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3-Step Formula for Making Small Talk (Without Awkward Silences)

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Start by sharing something about yourself

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Coming from someone who just graduated from business school, it may seem strange to focus on the skill of small talk. Next to more formal business skills, such as networking and building an elevator pitch, chitchat just doesn’t seem like it should be a top priority. I’ve learned, however, that being a good small talker is absolutely vital to your professional success.

Regardless of your role, you will surely find yourself in professional situations where you have to make conversation with someone you don’t know well (or at all), whether it’s a co-worker, senior manager, client, or new networking contact. As you jump into that initial conversation, it’s important that you’re able to make a quick connection, so you can move toward building a more substantial relationship.

For some, small talk comes naturally—but for others (including myself!), it can be pretty tricky. I get especially nervous when I’m talking to someone senior at my organization, because I want to make a good impression without coming across as boring. How do you hold a conversation with someone you barely know without resorting to commenting on the weather?

In my experience, the best way to deal with this common situation is to have a couple of pre-planned ideas of things to say—that way, you never have to worry about freezing up. Here is the simple, three-step method I use.

1. Briefly Reveal Something About Yourself

Don’t go silent after you shake hands and introduce yourself—continue by volunteering something about yourself. It doesn’t have to be anything revolutionary; often I’ll simply comment on what brought me to the situation (e.g., “I’m here because I’ll be working on the operations phase of this project—I’m really excited to kick things off during this meeting”).

I’ve found that this helps put others at ease because it gives them some context for who I am. It also establishes a pattern of discussion that involves both parties talking, instead of a conversation that is completely reliant on me asking the other person questions.

2. Ask an Open-Ended Question That’s Fairly Easy to Answer

Asking the right question means that the other person won’t have to work too hard to engage, but also won’t be able to get away with a simple yes-or-no answer that will stop the conversation cold.

For example, if you’re waiting for a meeting to start, you could ask how he or she got involved in the project that is going to be discussed. Or, if you’d rather expand the conversation beyond work-related topics, you could go for a more fun, personal question—I often ask if the person has any interesting trips planned.

3. Direct the Conversation to Current Events

If it feels like your small talk has devolved into a Q&A, feel free to move the conversation away from professional topics and talk about what’s going on in the world. Of course, the advice that it’s best to avoid conversations about religion and politics still holds true, but if you’re the one to pick the topic, then you’ll be able to direct the discussion appropriately.

I try to stick to well-known topics, such as news about local sports teams or recent events covered in a daily digest (try Daily PNut, The Week, or theSkimm), so that it’s more likely the other person will have also something to say on the subject. That way, the conversation can progress much more naturally.

Keep this method in mind, and the next time you find yourself standing next to an SVP in the coffee line, you’ll be able to make a confident, intelligent impression—without any mention of the weather.

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

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21 Polite Ways to End a Long Conversation

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Polite but firm ways to say good-bye

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How many times have you had an awesome conversation that’s gone on just a little too long?

You know what I’m talking about. There’s a point in the conversation when everyone knows it’s time to wrap it up, but somehow, the discussion keeps trailing on. (Or, worse, when the other person’s still going strong and you’ve been looking at your watch for five minutes now.)

Great news! You can now stop talking at the ideal moment, all thanks to these 21 lines that will end things on a good note—and on time.

On the Phone

  1. “I’ve got another call in a couple minutes; thanks so much for speaking with me, and I’ll talk to you again [soon/in X days].”
  2. “My battery’s pretty low, so I’m going to hop off. Have an amazing day!”
  3. “It sounds like we’ve covered everything we needed to, so I’ll let you go. Thank you for such a productive meeting!”
  4. “Can’t believe it’s already [time of day]. I’m sure you’ve got lots of things on your agenda, so I’ll let you get to them. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you.”

At a Networking Event

  1. “Please excuse me, I’m going to make a quick restroom trip. It was lovely to meet you!”
  2. “I’ve had such a nice time talking to you. And I’ll definitely connect with you on LinkedIn so I can keep up with all of your cool ventures. In the meantime, I’m going to go [grab some hors d’oeuvres/say hi to a friend/go to the next panel].”
  3. “I’m sorry to leave so quickly, but it’s been a pleasure and I hope we can reconnect soon. Do you have a business card?”
  4. “I’m going to mingle a bit more, but before I go, can I introduce you to someone? [Introduce them to each other.] I’ll let you guys talk!”

In the Office

  1. “I’ve got to head back to my desk and work on [X project]. Let’s catch up at happy hour!”
  2. “I know you’ve got a crazy schedule, so I’ll let you get back to it.”
  3. “I’d love to hear about your [work/side gig/current initiative] when we’ve got more time, so let’s plan lunch!”
  4. “There are a couple emails I have to send before [time], so I’m going to have to excuse myself.”

At the End of a Meeting

  1. “Looks like we’ve hit everything on the agenda. If no one has anything else to discuss, see you all at next week’s meeting.”
  2. “There’s another meeting in this conference room right after us, so we should probably clear out and let the next guys in.”
  3. “Great to see we finished 15 minutes early! Going to go knock out some quick emails.”
  4. “[Person], are you walking back to your desk? I’ll walk with you.”
  5. “Thanks, everyone, for a productive meeting! I can send around our notes later this afternoon.”

On a Video Call

  1. “I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. Have a fantastic rest of your day, and I’ll look for your [email/notes/report/follow-up].”
  2. “Your ideas sound really promising; can’t wait to see them in action. In the meantime, you’ve probably got a lot on your plate, so I’ll let you get back to work.”
  3. “I want to get you the answers to your questions as soon as possible, so I’m going to get off now—look for my email by the end of the [day/week].”
  4. “Wow, I can’t believe it’s already [time]. Do you mind if I hang up and finish up my to-do list?”

With these polite but firm ways of saying good-bye, you’ll never be stuck in “conversation purgatory” again. And I can almost promise you that the person on the receiving end will be thankful (or at least not offended).

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

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5 Lines to Avoid in Your Follow-Up Email After Job Interview

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Take the time to focus on what you say and how you say it

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I think we can all agree that waiting to hear back about a job isn’t topping anyone’s list of favorite hobbies. Every time your phone rings or your email dings, you stop what you’re doing just in case it’s news on the job front. Will you get an interview? Will you get an offer? Maybe you even pick up one of those automated scam calls, just on the off chance that the hiring manager is suddenly calling you from a blocked number or remote location.

So, more power to you if you decide to take matters into your own hands and write a note. That said, as with everything else, you need to find a way to phrase what you’re really thinking (i.e., “Hire me!”) in the best way possible.

Read on for five lines you want to be sure to avoid, as well as better options.

1. “You Said You’d Get Back to Me on Monday, and It’s Tuesday.”

Yes, you get points for paying close attention. Except: You only get them with yourself. When you write a line like this, it feels accusatory. Suddenly the hiring manager is on the defensive, feeling like you’re a candidate who doesn’t understand that some times things take more time than anticipated.

In this instance, your best bet is to give it some more time (a.k.a., until Friday) and then say you’re “looking forward to learning about potential next steps.” Don’t worry—waiting a few extra days won’t make you look like you lack attention to detail or weren’t listening closely. Rather, it will make you look patient and understanding of a modern hiring process.

2. “Why Haven’t You Gotten Back to Me?”

You have to be extra bold on job search—get out there and network, sell your abilities, and follow up! And while a can-do attitude is a must, you don’t want to feel so emboldened that your emails sound, um, threatening. Another variant on this line—“Where are you?”—can read as either angry or confused, but it’s still best avoided.

A better option than either of these is a line that inquires if there’s anything tangible that you can do to make it easier for the other person to reach back. If you submitted an application and haven’t heard back in 10 days, you could try, “I’m very excited about the open position and I’d like to confirm receipt of my application materials. Please let me know if I may send anything else along.” Alternatively, if an interviewer said he or she would be in touch and you never received a response to your thank you note, you could follow up a week later to ask if you “could provide any additional information or assistance.”

This approach is nice because it shifts your tone from “Don’t make me hunt you down” to “Just a reminder that I’m happy to do what I can to continue the conversation.”

3. “I’d Really Appreciate Any Response Whatsoever.”

Let’s be real: You don’t actually want any response whatsoever. Ideally, you want to hear that you’re moving forward in the hiring process. If that’s not possible, you want a general status update (e.g., applications are under review or all final candidates have been contacted).

This line comes off a little desperate. It sounds like you’re waiting by your phone and like you’ll jump off the treadmill or out the shower if it rings—and the hiring manager doesn’t need to know that!

So, if you’re itching to know how things are going with your application, try: “Would it be possible to get an update on the status of the hiring process?” It’s concise and it doesn’t tip your hand.

4. “I Have Another Offer. Do You Have a Decision Yet?”

Sometimes you’re really excited about a certain company, but sadly, the hiring process is dragging on so long that you’d have to (essentially) commit before you get an offer (very risky!) or bow out. Thankfully, there’s another option whereby you let them in on your predicament—delicately.

First, don’t put the cart before the horse. If the company has rescheduled your interview three times, they may be trying to let you down easy—or too disorganized to get back to you within your parameters anyhow. On the other hand, if you’ve interviewed and think things went well, it’s worth letting them know that you’re interested, but that external factors may force your hand.

Try this: “I’m really excited about this position, and it’s my first choice. So, I wanted to let you know that I have another offer that I have to respond to by Friday. Do you know when you’ll be making a decision?”

If you don’t want to share news of your offer—say you’re applying to closely connected firms—you could simply say: “Could you share the projected timeline for the remainder of the hiring process?” This way, you’ll know if you’ll magically hear in a matter of days—or not.

5. “I’m Disappointed You Never Wrote Me Back.”

We’ve all been there. It’s upsetting when an interviewer you thought you hit it off with goes radio silent. And there might be a part of you that wants to write something like you would in a break up text about how you’re better than this anyhow, and you’ll get through it and find what’s right for you.

However, an angry response makes you look like you’re someone who doesn’t understand how to communicate professionally. It’s annoying, but it’s a fact that some companies, per protocol, don’t reach back to candidates—even finalists—once they’ve filled a post.

As far as what to write instead, you have a few options. If you’re dying to write something back, you can say you “enjoyed learning more about the company and would love to be kept in mind for any roles you might be a better fit for in the future” or that you “would like to stay in touch.”

That said, I prefer to say nothing. You can always reach out at a later date. In the meantime, you can focus your energies on the companies that are getting back to you.

It’s important to follow up on job opportunities. So take the time to focus on what you say and how you say it.

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

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3 Words to Leave Out in Your Next Email

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Eliminating these words can help your email sound more respectful

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In one week, I’ve dramatically improved my professional communication skills.

Yes, I know, that’s a big claim—but it’s true. And the best part is that the changes I made were simple. I cut three words from my vocabulary: “actually,” “sorry,” and “me.”

 

1. Actually

My inspiration for getting rid of “actually” was Carolyn Kopprasch, Chief Happiness Officer at Buffer, who wrote a great blog post on the word.

Turns out that when I use “actually,” it’s usually because I’m correcting someone. The proof is in a recent email I sent to my editor.

Erin: That wording felt a little misleading, so I changed it.

Me: Actually, I pulled that sentence from the [company] website!

It’s not an awful response, but a better one would’ve been:

Thanks for your feedback! I used that sentence because I found it on their site.

The second communicates the same info while sounding more respectful and friendly.

“Actually” Alternatives: Definitely, got it, I see, great point, makes sense, understandable

 

 

2. Sorry

I try to stay away from saying ”sorry” in situations that don’t merit it: when I make a tiny mistake, when I state my opinion, or when someone points out something I missed.

However, now I’m not even using “sorry” during those times I’ve truly messed up. Instead, I’m saying, “I apologize.”

Because “sorry” is so overused, it tends to feel flippant and non-genuine. “I apologize,” on the other hand, is said rarely enough that it still carries a lot of weight. When I use it, people know what I’m saying is heartfelt.

Last week, I blanked on an important meeting. When my boss asked what happened, I didn’t say, “Sorry, I forgot!” I said, “I apologize—it totally slipped my mind. From now on, I’ll check my Google Calendar as soon as I get to my desk in the morning so that doesn’t happen again.”

Note: I didn’t just apologize, but I laid out my plan for avoiding making the same mistake again in the future. It goes a lot further than just, “Sorry, it won’t happen again.”

“Sorry” Alternatives: You’re right, I apologize, Going forward I will…, I understand why you’re upset

 

3. Me

It’s not just the word “me” I wanted to avoid. It was everything “me” represents—being internally focused, rather than concentrating on how I can help the people I interact with every day.

Here’s an email I was going to send, before I realized it had the off-limits word:

Hi Sean,

When you have a moment, could you please send me the info on next Wednesday’s campaign launch? I want to double-check a couple details before it goes live.

Thanks,

Aja

Here’s the re-written version:

Hi Sean,

When you have a moment, could you please send over next Wednesday’s campaign info? Double-checking a couple details before it goes live to make sure the client is happy!

Thanks,

Aja

While editing this message, I got rid of “I” as well. Reducing my use of “me” words forces me to focus on how what I’m doing is benefiting our mission and company as a whole, which ultimately makes my communication more effective (and the person receiving it more receptive).

“Me/myself/I” Alternatives: You, us, we, the team, our company, our department

 

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

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7 Ways to Respond to Negativity at Work

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“Is there anything I can do?”

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Up until very recently, I’ve had two techniques for dealing with negative co-workers and colleagues. Full disclosure: Neither of them ever worked.

First, I tried avoiding negative people. I was never rude, but if someone was always venting, I wouldn’t engage in conversations with him or her.

This strategy led me to miss out on important relationships with people who, complaints aside, were good to know. So next, I tried commiserating with the venters. When people started their spiel, I’d join in, either by getting annoyed on their behalf or offering complaints of my own. Not only was this bad for my mood, but it encouraged people to keep grumbling around me.

So I finally figured out a third way to deal: responding to unhappy statements in a way that shut down the pessimism while still keeping the conversation alive.

(Note: I reserve this strategy for people who whine non-stop, not those who speak up when there’s an issue.)

Here are the seven responses I use with people who always seem to have something negative to say.

1. “I’m sorry to hear that. Did anything good come out of the situation?”

This response shows empathy while redirecting the person’s thoughts in a more upbeat direction. If he or she says, “No, nothing!” then you can frown sympathetically and change the subject.

Do note that you definitely don’t want to be the one to point out a specific silver lining. If you do, it can put the other person on the defensive, making him or her feel obligated to prove why the situation is still sucky (despite the apparent bright side).

2. “Wow, that sucks. But I’m pretty impressed with how positive you’ve managed to stay about the whole thing.”

In the same way that telling people that they’re really hard workers motivates them to work harder and live up to that reputation, commenting on someone’s “impressive” fortitude incentivizes them to be less negative.

3. “Ooh. How do you typically handle that?”

Asking about coping strategies will automatically put people in problem-solving mode. And since no one wants to say, “I don’t know how to handle this,” you’re almost guaranteed to get a positive response.

4. “If only [name] had the experience/wisdom/work ethic that you did!”

When colleagues are venting to me about others, this line not only flatters, but encourages them to acknowledge where the other person’s coming from. The combination of perspective and flattery usually goes a long way.

5. “Please, correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you’re upset because…”

Some people just won’t let it go until you’ve heard them out. For these folks, I’ll just repeat their main grievances back to them. This lets them feel heard, but since I’m not adding anything new, they eventually run out of steam.

6. “Oh gosh. Well, I’m sure you’d rather talk about something happier. What else is new in your world?”

With this reply, you force the other person to move on to a less gloomy topic. After all, what else can he or she say: ”No, I actually don’t want to talk about something happier?”

7. “Is there anything I can do?”

While you shouldn’t offer to step in unless you can actually follow through, most of the time, the venter won’t take you up on your offer. Instead, he or she will usually say, “No, that’s okay,” or, “I don’t think there’s anything you can do,” at which point you can reply, “Definitely let me know!” and then transition to something else.

Dealing with negative people is no one’s idea of a good time. But now, you don’t have to walk away quickly when you see them in the kitchen or at a networking party—you can stroll right up and start talking with the knowledge that if they start venting, you’ve got seven options for combatting their pessimism.

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

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This 1 Trick Can Help You Stay Focused

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Take a timeout

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Here’s a question for you: Do you control your day or do you simply react to it? Or to put it another way—how often do you feel like all you did was keep your head above water?

Nodding along right now? You’re not alone.

When transitioning from being in the army to a 9-to-5 desk job, time management and feeling in control of my work day was one of the hardest challenges I had to overcome. That was, until I applied a trick from my military training to my office job. The great part about it is that it’s so easy to do, anyone can do it (without holding a a loaded weapon)!

The Trick

Once upon a time, before emails and office life, I was a sniper in the Army. As a sniper, I was trained to go into a dangerous area, collect reconnaissance, and get out without ever being seen. This is the hardest part of the job. Most people think it’s all about shooting from really far away, and while that’s certainly an important skill, it’s not the most difficult. Staying virtually invisible, while moving from point to point with 75+ pounds of gear in extreme weather, while being completely exhausted, requires a tremendous amount of focus. The fatigue, the discomfort, the racing thoughts are all distractions that can throw off your focus and your cloak of invisibility that keeps you alive.

So how do you brush off distractions and maintain your focus?

Well, when the external stimuli take over and you begin to lose focus on your priorities, my sniper instructors taught me an extremely simple and profound trick to regain control.

SLLS: Stop, Look, Listen, and Smell

They said, “When the heat, weight, and fatigue take your focus off moving in silence and invisibility, take a SLLS break—Stop what you are doing. Look around. Listen to your surroundings. Smell your environment.”

The purpose of this is to take a timeout and refocus. This allows you to stop reacting to the external stimuli, be mindful of your environment, and focus on what really matters.

Yes, it works. It helped me be invisible as a sniper. And later on, at my desk job, I discovered that it helped me regain control of my workday when all I was doing was reacting to emails and other people’s priorities.

One particular day, I was attempting to buckle down and knock out several hours of important, but monotonous work. It was crucial I completed it that day, but my mind was struggling to stay focused, and my attention bounced around from other people’s conversations to my phone to anything but what I needed to do. Time for a SLLS break! After five minutes of stopping and refocusing with SLLS, I was able to sit down with resolve and accomplish my work.

Bonus: It even helped me in my personal life to be more mindful and focused. I was able to soak up and fully experience a recent backpacking trip to the Yucatan peninsula.

So, how do you use this trick to immediately make an impact and help you regain control of your workday and personal life?

The Challenge

Set a recurring alarm on your phone for every two hours, between 8 AM and 8 PM, that simply says “SLLS.” This is your cue to take a SLLS break. Stop whatever you’re doing, look around, listen to your surroundings, and smell your environment. Whether it’s for 30 seconds or five minutes, take as long as you need to regain clarity on the present moment.

By doing this you’ll stop the reaction cycle and be able to focus on the present—allowing your mind to breathe and enter a higher state of thinking where you decide what’s important and worthy of your time. You’ll regain mindfulness and purpose by taking back control of those elusive thoughts that usually escape you during stressful moments.

The every-two-hour alarm is just a starting point. Practice this until it’s a habit, then turn off the alarm. Use this trick whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, when you’re just reacting to the world around you, and when you want to take control of your day and your life.

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

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How to Leave a Job on Great Terms

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Offer to train your replacement

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You’ve nailed the interview, negotiated your salary, and just signed on the dotted line to accept your new job. Now, there’s just one tiny thing standing in the way of you and your sweet new gig: your old one.

When you’re job hunting, you tend to think a lot about what it takes to land a new position, but there’s a great deal to consider about the one you’re leaving, too. Even if you’d love to give your boss a piece of your mind or secretly hope that your co-workers end up on a deserted island after their next holiday cruise, it’s important to leave your job on a positive, professional note. Here’s how to do it:

Give Ample Notice

Once you know you’re leaving, set a meeting with your boss to put in your official notice. (And yes, tell your boss before you tell anyone else!) Although two weeks is standard (unless your contract says otherwise), it’s a good gesture to give more time if you know exactly the date you’ll be leaving further in advance. Most of the time, your boss will be appreciative that you’re leaving plenty of time to wrap up your projects.

Caveat: If you’ve seen your company escort employees right out the door once they give their resignation, don’t give any more notice than two weeks. In this case, it’s best to prepare yourself well in advance by tying up loose ends (i.e., downloading important files) before making your announcement.

Play it Cool

Unless you’ve just hit the Powerball, there’s a good chance that you’re going to have a long work life ahead of you. Which means that, at some point, your path will cross again with many of the people you work with.

So, no matter how happy you are about your new job, you can’t show it. First of all, no one likes a bragger (especially if they’re trying to get out of there, too). Secondly, there’s a good chance you’ll need to use your current company as a reference in the future. Do you really want your boss to remember you doing the Moonwalk down the hallway out of sheer giddiness on your last week? Probably not.

Connect with your Co-Workers

That said, once you’ve told your boss, you should announce your departure to all of the co-workers you work with—both to let them prepare for the transition, as well as to stay in touch with them after you leave. It’s appropriate to send a mass farewell email—one specific to clients and one for co-workers—letting them know where you’ll be moving on to and your relevant contact information. You don’t need to give everyone your home address or your birthday, but a personal email address orLinkedIn profile where you can be reached is a great way to show that even though you’re leaving, you’re not severing ties.

Wrap Things Up

No matter what projects you happen to be working on, make sure you complete them. Even if finishing whatever is currently on your plate requires more hours than you would like to spend on your current job, it’s your responsibility to not leave any loose ends (or, if it really can’t be wrapped up in two weeks, to leave detailed instructions). Not only for the sake of the person who will be replacing you, but because it’s important to your professional reputation to leave a job on a high and positive note. Nothing shows gratitude and accountability like a job that’s done well—and finished.

Offer to Train Your Replacement

There’s nothing a boss hates more than going through the hiring process—except having to train that new employee. And honestly, she probably doesn’t know your position as well as you do. So, if you can help with this part of your exit, then you’re winning points all around. Offer to help your boss screen resumes, sit in on interviews, work with the new employee, or create a training manual for your job. It will go a long way to leaving her with good impression once you’re gone.

Request an Exit Interview

Even if your company’s policy doesn’t include an exit interview, ask your boss for one anyway. Then, use that time to show your gratitude for the opportunities you’ve received, share what you’ve learned, and offer feedback for the next person who will fill your role. It will show that you not only took your job seriously, but that you’re grateful for the experience.

Pat Yourself on the Back

Once you’re sitting pretty in your new job and still on speaking terms with all parties involved, then you can take a breather and congratulate yourself. You did it! Just be sure to send your old job a thank-you note if they were kind enough to send you off with a going away bash and cupcakes. Showing gratitude, manners, and professionalism will make sure they’ll remember you fondly (whether or not you can say the same for them).

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

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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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TIME Careers & Workplace

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.

kevin-systrom-email
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.

email-error
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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