TIME Careers & Workplace

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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How You Can Boost Page Views on LinkedIn

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Strike up a conversation—in a group

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In one week, I increased the number of people looking at my LinkedIn profile by 425%. And that’s pretty exciting—more views means more potential job opportunities, more connections, and more visibility in my industry.

Also exciting? The only thing I did differently in those seven days was start and participate in a few group discussions.

Now that I’ve discovered how beneficial it is to be an active contributor, I’m making it my goal to join group discussions at least once a week. Here’s how to do the same, so you can make your profile views soar.

1. Find the Right Group

If you’re already a member of several groups relevant to your industry, profession, or interests, great. If not, let’s fix that.

Go to the search bar at the top of the page and enter some keywords. If you’re a content strategist, try “content strategy,” “content marketing,” “creative content solutions,” and the like; if you’re into cloud computing, try “cloud computing,” “cloud storage,” “cloud services,” “cloud computing and virtualizations,” and so on. Then, in the left bar, click “Groups” to filter your results. You can also do a “blank search” (press Enter without typing anything) and let LinkedIn show you the groups it considers most relevant to you.

Groups range from the broad (like “Content Strategy”) to the ultra-specific (like “Women in Marketing, Chapel Hill, NC ”), and each has its merits, but don’t limit yourself to one size. If you’re just starting out, join one small group (less than 100 members), one medium group (less than 1,000 members), and one large group (anywhere from 1,000 to 100,000 members). This strategy lets you be a big fish in a small pond, a medium fish in a medium pond, and a small fish in a big pond.

One characteristic all the groups you join should share? They should all be active. If there hasn’t been any discussion in the group within the last week, pick a different one.

2. Get the Lay of the Land

Don’t do what I did, which was immediately post a discussion without looking at anything else on the group page. After getting zero responses to my question, I scrolled down to see that someone else had asked the same thing just a couple days prior.

Now, when I join a group, I’ll read through everything posted in the last week (or month, if it’s a less-active group). I note the average conversational style (casual? formal? somewhere in between?), the most successful posts (open-ended questions? discussions about industry news? requests for advice?), and the types of responses (long? short and snappy?).

This process might sound time-consuming, but it shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes, tops. Plus, not only do I generate ideas for my own posts and comments, I also learn valuable information about my field.

You don’t want to overwhelm yourself, so go to your smallest group first and spend some time getting comfortable with the vibe. As you read, jot down any thoughts you have. These will become the jumping-off points for your first posts.

3. Join a Discussion

I like to contribute to a couple of threads before I start a new one. That’s because if LinkedIn groups are like dinner parties; you don’t want to be the obnoxious guest who shows up late and then tries to dominate the conversation.

The discussion you comment on doesn’t have to be active. Say you find one from a couple weeks ago that’s come to a halt, but it’s on a topic you know stone-cold and you’d love to point out something the other members missed. Feel free to revive the discussion! However, I’d simultaneously add to an ongoing discussion to make sure you don’t end up talking to yourself.

When commenting, keep a couple things in mind:

  • Statements like, “I agree with Joe,” aren’t valuable unless you expand on what Joe said, back up his point with your own experience, or in some way add new information.
  • Disagreeing with people is fine, but you should remain super polite at all times. There’s nothing worse than an over-aggressive group member.
  • You can promote your company, your product, or yourself, but only if it feels natural. For example, if a group member asks if anyone has read any ebooks on sales techniques, you can link to yours. If people are just talking about good techniques, don’t jump in with, “Read my ebook!”
  • Relevance is key. If your comments are random, people will ignore you.

4. Start Your Own Discussion

For my first post in “LinkedIn for Journalists,” I asked the group members whether they’d invested in a personal website. This was a great post for a couple of reasons: It invited people to share their expertise, it was broad enough that anyone could contribute, whether they had a personal site or not, and there were multiple sub-topics, like whether you should pay for a site and how you can use one to promote yourself. Try to think of an open-ended question like this pertaining to your own field. (If you need inspiration, go back to the notes you took!)

You can also share articles or sites that the group would find interesting. For example, in “LinkedIn for Journalists,” I could post an article about how most people now use their phones to read the news. Using questions will increase the responses you get, so I’d add, “Has your writing changed to reflect the size of the mobile audience; and if so, how?”

Bonus: LinkedIn allows you to share your discussions on social media, so if you really want to start a healthy conversation, post the link on Twitter and Facebook.

Once you’ve commented on or started a discussion in a group, your job is technically done. Even though my website post got tons of comments, none of them were mine: I just sat back and watched the conversation unfold. However, my next goal is to take on an unofficial moderator role. I’m confident my page views will really take off!

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

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How to Talk Yourself Into Having a Great Day at Work

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Bad days happen, but remaining in a slump is optional

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When a beloved childhood friend gets cast in the role of a lifetime—starring in the touring production of a smash hit Broadway show—and she says, “Want to come see the show when we pass through your area?” The answer is obviously, “Hell yes.”

I trekked out to the theater. Saw the show. Applauded wildly. Loved every moment.

Afterward, my friend and I clinked celebratory margaritas and toasted to her success. Several of the other cast members were there, too, sipping drinks and unwinding after the high-voltage performance.

I noticed one performer bent over his cell phone at the end of the bar, texting ferociously, lost in his device. He noticed me, looked up, and smiled.

“My family back at home,” he explained, gesturing to his phone. “I miss them so much.”

I could imagine. Months on the road, cut off from your ordinary routine, detached from family, friends, and the comforts of home. It’s a dream gig, sure, but it comes at a cost.

“So how is the tour going for you?” I asked.

He replied with surprising honesty.

“I couldn’t believe it when I got this gig,” he said. “The pay is great, I’m saving lots of money, and the cast and crew are unbelievable. I am so grateful…”

A pause. I waited for the “but…”

“… but there are some nights when I just want to be back at home. Anywhere but here. That’s the truth.”

This man—and his cast mates—have the task of performing the same songs, doing the same dances, and telling the same story, eight times a week, week after week, month after month. At some point or another, no matter how much you love performing, the shine starts to wear off.

This goes for any industry, of course.

Whether you work in marketing or finance or healthcare or the performing arts or take care of baby sea otters at the zoo, there are going to be days when you simply don’t feel like doing what you are being paid to do. My boyfriend bakes cakes and pastries for a living, which is his absolute dream job, and even he has days like these!

Feeling bored, distracted, homesick, or unfocused at work is human. Totally natural. But remaining in a slump is optional. Changing your mood isn’t necessarily easy, but there is always a way.

Here are some phrases you can say to yourself when you want to create a dramatic turnaround in your day.


 

If You Are Feeling Exhausted

Tell yourself:

I need to rest. I recognize that. I am going to rest as soon as I can.

But right now, I’m at work. Which means it is time to do the best that I can with the energy I’ve got.

Best effort. Right now.


 

If You Are Feeling Frustrated With a Colleague

Tell yourself:

I can’t always control what other people do, but I am in charge of my responses and reactions. I don’t have to let this person bring me down. I am here to deliver my best. Full speed ahead.


 

If You Are Feeling Invisible, Like Your Work Doesn’t Really Matter

Tell yourself:

I don’t have to be the center of attention in order to make a meaningful impact in someone else’s life.

In fact, if I help even just one human being to have a better / calmer / happier / easier day, today, because of the work that I’m doing, then today is a success.


 

If You Are Feeling Anxious and Overwhelmed by Your Workload

Tell yourself:

I don’t have to do everything today, but I am going to do something today.

I will choose one task, right now, and commit to it with my whole heart.


 

If You Are Feeling Guilty Because You’ve Been Distracted or Procrastinating

Tell yourself:

Today is not over yet.

My heart is still beating. My lungs are still breathing. I am alive.

Which means it is not too late to do something creative, productive, and courageous. Today.

Not too late to behave like the person I want to be instead of continuing in a cycle of behavior that I might later regret. Today is not over yet!


 

What are the words that you need to hear, right now, to help you finish today on a high?

Give yourself those words right now. Say them inside your mind or out loud.

No matter how poorly your day has been going so far, you always have the ability to turn it around.

Coach yourself. Talk to yourself. Get your mind back in the game.

Today is not over yet.

There is still time to be great.

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

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Ask These 14 Questions to Stand Out at Every Event You Attend

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"Ask a question that really warrants an answer"

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My golden rule of networking is to be ready. When you have great questions for the people you’re talking to, you have even better conversations. And you don’t waste your or others’ time with idle chatter where no one learns anything new.

That’s why, when it comes to attending events that feature speakers or panelists, I believe in preparing great questions. People who speak at these types of events are typically leaders in their field, and thus are the crème de la crème of networking contacts. And the best way to show that you’re worth connecting with is to look like you know what you’re looking for and what help you need from others to get it.

So, when there is a break for questions, seize the moment! But before you take the mic, heed the advice of the late great ESPN anchor Stuart Scott:

Ask one question. You don’t have to ask a long question. You don’t have to ask a question where you’re using so many words because you think that it shows that you know the subject matter. Ask a question that really warrants an answer.

Here are some questions that will show speakers your thoughtfulness, add knowledge for the whole group, and ultimately help you make a lasting impression.

Questions to Learn About Their Journeys

When people agree to join panels, they’re making it clear that they enjoy talking about themselves and what they know. Show that you’ve paid attention to what they’ve said and that you want more context about who they are. Don’t be shy about a little ego-stroking!

  1. When did you know you wanted this job?
  2. How did your earlier career choices lead you to where you are now?
  3. What career mistake has given you the biggest lesson?
  4. What research did you do to prepare for this role?
  5. What was your first “win” that made you confident that you were doing the right thing?
  6. How do you avoid being complacent in your role?
  7. What is the biggest risk that you’ve taken?
  8. What did you do at work yesterday? (This is a spin on the “what is a typical day” question that will yield more specific, informative answers.)

Questions to Get Their Advice

This is probably why you’re attending this event in the first place, right? Try not to stand up and ask “What’s a guy/gal gotta do to get a job around here?” These questions will get you better results.

  1. How did you set yourself apart from others who wanted the same job?
  2. What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
  3. What advice would you give to your younger self at the start of your career?
  4. What impresses you the most when you are considering hiring someone?
  5. How does your team (or company) define success?
  6. What is the biggest challenge to achieving that success?

Note that all of these questions require more than a “yes or no” answer. That’s intentional. You want people to go a little deeper. This way, what they share will give you useful insight about their work and help you know more about what it takes to be successful at it.

When the event is over, feel free to approach the panelists, but do more than just ask for a business card. Tell them that you appreciated their answers, and share how their words will impact you. Then, when you reach out to connect, be sure to put the question that you asked in the subject line (e.g., “Follow-up from Adrian: I asked about your advice to your younger self”). These little steps will go a long way in helping you be remembered.

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

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How You Can Interview for a Role That’s Slightly Out of Reach

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The secrets lie in inside source and out-of-the-box ideas

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So, you applied for a job even though you didn’t quite meet the requirements, and your fabulous cover letter landed you an interview. Nice job!

At first, you feel pretty awesome—it’s nice to know that someone recognizes your potential! And then it dawns on you: There will be an interview. Meaning, you’ll also need to interview for a role that’s slightly out of reach.

Thankfully, just like there are tricks for phone interviews and panel interviews, there are ways to prepare for—and shine in—a reach interview. Here’s your two-step plan.

Step 1: Know (and Nail) The Basics

Secret Weapon: Find an Inside Source

Even if you’re a little light on experience, your application can squeak by to the interview round if it has “something special.” (I know: I’ve been there.) But the interview is the time to “put up or shut up.” Yes, there was something in your letter that told the hiring manager not to rule you out, but in order to be ruled in, you’ll need to demonstrate that you could perform the tasks required of someone in this role.

How can you prove you’re up to the challenge?

Well, you’ll need the scoop on what anyone in the position would know—and you’ll need it from an insider. So, you’ll want to find someone who’s established in the field who is willing to answer three to four questions over email or hop on the phone for 15 minutes. Don’t look for just any acquaintance: If you can’t find a close confidant, search LinkedIn for second-degree connections of your most trusted contacts and inquire about an introduction.

As with any informational interview, you’ll want to do prep work in advance to narrow in on the gaps in your knowledge. Is there industry jargon you don’t quite understand? Perhaps a landmark study quoted in every article you read, but you’re not sure why it’s so important? And then, your third question should always be something along the lines of: “What would anyone interviewing for this role need to know?”; “Are there any givens that everyone should know?”; or “What am I missing?”

Worst-case scenario, if you don’t know (or can’t find) anyone, try industry message boards or even Googling the answers to your questions. (But still make it a priority to build your network ASAP.)

In a reach interview, you can compensate for being lighter on skills or experience by seeming totally immersed in the company and industry. For example, even if you’ve never used the exact software the company uses to track its emails, you’ll seem capable if you’ve heard of it, and—if along with discussing a recent newsletter (which any candidate could do)—you also discuss how it reflects the shifts in communication recently advocated by a major thought leader in the sector. A little extra research can make all the difference in looking clued in and ready to go, rather than out of your league.

Step 2: Make the Leap From Transferrable to Additive Skills

Secret Weapon: Come With Actionable Out-of-the-Box Ideas

Transferrable skills are a critical discussion point in reach interviews. They’re the backbone of how you’ll frame your experience for the interviewer. Transferrable skills turn “zero years of formal marketing experience” into “three years in sales and two more in client relations, which inform a unique perspective on marketing.”

But sometimes—especially in reach interviews—transferrable skills are not enough. Even if you can discuss them in a way that sufficiently compensates for the experience you’re lacking, that only gets you into the “could do the job” category. To advance to the “would be incredible in the role” category, you need to make the leap from transferrable skills to additive skills.

An additive skill is something unique that you bring to the table—in addition to everything that’s expected. Think about it: If you’re slightly underqualified, there’s a reason why. If you spent the first two years of your career in a different sector, you bring experience from that industry. If you’re younger than everyone else applying for the role, odds are you submitted an extraordinary cover letter or have impressive networking contacts.

You have something that evens out your lack of experience or technical skills, and the interview is your chance to demonstrate how significant it would be. For example, I once interviewed for a position that would require building a program, and without prompting, I discussed impressive, relevant personal contacts I could tap. I emphasized something extra and individual to me. The other candidates— the ones with more classic experience—might not have thought to do this.

Yes, interviewing for a role that’s a bit out of reach is daunting. But we use the terms “stretch” and “reach” for a reason, because if you extend yourself and put in a little extra effort, you just may find the opportunity in your grasp.

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

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3 Ways to Get What You Need From Terrible Communicators

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Start by asking for clarification

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Do you have a manager who sends cryptic, one-sentence emails that send you into a panic?

Or a co-worker whose long, rambling missives leave you wondering what, exactly, you should do next?

It can be difficult to do your best work when your colleagues are not particularly “gifted” in the communication department.

But until all bosses are required to go through mandatory training or we can find some way to enforce that people think before they speak, here are a few tips to help get the lines of communication flowing more smoothly.

Tip #1. Ask for Clarification

Often, at work, people feel uneasy about requesting clarification. No one wants to feel dense, or like they need everything explained twice!

But think of it this way: Taking 10 seconds to get clarity on a particular request could potentially save you 10 hours of confusion and unnecessary work. It’s always worth it!


Say:

Thank you for _.

To clarify, would you like me to _ or _?

For example:

Thank you for sending me your rough notes on the spring marketing campaign.

To clarify, would you like me to provide general feedback or to whip these notes into a formal plan, with to-do dates for each item, and then send the plan to the entire team?


Tip #2. Use the 3 Magic Words: “Is That Accurate?”

Sometimes, even after requesting clarification, your colleague might still respond in a way that makes zero sense. (Argh!)

If that’s the case, these three magic words can help clear up the confusion.


Say:

It sounds like you are asking me to _. Is that accurate?

For example:

It sounds like you are asking me to book your flight to the conference in NYC, book your flight to the other conference in Boston, and then book your hotel for NYC but not for Boston. Is that accurate?


Hopefully, by asking this question, your colleague will realize that his or her messages aren’t quite clear. Or perhaps even be grateful for your precision! It’s always comforting to hear your own instructions echoed back (especially when your brain is foggy and you’re not quite sure what you’re even saying—which could be the case for your colleague!)

Tip #3. Give Constructive Feedback

If confusing communication is a persistent problem, don’t be afraid to have a direct conversation about it. Say that you have a few ideas on how to work better together, then outline your communication preferences clearly, simply, and in detail.


Say:

Hey! I’ve got a few ideas on how to make our communication even better—and get projects done even more effectively. May I share my thoughts?

Then:

We seem to have fewer misunderstandings when we pick up the phone and talk or meet face-to-face. Could we communicate in that format, rather than via email—unless it’s something really quick?

Or:

When you give me an instruction, I’d like to repeat back to you what I’m understanding, so that you can clarify any confusion right then—and we’ll be all set!


Frame your ideas as a “great new plan!” for both of you to try, rather than a criticism of your colleague.

Once you’ve done this, don’t be afraid to revisit the conversation from time to time if you find that the lines of communication are still twisted and tangled into knots. You deserve to work in an environment where clear communication is the norm, not the exception to the rule. And if it’s always framed in a way of how to help the both of you work better? It’ll likely be well-received.

As a final note, remember that you can lead by example, communicating as clearly as you possibly can, every day.

Maybe your colleagues will follow your lead, or maybe they won’t, but either way, you can take pride in knowing that you’re delivering your absolute best.

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

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This Might Be the Best Way to Network

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Try small professional get-togethers over slow weekend mornings

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When a friend of mine invited me to come to a lovely brunch at her apartment last summer, I was hesitant. Why? She explained that it was a “networking brunch.” Networking? On the weekend? I shuddered at the thought.

Like most professionals, I consider my weekends to be sacred; I like to do things outside of work that I can’t normally do during the week—things that do not include trying really hard to build professional contacts. However, because this was a good friend asking, I decided I’d suck it up for an hour and head over to brunch.

Within 10 minutes of showing up at the apartment, I was already a fan of the get-together: The group was small (there were only eight of us), and it felt like my friend had really gone out of her way to invite people she thought would get along well. Turns out, people were much more relaxed than they would be if I had met them after a long day at work, and not only were these well-rested people more pleasant to talk to, it was easier to find common ground with them in a more casual environment. I ended up actually getting to connect with several people, many of whom have become valuable professional contacts (and even friends!) since last summer.

Since this initial love affair with networking at brunch, I’ve had my own little professional get-togethers over slow weekend mornings, and I’ve gathered a few pointers if you want to hold your own.

1. Don’t Start with Brunch at Home

My friend who held the brunch at her apartment didn’t start out letting work friends and semi-strangers into her abode; initially, she invited people to a popular brunch spot down the block. A home is a really personal place, and other people (especially those you don’t know well) may feel awkward invading your personal space.

While restaurants are typically more expensive than a home-cooked meal, they’re an easier place to break the ice. See if you can find a spot that will let you reserve a table or sectioned-off area so your group can have some space to mingle and chat.

2. Keep Your Group Size Small

Anyone who’s ever hosted any sort of gathering or party knows that the more guests you put on the list, the harder it gets to control the situation and make sure that everyone is having a good time. And unless you’re like my brunch-hosting friend who’s an A+ networker and has a good feel for who would get along, you might not be able to figure what the perfect guest list would look like.

Instead, start with a one-on-one brunch, or bring together two or three professional contacts who either already know each other, work in the same industry, or have similar interests or positions. It’s much easier to make sureeveryone is engaged, and it’s easier to find common ground if you steer the conversation away from just work. Then, as you become more comfortable, you can grow a little from there—but brunch networking generally works best if you keep it around five or six people.

3. Start with Familiar Faces

It might be hard to drag a new professional contact to brunch (“Hey, person I don’t know very well! Give up part of your weekend to hang out with me at a diner!”), so starting off by connecting with old networking buddies may be the way to go.

The first couple of times I took professional contacts to brunch, they were either people I hadn’t seen in a while and wanted to catch up with or work friends I knew would be down. This makes everyone feel a little more relaxed, and people are more likely to want to meet up on the weekends if they know the person inviting them well.

How do you introduce the idea of a brunch to a contact you don’t know well or haven’t met before in person? When you two are emailing about meeting up to chat, feel free to throw in a short offer in your message. I’ve personally used something along the lines of, “I’m free on [specific weekdays and times], and I can also do a short brunch or something on Saturday if that’s easier for you!” That way, you’re not making someone feel like they have to dine with you on the weekend, but the option is out there.

No matter what you end up doing with your brunch, remember that it has the ability to be a lot more fun and go-with-the-flow than a normal networking meeting. Don’t be afraid to talk to people about things other than their careers, and enjoy the good food.

Oh, and don’t forget the mimosas.

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

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