MONEY Millennials

5 Big Myths About What Millennials Truly Want

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We've heard a ton about millennials—where they want to live, what they love to eat, what's most important to them in the workplace, and so on. It's time to set the record straight.

In some ways, it’s foolish to make broad generalizations about any generation, each of which numbers into the tens of millions of people. Nonetheless, demographers, marketers, and we in the media can’t help but want to draw conclusions about their motivations and desires. That’s especially true when it comes to the young people who conveniently came of age with the Internet and smartphones, making it possible for their preferences and personal data to be tracked from birth.

Naturally, everyone focuses on what makes each generation different. Sometimes those differences, however slight, come to be viewed as hugely significant breaks from the past when in fact they’re pretty minor. There’s a tendency to oversimplify and paint with an exceptionally broad brush for the sake of catchy headlines and easily digestible info nuggets. (Again, we’re as guilty of this as anyone, admittedly.) The result is that widely accepted truisms are actually myths—or at least only tell part of the story. Upon closer inspection, there’s good reason to call these five generalizations about millennials into question.

1. Millennials Don’t Like Fast Food
One of the most accepted truisms about millennials—easily the most overexamined generation in history—is that they are foodies who love going out to eat. And when they eat, they want it to be special, with fresh, high-quality ingredients that can be mixed and matched according to their whims, not some stale, processed cookie-cutter package served to the masses.

In other words, millennials are huge fans of Chipotle and fast-casual restaurants, while they wouldn’t be caught dead in McDonald’s. In fact, the disdain of millennials for McDonald’s is frequently noted as a prime reason the fast food giant has struggled mightily of late.

But guess what? Even though survey data shows that millennials prefer fast-casual over fast food, and even though some stats indicate millennial visits to fast food establishments are falling, younger consumers are far more likely to dine at McDonald’s than at Chipotle, Panera Bread, and other fast-casual restaurants.

Last summer, a Wall Street Journal article pointed out that millennials are increasingly turning away from McDonald’s in favor of fast casual. Yet a chart in the story shows that roughly 75% of millennials said they go to McDonald’s at least once a month, while only 20% to 25% of millennials visit a fast-casual restaurant of any kind that frequently. Similarly, data collected by Morgan Stanley cited in a recent Business Insider post shows that millennials not only eat at McDonald’s more than at any other restaurant chain, but that they’re just as likely to go to McDonald’s as Gen Xers and more likely to dine there than Boomers.

At the same time, McDonald’s was the restaurant brand that millennials would least likely recommend publicly to others, with Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC, and Jack in the Box also coming in toward the bottom in the spectrum of what millennials find worthy of their endorsements. What it looks like, then, is that millennials are fast food regulars, but they’re ashamed about it.

2. Millennials Want to Live in Cities, Not Suburbs
Another broad generalization about millennials is that they prefer urban settings, where they can walk or take the bus, subway, or Uber virtually anywhere they need to go. There are some facts to back this up. According to an October 2014 White House report, millennials were the most likely group to move into mid-size cities, and the number of young people living in such cities was 5% higher compared with 30 years prior. The apparent preference for cities has been pointed to as a reason why Costco isn’t big with millennials, who seem to not live close enough to the warehouse retailer’s suburban locations to justify a membership, nor do their apartments have space for Costco’s bulk-size merchandise.

But just because the percentage of young people living in cities has been inching up doesn’t mean that the majority actually steer clear of the suburbs. Five Thirty Eight recently took a deep dive into Census data, which shows that in 2014 people in their 20s moving out of cities and into suburbs far outnumber those going in the opposite direction. In the long run, the suburbs seem the overwhelming choice for settling down, with roughly two-thirds of millennial home buyers saying they prefer suburban locations and only 10% wanting to be in the city. It’s true that a smaller percentage of 20-somethings are moving to the suburbs compared with generations ago, but much of the reason why this is so is that millennials are getting married and having children later in life.

3. Millennials Don’t Want to Own Homes
Closely related to the theory that millennials like cities over suburbs is the idea that they like renting rather than owning. That goes not only for where they live, but also what they wear, what they drive, and more.

In terms of homes, the trope that millennials simply aren’t into ownership just isn’t true. Surveys show that the vast majority of millennials do, in fact, want to own homes. It’s just that, at least up until recently, monster student loans, a bad jobs market, the memory of their parents’ home being underwater, and/or their delayed entry into the world of marriage and parenthood have made homeownership less attractive or impossible.

What’s more, circumstances appear to be changing, and many more millennials are actually becoming homeowners. Bloomberg News noted that millennials constituted 32% of home buyers in 2014, up from 28% from 2012, making them the largest demographic in the market. Soaring rents, among other factors, have nudged millennials into seeing ownership as a more sensible option. Surveys show that 5.2 million renters expect to a buy a home this year, up from 4.2 million in 2014. Since young people represent a high portion of renters, we can expect the idea that millennials don’t want to own homes to be increasingly exposed as a myth.

4. Millennials Hate Cars
Cars are just not cool. They’re bad for the environment, they cost too much, and, in an era when Uber is readily available and socializing online is arguably more important than socializing in person, having a car doesn’t seem all that necessary. Certainly not as necessary as a smartphone or broadband. Indeed, the idea that millennials could possibly not care about owning cars is one that has puzzled automakers, especially those in the car-crazed Baby Boom generation.

In many cases, the car industry has disregarded the concept, claiming that the economy rather than consumer interest is why fewer young people were buying cars. Whatever the case, the numbers show that the majority of millennials will own cars, regardless of whether they love them as much as their parents did when they were in their teens and 20s. According to Deloitte’s 2014 Gen Y Consumer Study, more than three-quarters of millennials plan on purchasing or leasing a car over the next five years, and 64% of millennials say they “love” their cars. Sales figures are reflecting the sentiment; in the first half of 2014, millennials outnumbered Gen X for the first time ever in terms of new car purchases.

5. Millennials Have a Different Attitude About Work
As millennials entered the workforce and have become a more common presence in offices around the world, much attention has been focused on the unorthodox things that young people supposedly care more about than their older colleagues. Millennials, surveys and anecdotal evidence have shown, want to be able to wear jeans and have flexible work hours to greater degrees than Gen X and Boomers. Young people also want to be more collaborative, demand more feedback, and are less motivated by money than older generations.

That’s the broad take on what motivates millennial workers anyway. An IBM study on the matter suggests otherwise, however. “We discovered that Millennials want many of the same things their older colleagues do,” researchers state. There may be different preferences on smaller issues—like, say, the importance of being able to dress casually on the job—but when it comes to overarching work goals achieved in the long run, millennials are nearly identical to their more experienced colleagues: “They want financial security and seniority just as much as Gen X and Baby Boomers, and all three generations want to work with a diverse group of people.”

What’s more, IBM researchers say, millennials do indeed care about making more money at work, and that, despite their reputation as frequent “job hoppers,” they jump ship to other companies about as often as other generations, and their motivations are essentially the same: “When Millennials change jobs, they do so for much the same reasons as Gen X and Baby Boomers. More than 40 percent of all respondents say they would change jobs for more money and a more innovative environment.”

TIME Companies

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook Has Plans to Give Away All His Wealth

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MARCH 9: Apple CEO Tim Cook smiles after an Apple special event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on March 9, 2015 in San Francisco, California. Apple Inc. announced the new MacBook as well as more details on the much anticipated Apple Watch, the tech giant's entry into the rapidly growing wearable technology segment as well (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
Stephen Lam—2015 Getty Images Apple CEO Tim Cook attends an Apple special event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, on March 9, 2015

“You want to be the pebble in the pond that creates the ripple for change”

After paying for his 10-year-old nephew’s college tuition, Apple CEO Tim Cook says, he plans on leaving all his wealth — which today amounts to $120 million — to good causes.

But he won’t simply be writing checks. In an in-depth profile piece featured in the April 1 issue of Fortune magazine, Cook says he wants to approach philanthropy with a coherent, thoughtful, game plan.

“You want to be the pebble in the pond that creates the ripple for change,” he told Fortune.

To read the entire profile of Tim Cook, click here.

TIME Companies

See What Apple CEO Tim Cook Calls ‘The Mother of All Products’

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City of Cupertino Concept art of the main building of Apple's new Cupertino campus.

It's literally groundbreaking

“The mother of all products,” according to Apple CEO Tim Cook, isn’t a new device — but it is high-tech.

The “Apple Campus 2,” the working name for Apple’s under-construction new corporate campus, will unite all of Apple’s technology and artistic capabilities, Cook told Fortune in an exclusive interview published Thursday.

The Cupertino campus — “I hate the word ‘headquarters’ … It isn’t overhead, and we’re not bureaucrats,” says Cook — brings cutting-edge technology to even the most basic tasks. Parking, for example, will be facilitated by sensors and apps so employees don’t have to waste time or gas finding a spot.

Meanwhile, Apple is settling only for a perfect design, including mocking up entire parts of the campus, then tearing them down if they’re not satisfactory — a luxury of being a $700 billion company. Other elements of Apple Campus 2 include an underground, 1,000-seat auditorium so the company’s popular product announcements can be on Apple’s own turf and schedule.

The project’s existence has been known for years — the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs spent much of his last two years planning the campus — but never ceases to amaze Apple followers. Many people have even flown drones to get a bird’s eye view of the construction, set to be completed by the end of 2016.

Here’s what Apple Campus 2 looked like earlier this month:

Click here to read the rest of Fortune’s profile of Tim Cook, whom Fortune named No. 1 on its list of “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.”

TIME People

How Apple CEO Tim Cook Succeeded When Everyone Told Him He’d Fail

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Bloomberg via Getty Images In this combination photo, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, left, unveils the iCloud storage system at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference 2011 in San Francisco, Calif., on June 6, 2011, while Apple CEO Tim Cook, right, speaks during an event at the company's headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., on Oct. 4, 2011.

"You pick up certain skills when the truck is running across your back"

Apple CEO Tim Cook says his journey to success hasn’t been an easy one.

In an exclusive interview with Fortune, Cook recounts how he dealt with the negative comments after he succeeded the legendary Steve Jobs in 2011. Though Cook eventually proved skeptics wrong — just check out iPhone 6 sales and Apple’s record-breaking $700 billion valuation last month — it wasn’t a smooth ride, including a public meltdown of the buggy Apple Maps app in 2012.

But as Tim Cook told Fortune, there’s no solution other than to ignore the haters — and then get your act together:

I thought I was reasonable at [blocking out negative comments] before, but I’ve had to become great at it. You pick up certain skills when the truck is running across your back. Maybe this will be something great that I’ll use in other aspects of my life over time.

Cook also described just how intimidating it was at first to be Jobs’ successor:

I have thick skin, but it got thicker. What I learned after Steve passed away, what I had known only at a theoretical level, an academic level maybe, was that he was an incredible heat shield for us, his executive team … He really took any kind of spears that were thrown. He took the praise as well. But to be honest, the intensity was more than I would ever have expected.

Cook was named No. 1 on Fortune‘s “World’s Greatest Leaders” Thursday. Read the rest of Fortune’s profile of Tim Cook here.

 

TIME Food & Drink

New Line of Sriracha Snacks Will Be the ‘Real Deal’

Sriracha Ordered By Department Of Public Health To Hold Shipments For 35 Days
Scott Olson—Getty Images Bottles of Sriracha hot chili sauce

Hummus, croutons, and chips to be flavored with the original Huy Fong Sriracha

In the coming months, lovers of the red rooster will be able to buy Huy Fong Foods Sriracha hummus, croutons, tortilla chips, potato chips, and actual Sriracha spice to season your own food with, Yahoo reports.

Thought some of these items already existed? Not quite.

While companies like Lays have created snacks with Sriracha flavoring, any true hot sauce connoisseur knows that there is only one true Huy Fong Sriracha — which recently partnered up with Pop! Gourmet Foods.

“McCormick does a Sriracha seasoning, but it’s not Huy Fong,” Pop! founder and CEO David Israel told Yahoo. “With us, you’re getting the real deal.”

The official Sriracha seasoning will be available April 20.

The two companies already rolled out Sriracha popcorn earlier this year.

[Yahoo]

TIME Careers & Workplace

This Surprising Trait Can Get You Fired at Apple

Apple Tim Cook Cultural Fit Fired
Stephen Lam—Getty Images Apple CEO Tim Cook waves from stage after an Apple special event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on March 9, 2015 in San Francisco, Calif.

CEO Tim Cook explains why he lets some people go

There’s one thing that will make or break you at Apple: cultural fit.

In an exclusive interview with Fortune published Thursday, Apple CEO Tim Cook says that it took him some time to learn the importance of cultural fit after he fired John Browett in 2013 just one month after the European electronics exec had been appointed Apple’s head of retail.

Browett, according to Apple execs, didn’t fit in at Apple, and frequently angered store employees by changing their schedules. After being fired from Apple, Browett said in a speech that he was shocked that he was let go due to not fitting in with company culture, even though he was qualified for the position.

As Cook explained to Fortune, it’s all about people skills:

That was a reminder to me of the critical importance of cultural fit, and that it takes some time to learn that. [As CEO], you’re engaged in so many things that each particular thing gets a little less attention. You need to be able to operate on shorter cycles, less data points, less knowledge, less facts. When you’re an engineer, you want to analyze things a lot. But if you believe that the most important data points are people, then you have to make conclusions in relatively short order. Because you want to push the people who are doing great. And you want to either develop the people who are not or, in a worst case, they need to be somewhere else.

Of course, that isn’t the only way to get fired at Apple. Tim Cook hasn’t been afraid to toss even high-ranking employees if they make mistakes. When Apple Maps flopped, for example, Cook fired Scott Forstall, the head of mobile software.

Read the rest of Fortune’s profile of Tim Cook here.

TIME Management

6 Charts Showing Tech’s Gender Gap Is More Complicated Than You Think

See why it's so hard to break the glass ceiling in Silicon Valley

 

Several of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies have released a series of diversity reports revealing how few women held the companies’ top jobs — or jobs in general. Now a recent string of lawsuits is suggesting that the fix isn’t simply to recruit more women — what about the women who are already employed? Are they being held back from rising up?

That’s the key question in investing partner-turned-Reddit CEO Ellen Pao’s ongoing lawsuit against her former employer, Kleiner Perkins, a highly-established venture capital firm based in Menlo Park, California. The jury in Pao’s case began hearing closing arguments this week, and will soon decide whether it was gender bias that prevented Pao from being promoted to a higher-ranking partner, or, as Kleiner Perkins’ lawyer argued, whether Pao is simply “[blaming] others for her own failures.”

Adding to the scrutiny of Silicon Valley’s treatment of women are two other high-profile gender discrimination lawsuits against Twitter and Facebook, both recently filed by former female employees.

A gender gap in the workplace, particularly in Silicon Valley, is old news. But Kleiner Perkins isn’t kind of Silicon Valley company we’re used to hearing about. By suing a venture capital firm, Pao raises a important point — the gender gap could be a problem at the firms that are often funding Valley companies, too. (In addressing this claim, Kleiner Perkins said in a trial brief last month it has “long been a supporter of women entrepreneurs.”)

According to a report by Babson College in 2013, gender bias reveals itself in the patterns of venture capital investments. (The study was sponsored by Ernst & Young and the Diana Project, both of which prioritize workforce diversity.) Upon analyzing these patterns, the study found that businesses with all-male leadership teams are four times as likely to receive venture capital funding as teams with even one woman.

That apparent gender bias might explain why only 3% of venture-funded businesses are led by women, according to Babson College’s report, which surveyed 6,517 of these businesses. About one-third of all U.S. businesses are led by women, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration:

 

Curiously, the percentage of female venture capital investors (11%) is almost equal to the percentage of female executives among Silicon Valley’s Top 150 companies (10.8%) — though this is merely a correlation. (These data points come respectively from the latest Venture Census and a 2014 report by Fenwick & West LLP, a global law firm with clients including Facebook and Google.)

Even if these two gender gaps are wholly unrelated, it’s still worth noting that Silicon Valley appears to have an especially pronounced gender diversity problem when compared to the S&P 100. The S&P 100 is a non-industry specific stock index comprised of companies with the 100 leading U.S. stocks, many of which are outside Silicon Valley:

 

So it’s an undeniable truth that Silicon Valley has a gender diversity problem. But the question of whether the gap has started to close is a bit trickier.

Take, for example, the following chart from Fenwick’s report. It shows the percentage of women in the highest-ranking positions in Valley’s top 150 companies (“SV 150″) between 1996 and 2014. By looking at the upward trends, you could say that gender diversity in Silicon Valley has improved:

But don’t jump to any conclusions. Once again, when you compare the SV 150 to the S&P 100 benchmark, gender diversity in the Valley appears to be problematic. Take a look at the following chart, which shows the top Valley companies had lower percentages of women than the S&P 100 in every single leadership position except President/COO and General Counsel in 2014:

There’s yet another caveat: If you examine only the very top Valley companies, the gender diversity problem is cast in a much better light. After all, Google just named a female CFO this week, while Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman are proof of change among tech titans.

The chart below shows gender diversity in the Valley’s top 15 companies (“SV15″), like Google and HP, has rapidly improved. Female representation was remarkably strong in a several positions in 2014, including President/COO and CFO. But other positions, like Chair, were still entirely male in 2014 — just like in 1996:

These mixed messages regarding the depth of Silicon Valley’s gender problem are surfacing on both sides of Pao’s trial. Kleiner Perkins’ lawyers, for example, argued that 20% of its partners are women. That’s much higher than the average of 6%, according to Babson College’s report, which surveyed 139 venture capital firms’ partners in 2013. Kleiner Perkins’ top ranking female partner, Mary Meeker, even testified against Pao, arguing the company promoted women based on their merits.

But Pao, too, had an arsenal of numbers at the ready. In addition to qualitative evidence of gender bias — like claims of all-male dinner parties — Pao’s legal team also cited the superior performance of investments made by the company’s female investors, including Pao. A female partner at Kleiner Perkins once reportedly even constructed a matrix comparing women’s and men’s investments to drive this point home.

The jury in Pao’s trial will soon put an end to these arguments — but the gender gap debate will surely continue outside the courtroom. Even if the jury sides with Kleiner Perkins, Pao’s closely watched trial remains a warning for the larger, male-dominated business industry to reevaluate the treatment of women in their companies. There’s a business incentive at play here, too: Companies with female leaders appear to be performing unusually well, according to a recent study of women-led companies by Karen Rubin, director of product management at the algorithm development site Quantopian. In her study, Rubin showed how the women-led Fortune 1000 companies — there are only 27 currently — posted greater cumulative returns than those of SPY, a tracker of the S&P 500 stock index, which Rubin used as a benchmark:

Women Leader Fortune 1000

In fact, it seems that these female-run companies have outperformed the male-dominated benchmark even more often since the financial crisis of 2008-09. That’s a gender gap to be proud of — and one that can’t be ignored.

Read next: 5 Best Ways Men Can #LeanInTogether to Help Women Get Ahead

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TIME Careers & Workplace

The 10 Commandments of Leadership

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Thou shalt remain optimistic

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This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

A group of archeologists digging through ancient corporate archives recently uncovered two mysterious tablets (aka “wall plaques”) engraved with the following laws:

I. Thou shalt remain optimistic.

Since thy employees look to thee for leadership, thou must not let thy worries and concerns cast a black cloud over everyone else, for that way lies certain failure.

II. Thou shalt set a clear direction.

If thou wouldst be a leader, thou must create a vision in the minds of your followers whence and whither thou art leading them. Fail at this, and thy organization will wander into the wilderness.

III. Thou shalt create a workable plan.

While no plan should be engraved in stone and plans should be amended when conditions change, if thou hast failed to plan, then verily thou hast also planned to fail.

IV. Thou shalt secure sufficient resources.

While it is written truly that faith can move mountains, that faith must be accompanied by bulldozers, dump trucks, and paid employees who know how to use them.

V. Thou shalt listen more than talk.

Leadership doth not consist of giving lectures and then issuing orders. Leadership consists of understand what others desire and harnessing that desire to serve the common good.

VI. Thou shalt not hold meetings without agendas.

Before each meeting send out a decree defining what will be discussed and for how long. Then adhere to thy own decree as if the productivity of the entire team depended on it. For verily it doth.

VII. Thou shalt not criticize in public.

Though thy staff and colleagues consist of fools and rogues, public shaming creates resentment. Should a follower deserve a reprimand, provide it in the privacy of thy office.

VIII. Thou shalt not ask an employee to do something that thou wouldst not do thyself.

Truly great leaders, should they perceive a scrap of litter on the floor of a hallway, will bend down, pick it up and throw it into the trash.

IX. Thou shalt not make of thyself a bottleneck.

If thou insist upon making every final decision, the progress of thy organization will grind to a halt. If thou canst not delegate, thou hast no business pretending to be a leader.

X. Thou shalt give thy team the credit.

True leaders accept the blame when things go awry and take no credit when things go right. Thy rightful reward will the love and commitment of those who continue to work for thee.

TIME Careers & Workplace

11 Ways to Generate Valuable Ideas for Your Blog

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Look at the questions your audience is asking

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Question: What’s one way I can generate valuable ideas for my company blog or social media?

Follow the Energy

“We do not assign content creation, and yet, we create pages every day. It all begins with where the energy flows. We send out a daily email to our staff with inspiring quotes our clients have shared that day. If one resonates with a staff member, they get to claim it and create something around it. I won’t let them write until the fire in the belly is there, so I inspire them.” — Corey Blake, Round Table Companies

Look at the Questions Your Audience Is Asking

“Look at the questions your audience is asking. There are a number of resources that your audience is already using to find out more about services like yours (e.g., Q&A sites, your social media pages, industry-related FAQ pages, etc.). Scanning through these will give you a wealth of information about what topics your potential customers want to know more about.” — Phil Laboon, Eyeflow Internet Marketing

Listen to Your Clients

“Client feedback is a great tool for improving your business. It’s also a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of what matters to your clients, what they are interested in and what they want to know more about. By listening to your clients’ concerns and responding, you can generate a whole host of valuable topics to explore via your company blog or social media.” — David Ehrenberg, Early Growth Financial Services

Survey Your Email List

“If you want to produce valuable content for your audience, surveys can help you discover what information would be valuable to them. For example, we host webinars every month. A couple weeks before the webinar, we survey our email database asking what specific topics people would like us to cover and what questions they have. This helps us provide content that our audience will value.” — Pete Kennedy, Main Street ROI

Find the Best Sources and Disconnect

“Ironically, blogging and social media inspiration doesn’t happen behind a computer, phone, tablet or any other device. Get out there, talk to the smartest people you know in your industry, have face-to-face conversations, create space to think critically (away from your daily routine) and find time to disconnect. Reading is also invaluable — but pick only the best 10 sources.” — Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer, AirPR

Don’t Just Write About Yourself

“All too often, a company’s blog and its social media accounts are devoted to pushing products and services. It’s fine to share successes, but nobody is going to become a regular reader if that’s all you do. It’s good to read widely about the topics you’re interested in, and then re-pot and riff off of these. This approach provides value rather than making readers feel like they’re reading ads.” — Grant Gordon, Solomon Consulting Group

Visit Google Trends

Google Trends is an amazing tool that allows you to create relevant content. Simply go to Google Trends, look at what the world is talking about and see how your company could potentially contribute to the conversation. Not only will your content be relevant on social media channels, but you may be able to capture search traffic to your site as well.” — Brett Farmiloe, Markitors

Read Trade Publications

“A simple way to stay on top of your industry is to read as many relevant trade publications as possible. Identify industry trends, and relate them to your business and your products. Educate yourself first, then educate and engage your readers.” — Elliot Fabri, EcoCraft Homes

Borrow Ideas From Other Sites

“The great thing about being a small business is that there are a lot of bigger businesses in the world that you can emulate. Look for companies that are doing a great job with their company blogs or social media, and figure out how to replicate those ideas on your own properties. Make sure your search is broad enough to include industries other than your own.” — Brittany Hodak, ZinePak

Use Google

“One of the easiest ways to find new content is to Google around and see what your competitors are writing about. I’m not suggesting you copy their content, but usually what’s relevant to them is relevant to you too — just put your own unique spin on it.” — Emerson Spartz, Spartz

Ask the People Around You

“Look to your friends, mentors and people in your industry, and ask what content they are looking for. Take those ideas to help create great content that people can read and share.” — Amanda L., shatterbox

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

TIME Careers & Workplace

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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