TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Ways Your Thank You Note Could Lose You the Job

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You might think that going through the motions and sending a generic thank you note is better than sending nothing, but you’d be wrong

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

Let’s be honest: When it comes to applying for jobs, the “it can’t hurt” benchmark is often the deciding factor over whether or not to do something. Sending a cover letter? It can’t hurt. Finding your interviewer on LinkedIn? It can’t hurt. Sending a thank you note? It can’t hurt.

Or can it?

Actually, yes, it absolutely can. Here are just a few scenarios in which sending a thank you note might hurt your chances of landing the job.

1. It’s Full of Typos

If you’re really serious about a job, you probably had your resume and cover letter reviewed by a couple other people before you hit submit. But, even the most careful job seeker can make mistakes during the high that comes after a successful interview. Don’t blow your carefully crafted image, and double check to make sure that your thank you note is typo-free. (Here are a few tips for editing your own work.)

2. It’s a Week Late

Another good impression killer is sending your note in late. Thank you notes are the most effective when you send them ASAP or at least within 48 hours of your interview. If you want to leave the impression that you’re only mildly interested in the position, then go ahead and take your time. If not, then send it immediately. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.

3. It’s Generic

You might think that going through the motions and sending a generic thank you note is better than sending nothing, but you’d be wrong. Hiring managers get excited when they find exceptional candidates who are really excited about the job. And sending a boring thank you note that could have been addressed to anyone? That’s an easy way to shatter your image.

Oh, and don’t think you can just write one spectacular thank you note and send it to all the different people you interacted with during the interview. Many companies request that thank you notes get forwarded to HR so they can be attached to a candidate’s file. Having the same five notes on file probably won’t help you land the job, so take the time to actually personalize some aspects of your message. It’s worth it.

(For a truly exceptional thank you note, check out communication expert Alexandra Franzen’s method.)

4. It’s Just a Way to Talk About Yourself More

Did you forget to mention that one time you did something that was extremely relevant to the job you’re interviewing for now? Think the thank you note is the right place to share this relevant experience? It might be okay to mention it briefly, but it’s definitely a mistake for you to transform your thank you note into a take two of your interview. Thank you notes shouldn’t be long, so you don’t really have a lot of space to, you know, thank your interviewer—let alone share another story. If you must do it, make it brief.

5. It’s Inappropriate

You don’t have the job yet, so don’t get too chummy in your note. No matter how sure you are that you nailed the interview, your best bet is to remain professional throughout the process. (That means no nicknames, no sarcasm, and definitely no cursing.)

I’ve gone on and on about the various ways sending a thank you note can hurt your chances of getting the job offer, but naturally the biggest thank you note blunder would be to not send one. So, please send a thank you note after your interview—just make it great.

TIME Careers & Workplace

How a Little Gratitude Can Help You Get Ahead at Work

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I don’t know anyone who doesn’t appreciate a donut or a cup of coffee

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

Thanksgiving is just days away—and in between thoughts of casserole recipes and how to navigate your annual family dinner, you’re probably also thinking about all you have to be grateful for.

According to Alison Green from Ask a Manager, this is the perfect time to let your co-workers know how much you appreciate them—and why. “Showing gratitude to colleagues can build stronger relationships and help you get better results in your work,” Green writes.

Just think: When a co-worker has shown appreciation for something you’ve done to help him or her, you’ve probably been more likely to help that person again in the future. And when he or she hasn’t shown that gratitude, you probably haven’t gone out of your way to lend a hand again.

Plus, showing thankfulness helps improve the quality of the relationship as a whole. “People tend to feel warmly and positively toward people who appreciate them,” Green says, which can have a positive effect on future networking, references, and your interactions at work in general.

Feeling thankful for your cube mate or project partner? Try these four ideas to show your appreciation.

1. Give a Straightforward (and Specific) Compliment

A standard thank you may not be extraordinarily creative, but it works—and that’s the important thing.

You want to make sure your co-worker knows you appreciate her? Walk up to her desk or office and give her a genuine, straightforward thank you. To make the most impact, mention what you’re specifically grateful for (“Christine, thank you so much for jumping in and helping me with my presentation yesterday. I know it was a late night; I really appreciate you taking the extra time to make sure it was perfect. I couldn’t have done it without you!”).

Face-to-face, specific, and full of appreciation—it’s a thank you that anyone would want to hear.

2. Speak Up in a Team Meeting

An individual, face-to-face thank you is personal and effective, but there’s also room for more public appreciation—and a team meeting is the perfect place to recognize someone who’s helped you out recently.

It doesn’t have to be big and flashy. Try working it in naturally, like as part of a project update that you were going to give anyway: “The project is right on track, thanks to Joe, who reviewed it and helped me adjust the intro and conclusion—and I think it really hits the nail on the head now.”

The public (but not over-the-top) recognition will make your colleague feel extra special—and it’ll help boost his or her value within the team.

3. Bring in a Treat

I know. It seems a little silly—and perhaps a tad reminiscent of your elementary school birthdays when you brought in cupcakes for the class.

But then again, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t appreciate a donut or a cup of coffee that’s not from the lukewarm pot that’s been sitting idly on the break room counter for the past two hours. Simple as it may seem, a treat with a quick “Just wanted to say thanks for your help with the Smith account. I couldn’t have done it without you!” goes a long way to make a co-worker feel appreciated.

If that still seems a little awkward, swing for enough for the entire team, then throw in a personal note: “Hey everyone, I brought in some doughnuts to say thanks for your hard work this past week—especially Sarah, who really came through in the 11th hour for me on a big client account.”

4. Email the Boss

Part of your job as an employee is to make sure your boss knows how awesome you are—but it’s even better if your co-workers do that for you.

One of the most meaningful thank yous I’ve ever received came when a co-worker emailed my boss (and copied me), explaining how I’d been a huge help to him with a client situation over the past couple days and that he wanted to extend his gratitude. He forwarded it to his supervisor, and all of a sudden, my good dead was known throughout the department without me having to say a word.

So if you want to thank a co-worker, consider sending an email to his or her boss. The compliment on its own will make your colleague feel appreciated—but knowing that the boss also knows what he or she has done makes the gratitude even more meaningful.

A thank you to your colleagues doesn’t have to be a big show—but displaying your appreciation will help your relationships, your quality of life at the office, and your ability to continue receiving your co-workers’ help in the future.

TIME Careers & Workplace

4 Ways to Rock the Intro Call With a Recruiter

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You absolutely must show—early on—that you’re a strong cultural fit

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

Congratulations. Your resume (or LinkedIn profile) just captured the attention of a recruiter. Take a moment to high-five yourself, for real. You done good.

Now what?

Now, you will likely be invited to participate in a screening interview—via phone, Skype, or Google Hangout or in-person—with the HR person or recruiter who just found you. Wowing this person is very important, because if you fail to, you’re not going to have the chance to dazzle the hiring manager with your mad skills at all. Your goose, as they say, will be cooked.

So, how do you stack the odds in your favor and ensure that you sail through this critical stage in the hiring process? By understanding what the recruiter’s role is, what he’s looking for, and what he stands to gain by finding the right candidate, and then strategizing accordingly.

Here are four ways to rock the screening call with a recruiter.

1. Demonstrate Quickly That You Cover the Basics

More often than not, HR people or recruiters aren’t going to be looking for nitty-gritty details about your technical aptitude. They’re more trying to see if you meet the baseline requirements for the job. That said, you should study the job description closely or talk with people working in the department, and then (before the interview) list out the things you think are the most important deliverables for the role. Be sure and touch on your strengths in these specific areas during the conversation.

2. Show That You’re Truly Interested (Assuming You Are)

Recruiters love when they realize a candidate is a strong match skills-wise for the role they’re attempting to fill. However, being a skills match means little if you give off the impression that you’re only so-so interested in the company or role. If they pass you through to the next stage of the interview process, recruiters want to feel confident that you’re enthusiastic and eager to learn more, not just wasting everyone’s time. And so, assuming you are reasonably interested in the opportunity, you’ve got to make that instantly clear to the recruiter during the screening call.

(Hint: Here are three steps to answering, “Why do you want this job?”)

3. Exude an Air of “Strong Culture Fit”

Companies hire candidates based on three things, not just one. Number one is the obvious, “Can she do the job?” This must be a “yes,” no matter what. But what typically clinches it for the candidate who lands the job is that she’s also a “yes” to these questions: “Do we like her?” and “Do we think she’s going to fit in around here?”

You absolutely must show—early on—that you’re a strong cultural fit. Thus, if you’re interviewing for a role within a company you know little about, you should study the organization’s online presence—the company website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, you get the picture—and figure out its brand personality, its tone, its vibe. And then, assuming you line up with that? Make it clear throughout the screening call.

4. Understand the Recruiter’s Role and Stake in This Process

By understanding the role of the recruiter in the hiring process, you will likely be better able to strategize this first interview. Most of these people are compensated—either entirely or partially—based on their ability to find and place people into open positions. That said, when they call you, they already want you to win. They want you to sail through the screening call because, if you win? They win. And if they fill this position quickly, they can also move on to another position (and make more money).

So, never be afraid to ask for the interviewer’s input on how you can put your best foot forward with the hiring manager or for clarification on any questions you don’t understand. Again, this person wants to send you through to the hiring manager. Make it easy to do so.

Interviewing is part art, part science. The art part requires you to bring forth your personality, enthusiasm, and interest. The science part? Requires you to study the process and the players and then strategize.

This article? Well, consider it your cheat sheet for getting to the “real interview.”

TIME Careers & Workplace

35 Things to Do for Your Career by 35

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Get comfortable with getting feedback

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

We’re all for flexibility. Going your own way. Paving your own path. Doing what works for you (and not doing what doesn’t).

We’re also big fans of not putting a timeline on things. We’ve even said that there are plenty of things you don’t have to have by 30 (or 40, or 50, or ever…).

But when it comes to your career, there are some things that we do recommend getting started on sooner rather than later. Not because some all-knowing career god out there says you have to, but because you’ll make your professional future—not to mention day-to-day work life—a whole lot easier.

So, do you need to check every box off this list by the time you’re 35? Definitely not. But, consider it a list of suggestions that, if taken, can have a really big impact on your career.

1. Really Refine Your Elevator Pitch

While it will obviously change from time to time, you should never have a hard time answering, “What do you do?” In fact, you should be so good at it that people will never forget. So, really spend some time figuring out what message you want to get across when people ask about your career. Communication expert Alexandra Franzen has an exercise to help.

2. Know Your Superpower

Or, in other words, know the one thing that you’re truly amazing at. Serial entrepreneur Tina Roth Eisenberg says that all the most successful people she’s met know exactly what they’re best at: John Maeda, who led the MIT Media Lab and Rhode Island School of Design, responded with “curiosity.” Maria Popova, who curates the popular Brain Pickings blog, said “doggedness.” Eisenberg’s own superpower is enthusiasm. See how to find your own super power, here.

3. Know Your Weakness

On the other end of the spectrum, it’s key to know what you’re not so great at. Not to make you feel bad—not in the least!—but to help you know who you should hire and work with to complement your skill set and what tasks you should delegate (so you can spend more time on what you’re great at). On that note:

4. Learn How to Delegate

No one can do it all, and especially as you climb the career ladder, you’re going to need to know the difference between the things you should be spending your time on and the things you shouldn’t. And, perhaps more importantly, be able to effectively and comfortably delegate to others—interns, staff members, your partner, your childcare provider, you get the picture. These 10 rules of successful delegation will help you do it right.

5. Know Your Career Non-Negotiables

You’re going to have a lot of opportunities come your way in life, and you don’t want to waste energy agreeing to things that really don’t line up with what you want to be doing. So, really be honest about what you want and need out of your career, and then come up with a list of non-negotiables that you can use as a guide next time you’re making a career decision. Writer Andrea Shields Nunez has some tips on creating them—and then actually enforcing them.

6. Do Something You’re Really, Really Proud Of

Whether or not it’s something you’ll be known for forever, something you get paid for doing, or even something you really want to do with your life, make sure you have something on your resume that, deep down, you’re really proud of.

7. Learn From Something You’re Not So Proud Of

We were going to add “fail at something” to this list, but that’s silly. Because, let’s face it, we’ve all failed miserably at one point or another. What’s more important? Learning from that blunder and taking that lesson with you productively into the next stage of your career.

8. Stretch Your Limits

You know you can manage a 30-person meeting, but a 100-person multi-day travel conference? That might be stretching the limits of your skills. Actually—this is exactly the type of stuff that you should try once in a while. After all, you’ll never really know how good you are until you step a bit outside of what you know.

9. Do Something That Really Scares You

This takes stretching your limits a bit further—we’re talking going way out of your comfort zone here. Whether it’s speaking at a conference, going for a (big) promotion, or finally writing that memoir, why not try something that terrifies you at least once in the early stages of your career? As they say, big risks can lead to big-time rewards.

10. Get Comfortable With Getting Feedback

Hillary Clinton once said that her biggest piece of advice to young professionals is: “It’s important to take criticism seriously—not personally.” Meaning: Knowing where you’re not meeting expectations is the only way you’ll learn and grow as a professional, but taking every harsh word to heart is a fast way to make your confidence crumble. So, take it from Hillz, and start taking feedback like a pro. Here are a few tips that’ll help.

11. Get Comfortable With Giving Feedback

Whether it’s telling your boss that his hourly drop-bys are really killing the team’s mojo or letting your direct report know that arriving to meetings on time is, in fact, required, giving feedback is a necessary part of getting what you need and being a happy professional. Learn how to give it well, ideally sooner rather than later. Career expert Jennifer Winter offers some pointers.

12. Get Comfortable With Saying No

For just being two measly letters long, “no” seems to be one of the hardest words in the English language for many of us to say. But it’s actually incredibly important for our careers (and our sanity!) that we learn to use it and stand behind it. Here’s how to say it to your boss, a friend, and everyone else.

13. Have a Broad Network of People You Can Trust

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again (probably at least twice a week for as long as we’re in business), the greatest asset you have in your career is your network. And building relationships takes time, so start now. Our free, seven-day email class is here to help.

14. Have a Couple of Specific Career Advisors

We’re not saying mentor here—because finding the right mentor shouldn’t have a timeline on it and because there are plenty of ways to succeed without one—but having a couple of people in your corner who can advise you on everything from a terrible boss to a career 180 is incredibly valuable. And yes, this group of people can include your mom.

15. Scrub Your Online Presence

Increasingly, what shows up in Google and on your social media profiles is the first impression someone has of you. So, take some time to clean ’em up! Change the privacy on any old or questionable photos. Use SimpleWash to delete any Facebook or Twitter posts that could be incriminating. Game your Google resultsto make sure the things you want showing up at the top do.

16. Perfect Your LinkedIn Profile

Speaking of those things you want showing up at the top, your LinkedIn profile is perhaps your most prime piece of online real estate. When a client, future employer, vendor, or professional contact is looking for you, guess where he or she will turn? Yup, LinkedIn. So make sure your profile tells the story you want it to tell (our complete guide to a perfect LinkedIn profile walks you through the process).

17. Have a Portfolio of Your Best Work

Whether it’s a printed collection of articles, marketing campaigns, or annual reports you’ve worked on or a personal website showcasing your skills, having a portfolio ready to go will make it easy for you to show your boss (or future boss) what you’ve got. Here’s more on why you need one, plus some easy ways to get started today.

18. Know How to Sell (Yourself or Something Else)

Yes, even if you never envision a career in cold calling. The truth is, whether you’re pitching an idea to your boss or writing a cover letter about why you’re the perfect candidate, you’re going to be selling something to someone at some point. Get started on your own personal sales education with these tips.

19. Know How to Negotiate

Because, in most cases, it’s the only way you’re going to get what you want and deserve. If you’ve never done it before, we recommend starting small (asking your boss to, say, pay for a pricey upcoming conference), and checking out this hour-long webinar that’s jam-packed with actionable advice (and motivation).

20. Know How to Manage Up

It’s a common misconception that you have to grin and bear it through a superior’s assignments, working style, or way of doing things, paying no regard to whether his or her demands are reasonable. In fact, being able to manage up—or, communicate with your boss and advocate for what you need to do your job best—is a crucial job skill. Molly Donovan offers some tips for doing it well.

21. Know How to Send a Killer Email

You should never send an email that you’re not proud of (or wouldn’t be proud of if your boss saw) again. So make sure you’re really putting care into the professional messages you send! Erin Greenawald has some tips from an editor’s perspective on how to write ones that are flawless. It may sound like a lot of effort, but we promise it’s worth it (and will get easier the more you do it).

22. Master Your Handshake

This sounds small, but a handshake is the quickest way to make (or break) an impression. (Fact: A Fortune 500 CEO once said that when he had to choose between two candidates with similar qualifications, he gave the position to the candidate with the better handshake.) Learn how to do it right from an expert.

23. Find a To-Do List System That Works for You

Whether you need your list synced across all of your devices or you’re more of a pen-and-paper kind of guy or gal, commit to finding a to-do list that helps you manage your workflow in the best way possible. Yes, you might change methods as you switch jobs or new apps are launched over time, but knowing what works, what doesn’t, and what you like and don’t will make sure that you always have what you need to be your most productive self.

24. Know Your Energy Levels—and Use Them

There’s nothing worse (or less productive) than trying to work when you’re not at your best. You shouldn’t spend any more time wasting your peak mental hours—or forcing yourself to work when you’re in an energy slump. So, really understand and accept when you work best, and then use productivity expert Alex Cavoulacos’ advice to map out your ideal day.

25. Know How Much Sleep You Need—and Commit to Getting It

We hope you learned this lesson in college, but if not: Sleep is important. Whether you need seven or nine hours, know your number, and get it regularly. Your health and career depend on it—take it from Arianna Huffington.

26. Know How to Manage Stress

Stress can really rule and ruin your life, something you don’t want to let it do for long. If stress is an issue for you, nip it in the bud as early as possible. Career coach Lea McLeod has some advice for how to start mitigating your stress, but if it’s really becoming overwhelming, consider talking to a professional who can give you strategies.

27. Stop Over-Apologizing

You may think you’re being polite or strengthening your reputation, but apologizing too much, especially for small things or things out of your control, could inadvertently instill doubt in your abilities and undercut your professionalism. Make sure you’re saving your apologies for when you really messed up—not when your co-worker asks you to go back a slide in your presentation. Check out Lily Herman’s tips for making sure you’re saying what you really mean.

28. Get Over Impostor Syndrome

Whether you’re just getting started in a new field or you’ve been climbing the promotion ladder at your company since graduation, impostor syndrome can plague any professional. But the truth is, it’s hurting your career (not to mention your self-esteem). Here’s why—and here are a few ways to get over feeling like a fraud and start feeling like the badass you are.

29. Have a Career Emergency Plan

What would you do if you got laid off tomorrow? If you don’t have an answer (or your answer is “Freak out! Panic!”), it’s time to come up with a career emergency plan. A crisis, like being let go or having your company go under, isn’t something you ever want to think about, but if it happened, wouldn’t you rather have a ready-to-go action plan than be running around like a crazy person trying to get anyone to hire you? Here’s how to get yours started ASAP.

30. Pick Up a Side Project

Ever wondered how you’d do at consulting? Thought about opening up an Etsy store or restoring and selling old cars? Try it out. At best, you’ll find a new career or source of income, and at the very least you’ll have some variety in your day to day.

31. Invest in Your Retirement

We know: In the early stages of your career, it can be hard to fork over any of that precious paycheck. But savings compounds over time, so starting early means you’ll have exponentially more in your later years (to, you know, live it up on a boat sipping mai tais all day). Here’s everything you need to know to get started.

32. Invest in Yourself

Today’s working world is changing faster than ever, and to stay on top of your professional game, it’s important to continue to grow your skills. Oh, and this doesn’t have to mean going to grad school. Here are 50 totally cheap and doable ways to add some professional development into your routine.

33. Invest in the World

Whether it’s volunteering your skills to a nonprofit in need or mentoring a junior employee, little feels better than giving back to the world. Here are a few ideas you may not have considered.

34. Know What You Don’t Want

You don’t have to know what you want to be when you grow up by 35 (or, hey, 95). But, assuming you want to have a job and career you love, it’s important to at least keep thinking about it—if not actively chasing it. And, often, the first step to knowing what you do want is ruling out what you don’t want. Don’t want a dictator for a boss? A sales role? A management position? Great. Whittle away some options, and you’re at least getting closer.

35. Give Yourself Permission to Go After What You Do

Oh, and if you do know what you want? Start taking steps to go after it. Yes, careers are long, but why spend one more day than you have to not doing what you want? You have our permission. We hope you have yours, too.

TIME Careers & Workplace

6 Reasons You Didn’t Get the Job (That No One Will Ever Tell You)

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The way you speak can, surprisingly, be a huge indicator to your interviewer about whether you’re the right fit for the position

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

You dressed the part. You told engaging stories. You asked insightful questions. Frankly, you nailed the interview, but you didn’t get the job. What gives?

You can certainly try to ask for feedback after receiving a rejection, but most employers probably won’t say much. If they do, it’ll be something fairly generic, along the lines of “other qualified candidates.” That, of course, isn’t always the real reason—it’s just that the real reason might be a little too awkward to actually say to someone’s face.

So, what are some of these uncomfortable reasons for not selecting a particular job candidate? Read on for a list of commonly cited deal breakers that are pretty difficult for hiring mangers to admit to.

1. You Spoke Funny

Do you have a habit of making your statements sound like questions? Tend to speak in an overly casual or formal tone?

The way you speak can, surprisingly, be a huge indicator to your interviewer about whether you’re the right fit for the position. Maybe you sound too meek to manage a team of 10 or too aggressive to handle customer complaints. This might not be a fair assessment, but it happens all the time—so it’s definitely worth thinking about and practicing for as you’re doing mock interviews to prepare.

2. You, Um, Smelled Funny

And I don’t just mean that you didn’t shower. That could be it—or it could be that you overdid it on the cologne. Either way, you don’t want to be that interview candidate who overpowered the conversation with your aroma rather than your charisma.

To combat this, lay off the perfume and make sure your personal hygiene is top notch. Seriously, please don’t let this be the reason you didn’t get the job.

3. You Were Too Eager

Did you show up 45 minutes early to the interview? Did you offer to do the internship unpaid without being prompted? It’s good to be enthusiastic during your interview, but be careful not to be over the top. It can come off as a little much and, like the first example, even inconvenient for the hiring manager. Instead, show your excitement by being exceptionally well versed about the company and position. Top it off with a thank you note, and you’re all set.

4. You Were Too Arrogant

Don’t get me wrong: Confidence in an interview is essential, and apparently it’s even good to be a little narcissistic. But don’t step over the line toward being arrogant. This can really rub people the wrong way and make you seem a little hard to manage.

To make sure you’re not overdoing it, back up your claims and your skills with concrete stories, and show an openness to learn by asking thoughtful questions. And even if you think you have it in the bag, think twice before letting that show.

5. You Didn’t Pass the Airport Test

This reason might be the most awkward of them all: It’s possible that your interviewer just didn’t click with you. You’re not going to get along swimmingly with everyone, and most people are too polite to tell you if you didn’t with him or her.

That’s okay. The most you can do is try to be yourself. Do some mindfulness exercises before you head over to the interview, take a deep breath before you walk into the building, and relax. Don’t let people judge you based just on your nerves. Try to let your interviewer actually get to know you a bit.

6. You Weren’t the Internal Candidate They Wanted All Along

It’s a sad truth of job hunting: At many companies, hiring managers are required to do a few interviews before making a decision, even if they have a strong internal candidate that they probably knew from day one that they were going to hire. There’s pretty much no way to know when you’re interviewing for a position like this and, unfortunately, there’s almost nothing you can do. So, if you didn’t get the job, it could also very well be because it was impossible to get in the first place. Don’t get too hung up on it.

At the end of the day, there are some things you can control about the interview process (like showering and doing your company research), and then there are some things you can’t do anything about (like knowing your interviewer’s pet peeves ahead of time). So, do what you can and understand that interviewing is an incredibly subjective way to evaluate whether someone is a good fit for a position.

TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Things That Drive Interviewers Totally Nuts

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When you’re hyper-prepared and hanging on the edge of your seat waiting for certain questions

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

Having spent the last decade recruiting, I’ve had many a conversation with hiring managers after a candidate exits the interview. And, while I always hope for exceptional feedback, sometimes the news is not so glowing.

Sometimes, the candidate has done something so annoying to the interviewer that, at best, she is now questioning her interest in keeping this person in the running.

What are the things that drive interviewers the most crazy? Listen and learn.

1. You Arrive Super Early

Everybody knows that you’re an idiot if you show up late for an interview. It’s completely disrespectful of the interviewer’s time.

But showing up insanely early is also going to make you look like a jerk. Why? Because, when you arrive more than five or 10 minutes before your meeting, you’re putting immediate pressure on the interviewer to drop whatever she may be wrapping up and deal with you. Or, she’s going to start the interview feeling guilty because she knows she just left you sitting in the lobby for 20 minutes.

A secondary problem with showing up early is that it says, “Hi, I have absolutely nothing else going on in my life, so I’ll just park it here in your company lobby.” You don’t want that. If you arrive super early, hang in the parking lot or a nearby coffee shop until just a few minutes before your scheduled time.

2. You’re So Over-Rehearsed That You Act Like a Robot

Once again, we all know not to show up to an interview completely unprepared.

Fewer of us, however, realize that it’s entirely possible to arrive over-prepared. Are you someone who thinks through every possible question that you suspect might be asked, writes out verbatim “best answers,” and then practices them in the mirror (or with a friend) until you’re beyond exhausted?

You might think you’re doing yourself a solid, but what you’re actually doing is putting yourself at risk for coming across as robotic or, worse, disinterested. (More on that here.)

When you’re hyper-prepared and hanging on the edge of your seat waiting for certain questions for which you’ve prepared to be asked, you will likely have a very hard time engaging in genuine conversation with the interviewer.

And interviewers don’t tend to hire detached people who can’t seem to have a genuine conversation. Certainly, walk in prepared, but force yourself to not memorize or over-rehearse the practice questions.

3. You Head Into the TMI Zone

Is your underwear riding up your rear end as you sit in that interview? Did you totally run a red light (and nearly sideswipe a school bus) so that you could be on time? Did your husband lose $15,000 at a craps table in Vegas last weekend? How interesting—yet all completely off-limits conversation topics while you’re in the interview.

Even if you’re interviewing for a role within the most free-wheeling, fun-loving organization, the fact remains that you are in an interview. Never, ever get wooed into believing that the casual nature of the environment frees you to enter the TMI zone.

Be friendly and conversational, for sure. You want this crew to feel that you’ll fit in around the joint. Just never, and I mean do not ever, cross the line into TMI. When in doubt, leave it out.

4. You’re a Clear and Obvious WIIFM

Guess what interviewers want to know when they meet with you? First and foremost, they want to know what you can do for them. What can you do to make that company money, improve businesses processes, grow the organization and, importantly, make their lives easier?

That said, when you bust out with an immediate litany of WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) questions, you look both arrogant and, frankly, unappealing.

Of course you want to know what the benefits are, how much vacation you get, and if you get a cell phone, company car, and corner office. But in the early interview stages, all the hiring managers and HR people really care about is what you can do for them. This is a business they are running, not a club.

Making you happy will be important if they want you, but you’re not even going to get to that stage if you make your list of demands clear too early.

5. You Don’t Say Thank You

I’m not just talking about the after-interview thank you note here. Surely, sending an immediate thank you out to each person with whom you’ve met is critical. But it’s also super important to thank the interviewer enthusiastically before you even part ways.

Certainly, it can be stressful and exhausting to shuttle through hours of interviewing at a company, to the point it all starts feeling like a bit of a blur. But if you really want this job, you need to stay focused and energized, and you absolutely must end strong. A strong, genuine, “Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me—it was great to meet you” will go a long way.

Interviewing can be among the most stressful things we do as adults, especially when we need the job badly. It’s definitely never a breeze. But keeping a cool head, arriving prepared to engage in conversation, and staying focused on the value you can bring to that organization is going to help you make it through with flying colors. People hire people, not robots, not jerks, and not people who don’t value their time.

Keep this top of mind as you march forth and conquer.

TIME Careers & Workplace

4 Changes That Will Make Your Resume Incredibly Powerful

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Little things that you do make the difference between being just another job candidate and one who actually makes a hiring manager smile

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

As a job seeker, it’s easy to see hiring managers as big, bad obstacles that need to be overcome. They’re the gatekeepers, after all. But, this kind of thinking actually leads to weaker job applications.

Think about it this way: Hiring managers read a ton of resumes—to the point at which their eyes cross. More importantly, hiring managers are just people. With this in mind, the only thing you really need to do to stand out is to have the one resume that actually lets them breathe a sigh of relief during this painful process. Here are four ways you can do just that.

1. Make the First Thing on Your Resume Immediately Relevant

There’s nothing worse for a hiring manager than having to dig through a resume to find what, exactly, an applicant’s relevant experience entails. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be for the person who will be reading your resume, and make sure the first thing on your resume is something you know he or she wants.

Are you applying to a sales position? Titling the first section of your resume “Sales Experience” might be a good way to start. Throwing your hat in for a position that requires specific training or certifications? Make that section number one. Go ahead. Make that hiring manager’s day, and actually start your resume with something that makes sense for the position.

2. Don’t Slap Your Reader in the Face With Text

So, you’ve managed to fit your resume all on one page with some efficient formatting and size eight font. Well, let me stop you right there. No hiring manager is going to see that resume and think, “Well, it’s still technically one page, so I better give it my full attention.” He or she will either read it while developing an impression that you’re already a burdensome job candidate, or he or she won’t even bother with the eye strain and just toss it.

Be kind to your resume reviewer. Leave plenty of white space on that page, and use a reasonable size font—even if it means you have to cut some details. No big blocks of text. Favor bullets that don’t exceed two lines of text over paragraphs when describing your experience. And, of course, think about what you can do to make your resume easier to skim overall. (These 12 little tricks will point you in the right direction.)

3. Cut the Resume Speak and Get to the Point

Does your resume have phrases like “utilized innovative social media techniques” to describe how you posted to the company’s Twitter account every once in awhile? If so, you might be guilty of resume speak. (For extreme—and extremely hilarious—examples of this, the Resume Speak Tumblr is worth a browse.) Not only can hiring managers usually see right through this, but worse, resume speak often obscures what your real experience actually is.

There is no way your resume can make a strong case for your skills and experiences if the language you use is imprecise, fluffy, or hard to comprehend. Be concise and specific when describing your past experience (in the example above, perhaps, “Posted weekly Twitter updates and grew followers by 200%”). The hiring manager will thank you—and maybe even call you.

4. Just Be Thoughtful

I can’t stress this point enough. The person who will (eventually) be reading your resume is a human being. If you’re thoughtful, it won’t go unnoticed.

What does that mean? To start, save your resume as your first and last name plus “resume,” make your job titles more descriptive for easier scanning (for example, “Viral Marketing Intern” instead of just “Intern”), and actually send a cover letter that’s tailored to the position.

Beyond that, put yourselves in the shoes of the hiring manager and consider what would make his or her job easier when it comes to evaluating job candidates. No need for gimmicks, inflated descriptions, or corporate jargon. Try to get your experiences across as precisely and succinctly as possible, and emphasize the parts that are the most relevant by pulling them out into their own section and placing that section at the top of your resume.

Yes, your resume might go through an applicant tracking system before it ever gets to a human being, but if you’re a good fit, it will eventually get in front of a hiring manager. When that happens, it’ll be these little things that you do that make the difference between being just another job candidate and one who actually makes a hiring manager smile.

TIME Careers & Workplace

10 Awesome Companies That Give You Unlimited Vacation

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Especially among the startup community, unlimited vacation policies are more common than you might think

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

It seems every time a new company announces that it’s switching to an unlimited vacation or “no vacation policy” policy, there’s a whole new flurry of media (and job-seeker) excitement. And while it is exciting to see companies rethinking how they approach work-life balance (and to imagine yourself working for a place where you can take time off without meticulously counting the days), we’ve got a secret for you.

There are plenty of companies already doing this.

Especially among the startup community, unlimited vacation policies are more common than you might think. If you’re looking for a workplace that gives you enough time off to take that two-week trip to Bali, look no further than these 10 workplaces already offering this highly desired perk.

Disclaimer: Unlimited vacation policies do not mean you can take half the year off (hardly). If you’re working for a company with a policy like this (or considering it), make sure to read our run down of how it actually works.

1. Factual

From mobile apps to social media sites, modern businesses need a way to get good data to optimize their products. At Factual, the team collects, structures, and organizes facts and information from many different sources to create very clean, high-value databases for all types of businesses—letting companies use the power of data without spending all of their time dealing with it.

Crunching numbers all day is hard work, so Factual gives employees plenty of ways to wind down when they need to, including enjoying a nice lunch or cup of tea with your co-workers, taking a break for an in-office yoga class, or, yes, using whatever time off you need.

See Open Jobs

2. Sailthru

Sailthru is an incredibly client-focused company. The team believes that every user is unique and does everything it can to help clients engage with their customers one-on-one, use data to generate and deliver the most highly personalized, connected digital experiences, and ultimately increase their revenue.

And while the client comes first, the culture at Sailthru is one where the company seriously invests in its employees. Professionally, this means offering talent development stipends to learn about topics you’re interested in, speaker series’ from industry experts, leadership training, and the like. But the company understands that it’s important to invest in the well-being of its employees, too; that’s why it also offers things like unlimited vacation, a flexible working policy, and regular company-sponsored lunches, happy hours, and chair massages.

See Open Jobs

3. Pocket

Pocket is revolutionizing the way customers interact with content online. Offering a beautiful desktop and app experience, Pocket gives users the ability to save articles, videos, or anything else they find online to view it later.

Pocket thinks the best teams are happy and healthy ones. All employees are given a membership to the Sports Club LA—conveniently located next door—and are encouraged to take a break and catch a yoga or spin class. There’s also an unlimited vacation policy, meaning employees can take time off and come back refreshed, recharged, and ready to keep redefining how people consume content online.

See Open Jobs

4. Umbel

Umbel is on a mission to take the world by storm (using data). The smart data company helps clients gain a deeper understanding of their target demographics by responsibly managing massive amounts of data through a beautiful and intuitive interface.

Like the company’s fictional Lucha Libre wrestler mascot El Umbel, each employee is eccentric, mysterious, technical, tactical, and hard-working. Still, even the best need a break, and that’s why you can take it when you need it at Umbel.

See Open Jobs

5. ZestFinance

ZestFinance’s goal? To help the 60 million Americans who aren’t supported by the traditional finance system get access to fair, transparent, and low-cost credit.

And while you’ll be working hard toward this lofty goal, life at ZestFinance is kind of like an eternal vacation. First, you’re based in sunny LA, you are encouraged to wear whatever makes you comfortable to the office (hello, t-shirt and jeans), and you get to enjoy daily catered lunches from a local restaurant. And when you need to escape this fantastic environment for some reason? Unlimited paid vacations should do the trick.

See Open Jobs

6. PaperG

The New York Times called PaperG “an ad engine to put Mad Men out of business.” The advertising technology company makes display advertising simple for any size business by automatically creating and distributing display ads across platforms and devices—thus drastically lowering the cost of online advertising for small- and medium-sized businesses.

It’s great for businesses—and great for employees. As senior account executive David Benitez says, “My favorite thing about working here is that PaperG takes care of me.” What excatly does that mean? Everything from buying employees breakfast and lunch to offering education credit for books, conferences, and courses to help employees expand their skills and enough vacation days to keep employees happy.

See Open Jobs

7. Prezi

Prezi is on a mission to make the world better by improving the way people communicate. How? By wiping out boring presentations. Prezi is a totally different kind of software that lets users engage their audiences and share their story in entirely new ways, far outside the confines of traditional slides.

Whether you’re working from the company’s San Francisco or Budapest office, you’ll be having fun while doing it. You’ll never have to look far to find a furious ping-pong battle, a chilled-out yoga session, or a silly word game in full swing. Prezi eats well, too—healthy and delicious. Plus, there are plenty of opportunities to travel all around the world, either with the company or during your unlimited time off.

See Open Jobs

8. SoFi

SoFi wants to help save graduates from the rising problem of student debt. Focused on building a community around traditional financial products, SoFi connects students and recent graduates with alumni and other community investors through school-specific student loan funds, meaning a better deal for everyone.

In terms of office life, the SoFi team knows how to have a great time. Aside from fantastic events, SoFi also treats its employees to plenty of the standard startup perks, including gym benefits, a fully stocked cafeteria overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, and of course, unlimited time off.

See Open Jobs

9. Chegg

Chegg is an education hub that provides college students with the textbook rentals, eTextbooks, online homework help, course organization, scholarship tools, and more to take control of their educational experiences. With Chegg, students economize their time, save money, and get smarter all with the help of an online community that truly gets their needs.

While the company puts students first, the company has plenty of perks to make it worth its employees’ while. In addition to food, games, a gym, and great employees, the company offers plenty of time away from the office, including nine scheduled holidays, five days off to volunteer each year, and no set number on how many days you can take off for your own well being.

See Open Jobs

10. Crowdflower

CrowdFlower is changing the way work gets done. The company takes clients’ large data projects and breaks them into smaller, more manageable tasks that are then doled out to hundreds of thousands of contributors around the world, allowing clients to accomplish in hours tasks that would take their in-house staff weeks to finish.

CrowdFlower is all about making sure its team is as productive as possible, too, and understands that this often means letting people recharge so they can come back and do their best work possible. Whether that means enjoying free food in the kitchen, playing a quick game with your co-workers, or taking a nice vacation when you need it, you’ll come back more productive than ever.

See Open Jobs

TIME Careers & Workplace

27 Pre-Written Templates for Your Toughest Work Emails

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

Communication is hard work. A 2012 survey by McKinsey found that highly skilled desk workers spent an average of 28% of their work weeks dealing with email—a number that is surely rising. And that doesn’t even take into account the stress involved in figuring out how to convey a potentially difficult message, like asking for help, saying no, or admitting you messed up.

(MORE: Answering Emails After Work Is Bad for Your Health)

To help make the most of your time and energy, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite scripts and templates for making email (and a few other things, like that pesky LinkedIn recommendation you need to write) much easier and less time consuming. Whether you’re job searching, networking, dealing with day-to-day work communications, or trying to be a better manager, find your situation below, tweak the template to your liking, and send it off!

(MORE: 9 Rules For Emailing From Google Exec Eric Schmidt)

Job Search

1. You Need Your Network’s Help Finding a Job

Reaching out to your current network and letting them know you’re on the hunt is a surefire way to make your job search easier: Why search on your own when you could have a whole army of contacts keeping an eye out for opportunities, too? But, to make it more likely that they will help you, make it as easy as possible for them by sending an email like this.

See the Script

2. You Need a Referral at Your Dream Company

You’ve applied to a job at your dream company—and then noticed a friend is connected to someone there. Asking him or her to connect you and vouch for you can feel weird, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s how to do it the right way.

See the Script

3. You Want to Write the Perfect Cover Letter to Strut Your Skills

Your cover letter shouldn’t just walk through your job history (that’s your resume’s job). Highlighting your skills can be a great way to mix things up or show why you’d be an ideal candidate if you have a less traditional path. Try filling in this template, and see how impressive you sound.

See the Script

4. You Need to Write a Thank You Note for an Interview

Especially if you’re interviewing a lot, there’s no need to fret over each individual thank you note. For a basic note that gets the job done, start with this template, tweak it slightly for each company and role, and send it off by EOD after you’ve interviewed.

See the Script

5. You Want to Send a Thank You Note That Really Goes Above and Beyond

If you just interviewed for your absolute dream job, you may want to go a bit beyond the basic thank you note. Check out this template for an idea of how you can add value to the company before you’re even offered the job. With this approach, the hiring manager will have a hard time not bringing you on board.

See the Script

6. You Applied to a Job a Week or Two Ago—and Want to Check In

Haven’t heard back from your dream job? If you’ve been holding your breath for a few weeks, it doesn’t hurt to send a short, professional follow-up email, like this one.

See the Script

7. You Need to Turn Down a Job Offer

You interviewed, you’ve been given an offer—but you’ve decided you need to turn it down. Keep your message appreciative, give a brief explanation why, and make sure to keep the door open. These ideas should help craft your message.

See the Script

In the Office

8. You Don’t Really Know What the Sender is Asking For

You know the email: There are a lot of words, but nothing is really said, and you’re left wondering what the other person wants from you. It can seem like a tricky situation, but the solution is actually pretty simple: Punt it back to the sender nicely to ask for clarification.

See the Script

9. You Need to Say “No” to Something

Even if we need to do it (or really want to do it), we all have a hard time saying “no.” No matter the situation, these short and sweet scripts will make it much, much easier.

See the Scripts

10. You Need to Say “No” to Someone You ReallyWant to Help

Saying “no” is especially hard when it’s someone really want to help, you just don’t have the bandwidth: a friend, a close colleague, or someone who has given you support in the past. Use this template to make it easier and to let him or her down in the most caring way possible.

See the Script

11. You Receive a Complicated Laundry List of Thoughts, Ideas, and Tasks

This email is one full of action items, questions, thoughts, comments, tasks—the list goes on and on. It would take you forever just to weed through the message, let alone do the work. Your response will be a little different depending on if this is a boss or a colleague, but either way, you’ll need to ask for some help prioritizing.

See the Script

12. You Need More Information to Answer

Someone asks you a question out of the blue, and you have no idea what he or she is talking about. Or you have a sense, but know you need a little more information to answer well. Quickly email the sender back asking for context or the specific details you need.

See the Script

13. Your Colleague is Making a Project Too Difficult

Are you working with someone who is making something much (much) more difficult than it needs to be? It can be hard to suggest a better way without hurting somebody’s feelings, but by doing so you’re making everyone’s lives easier. Simply choose your words wisely and use phrases that remind your colleague that you’re working together collaboratively on this.

See the Script

14. You’ve Got a Workplace Conflict—and YouNeed to Tell Your Boss

Obviously, running to your boss shouldn’t be the first thing you do when you’re having problems with one of your co-workers; try working it out on your own first, before enlisting the higher-ups. But if the situation keeps coming up, it’s okay to go talk to your manager—as long as you follow this script to do it without sounding like you’re whining.

See the Script

15. You Need to Turn Down a Project

If you’ve been asked to do a project you really don’t want to do, you want to write a little more than “absolutely not” back. Whether it’s not part of your job or you just don’t think it’s worth your time, start with these scripts to nicely say “no.”

See the Script

16. You’re Quitting Your Job

Writing a resignation letter can be scary to say the least, but with this easy template you’ll have a great letter written and be out the door in no time.

See the Script

Management

17. You’re Inviting a Candidate in for an Interview

Whether you are interviewing someone for the first time or do this on the reg and are just tired of writing the email, we’ve got the perfect template for inviting a candidate in for an interview—full of all the details he or she needs to know.

See the Script

18. You’re Offering a Candidate a Job

You’ve interviewed someone who killed it, and you’re excited to invite him or her to the team! Use this easy template to get that offer out the door ASAP.

See the Script

19. You’re Turning a Candidate Down

This one can be tough, but the trick is to keep it short and to the point. Copying and pasting this template should make the job much easier.

See the Script

20. You Messed Up—and Need to Tell Your Customers

Delivering the news about a crisis or problem to your customers or clients can be hard, but it gives you the chance to show that you’re on top of it and working on the issue. This script should help get the message out fast—so you can spend more time fixing the problem.

See the Script

21. You Need to Write a LinkedIn Recommendation—Fast

Don’t hem and haw when you’ve been asked to write a recommendation for someone on LinkedIn. Fill in the blanks of this template, and you’ll have a stand-out recommendation done in less than five minutes.

See the Script

Networking

22. You Need an Introduction

You find out a friend or colleague knows somebody who would be perfect for you to know, whether it’s for your career growth, your job search, or your sales efforts. How can you ask your contact to introduce you—without sounding needy and annoying? This template should do the trick.

See the Script

23. You’ve Been Asked to Make an Introduction

If you’ve been asked by a colleague to introduce him or her to a contact. But you don’t just want to connect them right away—you want to make sure your contact is okay with being introduced, so as not to annoy him or make him uncomfortable. Here’s the email to send to get the OK.

See the Script

24. You’re Actually Making the Introduction

All is said and done, and your contact is happy to be introduced to your friend. Great! Use this short template to briefly remind each person why you’re introducing them, and then get this out of your hands!

See the Script

25. You Need to Explain What You Do

Whether in person at a networking event or over email with a new contact, it can be tricky to explain exactly what you do in a way that’s not totally boring. Hint: Don’t just tell your job title. Then look at this template to make your elevator pitch more memorable.

See the Script

26. You Want a Client to Recommend You to Others

Have some clients who love you—and hoping they will spread the word about how great your products or services are? This email will make it incredibly easy for anyone to help you out.

See the Script

27. You Have Way Too Many People Asking to “Pick Your Brain”

Don’t have time to answer all the emails asking for informational interviews, let alone actually going on them? Here are some strategies for making it work—or turning them down—with easy-to-email scripts for each.

See the Scripts

TIME Careers & Workplace

31 Secrets to Writing the Perfect Cover Letter

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Instead of just repeating yourself, use your cover letter to describe additional details that you weren’t able to squeeze onto your resume

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

Ah, the dreaded cover letter. Every time you sit down to write one, you probably browse cover letter examples online, get overwhelmed, and think something to the effect of: Does anyone really read these? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if I could just let my resume speak for itself?

First off: Yes, we can assure you that cover letters do, in fact, get read. In fact, to some hiring managers, they’re the most important part of your application. And yes, while it would be easier to let your resume speak for itself, if that was the case you’d completely miss the opportunity to tell prospective employers who you are, showcase why they should hire you, and stand out above all the other candidates.

Ready to get started? To make sure your cover letter is in amazing shape (and is as painless as possible to write), we’ve compiled our 31 best cover letter tips of all time into one place.

Read on—then get cover letter writing.

1. Don’t Regurgitate Your Resume

Instead of just repeating yourself (“I was in charge of reviewing invoice disputes”), use your cover letter to describe additional details that you weren’t able to squeeze onto the single page of your resume: “By resolving invoice disputes, I gained a deep analytical knowledge—but more importantly, I learned how to interact calmly and diplomatically with angry customers.” A cover letter gives you the freedom to use full sentences—instead of bullet points—so use them to expand upon your resume points and tell the story of why you’re the perfect fit for the company.

2. Think Not What the Company Can Do for You

A common cover letter mistake? Talking about how great the position would be for you and your resume. Frankly, hiring managers are aware of that—what they really want to know is what you’re going to bring to the position and company. On that note:

3. Clearly Show What You’re Capable Of

Beyond explaining what you’ve done in the past, show hiring managers what you can do in the future. “Determine the key requirements and priorities for this job, and make it instantly clear to the reviewer that you can deliver the goods on these key things,” says Jenny Foss, job search expert and founder of JobJenny.com. “Consider crafting a section within the letter that begins with, ‘Here’s what, specifically, I can deliver in this role.’ And then expound upon your strengths in a few of the priority requirements for that role.”

4. Showcase Your Skills

When you know you have the potential to do the job—but your past experience doesn’t totally sell you as the perfect one for the position—try focusing on your skills, instead. Here’s a template that helps you do just that.

5. …Not Necessarily Your Education

Many new grads make the mistake of over-focusing on their educational backgrounds. At the end of the day, what hiring managers care about most is your work experience (and yes, that can be volunteer or internship experience, too)—and what you can walk through the door and deliver on Day 1.

6. Don’t Apologize for Skills You Don’t Have

When you don’t meet all of the job requirements, it’s common for job seekers to use lines like, “Despite my limited experience with marketing…” or “While I only have work experience doing administrative tasks…” But why apologize? Instead of drawing attention to your weaknesses, try to focus on the skills you do have, says career expert Lily Zhang. “Stay positive, focus on your strengths, and immediately launch into your transferable skills and infectious enthusiasm for the position.”

7. Highlight the Right Experiences

Not sure what skills and experiences you should be featuring? Drop the text of the job description into a word cloud tool like Wordle, and see what stands out. That’s what the hiring manager is looking for most.

8. Tell a Story

What brings you to this company? Did you used to sing along to all of its commercials as a kid? Did the product make some incredible difference in your life? Do you sometimes pull into the parking lot and daydream about what it would feel like to work there? Stories bring your background and experiences to life, so feel free to tell them. (Just, you know, keep them short and to the point.)

9. Use a Few Numbers

When it comes to the job search, numbers often speak louder than words. “Offer stats to illustrate your impact on companies or associations you’ve worked for in the past,” suggests career expert and founder of ProfessionGal Megan Broussard. “Employers love to see numbers—it shows them that you speak their language and that you understand what they’re looking for in an employee: results.”

10. Consider Testimonials

If you have great feedback from old co-workers, bosses, or clients, don’t be afraid to use it! A seamless way to integrate a positive quote from a previous manager or client is to use it as evidence of your passion for your area of expertise. For example, “I have developed a keen interest in data science during my years working various political campaigns (as my past supervisor once said, I love Excel more than anyone she knows).”

11. Cut the Formality

“Don’t be overly formal (‘I wish to convey my interest in filling the open position at your fine establishment’),” writes career expert Mark Slack. “It makes you seem insincere and even robotic, not anything like the friendly, approachable, and awesome-to-work-with person you are.

12. Think Custom, Not Canned

Most companies want to see that you’re truly excited about the position and company, which means creating a custom letter for each position you apply for. “When a recruiter reads, ‘Dear Hiring Manager, I am so excited to apply for the open position at your company, where I hope to utilize my skills to progress in my career,’ he or she immediately recognizes it for what it is—a stock cover letter that you’ve mass-distributed to every place in town,” says Muse career expert Katie Douthwaite. And then probably throws it in the trash.

13. Start With a Template

That said, there’s nothing that says you can’t get a little help. Our easy, downloadable cover letter guide will walk you through, step-by-step, how to create a cover letter that rocks.

14. …Or Some Inspiration

Having trouble getting started? Check out 31 examples of how to start your cover letter in an engaging, attention-grabbing way or these eight examples of awesome cover letters that actually worked.

15. Be Open to Other Formats

If you’re applying to a more traditional company, then the tried-and-true three-to-five-paragraph format probably makes sense. However, if you’re gunning for a more creative or startup job—or need to explain to the hiring manager, say, how your career has taken you from teaching to business development, a different approach could be appropriate. Here at The Muse, we’ve seen cover letters use bullet points, tell stories, or showcase videos to (successfully) get their point across. This professional even turned hers into a BuzzFeed-style list!

16. But Don’t Go Too Far

Like this guy did. Just—don’t.

17. Consider Adding a Headline

One formatting idea from The Undercover Recruiter? Add an eye-catching headline to your letter, like “3 Reasons I’m an Excellent Fit for the Marketing Manager Position.” Again, no one says you have to follow the tried-and-true format, and this can be an easy way to catch the hiring manager’s eye quickly.

18. Be Real

“Honest, genuine writing always goes much, much further than sticking to every dumb rule you’ve ever read in stale, outdated career guides and college textbooks,” explains Foss.

19. …And Normal

We can’t tell you how many cover letters we’ve seen from people who are “absolutely thrilled for the opportunity” or “very excitedly applying!” Downplay the adverbs a bit, and just write like a normal person.

20. Cut the Fluff

Avoid, at all costs, describing yourself as a “team player” or a “people person,” says Broussard. “Instead, show off your skills with descriptive statements like ‘I’m an expert communicator with experience bringing together diverse departments to develop a cohesive program.’ It’s longer—but it’s also stronger.”

21. Write in the Company’s “Voice”

Cover letters are a great way to show that you understand the environment and culture of the company and industry and prove that you’ve got what they are looking for. So, always keep in mind who will be reading your cover letter, and tailor it to what you know will get them excited. Spending five or 10 minutes reading over the company website before you get started can be a great way to get in the right mindset—you’ll get a sense for the company’s tone, language, and culture, which are all things you’ll want to mirror as you’re writing.

22. Boost Your Confidence Before Writing

Writing guru Alexandra Franzen offers a simple mind trick that will dramatically change the way you write cover letters: Pretend. “Pretend that the person you’re writing to already loves and respects you. Pretend that the person you’re writing to already believes that you’re worthy and valuable. Pretend that the person you’re writing to doesn’t need a big sales pitch,” she explains. Then, write. Your words will come out so much easier. (Here’s more on how to do it.)

23. Have Some Fun With It

News flash: Cover letter writing doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, there are plenty of ways to spice it up! Hoping for a job at a startup? Making your cover letter more creative—whether you use a spunkier tone, play with the format, or make it more visual—will likely improve your chances of getting a call back. Applying for a corporate position? Stick with the traditional format, but make it more conversational, or include a story about how you first came in contact with the company or how much you love it. Much more fun, right? (Here are a few other ways to make cover letter writing suck less.)

24. Don’t Let Your Fear of Bragging Get in the Way

If you tend to have a hard time writing about yourself, here’s a quick trick: Imagine you’re someone else writing a letter about yourself. Think from the perspective of a friend, mentor, or previous employer—someone who would only sing your praises—and then write the letter from her point of view. If it helps, you can even write the letter in third person (i.e. “Erin would be a great fit for this position because…”). Just make sure you’re very careful about going back through and changing it to first person when you’re done!

25. Have Someone Gut Check It

Have a friend take a look at your cover letter, and ask him or her two questions: Does this sell me as the best person for the job? and Does it get you excited? If the answer to either is “no,” or even slight hesitation, go back for another pass.

26. Keep it Short and Sweet

There are always exceptions to the rule, but in general, for resumes and cover letters alike, don’t go over a page. “According to the Orange County Resume Survey, almost 70% of employers either want a half page cover letter (250 words) or ‘the shorter the better,’ approach,” writes Slack.

27. Don’t Start With Your Name

Because, well, the hiring manager can see it already on your resume. Get right to the point with what you can bring to the job.

28. But Do Include the Hiring Manager’s Name

Use the person’s first and last name, including a “Mr.” or “Ms.” (e.g., Mr. Jack Smith). Never use “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear or Sir or Madam”—nothing could be more generic (not to mention archaic).

29. Unless You Don’t Know It

OK, sometimes, even after hours of online searching (try these tips), you still might not be able to definitively figure out who exactly the hiring manager for the position you’re applying for is. If you can only find a list of executives and you’re not completely confident who the hiring manager is, use the head of the department for the position you’re applying for. If you really don’t have a name to use, try to still be as specific as possible in your greeting. Consider using “Senior Analyst Hiring Manager” or “Research Manager Search Committee”—something that shows that you’ve written this letter with a particular audience in mind.

30. Edit

We shouldn’t have to tell you to run your cover letter through spell-check, but here’s an even better step: Check out how the wording sounds to others using Hemingway. Drop your text onto the page, and the color-coded app will give your writing a once-over. Is a sentence too wordy, overly complex, or totally unreadable? It’ll be highlighted in red until you revise it. Tend to overuse the passive voice? Every instance of it will show up in green. The site will even recommend when you can use shorter or simpler words (Why take up precious resume space with “utilize” when you can say “use?”).

31. But Care Most About Standing Out

Perhaps the best piece of cover letter wisdom we can offer you comes from Foss: The most memorable cover letters are written by people who care less about the rules and more about standing out to the hiring manager. “Next time you sit down to write a cover letter, vow to not get uptight about all the tiny little ‘rules’ you’ve picked up along the way,” she writes. “Instead, buck convention. Be memorable. Nail the stuff that will make you a true standout.”

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