TIME Careers & Workplace

10 Job Search Tricks That Will Change Everything You’ve Been Doing

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Invaluable advice from the pros

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

Finding the right job opportunities—and standing out in a competitive market—is tough. Fortunately, there are plenty of tools and hacks out there that are built to help you find your dream job, more quickly and easily than ever.

From an app that helps you optimize your resume for applicant tracking systems to a site that’ll keep all your applications in order, here are 10 tools and tips you’ve probably never heard about that can give your job search a serious boost.

1. Create a Twitter Job Search List to Track Job Listings From Thousands of Sources

Every day, recruiters are tweeting jobs they need to interview candidates for—making Twitter a seriously untapped resource for job seekers. To make sure you’re in the know about these leads, create a Twitter job search list that includes recruiters, hiring managers, company hiring handles, and job search websites. Then, review their tweets daily for potential opportunities.

2. Use JibberJobber to Keep Track of Information You Collect During Your Job Search

It’s easy to get disorganized during a job hunt. So, use a free tool such asJibberJobber to keep tabs on everything that’s going on. You can track the companies that you apply to, note each specific job that you apply for, and log the status of each application (date of first interview, date thank you letter sent, and so on).

3. Use LinkedIn Resume Builder to Create an Updated Resume Fast

If you’re like me, your LinkedIn profile is much more up to date than your actual resume. But if you need to update your resume fast for an available opportunity, don’t spend hours on your computer. Instead, export your LinkedIn profile into a classy looking resume using LinkedIn’s Resume Builder.

4. Put a Short and Unique LinkedIn URL on Your Resume to Stand Out to Recruiters

Instead of using the URL that LinkedIn assigns you with letters and numbers, customize it so it contains your name and the career field or job title you want to go into. (You can do this by clicking “edit profile” and clicking “edit” next to your LinkedIn URL.) This extra keyword will help when recruiters are searching for you, and sticking the URL on your resume will encourage recruiters to head to LinkedIn to learn more about you.

5. Use Resunate to See How Your Resume Scores on an Applicant Tracking System

Sick of not knowing if a human being is even reviewing the resume you worked so hard on? Resunate is web-based software that shows you how your resume would score on the applicant tracking system—and helps you improve it for every job you apply for.

6. Use SocialMention to Manage Your Online Reputation

While job searching, it’s important to keep your reputation crystal clear. To monitor what’s being said about you online, check out Social Mention, a social media search and analysis platform that aggregates user-generated content from across the universe into a single stream of information. It allows you to easily track and measure what people are saying about you across the web’s social media landscape in real-time.

7. Use LinkedIn Groups to Contact Someone You Don’t Have an Email For

If you want to contact someone at your dream company but can’t find the right contact information anywhere, check out the person’s public LinkedIn profile and see what groups he or she is part of. Then, join the group where you share a mutual interest. Once you are in the same group, you can send a message through LinkedIn. Just make sure you include something about your common interest in your message—it’ll make you seem like a networker, not a stalker.

8. Use Insightly to Manage and Organize Business Cards You Collect

Insightly is a free CRM system that helps you manage your key contacts and relationships—and it’s a great tool for your job search. After you meet someone, put his or her contact information in this system, and write down important information you learned from your conversation. Then, create a reminder in the system to follow up on a certain date in the future.

9. Use Contactually to Create an Automatic Follow-up System

A big job search mistake is to only focus on meeting new people and forgetting about the people you already know. In fact, it’s extremely important to keep up with your current relationships! Contactually helps you consistently reengage with the most important people in your network by sending you automatic reminders to email people you haven’t talked to in a while.

10. Update Your LinkedIn Status Daily to Stay Top of Mind

This will make sure that you’ll stay on the radar of everyone you know—read: that they’ll remember you when an available opportunity opens up. How to do this without being annoying? Share an article, a quote, or a project you’re working on. Other ways of showing up in the LinkedIn news feed are by getting recommended, by adding a new connection, by joining a group, or by changing your photo.
Put these simple “hacks” into practice, and you’ll quickly see an improvement in your job search results. Meaning: You’ll land that dream job oh-so-much faster.

TIME Careers & Workplace

The Hardest Job Interview Question—And How to Answer It

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Here's how to start dealing with the dreaded query

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

Like the dreaded “Tell me about yourself,” the question, “Why are you interested in this position?” is sure to come up in an interview.

And, even if it doesn’t, if you want the job you should get this sentiment across regardless. So, really, there’s no way around figuring out how to string together a coherent thought about why this being in this position makes sense for you (and for the company).

Luckily, there’s actually a pretty simple way to go about answering this question effectively without having to go through every big moment or transition in your life and career that’s brought you to this interview. Here’s a smart framework for how you should structure your answer.

Step 1: Express Enthusiasm for the Company

First things first, this is an excellent opportunity for you to show off what you know about the company. You can talk all day about how excited you are about joining the team, but nothing will trump actually knowing a thing or two about the place you’re interviewing with. So, to prepare, spend some time honing in on what you know about the company and select a few key factors to incorporate into your pitch for why you’re a good fit.

Say you’re interviewing for a small quantitative asset management company. The start of your answer might sound something like this:

The first thing that caught my eye when I saw the position posted was definitely that it was at EFG Advisers. I know that you build a lot of your tools in-house, the team is small, and you run a variety of long- and short-term strategies in the U.S. equities markets using a quantitative approach.

Especially with smaller companies, it’s always impressive when a candidate knows a thing or two about what goes on at the company. And the best thing about this is you rarely have to go beyond reviewing the company website or having a quick conversation with a current or past employee to learn enough to sound like you’ve been following the company for a while.

Step 2: Align Your Skills and Experiences With the Role

Next, you want to sell why, exactly, you’re right for the role. There are two ways you can do this: You can either focus more on your experiences (what you’ve done before that brings you to this point) or your skills (especially helpful if you’re pivoting positions or industries).

Try to pinpoint what the main part of the role entails, plus a couple of the “desired skills” in the job description, and make sure you speak to that. Follow up your introduction to how excited you are about the company with why you’re a good fit:

But the part that really spoke to me about this position was the chance to combine both the programming skills I gained from being a senior software engineer and my knack for quantitative analysis in a position that actively lets me engage with my growing interest in investing and portfolio management.

Keep it short—you’ll have plenty of opportunities to talk about how you got your skills or relevant stories throughout the interview—and just focus on highlighting a couple key relevant abilities or experiences for the position.

Step 3: Connect to Your Career Trajectory

Finally, you want to show that the position makes sense for where you’re going in your career. Ideally, you won’t give the impression that you’re just using the position as a stepping stone. Show that you’ll be around for the long haul, and your interviewer will feel more comfortable investing in you:

I’ve been interested in switching to finance for a while now and have been actively managing my own personal portfolio for a few years. Joining a quant shop makes sense to me because I think it’s one of the few places where I’ll still be able to use my technical skills and spend my day thinking about finance. I’m really excited to learn more and see how I’ll be able to contribute the firm.

Of course, you don’t have to state specifically that you see yourself in the position for a long time. Just show that you’ve given some thought to how the job makes sense for you now and that it continues to make sense for the foreseeable future.
String these three components together, and you have a response that will impress on three fronts: your knowledge and enthusiasm for the company, your relevant skills, and your general fit with the position. Plus, this framework has the added benefit of not stopping the flow of the conversation the way going through your entire life story would.

TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Huge Resume Mistakes That Will Ruin You

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Avoid these at all costs if possible

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

Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president of people operations, estimates that he’s personally reviewed more than 20,000 resumes over the course of his career.

First of all, we’re sorry for him.

But secondly, we’re pretty sure he knows a thing or two about what makes a resume shine and—perhaps more importantly—get tossed in the trash.

In fact, he shared his insights earlier this week in a LinkedIn Influencer post. Here’s what he had to say about the five biggest mistakes he sees candidates making, plus our expert tips for making sure your resume doesn’t include any of these blunders.

Mistake #1: Typos

We know—you’ve heard it. But while “this one seems obvious,” Bock writes, “…it happens again and again. A 2013 CareerBuilder survey found that 58% of resumes have typos.”

The Fix

Have someone else read your resume—often, other people can more easily spot errors because they haven’t been staring at the page for hours. If that’s really not possible, use Muse editor-in-chief Adrian Granzella Larssen’s tips for proofreading your own resume: “It’s helpful to temporarily change the font, or to read your resume from the bottom up—your eyes get used to reading a page one way and can often catch new errors when you mix the format up.”

Finally, once you’ve reviewed it, stop making those final tiny changes. “People who tweak their resumes the most carefully can be especially vulnerable to this kind of error,” explains Bock, “because they often result from going back again and again to fine tune your resume just one last time. And in doing so, a subject and verb suddenly don’t match up, or a period is left in the wrong place, or a set of dates gets knocked out of alignment.”

Mistake #2: Length

Thinking about letting your resume creep onto the next page? Think again. “A good rule of thumb is one page of resume for every 10 years of work experience,” says Bock. “A crisp, focused resume demonstrates an ability to synthesize, prioritize, and convey the most important information about you.”

The Fix

For most of us, Bock’s rule of thumb means one page—two, tops. If you’re having trouble squeezing all of your experience onto one page, remember that a resume doesn’t have to (in fact, shouldn’t) be a chronicle of your entire career history—it should be a marketing document that uses your relevant skills and experiences to illustrate to the hiring manager why you’re the one for the job. To hone in on what really matters and cut the fluff accordingly, try Liz Elfman’s tips for getting everything on one page.

Mistake #3: “Creative” Formatting

When it comes to resumes, Bock says, substance definitely matters more than style. He’d definitely prefer to see a simple, traditional, perfectly formatted resume than something creative that’s tough to read. “Unless you’re applying for a job such as a designer or artist, your focus should be on making your resume clean and legible,” he writes.

The Fix

When in doubt, go simple and spend most of your time sharpening your bullet points rather than making them look great. (In fact, make your life really easy and download one of these resume templates.) Then, make sure the formatting looks great no matter what program it’s opened in. As Bock recommends, “If you can, look at it in both Google Docs and Word, and then attach it to an email and open it as a preview.” Saving your resume as a PDF rather than a .doc file should help alleviate any formatting problems in different programs.

Mistake #4: Confidential Information

In his post, Bock shares a story of candidate who worked for a top consulting firm with a strict confidentiality policy. So, when the candidate wrote on his resume that he “consulted to a major software company in Redmond, Washington”—a.k.a. Microsoft—he was immediately rejected. Sure, the candidate didn’t break the policy, per se—but he definitely didn’t inspire trust in his potential employer.

The Fix

For anything you put on your resume (or say in an interview, or publish on a blog, you get the picture, follow the New York Times test, says Bock: “if you wouldn’t want to see it on the home page of the NYT with your name attached (or if your boss wouldn’t!), don’t put it on your resume.”

Mistake #5: Lies

As Bock explains: “People lie about their degrees (three credits shy of a college degree is not a degree), GPAs (I’ve seen hundreds of people “accidentally” round their GPAs up)… and where they went to school (sorry, but employers don’t view a degree granted online for “life experience” as the same as UCLA or Seton Hall). People lie about how long they were at companies, how big their teams were, and their sales results, always goofing in their favor.”

And we probably don’t have to tell you what hiring managers think about that.

The Fix

Just remember what your mama told you: Honesty is always the best policy. If you feel like there’s part of your background that’s not quite up to snuff, your best bet is creative—but truthful—positioning. Career expert Kari Reston shares smart strategies to applying for a job you’re underqualified for, and Jenny Foss of jobjenny.com shares tips for crafting your education section when you don’t think your degree (or lack thereof) will impress.
These mistakes seem pretty basic, but if Google sees them all the time? You can bet every other employer does, too. The good news is, they’re all totally avoidable. Make sure your (one- to two-page) resume is squeaky clean, and you’re already ahead of the game.

TIME Careers & Workplace

3 Questions to Ask When You Don’t Know What You Want to Do With Your Life

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Sometimes your dreams aren't what you think they are

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

I started college as a musical theater major, but by the end of my freshman year, I knew I wasn’t supposed to have a career on stage. I dabbled in psychology before finding my calling in marketing.

A friend of mine, on the other hand, started her career as a marketer. But after picking up running, she’s in school to become a physical therapist. Another friend has been a software engineer by education and profession, and he recently transitioned into data science.

The thing we all had in common? At some point, we thought we had it all figured out—until we realized that our dream jobs weren’t our dream jobs anymore, and we had to start all over to determine how we wanted our career paths to look.

When you don’t know exactly what you want to do, planning for the future can feel totally overwhelming. But here are some of the questions we asked ourselves that helped not only point us in the right direction—but also plan for the future of our careers.

What Am I Really Passionate About—and Why?

When I first decided to change my major, I considered psychology, because I’m fascinated by the mind. The thing is, I’m not so fascinated by listening to people’s emotional problems, and when I did some further digging, it looked like a career in psychology probably meant becoming a counselor. After pinpointing what I loved about the mind—the ways our brains make connections, process information, and form memories—I realized that a career in marketing, which is all about understanding people’s motivations, would be a better fit.

Along similar lines, when my friend started running, she thought she wanted to become a fitness instructor, but realized that she wasn’t passionate about motivating people to get in shape. Instead, she was passionate about making the body work like a well-oiled machine, which led her to the more medically based physical therapy.

As you consider your next career move, you should think about what makes you excited to wake up every day—but don’t stop there. For every interest or passion, really try to pinpoint what about it gets you most excited. It’s also helpful to try out some things that will let you explore your interests a bit more—think volunteer projects, side hustles, and informational interviews. Pay attention to what moves you—and what you think might move you, but doesn’t. The goal is to dig until you reach the foundation of the passion. (If you need help with this step, The Muse’s five-day email based “Discover Your Passion” class can help.)

What Does My “Dream Job” Look Like?

Now, this doesn’t mean just the title or compensation—you should consider all facets of a job when thinking about your ideal career. For example, do you prefer a structured and heavily regulated environment, or an unstructured and creative environment? Do you want to wear a suit, uniform, or jeans to work every day? Do you want to work remotely, travel to different cities, or go to an office? Each of these questions significantly impacts the types of roles you’ll be looking at.

You’ll also want to consider what the role might look like in one year, three years, or even 10 years. One of my friends, for instance, is a Navy pilot (she flies helicopters on aircraft carriers!), and she’s at a critical junction in her career. She loves flying, and she loves the next three to five years of her path, which includes training others to fly. But, she’s concerned about her job when she reaches the 10-15 year mark, as advancement means that she’ll be on a ship for most months out of the year.

So, as you consider how you want to advance, take a look at what the career trajectory looks like. Will you stay focused in one specific skill or topic, or would you prefer to be more of a generalist? Will you need to at some point start managing others and give up the tasks of producing yourself? (This is especially important for creative professionals to consider.) Are promotions and pay increases based on experience, or do they require specific skills and credentials, like going back to school?

While you never really know how your role will evolve over time (or even what jobs might be available in the future!), it’s important to explore how the role tends to change as you advance.

How Does This Job Fit Into My Life?

As Rikki Rogers explains in her article, “Does Your Dream Job Fit Into Your Dream Life?” a job that makes you happy doesn’t always lead to a life that makes you happy. In her case, becoming a college writing professor would mean that she’d likely be living in a small town, thousands of miles away from her family, so she opted for a more versatile role in marketing communications.

The lesson: It’s key to look at your career choices in the context of the rest of your life—relationships, hobbies, family commitments, even things like fitness and spirituality. I actually put together a “life satisfaction spreadsheet” that ranks the top five things that made me a happy, healthy person, and allows me to weigh my satisfaction in those areas. It’s particularly helpful each time I consider a career move, allowing me to see how the change would affect me in all areas of my life.

Once you’ve answered the big-picture questions about your career, it’s time to put them into action. Again, it’s often helpful to test drive a career path before jumping in head first—here are five simple ways to do just that. Research what education and credentials you’ll need to advance, meet with people in the field to get their advice for breaking in, and ask for targeted assignments as you look to build your resume.

It’s impossible to plan for every step along the way, but asking yourself big-picture questions about what you want from a career can help you chart a path at any stage.

TIME Careers & Workplace

4 Fears Standing Between You and a Much Bigger Paycheck

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In today’s workplace, money and salaries are still taboo topics

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

When Allen Walton, 26, of Dallas, was hired to help launch an e-commerce site for a security products company in 2011, he happily accepted the CEO’s offer of a $65,000 salary. After all, he’d been making about half that in a previous sales job, so he didn’t attempt to negotiate.

By 2013 the company was raking in more than $1 million in online sales—yet his salary hadn’t budged. When he asked colleagues in the industry how much they were making and did research on his own, he was shocked to learn his job was worth $10,000 more.

At first, he did nothing with this information.

“Based on the value I provided, I knew I wasn’t getting paid enough, but I was too afraid to ask for a raise and get shot down,” says Walton, who now runs SpyGuy Security, a site for high-tech security products. “The guy that I was working for was a bit intimidating. I’m not a confrontational guy, so I was afraid of rejection.”

Most of us can probably relate. According to a Salary.com survey, only a mere 12% of people try to negotiate for more money during performance reviews, and 44% say they never bring up the subject of raises. And it seems they’re really missing out, given that a recent CareerBuilder survey found that two-thirds of workers who ask for a raise actually get one.

Walton should know. Frustrated by his salary situation, he decided to watch some role-playing videos featuring a career expert offering tips for negotiating a raise, which helped him get up the nerve to ask his own boss. “Seeing and hearing other people do it gave me the confidence that I could do this myself,” he says.

When it was time to have the money talk with his manager, Walton went over how much revenue had gone up and pointed out that his salary remained the same. He showed his boss income figures for comparable positions in other companies and made it obvious how much he knew about operations in his department—and how little his boss did. Within 15 minutes, Walton received a $10,000 pay bump.

Sounds straightforward enough, right? So why is it that, even if we know the golden rules to getting more money, the majority of us fail to act on them?

The big-picture answer: fear.

Even in today’s workplace, money and salaries are still taboo topics, which could encourage you to stay silent rather than stir the pot. But, in the long run, you’re only hurting your own best asset: your earning potential.

To tackle this career roadblock, you have to first pinpoint what, exactly, is making you feel trepidation about asking for a pay bump. Chances are it’s likely one of these four salary-related fears that career experts most often see:

1. Fear That You Don’t Deserve More Money

We all know at least one overconfident co-worker who walks around the office thinking he or she is the company’s golden child. But these folks are actually few and far between. What’s more typical are employees who undervalue themselves, says Shaelyn Pham, a psychologist and author of The Joy of Me.

“They don’t believe their contribution is any more valuable compared to others. And if they don’t see their worth, then they’ll have difficulties asking for more.”

In fact, there’s actually a term for this: “impostor syndrome,” or the fear of being exposed as not nearly as talented, intelligent, or deserving as others might think you are. As a result, any promotions or raises are merely viewed as pure luck or that you’re simply on the receiving end of a boss’ goodwill.

2. Fear of Rejection

When you ask for what you want, there’s always the chance that you’ll hear “no,” and that means you’d have to live with the embarrassment of rejection. But you need to remind yourself that “no” the first time doesn’t mean the topic is off the table forever.

“The first response is typically ‘no,’ so if you put your tail between your legs after your request is denied, you will not get that raise,” says Katie Donovan, founder of salary and career consultancy Equal Pay Negotiations.

“The negotiation actually starts with the request being denied. So be ready for at least one ‘no.’ ” Which brings us to…

3. Fear of Negotiating

Unless you’re a lawyer or a seasoned salesperson, you probably don’t enjoy haggling for more money. In fact, 22% of respondents in the Salary.com survey didn’t ask for a raise because they felt they lacked the skills needed to negotiate, while 18% simply find the process “inherently unpleasant.”

But Donovan offers this telling statistic: “I’ve heard estimates that people who negotiate starting salaries and raises can earn $1 million more during their career. That’s over $20,000 a year if you work for 45 years!”

If you’re hesitant to proactively start the discussion, take advantage of review periods, suggests Matt Wallaert, a behavioral scientist and co-founder of GetRaised, a site that helps people do salary research so they can advocate for a raise. “You’re already having a conversation about your performance,” he says. “Salary and performance should be strongly linked, and so you want to take advantage of talking about one to bridge to the other.”

4. Fear of Losing Your Job

Being underpaid is better than not being paid—at least that’s the excuse people give for not rocking the boat in a still-recovering economy.

“The myth persists that asking for a raise or negotiating can get you fired,” Wallaert says. “But in the many interviews we did while building GetRaised, we never found a single person who was actually fired [for asking for a raise].”
Donovan also points out that if you have a job that requires a very specific skill or knowledge set, it might actually be more expensive for the company to lose you.

“The cost of hiring a new employee ranges from one and a half to three times the salary [of the position]. So a 10%, 20% and even 30% raise is often easier and more cost-effective.”

The Key to Fighting Those Fears: Know Your Worth

Getting past these phobias boils down to reinforcing for yourself that you areproviding value to your company—and deserve to get paid more for it.
For starters, it’s OK to let a little righteous anger fuel you.

“It’s a great balancer for fear—you can really get angry when you see how underpaid you are,” Donovan says.

To help pinpoint your worth, check out data from sites like Glassdoor and Payscale—or simply ask others what they make, as Walton did. “Just remember that people starting out may be getting paid more than you, since the job market has improved over the past few years,” Donovan says.

Taking the time to place a dollar figure on the impact of your work can also help motivate you because it’s a reminder of how skilled and talented you are—and it can help you with negotiations later.

Donovan recalls helping one client go through the exercise of translating her impact to her employer. The client was only expecting to unearth a small figure—but they actually calculated that she was worth $2 million in revenue and cost savings. In that context, “Negotiating for $10,000, $20,000, and even $30,000 did not seem scary when she understood the value of her work,” Donovan says.

And if your own results don’t give you the courage to speak up, ask yourself: Am Iactually doing the job that I was hired to do, or is this a different job that deserves a different salary?

When Brianna Rose, 25, from Long Island, NY, graduated from college, she took an entry-level job as a PR coordinator, and her employer met her salary expectations. But a year into the job, “I knew how successful of a brand I had built for them, and my workload had nearly doubled since being first hired,” says Rose, now a branding consultant.

She presented this information—including analytics that proved the impact of her work—to her boss and asked for a whopping $20,000 raise during her annual review. She was nervous to make such a large request because she was technically entry-level and working in the healthcare industry, which was cutting costs at the time. But she got the money in the end.

“It wasn’t that I just wanted a higher salary—it was that I wanted a higher salary once I better understood the job scope,” Rose says. “The research and time that went into my ‘dissertation’ for my $20,000 negotiation is what made me confident that I would receive it.”

At the end of the day, remember that part of your manager’s job is to deal with money and performance issues. So unless you’re asking for something that’s way above market rate and calls your common sense into question, your boss isn’t going to treat your request as unreasonable, says Alison Green, founder of the Ask a Manager hiring blog, who adds that you just need to make sure you stay professional and avoid being pushy or adversarial.

When “No” May Signal It’s Time to Move On

Of course, it is possible that, even if you do make a strong case for yourself, your employer may simply choose not to reward your work. When that happens, it may be time to see if there’s someone else who will.

And for some companies, the threat of losing a good employee may persuade them to change their minds. It certainly helped Walton’s case.

“My boss pushed back, but caved when he could see that I was serious about walking right then and there,” Walton says. “I knew that I could make at least the same amount of money somewhere else, if not more.”

But that tactic didn’t work for Keith Harding,* 37, a partner at an international law firm based in San Francisco.

Throughout his career, Harding had learned that the key to a successful salary request was to understand an employer’s profit model—otherwise, management might lowball employees in an attempt to boost their own bottom line.

“Before you ask for a raise, you have to be able to explain why it makes economic sense for the company—and make a case for why you deserve a bigger portion of the profit,” Harding says.

With that in mind, Harding felt justified asking for a 10% raise and a six-figure bonus at his last firm. His employer felt differently and turned down the request. Harding loved where he worked, but he made the painful decision to leave and work for an employer that met his compensation expectations.

“Pride was a greater fear [than rejection] for me, because I had to come to the conclusion that if I did not get what I wanted, I had to move on,” he says. “This is difficult when you like your employer and get along with management. But, at the end of the day, business is business.”

TIME Workplace & Careers

3 Little Words You Should Never Say

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Easy to blurt out, hard to take back

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

You’re in a meeting, just wrapping up your status update, and things are going well. The group seems reassured that you’re on top of things. Then, just as you’re about to close your laptop and head for the door, your boss’ peer asks, “How are projections looking for Q2?” Your boss nods in your direction and suddenly, all eyes in the room are back on you.

Blurting out a panicked “I don’t know!” may seem like the path of least resistance in an uncomfortable moment—but if you want to be taken seriously as an emerging leader, you should ditch that phrase and learn what experienced leaders say when they don’t know the answer.

Saying “I Don’t Know” Costs You Credibility and Influence

I once spoke with a woman who was truly an expert in her field—the only engineer on her software team with a PhD. But despite her technical chops, people kept sidestepping her and going to her boss with questions that she could have answered.

It turns out that the tech-savvy PhD was in a job that required her to represent the department in senior-level executive meetings where it had been deemed acceptable—even encouraged—to interrupt whoever had the floor and fire a rapid stream of tough questions at him or her. No matter how meticulously the engineer prepared for the meeting (and firing squad), she would inevitably fumble, lose her composure, and say, “I don’t know. I’ll ask my boss.”

Just like that, she had inadvertently trained people to go to her boss with their tough technical questions. It turns out that Dr. Phil was right when he said, “We teach people how to treat us”—and that this is especially true when it comes to establishing credibility and influence at work. Every time you say “I don’t know,” you teach people not to come to you next time.

“I Don’t Know” is Not an Answer—or an Option!

Once, while at a professional crossroads, digital marketing executive Dr. Patricia Fletcher reached out to a mentor for help. When her mentor, Jeanne Sullivan, a seasoned investor and corporate board member, asked what Fletcher would do in a hypothetical situation, Fletcher began her response with “I don’t know….”

Sullivan cut her short, reminding her, “‘I don’t know’ is not an answer. The correct answer is, ‘I don’t have enough information to answer your question.’”

Fletcher now looks back on this as one of the best pieces of advice she’s ever received. “When it comes to business, there’s no such answer as ‘I don’t know,’” she says.

Prepare a More Powerful Response

In the business world, a person who speaks with confidence is likely to be perceived to be competent.

Writing for ForbesWoman, negotiation and leadership expert Selena Rezvani suggests, “Rather than turning to ‘I don’t know’ as a default, prepare yourself with some more powerful responses.”

Wondering what your options are? Here are four powerful options I recommend you commit to memory:

  1. “I don’t have enough information to answer your question.” —Jeanne Sullivan, founding partner of Starvest Partners (and Dr. Patricia Fletcher’s mentor)
  2. “Good question. I’ll find out.” —Chris Turkovich, principal program manager
  3. “Based on what we know today, my thoughts are…” —Selena Rezvani, leadership author, speaker, and consultant
  4. “I don’t have the data at hand, but I’ll get it to you later today.” —Senior software engineer

The PhD software engineer from the story above practiced these responses while standing in front of a mirror until she was able to stand her ground when fielding a tough question. Now, when pressed for an answer, she looks the inquisitor in the eye and responds in a way that builds her leadership presence and authority. And now, colleagues and execs alike know to come to her—first, before her boss—with technical questions.

Communicating with confidence is part of a leader’s job. To join the rank of truly exceptional leaders, upgrade your communication toolkit and eliminate your “I don’t knows” in favor of more powerful responses.

TIME Careers & Workplace

10 Job Skills You’ll Need in 2020

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

The world of work—and the world in general—is changing. People are living longer, new technologies are emerging, and we’ve never been more globally connected. That means the skills we use now in the workplace are not necessarily the skills we’ll need in the future.

To get a sense of what skills you might want to start investing your time into developing, check out the infographic below. (Note: It might sound like 2020 is really far into the future, but it’s actually only about five years away.)

Important Work Skills for 2020

Infographic courtesy of Top10OnlineColleges.org.

TIME Careers & Workplace

42 Ways to Make People Like and Respect You

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Own up to your mistakes… and then explain how you're going to fix them

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

We all want to be liked, yes. But—perhaps more importantly in the workplace—we all want to be respected.

Respect is so important when it comes to your career development. It comes into play when the higher-ups are considering your ideas, when they’re choosing people to participate in projects, and—yes—when they’re thinking about who’s getting promotions or raises.

But too often people associate earning respect with, well, not being very nice. We’re here to tell you that’s not often the right approach. Instead, try some of the ways below that you can make sure your colleagues like and respect you. You’ll be on your way to being seen as a leader in no time.

1. Do Your Job and Do It Well

The most basic way to get respect? Don’t spend your time worrying about getting respect, and instead spend that time doing your job really, really well. Get a reputation for being really good at what you do, and word will surely get around. As career expert Jennifer Winter explains, “It’s hard to ignore results, and when you’re striving for the respect of your colleagues, one of the best things you can do is show you’ve got the right stuff.”

2. Never Be Late or Miss a Deadline

Along similar lines, get a reputation for being incredibly dependable. That means, any promise you make—be it a date to finish a project, an appointment, or anything else—you keep.

3. Dress Up (the Right Amount)

You know the whole “dress for the job you want” spiel? While, yes, you should dress a little nicer than you’re expected to, don’t dress up so much that you look out of place or like you don’t fit into the culture. So if your company has a casual dress code? Avoid the sweats, but avoid the suit, too.

4. Treat Everyone With Respect

In order to get respect, you have to give it—and not just to the higher-ups. People will pick up if you’re nice to the bosses but mean to the receptionist or delivery guy, and think you’re a brown-noser rather than a genuinely good person. Aim for the latter.

5. Make Friends With the Right People

Seek out relationships with others in your organization who are well-respected and well-liked. And we’re not just talking about higher-ups here—think anyone who has a great reputation around the office.

6. Be a Connector

Know someone at another company who may be able to help with a problem a co-worker is facing, a friend who may be a great sales lead, or anyone else who you think could move the company forward? Introduce them! Doing this shows off that you have an impressive network—but also that you’re willing to share it in order to help others.

7. Invite People Along

If you got an invite to a snazzy event or are planning on networking after work one day, consider inviting along someone from work who you think might enjoy it. She’ll be thrilled you thought of her, and you’ll get a chance to get to know one of your colleagues a little better.

8. Use “I” Less

Studies have shown that people tend to use the word “I” more frequently when communicating with people they feel are more powerful than them. Want to level the playing field? Monitor your use of “I.” The people you’re speaking with will view you as more powerful without ever knowing why.

9. Ask for Help

While many people may think asking for help hints that you don’t know what you’re doing—earning you less respect—it can actually work in your favor in several ways (if done right). First, it shows the person you’re asking that you respect his or her opinion. Second, it will show that you’re productive enough not to waste tons of time trying to figure it out yourself. Finally, it shows that you care about your work (and your professional growth) enough to admit when you don’t know something—and then learn from it. For more on how to do this right, check out Winter’s advice.

10. Take Something Off a Colleague’s Plate

Have a little extra time? Ask your boss or another colleague if there’s anything you can help out with or take over for them. They’ll appreciate the lighter load, and your proactive willingness to help will not go unnoticed.

11. Listen—Really Listen

Nothing will make people lose respect for you quicker than if they feel like your focus is always somewhere else when they’re talking to you. So next time you’re in a conversation, make sure you’re really engaged. Adopt open body language, don’t let other things distract you, and ask validating or clarifying questions to show you’re paying attention. For more on upping your listening skills, check out career coach Lea McLeod’s advice.

12. Ask People “How Are You?”

Being all business all the time won’t make you very well liked. So take the time to ask people about their lives as well! You’d be amazed how good a simple “How are you?” can make someone feel.

13. Remember Things About People

Taking note of small details about people—their spouse and kid’s names, what they’re doing over the weekend, their hobbies, where they’re planning to vacation, and the like—and then asking them questions about those things or referencing them in conversation can be a surefire way to up your brownie points. It shows that you really listed, took the time to remember, and overall care about them as people. Have a terrible memory? Try Muse COO and productivity expert Alex Cavoulacos’ trick for remembering anything about anyone.

14. Own Up to Your Mistakes

Explains Winter: “I know, it sounds a bit counterintuitive, given you want your clients to think you’re a genius, but trust me: They know nobody is perfect. In fact, your clients will probably get a bit suspicious if you never, ever, make a single mistake. Admitting when you do, however, shows them you’re confident (and humble) enough to face the music. In my experience, that’s a trait most people respect.” (Hint: This applies to your boss and co-workers, too!)

15. …And Then Explain How You’re Going to Fix Them

That being said, simply saying you messed up and then not doing anything about it isn’t going to garner you much respect. Instead, when you ’fess up, make sure to come with a plan for how you’re going to fix things. And if you’re not sure what to do? Try to at least come up with a few options and then ask the person you’re talking to for his or her thoughts on the best course of action (see point #9).

16. Seek Out Feedback

Show that you know you’re not perfect and are constantly looking to improve and grow yourself by regularly seeking out feedback from everyone around you. And this isn’t just something for your annual performance review: Try setting up monthly meetings with your boss, team members, and even direct reports where you can solicit open and honest feedback from them about what you can be doing better.

17. Give Feedback, Too!

It doesn’t hurt to dole out some feedback from time to time, too. Obviously, you don’t want to become the office critic, but giving colleagues the occasional dose of constructive criticism shows that you’re committed to helping everyone around you grow and be the best professionals they can be. Here are a few tips on how to give this advice without seeming like a jerk.

18. Never Say “It’s Not My Job”

Notice the trash is overflowing? Take it out. See your colleague struggling to carry all the stuff for the conference booth? Grab a bag. Showing that you’re willing to pitch in on small things—even if they’re not part of your job description and may be beneath your capabilities—shows that you don’t think too highly of yourself and that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to help the company succeed. And that’s something that people can respect.

19. Anticipate Needs

“‘I’ve actually already started on that’ is music to your manager’s ears,” explains Muse career expert Katie Douthwaite, “It means that instead of waiting for him or her to ask you to do something, you’ve already thought of it and taken action.” You obviously can’t anticipate everything, but thinking of things your boss commonly asks for or that will make his or her life way easier is a good place to start.

20. Do Small Nice Things for People

Whether it’s grabbing an extra coffee on your way to work for your boss (or your intern!) or getting some flowers for your colleague’s desk when you know she’s had a rough day, small gestures like this can speak wonders to your character.

21. Say “No” More Often

Really! While you may think jumping at every opportunity is the way to gain more respect, the opposite is actually more often true—especially when you don’t have time to do what you’re being asked to do right. “When you become known for having the guts to speak your mind, put a stake in the ground for the sake of everyone’s success and find better ways to navigate the rough waters, you’ll land as a person people respect, a leader,” explain leadership trainers Nancy Vonk and Janet Kestin. So when you don’t have time, show that you respect your time and the quality of your work too much to agree. Other people will follow suit. Nervous to say it? Try these strategies for turning people down nicely.

22. Have an Opinion

Agreeing with everything everybody says won’t make people think of you as a leader. Instead, have a well-thought-out opinion on things, and don’t be afraid to bring it to the table. Whether it’s an idea about a new product or service or a thought on how a process can work better, people will appreciate you thinking of ways to help the organization improve.

23. Respect Other Viewpoints

Caveat: Don’t dig your heels in the ground too much when it comes to your ideas. Instead, consider other people’s viewpoints, too, and be willing to compromise and work together to reach a solution that works for as many people as possible.

24. Speak Up

Nothing shows lack of confidence in yourself like mumbling. So speak up! PR professional Ashley Colbert explains, “To be taken seriously in a meeting, speak clearly, firmly, and loudly enough so that people can hear you. And avoid trailing off at the end of a sentence or using fluffy language like ‘I hope to have this done’ or ‘I think it will get results.’”

25. Avoid the Gossip Mill

If you’re known for regularly putting down other people, people will start thinking down on you. So don’t waste your time speculating about the lives of others. Instead, spend your time by the water cooler genuinely getting to know your colleagues—you’ll still be involved in the social side of the office, without tarnishing your reputation.

26. Never Waste Anyone’s Time

Get more respect by showing people you respect their valuable time. What does this mean? Don’t ask questions you can answer yourself, don’t plan meetings that you don’t need, and don’t take forever getting back to people. You get the idea.

27. Make Your Meetings Worthwhile

People are pretty skeptical of meetings, and so will likely think less of you if they think your meetings are a waste of time. Make sure you’re following the 21 unwritten rules of meetings to have meetings that people seriously find valuable.

28. Figure it Out Yourself

Instead of always running to your boss for help when faced with a problem, do everything you can to figure it out yourself. Even if you ultimately need approval before moving forward with a solution, it’s better to come to your manager with a plan for him or her to give an OK to than to come asking “what should we do?”

29. Never Say “I Don’t Know”

At least, not on its own. Simply saying “I don’t know” leaves the person asking you a question at a dead end and doesn’t make you seem very willing to help. Instead, offer to help figure it out, get more information, or direct him or her to the right person to help out. See leadership coach Jo Miller’s suggestions for better responses when you’re really not sure.

30. Become a Stellar Public Speaker

Learning to speak well will gain you respect in many ways. First, you’ll have the ability to present more confidently in meetings. Second, you’ll be comfortable speaking at industry events, giving you credit as a leader in your field. But finally, all this practice and training will give you a more powerful speaking presence even in day-to-day conversations.

31. Work on Communicating Both Warmth and Authority

Body language expert Amy Cuddy explains: “When we judge others—especially our leaders—we look first at two characteristics: how lovable they are (their warmth, communion, or trustworthiness) and how fearsome they are (their strength, agency, or competence).” This is a fine line to balance, but Miller has some ideas for how to do it.

32. Have Clear Work-Life Boundaries

People are likely to connect with you more if you understand the importance of not working all the time. So set clear work-life boundaries—and then stick to them! Whether it’s that you never check email on the weekends or you leave work by 6 to eat dinner with your family, if you’re upfront about your boundaries, people should respect them—and you.

33. Don’t Leave Right at 5 PM

That being said, don’t jet out of the office every day when the clock strikes five, especially if there’s work that really needs to get done. Have boundaries, but show that you’re willing to pull extra weight when it’s really important.

34. Learn Your Colleagues’ Working Preferences—and Follow Them

Have a chat with the people you work most closely with about how they work best, and find ways to help them achieve that. Maybe one prefers conversations to emails and will appreciate you coming over to her desk rather than sending a lengthy message. Maybe another needs quiet working time in the morning and will notice if you stop scheduling meetings during that time.

35. Be a Teacher

When a teammate or direct report is having trouble or does something wrong, instead of getting angry, get helpful. Walk him or her through how to do it. You’ll get better employees, and they’ll respect you for helping them grow.

36. Be a Mentor

Take junior employees under your wing—even if they don’t report to you—and help advise them on everything from company politics to career growth. Not only will the employees you’re advising gain more respect for you, but others will notice the gesture, too.

37. Help Out Newbies

When someone new joins the company, make sure to say hello and let him know you’re there if he has any questions or needs help—even if he’s not in your department. People all over the company will start seeing you as a leader in the company from day one.

38. Champion Your Employees

Have direct reports you’re proud of? Understand their goals—and do what’s in your power to help them achieve them! Whether that’s setting up a meeting with your boss because you know they want to grow at the company or helping them find opportunities to grow important skills, look for ways to help them succeed.

39. Manage Upward

By simply waiting around to be told what to do by your higher-ups, you seem like a follower—not a respectable leader. Instead, learn to tell your boss what you need to get your job done well. You’ll improve your performance and command your boss’ respect. Check out some tips for learning this elusive skill here.

40. Don’t Complain

Are you tired after a long day, and still have more to do? Are you sick of one menial task you seem to be stuck with? Never whine about it, at least not in the workplace. Having a positive attitude about your work is critical to making other people think highly of you. And if you really have a problem with something? See if you can come up with a proactive way to solve it.

41. Get Out in the World

People will hold you in higher regard if you don’t just do your job in a vacuum. So make sure to stay up with the latest and greatest in your industry. Go to events and conferences, and report back on what you learned. Get meetings with experts, and maybe even bring them in to talk to your team. Read relevant articles and share them around to help others.

42. Question Yourself

Great leaders are good at self-reflection. Check on yourself regularly with questions like these and always be looking for ways to be better.

TIME Careers & Workplace

33 Ways to Fix Being Utterly Bored at Work

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Bob Handelman—Getty Images/Photographer's Choice

Here's how to keep yourself motivated

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

You’ve taken on new projects. You’ve gone above and beyond. You’ve talked to your boss about additional responsibilities and gotten the old “definitely—once we have a position open / more budget / don’t need you to focus on X anymore.”

Frankly, you’re bored with your job.

And while sometimes, that’s a sign that you should hightail it out of there, others it’s a matter of keeping yourself moving forward (and not gouging your eyes out) until the next busy season, new client, or promotion comes along.

If you’re in that boat, you’re in luck: Here’s a roundup of things you can do in the office or during off-hours to up your professional game even when your current job isn’t exactly doing it for you.

If You Want to Network

1. Start a Book Group

Pick books that are related to your field—or a general business read that everyone can get some use out of, like something from the 99U book series orGood to Great. A great cadence is once per month—take over a conference room for your lunch hour or, better yet, meet for happy hour and chat at a bar.

2. Create a Networking Group

Have a few friends in your field you see from time to time at industry events? See if they’d all want to get together every month for an informal networking group, where you all meet to chat (and get advice!) about challenges you’re facing.

3. Go on Lunch Dates

Ever heard of “Let’s Lunch?” It’s a (free!) online network that matches you up with someone in your area for lunch during the workweek. Connect your LinkedIn profile, provide your availability and geographic flexibility, and the site’s algorithm matches you up with a like-minded lunch partner. It’s a great way to grow your network utilizing the free time that’s already built into your day. (Via Allison Stadd)

4. Ask a Co-worker to Join You

Go out to lunch with a co-worker you don’t know well. Not only will you get to know someone new, you’ll learn more about how your company operates—and potentially find new ways to collaborate and get involved.

5. Start a Lunch Club

Grab four other officemates, and assign everyone a day to bring enough lunch for everyone else on a specified day of the week. Cook once, get delicious meals (and team bonding) all five days!

6. Start the Company Softball League

Or frisbee team. Or 5K for charity. Showing some initiative to get everyone out of the office and hanging out with each other on a non-work basis will show the higher-ups you have what it takes to shine in the office, too.

7. Build Your LinkedIn Following

One expert suggests we should be using LinkedIn more like Twitter—finding and engaging with as many followers as possible. So start building your network. Here are a few more things you can do on LinkedIn every month, week, and day.

If You Want to Boost Your Skills

8. Try Morning Pages

Start every day with 15 minutes of creative writing. Entrepreneur Chris Winfield says it has “become an essential way to clear his mind, unleash creative ideas, and quiet his inner critic, reducing his anxiety.”

9. Start a Blog

It can be a place for you to write about happenings in your field, share thoughts on pop culture, or even pursue a hobby—just be clear on what your purpose is and who you want to read it. Then, get started by making a long list of topics you could potentially write about. Commit to pushing something out at least once a week to keep your (obviously avid) followers engaged.

10. Or a Podcast

Blogging not for you? Start a podcast. Better yet, invite industry leaders to be interviewed on your podcast. You’re boosting your personal brand and your professional network at once!

11. Write an Article

Then, try to get it published on an industry website. You’ll hone a new skill—writing and researching—and you’ll start to build your name as a thought leader in your space.

12. Get Your Voice Heard

Look for an upcoming conference or event you could speak at, and pitch yourself as a panel speaker or leader. Here’s exactly how to do it.

13. Look for Hidden Benefits

Browse your company’s benefits page, and make sure you’re taking advantage of all of them. Many companies offer free financial planning services, a professional development budget, or even sabbaticals or trips to other offices. Hey, if it’s cool with HR, it’s bound to be cool with your boss.

14. Learn to Code

No, really—it’ll boost your career no matter what you do (take it from this PR pro).Here’s a cool way to get started.

15. Or Learn Something Else

Pick a class, any class—here are 50 (cheap) ideas.

16. Or Teach Something

Consider developing live or online courses, workshops, or seminars in your areas of expertise. (Platforms like Skillshare make it easy to share what you know.)

17. Build a Personal Website

No matter what field you’re in, it’s a great idea. We have a seven-day plan that makes it super easy, and at the end of it all you’ll have an online presence that shows off who you are and displays your best work.

If You Want to Make Your Office Happier

18. Revamp Your Cubicle

It’s amazing what some fresh photos, some non-fluorescent lighting, and some organization can do for your inspiration (not to mention sanity). Here are a few ideas to get you started.

19. Fix Something

Look for a process, procedure, or meeting that everyone grumbles about, and think of one or two ways to improve upon it. Put together a plan, present it to your boss, and see if you can be the one who turns it into action.

20. Teach the Group

Offer to research and present on something to your team—whether it’s socially responsible business practices or a new project management tool.

21. Launch a Brown Bag Program

Once a month, invite cool speakers in to chat with your team about something in your field.

22. Mentor a Junior Employee

Look to see if your company has an official program you can participate in, or just look for younger co-workers who you could take under your wing.

23. Make a List

Create a list of resources you find helpful, sites you love to read, the best conferences or classes in your field, or anything else you think your co-workers might find useful, and send it out to everyone on your team.

24. Ask for a New Employee

If you don’t already have one, come up with a proposal for getting an intern or other direct report. Having someone to take some work off your plate can open up space for you to work on more inspiring projects—and having someone to mentor can be a great growth experience.

25. Create a Client Survey

Ask your customers and potential customers key questions that could help you better serve them (as well as for their general feedback). At minimum, you’ll get some helpful guidance for future sales or initiatives, and you’ll probably look like a star while you’re at it.

If You Want to Get Out of the Office

26. Plan a Trip

Research shows that just the act of planning a trip makes you happier, as you’re anticipating what’s to come. While we don’t recommend doing the actual planning on company time, daydreaming about your destination will certainly make the day go by faster.

27. Plan a Fundraiser

Or otherwise get involved in a cause you care about. Bonus: It’s a great way to network—reach out to people you haven’t talked to in a while or think are interesting with an invite.

28. Do Something Totally Unrelated to Your Job

Take a bartending class, sign up for a half-marathon, get SCUBA certified. While it might not have anything to do with your job, you’ll definitely be more inspired in your off hours, and that’ll give your life inspiration an overall boost.

29. Learn a New Language

Along similar lines, even if you don’t speak Spanish or German at work, speaking and reading in a new language can get your brain thinking in totally new ways. (Here are five fun ways to give it a whirl.)

If You Want Something Totally New

30. Take on a Side Project

Start that funny Tumblr you’ve always wanted to, sell your wares as a consultant in your field, or start an Etsy store. It’ll give you a good challenge outside of your day job—not to mention some cold, hard cash.

31. Go Pro Bono

Use some of your free time to do some work for a nonprofit or early-stage startup with a mission that you’re really excited about. This will give you a chance to grow your skills (or potentially learn new ones) and remind you why you loved your work in the first place, plus it could even turn into an exciting full-time opportunity down the line.

32. Get a New Job

If you’ve tried everything and are still bored at your current gig, it’s probably time to look for a new one. Start making a list of your favorite companies, polishing up your resume, and getting some informational interviews on the calendar. On that note:

33. Take a Day Off

Hey, if you’re bored at work, you can probably afford it. Try this one-day, 10-hour plan to totally kick start your job search on a day off.

TIME Workplace & Careers

There’s a Reason You Work Better Some Days

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

By Alex Honeysett

During a session with my business coach earlier this year, I was explaining that even though I had a million things to crank through, I felt like doing the opposite—I wanted to stroll around in my own thoughts, quietly observe, and write things down only as they came to me, rather than fight to get things done, like, yesterday.

And my coach said, “Well, that makes sense. It’s part of your process.”

Uh, what process? I know I have a process for doing laundry. I have a process for organizing my desk. I have a process for doing my taxes. But I never considered that I had process for the way I approached work—or life, for that matter.

But in the months since, she has helped me understand that I do. We all do! And the more we can recognize and take ownership of our own unique process, the less frustrated and guilty we’ll feel when we’re in the middle of it. And ironically, the more we’ll get done.

So how do you figure out what your process looks like? For most of us, our process is a mix of “curation mode” and “creation mode.”

When you’re in curation mode, you may be feeling what I described above—more introspective, more observant, and more thoughtful. In this mindset, you’d probably be more interested in digging into some meaty research or a great book and less interested in giving a presentation to a room packed with people. During this part of the process, you’re taking in.

Creation mode is the other side of the coin: You’re hitting the pavement, excited to get things done. Whether you’re growing your business, writing plans, or bringing in new clients, you’re doing it with ease. You’re not dragging your butt out of bed to write that proposal—you’re at your desk early, coffee in head, ready to get it done. Here, you’re pushing out.

Once you identify these processes in your own life, you’ll see how they affect your productivity. For example, I realized that I always feel great writing these articles when I spend a few days paying attention to what’s happening in the industry, tapping into my network, and recognizing what I’m experiencing in my own life—in other words, when I’m in curation mode. I don’t force myself to write anything; I just take a look around. Then, on the third or fourth day, I snap into creation mode. A topic will hit me and I basically need to find a computer that instant to get it all down.

In the times that I haven’t let myself do that initial observing, I often end up staring at a blank screen for hours, writing the same crappy sentence over and over and getting increasingly cranky.

Before understanding this was part of my process, I just thought that some weeks it was easier for me to write than others. Now that I understand how my brain works best, I know that I need to give myself that space to curate—ideas, themes, and experiences—before I can jump into creation mode.

To identify your unique process, start by digging into what you like to do when you’re in curation mode: What do you need to do before you get things done? Take a long walk? Keep a journal in your pocket for any thoughts that pop up?

Then, do the same for creation mode: What’s the ideal environment for you to actually get those things done? A super-organized desk? A noisy coffee shop?

Next, spend a few weeks being mindful of which mode you’re in. Sometimes, we can circle through them both several times a week—other times, we may sit in one for a few weeks before we switch to the next.

Finally, it’s important to recognize that you can’t always map out the balance of your internal process in a perfect 1:1 ratio. There will be some days when you’ll be on a deadline to finish a presentation when you’d much rather be curled up on the couch with a stack of research learning quietly.

On those days, your focus should be on bringing the balance back. If you’re in curation mode and need to be creating, for example, what activities or experiences do you most enjoying when you’re curating? Are there any of them, however brief, that you can bring into your day? You may find that going for short walk or drinking a quiet coffee before you begin may put yourself in the right mindset to start creating.

That may be all you need to snap back into getting things done, like, yesterday.

More from The Muse:

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