doesn’t make sense.

Cover letters don’t exist simply to torture you. They’re there because hiring managers are hoping you can flesh out your resume and provide them with a bit more information about why you’re right for the job. So, don’t submit the very first thing you write just to get it over with. Take the time to check your letter over—because you (yes, you!) have what it takes to write an amazing cover letter.

This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article above was originally published on The Muse.

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