TIME Careers & Workplace

This Is the Most Effective Way to Approach a Slacking Colleague

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Don't get mad and ask a simple question

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

“You’ve had three months to do this project. I gave you extensive directions, asked you if you needed help on four separate occasions, and checked in with you on a weekly basis. What do you mean we’re not going to be ready for the event on Saturday?!?”

That’s what I wanted to say to my employee who approached me explaining that she didn’t, in fact, have things ready for Saturday’s event. Instead, I paused for a beat, smiled, and said:

“Thank you again for agreeing to lead the charge on this—I know how busy you are! It sounds like we have a lot of ground to cover before the event on Saturday. What ideas do you have for making up that ground? I know you’ll be able to make this a success, which is why I chose you for this role in the first place.”

I’m the editor-in-chief of an online magazine. We have a staff of 70 and an intense publishing schedule, so it’s a huge role—and I delegate a lot. Unfortunately, those I delegate to aren’t always as invested as I am.

A couple of months ago, I would have used the first approach on my slacking team member. However, I quickly found that getting angry—although satisfying—didn’t motivate my staff. Instead, they would get defensive and resentful.

I had to change my tactics. That’s when I discovered the magical question: What ideas do you have for… (finishing this on time, placating the customer, responding to the client, doing things better in the future, whatever else you think is required to fix the thing you messed up)?

This question is effective for multiple reasons:

  • It forces the person you’re asking to acknowledge he or she has created a problem.
  • It gives him or her an instant way to alleviate that problem.
  • It asks him or her to think of more than one solution.
  • It makes you seem understanding and sympathetic.
  • It allows the person to be less defensive, since you’re not being accusatory or suggesting you’ve lost faith in him or her.

When I asked this question to the woman organizing Saturday’s event, she responded:

“I’m busy, but that’s no excuse! So is everyone else on our staff! I know I let you down, but I’m going to focus all my energy into making this event happen. First, I’ll call every caterer in the area to see who’s still available. Maybe we can offer them free publicity so they’ll ignore how last-minute it is? Also, I was thinking…”

There’s no way I would’ve gotten a reply this helpful if I had listened to the urge to yell at her.

Even if you’re not in a position of power, you can still use this principle—just slightly alter the question. Say you’re the one who’s messed up. After owning your mistake and apologizing, ask your supervisor, “What would you do in my situation?”

Once again, it’s effective in a variety of ways:

  • Your boss is now looking at things from your side, making him or her more empathetic.
  • You get at least one potential solution.
  • You show you’re serious and proactive about fixing your mistakes.
  • You’re flattering your boss by asking for his or her opinion and help.

When I realized I’d made a promise to a client I couldn’t keep, I immediately went to my supervisor, explained what had happened, and said, “I’d love your insight into how to handle this. If you were in my shoes, what would you do?” She thought for a bit, then gave me a three-part plan for making it up to the customer.

This technique is especially useful when you have no idea how to resolve a conflict—and don’t want to admit your cluelessness.

As both a leader and an employee, I used to think I needed to have all the answers. Now I’ve found I just need one question. Problem solved.

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How to Respond When Someone Asks You to Work for Free

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May your conversations go as seamlessly as possible

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

When close friends have career conundrums, I’m quick to ask more questions. Like a good friend should be, I’m eager to help.

But other times, I’ll get messages from people who I barely know or haven’t spoken to in years. The most astonishing are the ones from people I’ve just met or, in fact, have never met. They usually start with some polite greeting, move into a “realization” that I’m a career counselor, and then make a direct request that I have a look at their resume or talk (read: counsel) them about their careers—for free.

It’s a bizarre experience when someone asks you to work for free. It’s flattering at first to be recognized for your expertise, but it doesn’t take long to grasp that they don’t appreciate it enough to actually want to pay you what it’s worth. In the end, it feels pretty awful.

Sadly, it keeps happening—and it’s not just career counselors. This seems to be a rampant problem in creative industries, especially. Graphic designers, writers, photographers, and more all experience this on a regular basis.

So, how do you respond when someone asks you to work for free without screaming, “Would you ask your dentist to work for free?” I’ve spoken to a few more seasoned career counselors, and this is what I’ve come up with.

1. Assume the Best Intentions

It’s always easier to respond when you assume the best. In this case, assume that the person does want to pay you. If you’re interested in having someone as a client, respond with, “I’d be happy to help,” then go ahead and launch into your services, corresponding fees, and next steps.

Of course, these inquiries might not be the best place to be developing clients, since their initial assumption was that your work wasn’t worth payment. With this in mind, you may want to consider declining your services.

2. Say No

The next step, then, is to just say “no.” A mentor of mine suggested something along the lines of, “I’m flattered that you’re seeking my advice (or services), but unfortunately I’m not taking on additional clients at the moment.” This way you are clearly declining the request, but you’re also assuming the best in people by responding to them as if they were seeking to be your client.

3. Offer Alternatives

To ease the blow a little bit, since many times you will want to preserve what little relationship you may have had with this person, offer up other professionals who might be able to help. I’ve frequently directed people to other career counselors whose work I’m familiar with. This way, not only are you offering another solution, you might also have the opportunity to educate this contact about the value of your work (if, for example, the other recommended professionals have their fees posted on their website).

4. Throw in a Bonus

Finally, depending on your profession, you might be able to throw in a free resource to show that you care, you just can’t work for free. I’ll sometimes direct people to specific articles on The Muse or to a particular career assessment that I’ve seen help others in a similar situation. While I’ve seen others handle this in a much more statement-y fashion, I can’t bring myself to retaliate against someone who is probably going through something unpleasant at his or her job, or worse, doesn’t have one.

All that said, I still wouldn’t work for free, and I hope you won’t either. I’ve written quite a few of these uncomfortable emails, and they’ve all worked out. May your conversations go as seamlessly as possible, too. Good luck.

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4 Steps for Answering ‘Tell Me About a Time You Failed’

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First frame the way you evaluate failure and finish with your key takeaways from the experience

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

While not the most common interview question, the failure question—should you get it—is rather perplexing. How do you answer this honestly while also not scaring away your potential future employer by bringing up that time you fat-fingered a trade and lost the company a lot of money?

It’s a tricky situation to be in. You want to impress, but you’re explicitly being asked to talk about something you failed at. So, what do you do?

First things first, stay calm. Take a deep breath and say something like, “Wow, that’s a great question. I’m going to have to think about that for a second.” Then, think about it for a second and follow these four steps.

1. Pick a Real Failure

Step one is to pick a failure. Don’t try to weasel your way out of this by talking about that one time you got a B in a college class. You’re not fooling anyone. At the same time, you probably also want to shy away from any colossal failures related to the kind of work you’re applying for. If the interviewer specifically asks for something related to work, try to at least pull the story from something that happened a long time ago. Choose a story in which something fairly important didn’t go right due to your personal actions (or lack of actions).

Note that I said “something” and not “everything”—the reason people so frequently trip up on this question is because they’re looking for a situation in which everything went wrong. You only need one thing to go wrong for your answer to work.

2. Define Failure in Your Own Words

The reason why you don’t need to talk about some immense failure in which everything goes catastrophically and comically wrong is because you’re going to spell out why you felt this situation was a failure.

After you’ve picked your story, define failure in a way that works for it. Once failure is defined, your story no longer needs to be an obvious failure; it just has to be whatever you define failure to be. Here are a few examples:

To me, failure is about not meeting expectations—others’ as well as my own.

As a manager, I consider it a failure whenever I’m caught by surprise. I strive to know what’s going on with my team and their work.

I think failure is more than just not meeting a goal, it’s about not meeting a goal with the resources you’re given. If I end up taking more time or supplies than I was originally allotted, that feels like a failure to me.

3. Tell Your Story

Now that you’ve established how you evaluate failure, tell the story that you chose. Try not to spend too much time setting the stage, and get to the punch line quickly. Interviewers don’t ask this question to see you squirm, they want to know how you handle setbacks—so get to the part where you’re dealing with the failure as quickly as possible.

Start with the situation, and explain why it was challenging. Then go into what you specifically did to try and rectify it. Presumably, since this is about failure, you will not be successful or will only be partially successful. That’s fine. Do not try to cover up the fact that things didn’t all go as planned. It’s impossible to do well in an interview if the interviewer doesn’t believe what you’re saying, so don’t try to sugar coat things.

4. Share What You Learned

Finally, at the end of your response, after you relay the awful outcome of your story, you get to the good stuff. You want to wrap up with your lessons learned.

Talk about why you think things went badly, maybe what you would have done in hindsight, and, of course, what you’ll be doing going forward. It might sound something like this:

Our big problem was assuming that we would be able to get clean data from users. It’s one of my biggest takeaways from the experience: Never make assumptions about the data. I haven’t made that mistake again.

If I had just communicated the first few bumps in the road, we could have managed our client’s expectations, but because we didn’t, we damaged the relationship. Now, I never let an uncomfortable conversation prevent me from communicating the status of a project transparently.

The failure question frequently takes people by surprise. Even if you’re prepared for it, talking about failure is difficult. The key to answering this question well is first framing the way you evaluate failure and then finishing with your key takeaways from the experience. If you sandwich your story with these two components, you’ll definitely have a strong answer.

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5 Mental Shortcuts Hiring Managers Take (and How to Use Them to Your Advantage)

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It’s important to understand that recruiters and hiring managers are human beings

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

The hiring process is a terribly imprecise thing. That’s part of why it’s so frustrating. You can do everything right and be the perfect candidate for the job and somehow still not end up getting it. What gives?

Well, it’s because the process is, unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), run by humans. Our brains do all sorts of behind-the-scenes shortcuts that subconsciously affect our decision-making. Even the order in which you interview may have an impact. It’s not always the most logical thing, but that’s just the way it is. Bummer, right?

Well, maybe not. Read on for a few of these mental shortcuts (read: biases), and how to use them to your advantage during your job search.

1. Big Accomplishments Overshadow Everything Else

Ever hear something amazing about a person—say, that he built a $10 million company out of his garage or that she graduated college and started working for Google at 19? Even knowing nothing else about that person, he or she probably sounded pretty great.

That phenomenon is called the halo effect. In short, it’s the assumption that a positive attribute or impressive accomplishment in one area implies aptitude in other unrelated areas.

One way you can use this to your advantage is by making sure any particularly impressive achievements stand out on your resume or cover letter. If, for example, you graduated from an Ivy League school, were an early employee at Facebook, or happen to be an Olympic athlete, you would want to feature that information prominently. In any case, you’ll want to make sure to feature the most exciting and relevant parts of your background front and center. On that note:

2. What’s First and Last Matters Most

So, when I say “front and center,” what do I actually mean? Turns out, the order in which people are introduced to information impacts what they’ll be able to remember.

The recency effect, part of the serial position effect, is the notion that the thing people remember best is the last thing on a list. For you, that would mean the end of the resume or cover letter. The primacy effect, or the first thing people are introduced to, is about the second best thing they can remember. To take this one step further, the brain assumes that if something is easier to remember, it must be more important—a phenomenon called the availability heuristic.

That means, the prime real estate in your job application materials is the very top and the very bottom of your documents. On your resume, tuck your relevant and halo effect-maximizing accomplishments at the top in a killer “Summary” section, and create a “Skills” section packed with your most impressive abilities for the bottom.

3. How You Look Actually Matters

You know it’s important for you to look your best on your LinkedIn profile photo or when you’re going in for an interview, but did you know people are actually naturally biased toward people who are more attractive? A study conducted by the Institute for the Study of Labor showed that higher wages and employment rates were both correlated with being more attractive. It’s not fair, but study after study has shown that it’s the truth.

With the knowledge that it’s important, go out of your way to look nice. Even if the recruiter says that the company is extremely laid back—don’t go in looking sloppy. It’s a subconscious thing, so there’s no avoiding it. You want to look your best.

4. It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

Say there is a drug that heals one out of every three patients and another drug that fails 66% of the time. Which are you more likely to go with?

It’s a trick question (the likelihood of success are roughly the same for both), but most people are much more likely to go with the first drug. It’s called the framing effect, and it’s the reason why how you present information is so important.

On your resume, this means writing your bullets out as achievements and not as responsibilities. And in an interview, this is why you want to keep all your language somewhere between neutral to positive—even when you’re talking about a negative experience. “I certainly could have had a better relationship with that client—it’s an experience I learned a lot from,” sounds a whole lot better to a hiring manager than “I hated working with that client.”

5. …Or How You Make People Feel

You know the famous Maya Angelou saying, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel?” It’s more than a pretty sentiment, it’s true.

The affect heuristic is a mental shortcut that relies on an emotional response to help make a decision. In other words, having an enjoyable conversation might be just as important as having a substantive conversation during an interview. If the hiring manager thinks back to the interview and remembers a particularly good turn of phrase you used and chuckles to him or herself—that’s a huge win.

Who can say how much any of this will help, but at the very least don’t let these cognitive biases put you at a disadvantage. It’s important to understand that recruiters and hiring managers are human beings. For now, while humans instead of robots still make all the hiring decisions, this is the kind of imperfection we have to be ready for—and maybe even use to our advantage.

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This 10-Minute Weekly Exercise Could Change Your Career

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Starting is simple: buy yourself a nice pack of cards and some stamps

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

On January 1, I made an unusual resolution. I committed to sending one hand-written letter per week—and not to relatives, or friends, or former teachers, but to other professionals. What would these letters say? That would depend on the week and the person. (Basically, I’d wing it.) My only rule was the letter wouldn’t include any requests; I didn’t want it to come off as a polite way of asking for something.

At the end of the first week, I actually had the perfect reason to write a letter. I’d been working with a PR rep on a story and wanted to thank her for her helpfulness, responsiveness, and all-around great attitude. Not only did she give me everything I needed for the article, but she also took the time to answer my questions about the public relations industry and her career. I’m interested in PR, so getting an entry-level employee’s perspective was super helpful.

I dropped a letter saying all that in the mail. A week later, I got a happy email.

“I almost never get mail at work, so I was super excited!” it read. “By the way, did you have any luck finding a summer internship? If you forward me your resume, I’ll pass it along to our VP!”

I’d mentioned I was looking for a summer position during one of our conversations, but we’d never brought it up again, and I certainly hadn’t mentioned it in the letter. While my gesture wasn’t done out of self-interest, it may end up transforming my career—and even if I don’t get the internship, I’ll have turned a casual professional relationship into a stronger connection.

The second week rolled around. I decided to send a letter to my mentor; we’re always talking over email, Skype, and phone, but this would be a nice change of pace. I updated her on my current projects, asked her how her startup was doing, and described how I was incorporating the feedback she’d recently given me.

My mentor sent a text thanking me “for the wonderful note.” I figured that was that. Then I got a package from her, containing a book she’d loved and her own hand-written letter. Now we regularly communicate by snail mail. It’s a great tradition, and it’s brought another dimension to our relationship.

I decided to write my third letter to a writer who contributes to one of the same websites as I do. Not only did she inspire me to apply for the job, but I love the honesty, humor, and charm of her pieces. I sent the letter to the magazine headquarters so they could forward it to her.

She sent me an email in response, saying my words had made her day, she’d checked out some of my work, and she’d give my name to a couple editors she knew who were looking for writers.

Sending someone a hand-written letter shows effort and gratitude. If you don’t have an ask—especially if you don’t have an ask!—it turns out it’s a gesture people really, really want to reward you for. Even without the tangible benefits of my letter campaign, I’d definitely keep it up. It’s one of the simplest ways you can strengthen a professional tie.

Starting is simple: Buy yourself a nice pack of cards and some stamps. Then, look for opportunities to send a letter to other people you’ve worked with or (like the case of the writer I admired) want to work with. Almost anyone is fair game—a person in the office next to you, a person in the office across the world from you, a former co-worker, your current boss, an intern who’s been extra helpful, someone who’s doing great things in your industry, an inspiring speaker or author; I could go on and on.

If you don’t know someone’s address, you can always ask him or her. Just say, “Hey! I’m sending you something in the mail, can I get your address?” However, if you want to make your letters a surprise, you’ll have to be a bit more creative. For people working in the same space, leave your note on their desks. For others, send it to their workplace (finding the address should only take two seconds on Google).

The only rules are you can’t ask for anything, the person can’t be from your personal life, and you have to send one letter a week.

If you’ll be joining me, let me know how it goes @ajavuu! I’ll write a letter to every person who tweets a picture of his or her letter and tags me.

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Read next: The 10-Minute Rule That Will Revolutionize Your Productivity

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The 10-Minute Rule That Will Revolutionize Your Productivity

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For your next task today, get out your timer and try it for yourself

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

Call me crazy, but I’ve always preferred sleep to caffeine. But with erratic schedules and tight deadlines, getting six or more hours of sleep per night is no easy task for a consultant—just ask any of my diet soda and coffee-addicted colleagues. Between a demanding job and an even more demanding home life, I’ve spent a lot of time trying various productivity hacks to squeeze as much as I can out of each day.

My favorite tool for getting things done? The 10-minute timer on my phone.

My “10-minute rule” is pretty straightforward: Every task on your to-do list should take no more than 10 minutes to complete. If it takes longer than 10 minutes, then you should have broken it down into smaller tasks or delegated it to someone else. The key to this rule is in enforcing it, which means setting the timer on your phone to go off at the 10-minute mark. The level of speed and focus that this brings to your day is nothing short of astounding.

When I first challenge my teams to put the 10-minute rule into action, I am typically met with skepticism. Questions like, “That’s crazy—can I really build this big Excel model in 10-minute increments?” and “Are you telling me that you do this in your home life too, taking 10-minute showers and doing 10-minute workouts?” abound. (The answer to both of these questions, by the way, is “yes!”)

Want to give it a try? Here are three tips for making the 10-minute rule work for you.

1. Delegate

By far, the most effective means of finding additional time in your day is to outsource the things on your to-do list that someone else can easily do in 10 minutes or less. For example, I have a very successful and revered colleague who claims that a linchpin of his success is that he “says ‘yes’ to everything, but only actually performs the tasks that only he can do best.” Everything else, he delegates.

Delegating is not as easy as it sounds. It can be difficult to let go of a task when you fear that another person’s work won’t be as good as your own. It’s helpful to remember that “done is better than perfect,” and the only way you are going to move ahead in your career is if you let go of the things you’ve mastered and take on new challenges. Another mindset shift that helped me was realizing that delegating creates opportunities for others. Now I actively think about what tasks and projects I can create for my team that will help them learn, grow, and advance their careers (which conveniently helps clear up my plate as well). (Here are a few more delegating tips.)

One of the challenges I see most with people who have trouble delegating—especially those in entry-level positions—is that they forget that they can and should delegate up. If you feel uncomfortable asking a supervisor or superior to do something, try this: Start by pointing out what you are doing, and position your “ask” as a request for help. For example, instead of, “I need you to call the team leads,” you could say “I’m working on pulling the data for this analysis—would it be possible for you to help me by calling the other team leads?”

As a manager, I can tell you that I too often find myself begging my teams to delegate something up to me, and I love it when they create opportunities for me to help.

2. Find the Easy, 10-Minute Task

You may be skeptical at first, but by simply changing how you frame your tasks, you will see that just about everything can be broken down into 10-minute tasks. Do you need to research a new topic? Start with 10 minutes on Google scanning news articles, followed by 10 minutes of jotting down everything you know and the top few questions you still need to answer, and then 10 minutes each calling people to get advice on answering your open questions (bonus points if you were savvy enough to notice that the phone call is a form of delegation!).

Voilà! You have just squeezed a task that may have otherwise lingered on into hours into 30 minutes.

This approach works after hours, too. I have a colleague who was so intrigued by the 10-minute rule and how it helped her during work hours that she decided to try it at home. She took out her timer for a few mornings to time her pre-work routine, and with a 10-minute shower, 10-minute breakfast, etc., she found that she was able to cut her standard “getting ready” time, trading it in for coveted sleep instead. She had never thought it was possible to shower in 10 minutes—until she tried it and realized it was actually pretty easy!

3. Use That Timer

Using your timer is a critical part of the rule, so don’t forget it. As everyone in the business world knows, “we do what we measure.”

This is true of the 10-minute rule as well—you must use a timer or clock to keep track of how long you are spending on things. Smartphones make this easier with their built-in timer apps, but any clock with a minute hand will do. Whatever you do, don’t guess—because if your approximately 10 minutes always becomes 20, you’re not maximizing your productivity.

Sometimes, you’ll spend less than 10 minutes on a task (more time back—yay!), and sometimes that alarm will ring and you’ll still be on the phone (no, I’m not suggesting that you just hang up when the alarm goes off). Don’t feel badly about running over—just make note of it for next time.

For example, if one co-worker tends to ramble, preface your next conversation by telling her you have 10 minutes to brainstorm. What if you really need more time? That’s fine too: Tracking your time spent will provide insight into how you work, so you can plan your day better next time.

The 10-Minute Rule in Action

One of my favorite examples of this rule in action occurred a few years ago when a team I was working on received the dreaded 4 PM phone call from a client redirecting the work that we would be presenting the following morning. Ugh, so much for a relaxing evening!

There were two big pieces of work involved, so we split our team of four in half. Each of our two sub-teams had about the same number of PowerPoint slides to revamp, with similar amounts of analysis, so it should have taken us about the same amount of time to complete.

I said to my teammate that I really wanted to finish by 6 PM so we could go get dinner, and he agreed but was doubtful about our ability to get it done. So, we tallied up the pages, divided by the two hours left in the day, and found that if we could achieve a rate of 10 minutes per page, we would have enough time to complete it—plus a buffer for anything that proved to be particularly tricky. Reenergized, we split up the pages, set the timer, and started cranking. To make a game out of it, we kept a tally on the whiteboard of how many pages each of us completed under or over the 10-minute mark.

By 6 PM, we were finished—and feeling really good about it. The other team who didn’t use the 10-minute rule? They finished around 9.

The challenge is on. For your next task today, get out your timer and try it for yourself. The clock is ticking!

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How to Write a Speech for Any Occasion

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

There’s nothing worse than staring at a blank screen and wondering how you’ll begin to write a speech. Oh wait, there is something worse: Staring at a blank screen and wondering how to start your speech—while your deadline is hanging over your head. Add some pressure to a confused mind and a dreaded task and, well, you’re likely to throw something together, throw up your hands, or throw in the towel.

But don’t get mad—get strategic. In my work coaching busy people (from powerful Hollywood movie moguls to nervous maids of honor) to make speeches, I have found that following these three simple steps can quickly take you from ideation to oration.

Step 1: Prepare

While it is deeply satisfying to start putting words on a page, it’s more important to spend a few minutes thinking about what you want this speech or presentation to accomplish. After all, as Yankee great Yogi Berra once remarked, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”

So, spend a few minutes reflecting on the following:

  • What kind of speech is this? Common types include informational (aimed at instructing or teaching), persuasive (targeted to change people’s beliefs and behaviors), and evocative (focused on generating an emotional response).
  • Who is your audience? What do they already know about this topic? What do they believe that may or may not be true? What do they want? What do they hope for? What do they fear?
  • What do you want your audience to feel? What do you want them to do? What one to three things do you want them to know (based on what they already know or believe, hope for, want or fear, and what you want them to understand) that will drive them to do the thing you want them to do? Stick to three main points wherever possible. Two sets up an “either-or,” where four tends to overwhelm.
  • What’s your overarching point of view on the topic?** A neutral speech is a boring speech!

Step 2: Organize

Studies about consumer psychology show that when you offer people too many choices and too much information, they tune out and ultimately buy nothing. As you are asking your audience to buy (or at least buy into) what you’re talking about, you want to keep your ideas as simple and streamlined as possible. Here’s a simple outline to follow that will keep you and your audience focused:

  • An Attention-Getting Introduction: Use a quotation, a story, a question, or a statistic—something to get the audience paying attention to you as quickly as possible. “Hello, good morning, and thank you for having me” does notcount as a captivating opening. Remember, this is your one opportunity to let your listeners know that you’re worth listening to.
  • A Preview: Let your listeners know what’s coming by saying “Today, we’re going to cover…” That old saying “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them” is absolutely right. (For a bonus, tell your listeners what benefits they’ll get from your presentation. It will inspire them to pay attention!)
  • Points 1 Through 3: Make your case. These main points should be based on what you prepared earlier (what you want your audience to know or understand). To make your points resonate, include stories, statistics, examples from the news and popular culture, expert citations, and personal experiences. But don’t use all of these for each point. Pick one or two ways to bring each point to life and then move on.
  • A Recap: Tell them what you just told them. (Seriously—our memories are short and our attention spans even shorter.)
  • A Q&A: You might think that you should leave the questions until the end. Think again. When you leave the questions until the end, you let the audience decide the topic and tone you end on. You’ve worked too hard for that! Hold Q&A before you wrap up so that you can deal with anything that comes up from your audience and still plan to conclude on your own terms.
  • The Closer: It’s almost over—but not quite. The law of recency tells us that the audience will remember most what they heard last. Wrap up any loose items, draw a final inspiring conclusion that will compel people to think and act differently, and then close with a stirring statement that’s memorable. For extra credit, have your closing mirror your opening so that your speech feels like a complete package.

Step 3: Present With Passion

Maya Angelou once remarked, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” Let it be your mission not just to survive your speech, but to deliver it with some compassion, some humor, and some style.

Make eye contact to connect with your listeners, use your arms to generate energy, move around the room (OK, not too much), and have your voice and face come alive to show that you care about your topic and your audience.

Don’t just stand up there—do something. Shift your presentation from “Woe is me” to “Wow!” and from “I can’t believe I have to write a speech” to “I rocked it. Next!”

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Here’s the Secret to a Perfect Networking Meeting

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Treat it like an interview

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

A few months ago, I worked with a client (let’s call her Meg) who was in the early stages of planning a move from LA to Denver. At my suggestion, she immediately began reaching out to friends and colleagues in an effort to build a network in Colorado and hopefully, land a job.

Her co-worker put her in touch with his Colorado-based friend, Joe, who was in the same industry as Meg. Meg promptly contacted Joe and scheduled an informational meeting. On the night before she flew to Denver for a round of coffee dates and networking events, including the meeting with Joe, she called her co-worker. “I’m really looking forward to my interview with Joe,” she said. “Thanks again for the introduction.”

Meg could sense her co-worker’s discomfort. “I don’t think Joe is looking at your meeting as an ‘interview,’” he finally said. “He’s just trying to be helpful.”

Cringe.

Meg called me after she got off the phone, mortified and disheartened. I suggested that instead of letting Joe define the scope of the meeting, she should treat it as an interview as she’d originally planned. I told her, “Maybe there’s no job on the line, but what do you have to lose by behaving like there is?” After all, even if Joe didn’t have a job to offer her, an impressive and professional presentation might result in him giving her a stellar introduction to someone who could be a game-changer in her career.

Meg was receptive to that approach, but it bears pointing out that the lack of clarity surrounding informational meetings can be incredibly frustrating. Is it an interview or isn’t it? How much should you prepare? What should you prepare? Are you setting yourself up for a loss if you treat it like an interview?

On the other hand, how many opportunities have been lost by people who treat informal meetings and networking events with the same deference they’d give a casual conversation on the subway?

Successful people will tell you that they treat every conversation as a job interview. They understand that every coffee, every casual encounter with strangers, and every family dinner is planting a seed for the vacancies of tomorrow. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70% of all jobs are found through networking. So if you treat every conversation you have as an interview, you’ll land more actual interviews and, hopefully, job offers.

This doesn’t mean you need to show up to every coffee meeting in a suit, but it does mean you stay receptive to opportunity. Here are a few situations that you should definitely approach with an interview mindset.

1. You’re in an Informational Meeting at a Coffee Shop With Someone You’ve Never Met

You may not be interviewing for a job that’s presently available, but know that you’re always being assessed for future positions. This is even the case when the person meeting you doesn’t realize it. People are always subconsciously sizing others up and thinking of them in the event that a job opens up. In a world in which 80% of jobs do not get posted, being at the top of someone’s list as a referral is key.

2. You’re at a Networking Event

Yes, there are lots of other job seekers, but there are plenty of recruiters, too. You’ve probably been assuming that they’re only there for the free Chardonnay, but they’re actually conducting mini-interviews during every single conversation. Think it of it like speed dating!

Pro tip: Always ask for their card and connect on LinkedIn with a “nice to meet you” note the next morning. LinkedIn is better than email because it hosts your digital resume.

3. You’re Meeting With Someone in a Leadership Position

This person probably has the power to hire, which is a good indication that you’re being casually interviewed. Even if there isn’t a job available at the time of the interview, a favorable impression of your skills and presentation will lead him to put your name at the top of the list for next time.

In fact, this might not be too far in the future: 51% of currently employed individuals are either open to or actively seeking a new job. That includes the person whose position you’ve been coveting.

4. The Meeting Takes Place in His or Her Office

Unless this person is really, really busy, she’s not going to tee up such a formal arrangement. The fact that you’re facing each other over her desk—and not a scratched-up table at Starbucks—suggests that this is a quasi-interview. This probability increases if she also takes the time to introduce you to her colleagues. Without knowing it, you’ve been invited in so that they can assess you on their home turf.

5. You Get a Few Suspect Questions

If you’re being asked about your familiarity with specific software, or if your contact is inquiring about your salary, you’re being interviewed. Always, always be prepared to answer these questions before you go to an informal meeting.

Don’t miss the opportunity to turn a casual meeting into the kind of interview that ensures you will be highly regarded and remembered for job openings. (Here’s how.) Many of my clients struggle with this idea that opportunity is a scarcity, and this self-limiting mindset prevents them from realizing the bigger picture: Opportunity is everywhere, but you need to be open to seeing the abundance and possibility in order for it to serve you!

But you don’t have to take my word for it: Just ask Meg. She starts her job with Joe on Monday.

More from The Muse:

TIME Careers & Workplace

How to Get Found Online When You Have a Common Name

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Take it from a woman who shares a name with a U.S. Olympic ping-pong player

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

When you’re looking for a job, you know recruiters are going to search for you online and see what comes up. And for this reason, you’ve probably heard again and again how important your online presence is. But, what if you, like me, suffer from having an exceptionally common name? Is there any way to overcome the scourge of having a name like John Smith or Kevin Chen?

Yes! Take it from a woman who shares a name with a U.S. Olympic ping-pong player. (Go Lily!) It is absolutely still possible to show up fairly high in online searches if you take certain steps. Here are a few ideas to start you off on your quest to take back at least some of that first page of Google search results.

1. Find Your Story or Expertise

The first step isn’t as tangible as the rest, but it’s probably the most important. You need to figure out what it is that you want to be known for. What is your area of expertise? What do you care about? What’s your story? While this alone won’t help your search results, it will definitely inform the your next steps and make everything easier. So, take the time to figure this out before you move on. If you need some help, check out this helpful guide on personal branding.

2. Be a LinkedIn All-Star

Your best bet for reclaiming page one of Google will likely be your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is one of the social media platforms that ranks most highly in search engines. To take full advantage of this, make sure you have a completed LinkedIn profile that maximizes LinkedIn’s features and reflects your personal brand. For example, create a customizable headline, join industry-specific groups, or attach work samples to your summary or experience sections. Fill this all out and your “Profile Strength” gauge will show that you’re an “All-Star.”

The key, of course, to any of this mattering is making it abundantly and immediately clear to your viewer that he or she has found the right person. That’s where your personal brand comes in. Make sure it shines through in both your headline and summary to ensure your story is easily found. For more tips on how to build a LinkedIn profile that gets results, read this.

3. Publish in Your Area of Expertise

Now, if your name is really, really common, LinkedIn alone won’t solve your problems. You can’t rely on people searching for your name—you’re going to have to get your name out there for people by publishing content. There are a few ways to do this. If you don’t have your own personal website to publish on, consider publishing on LinkedIn or Medium. To get even greater reach, find an online publication that focuses on your particular industry and try to write a guest post or become a contributing writer. Not sure what to write about? Here are a few ideas to get you started. Again, just make sure your posts are on-brand. Otherwise, it won’t help.

4. Create, But Also Curate

Nothing is going to beat creating your own content, but let’s not pretend it isn’t extremely time consuming and labor intensive. Curating content, on the other hand, is much more manageable. Social media accounts that show up in online searches are ones that are actively managed. This means posting relevant content—your own or not—to LinkedIn, Twitter, or other professional social media platforms and getting others to interact with and respond to your posts. This could mean anything from posting an article and then posing a question or simply asking to be retweeted. Just know that your goal is get engagement.

5. Pick Your Platform

We can agree that it’s not the most feasible idea to be a social media power user on every platform. Think about your personal brand, and then find out which platforms industry thought leaders are on to help you decide where you want to focus your efforts. A photographer, for instance, will probably favor a different platform than an engineer. Another component you’ll want to consider is how highly the platform ranks on search engines in general. We already talked about LinkedIn being king, but other social media platforms such as Facebook, Zerply, Twitter, and BrandYourself also frequently come up on page one of search results.

6. Be Consistent

There are many different ways to be consistent that will ultimately help you distinguish yourself. Decide whether or not using your middle initial or a keyword in all your usernames (e.g., @johnsmithhealthcare) makes sense for you. Attempt to use the same username (KnowEm can help with this) and photo across all platforms so people know they’re looking at the same person. And consider pointing your email signature, resume, and social media profiles back to your website or LinkedIn profile (so that no one has to go searching through those Google results in the first place). These are all clever ways to circumvent that fact that you have a popular name—and the trick that makes them all work is consistency. Make up your mind about a strategy, and don’t waver.

In the end, it may not be possible to own page one of your Google search results, but with a coherent brand and some savvy social media efforts, you can own page one of the results for your name plus your expertise. I’ll probably never dominate the first page of results for “Lily Zhang,” but I feel pretty good about what comes up for “Lily Zhang career advice.”

It won’t happen overnight, but keep these six steps in mind and gradually you’ll dig your way out of the backwaters of Google results—that is, assuming you don’t have a name like Britney Spears or Michael Jackson. If that’s the case, then at least no one will ever find any of your embarrassing high school LiveJournal and Xanga posts.

More from The Muse:

TIME Careers & Workplace

The Most Effective Way to Eliminate Procrastination

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Have you heard of 'self-imposed deadlines'?

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

It was 7:18 PM, and the clock was ticking. I had only 42 minutes to finish answering emails, wrap up a project I’d been working on all day, and make some revisions to an article.

With so little time, I didn’t glance at my phone. I didn’t browse Anthropologie’s online sale. I didn’t wander into the kitchen for a snack. Instead, I blasted through my inbox, turned immediately to the project, and then whipped the article into shape.

By 7:53 PM, I was done.

My deadline didn’t come from my boss or any of my (eight) editors. I’d set it myself, completely arbitrarily. This may seem kind of strange; after all, I was working like a mad woman when I could’ve taken my time. Nothing would have happened if I’d finished at 8:15 PM, or 9 PM, or even 11 PM.

However, I think self-imposed deadlines are one of the best changes I’ve ever made to my work life.

First, they force me to be much, much more efficient. When I’m pressed for time, I’m not tempted by any of the usual small distractions. Although it might only take two or three minutes to scroll through Twitter or read a short news blurb, the impact on my work is significant: Just a three-second interruption doubles the likelihood you’ll make mistakes.

Second, they make me a smarter worker. Not only am I automatically better at prioritizing, I don’t let wanting to get things done perfectly stop me from just getting things done. For example, when I’m on a deadline writing, I’m able to write the piece in one go, ignoring the imperfections, then go back and make changes.

Third, they make me less stressed. It’s counterintuitive that working on deadline would make me more relaxed, but let me explain. No matter what’s not done, I’m turning off my computer at 8 PM. Rather than looking at a long list of tasks and knowing I’ll be working until they’re all finished (which often is a trigger for procrastination), I look at my workload with the knowledge I’ll be finished in a specific number of hours. It relieves a lot of anxiety.

Convinced yet?

I know that it can be hard to stick to self-imposed deadlines because, well, there aren’t immediate consequences if you don’t meet them. But here are a few tips that have worked for me:

Write Your Deadlines in Your Planner

Putting them in your calendar (right next to “meet with Jody to discuss report” and “finish taxes”) will help you treat your deadlines just like your regular tasks: real.

Schedule Something Right After Your Deadline

If you give yourself a 7 PM deadline, make dinner plans with a friend for 8 PM. Not only will this inject some immediacy into your work, but you’ll also have a reward for getting things done. I’ve also used TV shows (Shark Tank is on at 7, so I’ll set a deadline for 6:45) and phone and Skype calls.

Set an Alarm

I use my phone’s alarm feature to schedule my deadline. That way, I don’t even have to look at the clock; I can just lose myself in my work until my phone dings. Even better if you have an egg timer or something similar you can set up to watch the countdown—and know when you’re starting to get down to the wire.

Get Other People to Hold you Accountable

I always tell my roommates what I’m going to get done by my deadline. Just knowing someone is going to ask, “So, did you finish that article?” helps me stay committed.

Since I’ve begun working on deadline, my productivity has gone way up. Striking the right balance between work and relaxation has become easier as well. While putting yourself on the clock may sound insane, give it a try—I think you’ll love the results.

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