TIME Careers & Workplace

30 Behavioral Interview Questions You Should Be Ready to Answer

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A lot of seemingly random questions are actually attempts to learn more about what motivates you

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Interview prep 101 dictates that you should have your elevator pitch ready, a few stories polished, and a good sense of what you have to offer. So, how do you get there? Lots of practice, ideally aloud.

To help you better prepare for your next interview, here are 30 behavioral interview questions sorted by topic (in addition to 31 common interview questions here) that you can practice.

Not sure how to answer these questions? Here’s a quick guide on how to craft job-landing responses.


For questions like these, you want a story that illustrates your ability to work with others under challenging circumstances. Think team conflict, difficult project constraints, or clashing personalities.

  1. Talk about a time when you had to work closely with someone whose personality was very different from yours.
  2. Give me an example of a time you faced a conflict while working on a team. How did you handle that?
  3. Describe a time when you struggled to build a relationship with someone important. How did you eventually overcome that?
  4. We all make mistakes we wish we could take back. Tell me about a time you wish you’d handled a situation differently with a colleague.
  5. Tell me about a time you needed to get information from someone who wasn’t very responsive. What did you do?

Client-Facing Skills

If the role you’re interviewing for works with clients, definitely be ready for one of these. Find an example of a time where you successfully represented your company or team and delivered exceptional customer service.

  1. Describe a time when it was especially important to make a good impression on a client. How did you go about doing so?
  2. Give me an example of a time when you did not meet a client’s expectation. What happened, and how did you attempt to rectify the situation?
  3. Tell me about a time when you made sure a customer was pleased with your service.
  4. Describe a time when you had to interact with a difficult client. What was the situation, and how did you handle it?
  5. When you’re working with a large number of customers, it’s tricky to deliver excellent service to them all. How do you go about prioritizing your customers’ needs?

Ability to Adapt

Times of turmoil are finally good for something! Think of a recent work crisis you successfully navigated. Even if your navigation didn’t feel successful at the time, find a lesson or silver lining you took from the situation.

  1. Tell me about a time you were under a lot of pressure. What was going on, and how did you get through it?
  2. Describe a time when your team or company was undergoing some change. How did that impact you, and how did you adapt?
  3. Tell me about the first job you’ve ever had. What did you do to learn the ropes?
  4. Give me an example of a time when you had to think on your feet in order to delicately extricate yourself from a difficult or awkward situation.
  5. Tell me about a time you failed. How did you deal with this situation?

Time Management Skills

In other words, get ready to talk about a time you juggled multiple responsibilities, organized it all (perfectly), and completed everything before the deadline.

  1. Tell me about a time you had to be very strategic in order to meet all your top priorities.
  2. Describe a long-term project that you managed. How did you keep everything moving along in a timely manner?
  3. Sometimes it’s just not possible to get everything on your to-do list done. Tell me about a time your responsibilities got a little overwhelming. What did you do?
  4. Tell me about a time you set a goal for yourself. How did you go about ensuring that you would meet your objective?
  5. Give me an example of a time you managed numerous responsibilities. How did you handle that?

Communication Skills

You probably won’t have any trouble thinking of a story for communication questions, since it’s not only part of most jobs; it’s part of everyday life. However, the thing to remember here is to also talk about your thought process or preparation.

  1. Give me an example of a time when you were able to successfully persuade someone to see things your way at work.
  2. Describe a time when you were the resident technical expert. What did you do to make sure everyone was able to understand you?
  3. Tell me about a time when you had to rely on written communication to get your ideas across to your team.
  4. Give me an example of a time when you had to explain something fairly complex to a frustrated client. How did you handle this delicate situation?
  5. Tell me about a successful presentation you gave and why you think it was a hit.

Motivation and Values

A lot of seemingly random questions are actually attempts to learn more about what motivates you. Your response would ideally address this directly even if the question wasn’t explicit about it.

  1. Tell me about your proudest professional accomplishment.
  2. Describe a time when you saw some problem and took the initiative to correct it rather than waiting for someone else to do it.
  3. Tell me about a time when you worked under close supervision or extremely loose supervision. How did you handle that?
  4. Give me an example of a time you were able to be creative with your work. What was exciting or difficult about it?
  5. Tell me about a time you were dissatisfied in your work. What could have been done to make it better?

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

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4 Strategies for Keeping Your Inbox Empty

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Choose the strategy that works best for your work style

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No matter how much time we spend trying to optimize our inbox—from batch checking messages to adding bells and whistles—email takes over our lives. Looking at my stats from last month, I received and processed over 10,000 emails (eek!), so finding the right way to manage all this online correspondence has been critical for my day-to-day sanity.

Turns out, though, the “right way” to manage email depends a lot on your own personal style. I’ve rounded up some of the most popular and successful strategies so that you can decide which one is best for you:

1. LIFO: Last In First Out

This technique is predicated on letting the old stuff deal with itself. It’s the most common way that people deal with their inbox, reading through email top-down (a.k.a., starting with the most recent email received).

This is highly convenient and intuitive, but there are two primary risks of this strategy. The first risk is that you’ll likely end up with inconsistent responsiveness. On days that you have a lot of time to spend on email, you’ll reply to contacts lightning-fast. On days that you’re busy and in meetings, you’ll have messages pile up and get buried under newer emails.

The second risk is that you may miss out on good opportunities because you didn’t follow up in time. If you choose to use this strategy, but want to mitigate these risks, I would recommend blocking an hour or two once a week during which you switch to the reverse chronological approach (conveniently outlined below). This way, you’ll clear out anything old that might be important.

2. Reverse Chronological

The opposite of LIFO, taking a reverse chronological approach means dealing with the oldest emails first. If you use Gmail, you can switch the sorting of your inbox, by just clicking the email counter in the top right corner.

With this strategy, you’ll often be confronted with harder emails you’ve been putting off, which is great for any chronic procrastinators. However, there is one downside to this strategy. If you work someplace where you constantly receive urgent emails that really do need to be answered right away, it might be risky to take a reverse chronological approach. With that said, you can definitely combine this strategy with LIFO during the actual workday if that’s the case.

3. Yesterbox

Famously used by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, the Yesterbox technique focuses on dealing today with all of the email you received yesterday. Hsieh explains:

“Your ‘to do’ list each day is simply yesterday’s email inbox (hence, ‘Yesterbox’). The great thing about this is when you get up in the morning, you know exactly how many emails you have to get through, there’s a sense of progress as you process each email from yesterday and remove it from your inbox, and there’s actually a point when you have zero emails left to process from yesterday. There is actually a sense of completion when you’re done, which is amazing.”

This is a great strategy for anyone who feels like they’re constantly drowning in email. While I recommend reading his entire how to, the best part is definitely the amount of control you’ll regain over your inbox. Unlike other methods, your target remains the same as the day goes on, and you’ll find over time that you get a better handle of how long email will take you to get through. Did you receive 25 emails yesterday? OK, that might take you a little over an hour. Have a big day with 70 emails coming in? You can plan ahead and block additional time to manage the volume.

4. Inbox Zero

A term coined by Merlin Mann, Inbox Zero is an email strategy by which the goal is to always keep your inbox 100% empty. There are some big benefits to this: Everything is always handled, and you don’t waste time re-reading an email for the third time before actually taking action. This strategy is good for Type-A list-makers (like me!) who like to have complete control on their inboxes. But from my experience, it’s easy to let your inbox dictate your life if you take this too far. Pro tip: Couple Inbox Zero with Boomerang for Gmail, an app that lets you file messages out of your inbox until the date and time of your choosing, so you can decide between actually answering and delaying for later, as need be.

If you’re trying it for the first time, I recommend checking out Lily Herman’s week-long challenge to stay at Inbox Zero before you start.

After trying each method, I can say with certainty that choosing a strategy is all about matching your personal preferences with any habits you’d like to encourage (or discourage). You may find that mixing and matching works best for you. I went a long while at Inbox Zero and have decided that the stress of getting those last few done wasn’t worth it. But I do keep my inbox under 20 emails by the time I go to bed each night—just short enough that I can see all of them on my screen for a quick check that nothing fell through the cracks. As long as you’re not a slave to your inbox and anyone who needs to hear from you is getting an answer in a timely manner, who’s to judge?

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

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8 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Accepting a Job Offer

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Is this a short-term or long-term career move?

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Job offers come with so many emotions. You’re excited, happy, and—likely—quite relieved. This relief, while so very sweet after a long job search, can actually be kind of dangerous. You don’t want to let your desire to be done with the whole process prevent you from asking yourself some important questions about the job.

Obviously, you’ll want to ask your potential new employer some questions about the role, but then it’s time to sit down with yourself and consider what this means for you. Before you say yes to a job offer, go to a quiet place and ask yourself these eight questions.

1. Am I Comfortable With This Job—and Do I Actually Want to Do It?

Clearly, the hiring manager thinks you can do this job, but now it’s time to see if you agree. Review your day-to-day responsibilities, and see if there is there anything you just don’t feel good about. You can obviously do the job skill-wise—it’s about whether you want to or not.

2. Is This Position Interesting and Challenging?

Taking a position and then getting bored in a month is a bit of a waste. Make sure you’re not only able to do the job, you also find it difficult (in a good way) at times. Otherwise you’ll probably lose interest a lot faster than you think.

3. Do I Like My Boss and Co-workers?

Ideally, you’ll have competent, fun, and thoughtful colleagues. But one thing you might feel guilty about thinking about is whether you, you know, actually like them. This is not something to take lightly: Is this a group of people you can feel at home around?

4. Is the Work Environment Somewhere I Can Be Productive?

In other words, is the office space a place that helps you stay focused and happy? And, do you have the resources necessary for success? It can be a really wonderful job, but if you’re more productive on your commute to work than you are at work, that’s a problem.

5. Does This Job Allow for the Lifestyle I Want?

Speaking of commuting, is your commute awful? Do the hours freak you out? Is the vacation package paltry? More importantly, does the job pay well enough (or at least eventually pay well enough) for you to afford a lifestyle that makes you happy? These will all make a difference in how you feel about your job.

6. Will I Feel Professionally Satisfied?

This is evaluated differently for everyone—so it might make sense to think about or clarify your career values before answering—but consider whether your position allows you to create value for the company and if the company in turn invests in your professional development.

7. Is This a Company I’ll Be Proud to Work At?

Whether you want to evaluate this based on your values or on the company brand, think about how you’ll feel to be associated with this company. Having pride for the work your company does is one of the intangible things that can make a surprising difference in how much you end up liking your job.

8. Does This Job Fit Into My Career Narrative?

In other words, is this a short-term or long-term career move? You want to make sure you’re not taking a job just to run away from another job. Does this new position allow you to work toward a professional goal? If not, you may want to reconsider.

Hopefully, you’ll answer yes to all eight of these questions with ease, but if not, take the time to explore why that might be. It may not be a deal breaker, but it’s still good to know where this new job stands on all these fronts before you decide to take it (or not).

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

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3 Reasons Traveling Abroad Can Help Your Career

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Learning to accept and appreciate cultural differences is a good move for your career

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I remember the first time I left the United States. I was about eight years old, visiting family in El Paso, Texas. During the trip, we traveled to nearby Juarez, Mexico, to visit the market.

Everything about the market was different from any previous shopping experience I’d ever had. It was an open-air market with a dirt floor, and it was packed to the brim with booths. Vendors negotiated their prices, and children peddled wares. I saw goods for sale that were new to me, like a Mexican soft drink I’d never heard of or ever tasted. It gave me a new appreciation for—and curiosity about—other cultures.

I spent a lot of time thinking about that trip and the many things I saw and experienced that were different from my everyday life. That trip is a significant reason why, to this day, I have an itch to travel and an interest in other cultures.

In the work I do now on a college campus, I see students return from study abroad trips with similar wonder in their eyes. It’s amazing to witness the impact that a change in environment can make in a person’s life and career.

Students come back with a greater understanding of the intricacies of conducting business abroad, which makes them more competitive when applying to companies that do international work. They bring new perspectives and ideas to their careers and see opportunities they may not have seen otherwise.

Even if you’re not a student, travel can significantly benefit your career—here’s how.

1. It Might Open Doors You Aren’t Expecting

Consider Scott Harrison, who actually paid to work with a medical mission team in West Africa when he grew tired of his (very successful) career in club promotions. His experience left him bursting with passion to improve lives in the impoverished areas he visited.

Today, he’s the founder and CEO of charity: water, a highly visible and highly successful organization that provides access to clean water all over the world. But that may not have happened if Harrison hadn’t set foot on that ship bound for Liberia.

Leaving your comfort zone can provide inspiration, awareness, and ideas you wouldn’t likely consider if you continued following the same routine in the same place, day after day.

Not every person who travels abroad will come home and found a wildly successful organization, of course. But you may think of new ways to approach old problems, make a new business contact, or learn about a new career path that wasn’t previously on your radar.

2. It Can Help You Learn a Language

Immersion in a new city or culture is an almost surefire way to pick up a language. There are other ways to learn a language—for example, traditional classes or online-based resources like Rosetta Stone or Mango Languages—but the best, most effective way to become proficient in a new language is to put yourself in a situation in which you have to use it consistently in your day-to-day interactions.

Understandably, the thought of simply dropping into a foreign country and hoping you’ll develop the language skills to survive may be intimidating. To ease the apprehension, look for opportunities that will provide a little more structure and support in your immersion experience. For example, consider taking a study-abroad class through a local university or traveling with a group that will be providing a service in the country you want to visit.

But what does learning a new language have to do with your career?

Consider this: The United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects a 46% increase in employment of interpreters and translators by 2022. That means the demand for people who can communicate in multiple languages is—and will continue to be—very high.

But if you’re not specifically interested in working as a translator, language skills can still benefit your career. For example, if you can speak more than one language, you can save your company from having to hire a translator for global meetings.

And, in general, as technology allows organizations to interact with others across the globe, language will become increasingly important to effectively collaborate and develop partnerships.

3. It Can Increase Your Cultural Competency

One branch of a large, global corporation is located in the relatively small community (i.e., the population is about 19,000) where I live. Employees at that branch have collaborated with colleagues in Singapore, Scotland, Nigeria, Brazil, and Dubai.

Many of the people who work at this company weren’t necessarily looking for an international experience when they found employment there, but they have to understand their position in a global corporation to be effective.

For example, I once watched a family member return to her office at this company at 9 PM, after being home from her workday for several hours. When I asked what in the world she was doing, she explained that she’d forgotten to enter some critical data in the system, and the Nigeria team would be arriving for their workday in a few hours and needed that information to complete their part of the work. Leaving it for the next day just wasn’t an option because it impacted the processes of an entire plant overseas.

Employees at the local plant also have to be mindful of customs and holidays at other locations that may impact the work schedule or their ability to reach their colleagues in those locations, as well as communicating our local holidays to their counterparts worldwide who might not know that the local office will be closed.

In an increasingly globalized society, learning to accept and appreciate cultural differences is a good move for your career. You certainly don’t have to leave the country to increase your comfort when interacting with people of different races or cultures, but immersing yourself in another culture can create an unparalleled awareness and understanding of people who are different than you.

With that kind of understanding, when you have to talk to a colleague in Singapore to figure out why something has gone awry with an assignment, you’ll be less stressed about the interaction and less likely to feel barriers to communication—which means you’ll be more likely to easily reach a solution. Everyone wins.

Traveling abroad can be a pricey investment, but it doesn’t have to be an insurmountable barrier. Look for scholarships if you’re traveling with a class, or read travel websites and blogs to learn how to cut expenses while you’re abroad. It’s worth it: This is an investment that can change your world—and your career.

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

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How to Change Your Reputation at the Office

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Don’t pull a 180-degree shift overnight

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In the March 2015 issue of Elle, Katy Perry described celebrities as “characters.” “…Taylor’s the sweetheart. Kanye’s the villain. That’s the narrative.”

Even if no one in your office has Grammy awards on his or her bookshelf odds are, you (and your co-workers) are also pigeonholed into certain roles. You can always count on Karen to find the humor in something. Mike isn’t that friendly, but he’s whip-smart. Claire is really talkative.

Of course, we’re all more complex than the first attribute that jumps to mind. For example, you’re great at your job, but somehow, that goes without saying. And it could be that Karen is also an incredible writer, Mike holds a ton of institutional memory, and Claire is really creative. But somehow their personality brand, so to speak, overshadows the other aspects of their “work self.”

Certainly, there’s advice for Karen and Mike and Claire’s colleagues (um, “be less judgmental”). But, what happens when you’re the person stuck with a reputation you’d like to shake? Maybe you’re over your reputations as a talker, because you feel like it overshadows your listening skills. Or maybe you want to be taken more seriously.

Thankfully, there are things you can do to change your office reputation.

Don’t Become a Different Person Overnight

Do Take Small Steps

I remember hearing the term “skintern” to describe the college-aged summer interns “who looked like they bought their business attire out of the Victoria’s Secret catalogue.” Now, if you learned that your attire was considered wildly inappropriate, you’d probably want to make a change ASAP.

But interestingly, if you leaped to the other extreme (think: wearing serious pantsuits every day), people would still be talking about your attire, and you might still seem out of place. A better plan would be to start dressing like a more professional version of yourself. Meaning, you could still wear summer dresses, but you’d want to look for ones with longer hemlines, opt for short sleeves over spaghetti straps, and bring a blazer or cardigan for good measure (and to combat the air conditioning).

Along similar lines, let’s say you’re known for being funny. But then, you get passed over for a project you were eyeing, because your boss thought the client would respond to someone “more serious.” That can sting, and your first instinct might be resolving never to tell another joke in the workplace.

Problem is, your colleagues already think of your sense of humor as a defining quality. So, your new message—that you’re to be taken seriously—could be overshadowed by what your co-workers perceive as you not quite being yourself. They might inquire if something is wrong or even see you as less capable during what they assume is an uncharacteristic interim.

Per the wardrobe example, take small steps. Don’t swear off joking altogether, but set a reasonable goal. So, if you use humor as an icebreaker, challenge yourself to limit that strategy to once a day—and then once every few days—and try new ways to bond with colleagues and clients.

Don’t Announce Your Change Before it Happens

Do Be Honest About Your Efforts

You may be tempted to announce your intentions the moment that you decide to make a change. Sure everyone sees you as the “talkative one,” but you’re ready to listen, and you want your co-workers to know that you’ll be chiming in less. This talk can be valuable—your colleagues can support you and help keep you in check—but you need to practice patience and wait for the right moment.

Developing new habits takes time. Even if you come up with actionable steps, like letting everyone else in the room pose questions before you raise your hand, you might still jump in or talk at length from time to time as you make the shift. If you’ve already told your colleagues you’re making a change, even infrequent slip-ups can make you seem less dedicated to or sincere about your goal. If you’ve told everyone you’ll no longer be the late colleague, arriving late to just one meeting after your announcement undermines your words. Suddenly, you’re just as bad as the spouse who always says she won’t bring work home from the office (but does most nights), or the colleague who says he’s trying to pack his lunch (but never does).

A better approach is to let your actions speak louder than your words. And, yes, your colleagues may come to you to inquire why you’re no longer as funny or as loud or as insular, in which case you can agree, but take a moment to say why you’re changing your signature attribute. It doesn’t have to be a long speech: Try a simple, “I’m glad people think I’m funny, but I want to show that I have a serious side and can be considered for different types of projects” or “I realized that the amount I spoke was sometimes mistaken for a disinterest in what others had to say. I’ve learned some new techniques that have developed my listening skills, and they’re helping me work more collaboratively.” You’ve worked hard! So, connect the dots between your new skills and the multi-dimensional reputation you’d like to have.

Remember, you have a say in what you’re known for. If you want to change your reputation, start by adjusting your actions—just don’t pull a 180-degree shift overnight.

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

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5 Ways to Keep Going When the Job Search is Getting You Down

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Looking for a new job is filled with constant emotional highs and lows. Battling the fear of the unknown (will you ever find a job?) is enough to make anyone feel frustrated, anxious, and downright bummed.

Job hunting is an intense process that can seriously mess with your mood. For most people, your career is closely linked to your identity, so you may feel like searching for a job is like searching for a piece of yourself—and until that piece is in place, you can feel unsettled and incomplete.

Or, you may feel that by being unemployed, you’re letting others down—like your parents, mentor, or significant other—which only exacerbates the roller coaster of emotions you’re on.

And to add to all that, looking for a new job is a constant lesson in dealing with rejection. No matter how many people tell you not to take it personally, rejection stings every time and can take a major toll on your motivation to move forward with your job hunt. You can’t help but wonder what’s wrong with you that’s preventing you from getting hired.

It’s normal to feel additional stress and anxiety during the job search process—but it’s also a difficult cycle to break. So when you’re feeling down about your job search, how can you cope? The good news is there are proven ways to better manage your mood during your job search, so you can rock your interviews and land a new role you love.

1. Create Structure

As humans, we naturally crave order and control, so it’s no wonder why the uncertainty associated with job searching can make us feel uneasy.

Creating a schedule and boundaries for your job search can help add that sense of control to your life, which can sustain your motivation and keep you thinking positively. For example, you might set aside one hour each morning specifically to work on updating your resume or set a goal to attend three networking events per month.

By incorporating structure into your daily job search, you’ll accomplish small wins each day, which helps foster positive feelings of self-efficacy—that is, a sense that you are capable of finding a new job. Knowing that you’re able to accomplish goals you set for yourself can help revive your waning motivation and flip your mindset around.

2. Stay Organized

The more organized you are, the less likely you are to become overwhelmed and fall victim to worst-case scenario or defeatist thinking (e.g., “They’ll take one look at my resume and laugh me out of the room” or “Why bother, I won’t get this job anyway”). So, create step-by-step plans for tackling each piece of the job search like it’s any other work assignment.

For example, for one opportunity, you may need to find contact information for setting up an informational interview and then draft an email to send. For another opportunity, you may have already landed an interview, so your next tasks would be to research the company, organize your notes, and lay out your interview outfit.

Breaking down the job search into smaller, more manageable tasks can help a big, daunting process feel less overwhelming and more within your control.

3. Take a Hiatus

Lining up as many interviews as you can fit into a short period of time may seem like the best strategy to land a role quickly, but when you’re feeling unmotivated and burnt out, it’s important to pace yourself.

In fact, you may even want to take a break from interviewing or job searching altogether. The length of your recovery will vary depending on your individual circumstances, but generally, the more detached and listless you feel, the more time you’ll need to disconnect and recoup. By taking occasional breaks, you’ll give yourself time to do an internal audit of your physical and emotional well-being and replenish your reserves as needed.

Use this time to physically rest and work on other priorities that may be tangential (but still beneficial) to your job search, such as setting up coffee dates to deepen networking connections or investing effort in finding a mentor who can support you when you pick your search back up again. While getting a job is important, keeping yourself healthy in the process is also an essential long-term investment.

4. Seek Out Emotional Support

The job search can stir up challenging emotions, fears, and limiting beliefs that can keep you up at night. If you bottle up those reactions, you’ll perpetuate the production of stress hormones throughout your entire body, which will continue to bring you down.

Instead, take these emotions as a signal to make a change in your behavior or outlook. A great way to do this is to turn to a friend or family member, who can provide a helpful reminder that you are loved, cared for, and a person of tremendous value despite the challenges you’re currently facing.

Simply talking through your emotions with another person can be an effective way of processing messy, challenging emotions. Engaging with a trusted friend, family member, or therapist can also help you uncover limiting beliefs that are holding you back and learn how to turn those around.

5. Know Your Triggers

Ask yourself: What situations make you feel the most bummed out or trigger stress? For example, maybe you’re sent into a tailspin of uncertainty when you don’t hear back right away after an interview. The longer you experience the silence, the less motivation you have to continue your search—and you might even self-sabotage by canceling other interviews.

If you can identify situations or people that trigger your frustration, you can anticipate your reaction and create emotional buffers to help you cope better. For instance, you could ask your interviewer directly when you can expect to hear back—which can lessen the impact of that trigger.

The road to landing a job can seem endless and can take a major toll on your emotional well-being. But just like you wouldn’t go into work if you had the flu, you can’t go through the interview process without caring for your physical, mental, and emotional health. By following these tips, you can weather the storm and expedite your path to employment and happiness.

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

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This Simple Exercise Will Make Sure You Spend Time on What Makes You Happy

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Here's a simple three-step solution

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Wake up. Go to work. Stay a little late. Come home. Make dinner. Go to bed. Do it all over again.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily grind. Before you know it, a week has passed, the month ends, the year is over, and you haven’t done a thing that mattered to you. Somehow, you managed to be busy and bored all at the same time.

So, how do you break the cycle? Is there a way to actually spend time on what makes you happy—to separate the urgent from the important?

Marika Reuling, chief of staff at Harvard University, might have a simple three-step solution.

Step 1: Start a Life Audit

At the 2015 Greater Boston Women in Leadership Symposium, Reuling spoke about completing a life audit once or twice a year to help her reevaluate how she spends and prioritizes her time. To get started, you’ll need a bunch of sticky notes, a pen, a blank wall or floor, and privacy. You should probably turn your phone off, too.

A life audit, as serious as it sounds, is simply the process of writing down every tangible goal or vague ambition, both professional and personal, on a Post-it note and sticking it on a blank wall. Ximena Vengoechea, after completing her own life audit, suggests shooting for at least 100 wishes for yourself.

Step 2: Define Your Vision

From there, try to place each of your goals into a bucket: travel, health, family, career, and more. Whatever theme comes up can have its own bucket. Move the sticky notes around until they’re all under the right theme, and consider whether these themes capture what you want your career and life trajectory to be. Continue adding more sticky notes, if necessary.

What you have in front of you now are guidelines for how to spend your time in a way that’s rewarding for you. For Reuling, this step helped her realize she needed something in her professional life that allowed for more artistry. Now, not only does she help manage resources and staff at Harvard, she co-runs a vineyard with her husband in Sonoma Valley, California.

Step 3: Design Your Day

Now that you have your guidelines, plot your day around these goals. Mark each note with an “S” for short term, an “L” for long term, or an “E” for every day. From there, you can decide how to work toward your short and long term goals. This is where you want to get specific. Set weekly or monthly goals and be exact about the time you hope to spend.

Reuling suggests using the Timely app (or something similar) to help you plan and keep track of how you’re spending your time. If you’re having trouble figuring out where you can actually fit more into your day, consider doing a time audit to see where you’re spending all your time and whether it makes sense or not.

Working toward a hundred goals big and small may sound like a daunting task—and it is, but no one ever said you had to do it alone. As Reuling concludes, “Think about your team, both at work and at home.” No one ever found success on their own, so don’t forget to lean on others as you try to break the cycle and refocus your goals.

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

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5 Words to Avoid Using to Describe Yourself in an Interview

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Go for words that sound more like facts and less like judgments

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Hiring managers all have their favorite interview questions, but they’re typically some variation of the common ones. For example, you might get, “How would your colleagues describe you?” or “Use three words to describe yourself.” Either way, your overall approach would likely be the same. The thing you need to be mindful of, then, is what words you actually use.

Or, to put it in another way, there are words that you should never, ever use.

1. Intelligent

You know you’re intelligent, and you know the hiring manager is looking for someone who is intelligent, but please don’t describe yourself as such. This is one of those words that you want people to say about you, but that you don’t want to say about yourself. Whether or not someone is intelligent is a judgment call, and you want to shy away from words like that.

What to Do Instead

Talk about the way you think, and use words like, “logical,” “quantitative,” “fast learner,” or “big-picture thinker.” You’re going for words that sound more like facts and less like judgments.

2. Likable

For the same reason you don’t want to describe yourself as intelligent, you want to avoid words like “likable.” That, plus it’s tricky to find supporting examples of why you’re likable without sounding weirdly desperate. (“Everyone says hi to me, laughs at my jokes, and misses me when I’m out sick?” Um, no.)

What to Do Instead

Use words that you can back up, like “team player,” “outgoing,” “enthusiastic,” or “caring,” and back them up with examples of how you pitched in, spoke up in meetings, or threw an office holiday party. It’s much more palatable when the evidence you give involves actions you took rather than the actions or reactions of others.

3. Successful

You can successfully do something, but you can’t just call yourself successful. It’s like saying in an interview that you’re rich and good-looking. Do you really think that’s a good idea?

What to Do Instead

Narrow the focus down from success on a global scale to success on a more specific skill. You can absolutely say that you’re good at what you do. In fact, you should. The difference is saying that you’re successful in all realms of your life and pointing out your relevant skills and experiences for the job. The first is annoying; the latter is necessary.

4. Obsessive

Even if you’re immensely passionate about your work, you still want to avoid describing this trait or any trait with words that have a negative connotation. Having to explain yourself means that you and the interviewer are not on the same page, and ideally, you could avoid all that.

What to Do Instead

There are plenty of words you can use to get across how invested you are in your work that probably are more specific and don’t require some awkward explanation. Words like “focused,” “detail-oriented,” “hard working,” or “dedicated” all work well.

5. Humble

It’s weird to brag about how humble you are. It just doesn’t work. Don’t walk into this unfortunate contradiction and try to talk your way out of it. The more you try to explain this, the more you wear down your interviewer’s trust.

What to Do Instead

If this is really something you want to get across in an interview, go with the “show don’t tell” strategy. Each time you need to brag about yourself during the interview (which will be often, since it’s an interview), only state the facts. Talk about what you did, what the result was, and what others thought, and leave the judging to your interviewer.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, and perhaps you can pull off describing yourself as intelligent, likable, successful, obsessive, and humble without cutting your interview short. But know that there are other ways to get your point across without causing your interviewer to spend too much energy trying not to roll his or her eyes.

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

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3 Steps for Making It Work With an Incompetent Interviewer

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Keep calm and take the lead

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Most hiring managers do not conduct interviews for a living—which means, unsurprisingly, that many of them are terrible at it. Whether you get a taciturn interviewer who only asks two questions or the inexperienced manager who spends way too much time focusing on your college years, knowing how to handle the rogue person on the other side of the table is a nice skill to have.

So, the question is: How do you get a bad meeting back on the right track? Here’s a three-step plan for preventing an ill-prepared interviewer from derailing your shot at a job.

1. Do What You Can to Answer the Questions Well

So, the interviewer starts off with something off-the-wall, like “If you were an animal, which one would you be?” or “So, you know that competition is a huge part of this role, right?”

Don’t panic just yet. Sometimes, hiring managers like to ask odd questions to try and get at something very specific to their company culture. Since it can be hard to tell whether they’re just novice interviewers or mad genius interviewers, try to smile, relax, and go with the flow at the beginning of an interview.

The ability to think on your feet has a strong correlation to how prepared you are to begin with, so make sure you’re doing your homework before each meeting. Review common interview questions, prepare a few stories for behavioral questions, and do some sleuthing on what technical questions you might get. It’s not possible to be ready for everything (especially a bad interviewer), but being generally prepared will help you get through the beginning before you try to help them refocus on the big picture.

2. Redirect the Attention to Your Fit for the Role

At some point, red flags will start going up, and you’ll know it’s time to rein this interviewer in. He or she might be spending way too much time—think 20 minutes out of a 30 minute phone screen—explaining what the position entails rather than asking you about your experience. Or the meeting might seem to be too focused on that one time you biked across Europe instead of your ability to do the job. To get the interviewer refocused on your qualifications, try asking questions or statements like:

  • Can you tell me more about what experience you’re looking for in the person you’d like to hire for this role?
  • What do you think are the most important skills necessary for this position?
  • It’s really interesting what you said about the job—I think my project management experience would be really relevant. I’d be happy to go into more detail if you’d like.

These will be easy to get in if the interviewer has run out of questions, but trickier if he or she is just asking the wrong questions. Try tucking in one of these at the end of your response as a way to conclude your answer. For example, “…and that was my most meaningful leadership experience in college. Is there anything I can tell you about my more recent experience to help you figure out if I’m a good fit for the company?”

3. Reiterate What You Have to Offer at the End

Hopefully, your attempts to steer the conversation will be successful, but if all else fails, you still have one more shot. Once you’re finally given the floor to ask your own questions about the position toward the end of the interview, ask your thoughtful final questions and wrap up with something that summarizes your qualifications for the role. It might sound something like this:

“Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions! I’d love to take this final opportunity to reiterate my fit for the position. Based on our conversation, I know you’re looking for someone who knows her way around data, takes initiative, and thrives in a team setting. My three years of experience in economic consulting gave me ample opportunity to really shine in these areas, and I’d love to bring these skills and traits to your company.”

Having a less-than-ideal interviewer can really mess with your head. Keep calm and take the lead. Of course, you shouldn’t have to be the one leading the conversation, but if you want the job—you’ll do what you need to do.

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

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The 5 Common Beliefs About Work Colleagues You Should Avoid

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These beliefs can hurt you and your career in the long run

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For a lot of people, relationships with your co-workers are what get you through the workday. They’re the people you talk to, vent to, and collaborate with. You’re on the same team, and, ideally, you’re all on the same page.

But if you approach your relationship with your team the wrong way, you can seriously hinder the success of your individual career.

Just take these five common beliefs for example—while these thoughts seem completely understandable on the surface, they can actually hurt you in the long run.

Belief #1: “I Have to Do Things the Way They Do”

Especially when you’re new in a role, you look to your co-workers for an example of how to complete your responsibilities. If they use a certain program to complete a report, you’ll probably start using that program. If they consult a few go-to clients as sources for your marketing materials, you’ll probably start leaning on those clients, too.

And you know what? That’s a perfectly fine way to learn the ropes. The problem comes in when you assume that you’re solely bound to your co-workers’ particular methods and ideas, instead of branching out to try new things, pitching unique ideas, and taking some risks.

That’s the only way you’re going to produce anything above and beyond the rest of your team—and, ultimately, that’ll be how you demonstrate your worth to your boss and team.

Belief #2: “I Have to Stay on Their Good Side”

For a long time, when it came to my interactions with my co-workers, I never wanted to rock the boat. You work with these people every hour of every workday; wouldn’t a disagreement make it pretty hard to work together effectively? And so, when someone would pitch an idea or want to attack a project a certain way, I’d always nod along—even if I didn’t think it was the right approach.

But constantly keeping mum only stifles the creativity and innovation of your entire team. You needdisagreement to spark better ideas. Plus, it gives you a chance to show your team and your boss that you offer real value to the department—rather than just a desire to appease everyone.

And the good news is, done the right way, you can disagree without ruining your work relationships.

Belief #3: “I Can Confide in Them About Anything”

It’s easy to become close with the person who sits two feet away from you for eight hours a day, 40+ hours a week. Over inside jokes and venting sessions, you really begin to trust the people you work with every day.

But no matter how close you are, there are certain subjects you shouldn’t broach with your co-workers. For example, if you’re thinking about leaving your current company, it may be tempting to ask your co-worker if she knows of any job openings or if she can glance at your resume to get it job-search ready. But you’re not going to be quite so pleased when she accidentally lets it slip to your boss that the dentist appointment you’re at is really a job interview.

You can probably trust your co-workers with a lot of things—but for the sake of your job and the future of your career, some things shouldn’t be shared.

Belief #4: “My Workday Should Mirror Theirs”

When you work in close proximity with your team, it’s easy to adopt their habits. That means if they work through lunch, you’ll probably be more inclined to work through lunch. You’ll aim to get into the office around the same time they do and leave when they finally pack up their things and head out.

In general, it’s not farfetched that you and your teammates will work similar hours. On the other hand, if you can finish your work more productively (read: in less time) than your team—or in a more productive way—you shouldn’t feel pressured to work just like your co-workers.

If you need to take a lunch break to be your most productive self, take it! If you get the bulk of your work done in the morning, talk to your boss about shifting your workday a little earlier. Or, if you’re just want to be a productivity machine, follow these tips to always leave the office on time. But you shouldn’t base your entire workday on theirs just because.

Belief #5: “They Only Get the Best Opportunities Because…”

Allison got the promotion because she’s the boss’ favorite? Mark got to go the national conference because he’s friends with the manager outside of the office? Kathy was chosen to give the presentation just because she’s been in the department the longest?

Sure, those things may be true—but more often, these assumptions stem from jealousy, and there’s actually a valid reason why your co-worker got a certain opportunity.

By making excuses or assumptions about why everyone else is getting the best opportunities, you may make yourself feel better temporarily—but it’s not helping you get any closer to deserving those opportunities yourself.

To stay on track for success, you should assume that to get the promotion, raise, or special opportunity, you need to work hard, perform well, and be the best—rather than worry about rumors or favoritism that may or may not be true.

While co-worker relationships are necessary and beneficial, you have to make sure you’re approaching them the right way—in a way that encourages success for both your team and your individual career.

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

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