TIME Careers & Workplace

3 Ways to Completely Destroy Your Reputation at Work

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Here are three sure-fire methods to get a bad reputation at work


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.

In business, it’s easy to forgive an oversight. We all make mistakes, and few of us possess a perfect ability to complete every project on time and on budget.

You might hear some grumbling around the office about that presentation you made last month, the one where you had the sales forecast numbers mixed up with the expenditures, but most of your co-workers will forget all about it.

But what if you really screw up? In a few cases, you can create a reputation for yourself that fosters a negative vibe in the office–or even earns you a pink slip. It can be hard to recover from that. Here are the recipes for total disaster–a way to create a lasting reputation. Avoid them if you can.

1. Take credit for someone else’s work

Nothing gives you the mark of a scoundrel like taking credit for something you don’t deserve. People get fired over lesser evils. The best way to avoid earning a reputation as a credit-stealer is to carefully analyze the success. What role did you really play? Should you take credit for the pre-sales work only? Is it enough to let everyone in the office know you are happy with the overall outcome? Here’s the secret: Don’t even bother taking the credit in the first place. When you make a big sales win for the company or score that investment from a big shot across town, let the work speak for itself.

2. Cover up an error

I know someone who was fired for one infraction related to a cover-up. Call it the Lance Armstrong mistake. It was in a small business and the person made a pretty big mistake on a customer order, then tried to hide it by deleting some e-mails, lying to everyone in the office, and stuffing some paperwork in a drawer. What that person didn’t realize is that the truth always finds you. The more you’ve done to hide a mistake, the more you will be despised. The alternative? Fess up right away. The sooner you come clean about losing a signed contract or getting into a fight with a competitor, the more time everyone has to deal with the problem and take corrective action. Let the mistake stay hidden and you are setting off a time bomb. When people find out, your reputation will suffer.

3. Let your tasks slide routinely

Having a bad day is one thing. Maybe it’s an expense report you need to fill out or a summary of that last sales demo you were supposed to send in to the team. Fine. In a work setting, no one is really expecting you to be perfect and complete every task on time. The problem starts when you earn a reputation for not completing tasks because then you are making everyone in the office look bad. Slowing down one project is a problem for that specific project and your reputation will likely recover; not completing tasks on any project is going to make it seem like you can’t get anything done. The ultimate solution? If you screw up on a few tasks, work extra hard to compensate on the next project. You’ll be surprised how forgiving people can be if you start finishing up your work early.

More from Inc:

The 8 Best Industries for Starting a Business

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The Top 5 Reasons Small Businesses Fail

5 Often Quoted Tips for Powerful Presentations

7 Things Well-Liked People Always Do

TIME Careers & Workplace

Here’s What Even the Most Absolutely Evil Boss Can Teach You

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Meriel Jane Waissman—Getty Images

You can learn quite a bit from misguided, wrongheaded, or simply hellish bosses

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

Many of us can point to former bosses and corporate heads who inspired us to become more well-read, better at communication, or more engaged because of their shining examples. But what about those leaders who shaped our behavior and management style because of the negative example they have set?

“We learn from everyone we work with, whether they’re good or bad experiences. They can be examples of things not to do,” says Gay Gaddis, chief executive and founder of T3, an Austin-based digital agency. “All of us have had people who were obstacles, who were bad examples. Sharing that is just as important as going, ‘Rah, rah!’ “

So, what have Gaddis and other executives learned from misguided, wrongheaded, or simply evil bosses?

The cost of a closed mind

When Gaddis was a marketing executive, her chief executive was overbearing, assumed he was always right, and failed to listen to others. During an economic downturn, Gaddis developed an idea on how to change the company’s direction to recover from the slump. She wrote a business plan and, full of excitement, presented it to her boss and mentor.

“He said, ‘I don’t support your plan and I’m not going to be a part of it.’ I was so shot down by that,” she recalls, that she quit to pursue her idea. “I learned that is a very important quality: you’ve got to listen to the people around you.”

Gaddis never would’ve thought to go out on her own if the door hadn’t been slammed so firmly in her face by the CEO. Indeed, his refusal to listen was part of her motivation to hit the ground running.

For the rest of the story, please visit Fortune.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

How Apple, Google and the White House Hold More Productive Meetings (And You Can, Too)

Science-backed methods you can use

If you have ever wanted to pop an escape hatch or teleport to distant worlds just to get out of a meeting, take heart.

There are ways to hold a better meeting.

Forward-thinking companies have found creative ways to get their teams together, and their lessons and structure can be easily duplicated in meetings anywhere. These creative methods aren’t just clever for cleverness’s sake: Most of them are science-backed and all of them are grounded in successful experience.

With just a handful of hacks, meetings can be speedier, more productive, and more enjoyable for everyone involved. Here are 9 outside-the-box ideas—and the science and success behind them—that you can discuss … at your next meeting, I guess.

5 research-backed ways to hold a more productive meeting

1. Keep meetings to 15 minutes

What’s your record for longest meeting?

Can anyone beat my four-hour marathon? (I bet many of you can!)

When it comes to meeting pain points, length often tops the list. How is it that meetings tend to go on so long, sometimes (OK, many times) unnecessarily? Here’s an old project management adage that might explain it:

Work expands to the time you schedule for it.

For this reason, you may want to keep meetings to 15 minutes or shorter, whenever possible. Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer will schedule 10-minute meetings, out of necessity for her busy schedule. The team at Percolate sets 15 minutes as the default length for all meetings, adjusting up or down as needed. Percolate values the 15-minute default so highly, they framed it in their set of six meeting rules.

Why might it seem like 15 minutes is an ideal starting point for meeting length? For one, it’s easy to schedule in an Outlook calendar or Google calendar. Though the default in most calendar apps is 30 minutes, you can quite easily adjust down to 15-minute increments as that’s how most schedule grids are created.

For the science behind the 15-minute rule, you need look no further than a TED talk. Each TED talk is kept to 18 minutes or shorter, the same time as a coffee break and a helpful constraint for presenters to organize their thoughts. Scientifically, 18 minutes fits right in with the research on attention spans: 10 to 18 minutes is how long most people can pay attention before checking out.

The 18-minute max has physiological roots. Our bodies require a large amount of glucose, oxygen, and blood flow when the brain processes new information. Sooner or later, we feel physically fatigued.

 

2. Set a timer—yep, a real timer

Here’s a helpful follow-up to the 15-minute rule. How keep yourself accountable to a set meeting length? Why not set a timer.

That’s the way that 37 Signals recommends. The company that built Basecamp is quite rigid about meetings. Their first instinct is to avoid meetings altogether. When they’re unavoidable, though, 37 Signals defaults to a set of meeting rules;turning on a timer is Rule No. 1.

Set a 30 minute timer. When it rings, meeting’s over. Period.

The psychological effect of the timer can be traced to the creative burst brought forth by limitations and constraints and deadlines. Many amazing artists—like Austin Kleon and Damien Correll—use constraints to fuel their ideas and creations. The countdown of a timer might do the same for your meeting (and it will at least get you out of there in time for lunch).

3. Take the chairs away

The “stand-up meeting” has come to mean more than just a meeting where everyone stands up. It refers to a daily team meeting where team members receive status updates on the latest happenings. We have stand-up meetings at Buffer, and since we’re a distributed a team that connects online, our stand-ups don’t necessarily mean we all stand up (although some of us could be standing, I guess!).

Still, the name for the stand-up meeting did originate from standing. The thinking goes: The longer you stand, the more uncomfortable you’ll get. The more uncomfortable everyone gets, the quicker the meeting will go.

Benefits of standing up extend beyond expediency, too. Andrew Knight and Markus Baer of Washington University conducted a study on stand-up meetings versus sit-down meetings, rating the ability of participants to work together, share ideas, and produce quality work. They measured these different elements using surveys, observation, and physiological sensors.

The results: Standing up leads to greater excitement about the creative process and it allows for greater collaboration on ideas.

4. No laptops for note taking

Do you take notes during meetings? If so, hand-written notes are the way to go.

A study by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer looked at the note-taking habits of college students from Princeton and UCLA. Students watched a 15-minuted TED talk video, taking notes along the way. Researchers compared those who took notes by hand and those who took notes on a laptop and found that while the factual recall of knowledge was similar, the conceptual recall had a clear winner. Those who took notes by hand did significantly better on understanding concepts.

Beyond a better understanding of concepts, a no-laptop rule should help with focus and attention, which is why many companies have taken that route. Speaking of banned electronics …

5. Create a coat check for cell phones

In a fast, efficient meeting, there should be no time to check cell phones, and just in case, many companies take the added step of asking employees to leave their phones at the door. Even the White House is in on the act. In Cabinet meetings, attendees are asked to write their name on sticky notes, place them on their phones, and deposit their phones in a basket.

The reasons for creating a no-cell-phone zone might seem obvious (games and texts would figure to detract from focus), and there has been research, too, into the detriment of cell phones in meetings. The Marshall School of Business conducted a survey of over 500 professionals and found that cell phone use is almost always frowned upon by your coworkers:

  • 86% think it’s inappropriate to answer phone calls during meetings
  • 84% think it’s inappropriate to write texts or emails during meetings
  • 75% think it’s inappropriate to read texts or emails during meetings

4 meeting tips from Google, Apple, and others

1. Keep your meetings to 10 attendees or fewer

The 10-person rule at Google, as mentioned in Kristin Gill’s book Think Like Google, is based on a fast-moving, startup culture where work time is precious for each employee. The leaner the invite list, the more time it leaves for the uninvited to forge ahead with other work.

As Gill writes: “Attending meetings is not a badge of honor.”

2. Establish a D.R.I.

Steve Jobs and Apple found their most effective way to end a meeting was to assign responsibility for tasks and decisions. Every task is assigned a D.R.I.—Directly Responsible Individual. Doing so provides public accountability for an individual to ensure that the project or task got done, and it sends clear, organized instructions for the team to follow.

3. Pause for a two-minute silence break

Seems counterintuitive to plan silence into a meeting, doesn’t it? Alexander Kjerulf, author of Happy Hour Is 9 to 5, has found silence to be an ideal way to encourage deep thinking and ideas, right in the midst of a meeting.

The purpose of meetings is not to talk – the purpose of meetings is to arrive at ideas, solutions, plans and decisions.

Since few of us can think deeply while we’re talking, the two-minute silence break gives a chance to mull over a decision, issue, or stalemate.

4. In 5 words or fewer, what’s this meeting about?

American Express vice president Christopher Frank recommends a constraint on the way you think about meetings. At the start of every meeting, ask yourself:

“What exactly are we meeting about?”

Everyone at the meeting gets to answer the question. They can only use five words or fewer in their answer.

This will show you if everyone is on the same page or not and if your meeting topic is focused enough. Are the answers inconsistent or too long? Refocus the meeting and try again.

Over to you: What has been your most enjoyable meeting hack?

It’s clear that meetings can be productive, successful, painless ventures. Including one or two of these hacks in your next meeting might be exactly what’s needed to get more done or boost meeting morale.

Kevan is a content crafter at Buffer, the super simple social media management tool. His social media and productivity tips have appeared in Fast Company and Lifehacker, and he’s always on the lookout for a good headline pun. Connect with him on Twitter .

TIME Careers & Workplace

7 Cover Letter Mistakes That Will Sink You

Resume
Image Source—Getty Images/Image Source

Makes these and hiring managers will cringe

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

By Lily Zhang

Cover letters don’t get a lot of love. And considering how tough it is to write a good one, it’s kind of understandable that people tend to throw them together at the last minute (or update one they wrote last month), attach it to their resume, and call it good.

But this, my friends, is the biggest cover letter mistake you could make. In fact, this document is the best chance you have to give the hiring manager a glimpse of who you are, what you bring to the table, and why you—above all those other candidates—are the one for the job.

Don’t give up your chance to share your best qualifications in a fresh, unique way. And while you’re at it, don’t make these seven other common cover letter mistakes I see all the time.

1. Starting With Your Name

How do you start a cover letter? Let me set the record straight now and say it’s not with, “My name is John Smith.” Unless you’re already famous, your name just isn’t the most relevant piece of information to start with. Not to mention that your name should be listed on your resume, the sign-off in your cover letter, and in other parts of your application.

Instead

Start with a relevant qualification as a way to introduce yourself. If you’re a recent grad with a passion for environmental activism, go with that. Or, maybe you’re a marketing professional with 10+ years of healthcare industry experience—introduce yourself as such, and connect it to the position you are applying to. (Here’s a bit more about kicking off your cover letter with an awesome opener.)

2. Rehashing Your Resume

If your cover letter is basically your resume in paragraph form, you’re probably going to need to start over. Your resume likely the first thing a recruiter looks at, so you’re wasting your time (and the recruiter’s) if your cover letter is a harder-to-read version of something he or she has already seen.

Instead

Focus on one or two (OK three, max) examples of your work that highlight what you can bring to the position, and try to help your reader picture you doing the work by really diving deep and detailing your impact. You want the hiring manger to be able to imagine plucking you out of the work you’re describing on the page and placing you into his or her team seamlessly.

3. Not Being Flexible With the Format

Remember those three paragraph essays you wrote in middle school? Your cover letter is not the place for you to be recalling those skills. Rather than fitting your message into a particular format, your format should be molded to your message.

Instead

Consider what message you’re trying to get across. If you’re going to be spending the majority of the letter describing one particular relevant experience—maybe that three-paragraph format makes sense. However, if you’re thinking about transferable skills or want to explain how your career has taken you from teaching to business development, a more creative approach could be appropriate. I’ve seen cover letters use bullet points, tell stories, or showcase videos to (successfully) get their point across.

4. Going Over a Page

There are always exceptions to the rule, but in general, for resumes and cover letters alike, don’t go over a page. Unless you’re applying for a managerial or executive position, it’s unlikely a recruiter would look beyond your first page of materials anyway.

Instead

Keep it concise and, ideally, wrap up around three quarters of the way down the page. Remember that you’re not trying to get everything on one page—you’re trying to entice the hiring manager enough to bring you in for an interview. Think of your cover letter as the highlights reel of your career.

5. Over Explaining

Are you a career changer or doing a long distance job search? No matter how complicated your reasons for applying to a job are, it would be a mistake to spend an entire paragraph explaining why you’re moving to San Francisco from New York.

Instead

If your reasons for applying to a position would be made clearer with some added explanation, add them in, but keep them short. Limit yourself to a sentence either in the first paragraph or the last paragraph for a location change, and no more than a paragraph to describe a career change.

6. Focusing Too Much on Training

Maybe you just finished your master’s degree or finally got the hang of coding. Great! But even if your most relevant qualification is related to your education or training, you don’t want to spend the majority of your time on coursework. At the end of the day, what hiring managers care about most is your work experience—what you can walk through the door and deliver on Day 1.

Instead

Certainly mention your educational qualifications if they are relevant, but focus the bulk of your cover letter on experiences. Even if your most relevant experience is education, present it more in the form of projects you worked on and job-related skills you gained, rather than actually explaining course content.

7. Sharing Irrelevant Information

Cultural fit is one of those big buzzwords in the recruiting world now, and there’s no question that it’s important to tailor your cover letter to each company to show your compatibility. But it starts getting a little weird when you start writing about your bowling league or active social life. (And don’t try to tell me this doesn’t happen—I’ve seen it.)

Instead

A better way to show that you’re a good cultural fit for the job is to focus on values—not activities. Mine company websites for the way they describe their company culture, then use that intel to show how your own values align. (Here’s some moreon how to show you get the company culture in a cover letter.)

For the companies that have moved away from a cover letter requirement, an additional opportunity to show off what you have to offer is lost. But, for those that require cover letters or at least make them optional, you should absolutely make the most of them—and, of course, avoid these all-too-common mistakes.

Read more from The Muse:

What to Do When You’re Just Not That Into an Idea Anymore

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TIME Careers & Workplace

3 Simple Steps to Loving Your Job—Any Job

Guy in an office
ONOKY - Eric Audras—Getty Images/Brand X

Loving work is not a pipe dream. It's actually pretty easy to achieve


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.

By Laura Garnett

The reality is clear–people aren’t maximizing their true potential at work. In the New York Times article “Why You Hate Your Job,” Tony Schwartz, CEO of the Energy Project, and Christine Porath, associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and a consultant to the Energy Project, lay out the case for why so many people struggle to find joy in their jobs.

I contend that people feel caught between the struggle of being “successful” and loving work, not believing that the two can be one. As I’ve seen in my work with executives across the country, they can.

All too often, people feel as though their emotional sacrifice of joy is rationalized by the fact that they are able to support a family or a lifestyle that is viewed as “successful.” Being viewed as a success, regardless of how you feel, ends up being another, more-often used metric for fulfillment. When your neighbors and family see you as successful despite your empty feeling, it makes it easier to endure.

Loving work is seen as an ideal that few can achieve, but those who do are the ones who have truly won the lottery of life. You experience something that goes beyond anything material that you can acquire; you feel fulfilled, challenged and engaged. The problem is that loving work has been treated as something that is a byproduct of being successful, not a necessary steppingstone. Too often, people forge the path for financial success thinking that the result will provide fulfillment. Loving work has not been viewed as a critical component of success; it’s just a “nice to have.” The reality is that loving work is not something that you can wish for or dream up. It requires hard work, commitment, and strategy.

Notwithstanding, loving work is not as much a pipe dream as winning the lottery–it’s something far easier to achieve. Here are three specific ways to get there:

1. Decide that you will make loving what you do and being engaged a focus–and be willing to make changes accordingly.

We all naturally want to love our work. In fact, according to the world-renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times. … The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” Which is why, as humans, we are most engaged when we have found a sweet spot of challenge.

However, we are the ones who need to take responsibility for creating the conditions for this to occur, not wait for it to happen. This switch from thinking about work from a reactive perspective to a proactive one is one of the key components to creating fulfilling jobs. Generally the proactivity occurs while job hunting or pitching for a project, but once the work begins, you go into reactive mode. Which explains the dip in engagement from job acquisition to day-to-day operating. Loving work is a commitment that requires active day-to-day prioritization. It has to move from a wish-list item to a priority.

2. Know your talent and purpose, and make them key components of your job.

Loving your job requires that you utilize what you’re best at (your talent), and the result of your work gives you fulfillment (purpose). You need to first know this about yourself, then value these things and know how to use them day to day in your working life. How do you do this? Pay attention to when you are excited and when you feel fulfilled or get support if you can’t figure it out on your own. Your talent is not what you do. It’s how you do what you do: How you think, how you most often problem solve, your go-to way of processing information. And your purpose is not as lofty as it sounds. It’s the type of impact that gives you fulfillment. I have found that if you are able to identify a core challenge you have had in your life and then help others with this challenge, you can introduce fulfillment into your job in an instant.

Howard Schultz of Starbucks is a great example of this. His desire to help individuals have health insurance at work as a result of his parents’ working blue-collar jobs without health benefits is the backbone of the company’s mission: “Our mission: To inspire and nurture the human spirit–one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.” The key is taking these two aspects of yourself and being strategic with how you use them as cornerstones of your job.

3. Be willing to innovate your habits and your lifestyle to accommodate your well-being.

Not being engaged at work is a hard habit to break. According to Gallup’s engagement survey, 71 percent of Americans aren’t engaged at work. Lack of engagement speaks to lack of challenge. Once you commit to loving work and using your talent and purpose as guiding principles, then changing your habits is the next step. Take, for example, continuing to accept and do projects that don’t challenge you. In the extreme example, it may mean getting a new job. But before you do that, communicate to your organization why this project is not right for you. Build a case for the work that would keep you highly motivated and challenged. Find someone else who would benefit from doing the work that is not a good fit for you. Make an effort to create the opportunity you are seeking to be engaged in. Being engaged and challenged should be added as a key business objective that has action items and goals.

If you don’t have the autonomy to do this, then it may be that you are in the wrong job. If you are not challenged and feeling engaged, start a job search and figure out what will change this experience for you. Job hunting when you are clear on your desire for loving work along with your talent and purpose is a game changer. It fine-tunes your focus so that finding that perfect opportunity is easier.

The bottom line? Loving your job is a skill and a practice. As with all practices, it can seem daunting at first. However, once you get a taste of work that fills you up rather than breaks you down, you will never want to go back to your old ways.

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The Top 5 Reasons Small Businesses Fail

5 Often Quoted Tips for Powerful Presentations

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TIME Careers & Workplace

113 Best Pieces of Career Advice You’ve Never Heard Before

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Klaus Vedfelt—Getty Images

Everything you need to know, nothing you don't

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

By Scott Dockweiler

Thankfully for your careers (and our jobs), there’s always new advice out there, and this week we went in search of just that. Check out the articles below for a collection of the most unique (but seriously helpful!) advice we’ve ever seen—but never heard before—along with our favorite tip from each article.

Read on to get inspired—and get the know-how you need to get ahead.

You don’t become a star doing your job. You become a star making things happen.

  • These 23 nuggets of wisdom will help you out no matter what level you’re at or industry you’re in. (Mashable)

Just when you think you’ve got it 100% right, you can be taken down.

It’s not what you know—or who—it’s who knows what you know.

Do the jobs no one else wants to do.

Take pride in who you are, but leave room for the pride of others…

Whether you realize it or not, you’re self-employed.

Never, ever cook fish in the office microwave.

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TIME Careers & Workplace

10 Small Things You Can Do Every Day to Get Smarter

Brain
Science Photo Library/Corbis

Intelligence is a work in progress. Maximize yours with these simple habits


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.

By Jessica Stillman

You might be under the impression that intelligence is a fixed quantity set when you are young and unchanging thereafter. But research shows that you’re wrong. How we approach situations and the things we do to feed our brains can significantly improve our mental horsepower.

That could mean going back to school or fillingng your bookshelves (or e-reader) with thick tomes on deep subjects, but getting smarter doesn’t necessarily mean a huge commitment of time and energy, according to a recent thread on question-and-answer site Quora.

When a questioner keen on self-improvement asked the community, “What would you do to be a little smarter every single day?” lots of readers–including dedicated meditators, techies, and entrepreneurs–weighed in with useful suggestions. Which of these 10 ideas can you fit into your daily routine?

1. Be smarter about your online time.

Every online break doesn’t have to be about checking social networks and fulfilling your daily ration of cute animal pics. The Web is also full of great learning resources, such as online courses, intriguing TED talks, and vocabulary-building tools. Replace a few minutes of skateboarding dogs with something more mentally nourishing, suggest several responders.

2. Write down what you learn.

It doesn’t have to be pretty or long, but taking a few minutes each day to reflect in writingabout what you learned is sure to boost your brainpower. “Write 400 words a day on things that you learned,” suggests yoga teacher Claudia Azula Altucher. Mike Xie, a research associate at Bayside Biosciences, agrees: “Write about what you’ve learned.”

3. Make a ‘did’ list.

A big part of intelligence is confidence and happiness, so boost both by pausing to list not the things you have yet to do, but rather all the things you’ve already accomplished. The idea of a “done list” is recommended by famed VC Marc Andreessen as well as Azula Altucher. “Make an I DID list to show all the things you, in fact, accomplished,” she suggests.

4. Get out the Scrabble board.

Board games and puzzles aren’t just fun but also a great way to work out your brain. “Play games (Scrabble, bridge, chess, Go, Battleship, Connect 4, doesn’t matter),” suggests Xie (for a ninja-level brain boost, exercise your working memory by trying to play without looking at the board). “Play Scrabble with no help from hints or books,” concurs Azula Altucher.

5. Have smart friends.

It can be rough on your self-esteem, but hanging out with folks who are more clever than you is one of the fastest ways to learn. “Keep a smart company. Remember your IQ is the average of five closest people you hang out with,” Saurabh Shah, an account manager at Symphony Teleca, writes.

“Surround yourself with smarter people,” agrees developer Manas J. Saloi. “I try to spend as much time as I can with my tech leads. I have never had a problem accepting that I am an average coder at best and there are many things I am yet to learn…Always be humble and be willing to learn.”

6. Read a lot.

OK, this is not a shocker, but it was the most common response: Reading definitely seems essential. Opinions vary on what’s the best brain-boosting reading material, with suggestions ranging from developing a daily newspaper habit to picking up a variety offiction and nonfiction, but everyone seems to agree that quantity is important. Read a lot.

7. Explain it to others.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough,” Albert Einstein said. The Quora posters agree. Make sure you’ve really learned what you think you have learned and that the information is truly stuck in your memory by trying to teach it to others. “Make sure you can explain it to someone else,” Xie says simply.

Student Jon Packles elaborates on this idea: “For everything you learn–big or small–stick with it for at least as long as it takes you to be able to explain it to a friend. It’s fairly easy to learn new information. Being able to retain that information and teach others is far more valuable.”

8. Do random new things.

Shane Parrish, keeper of the consistently fascinating Farnam Street blog, tells the story of Steve Jobs’ youthful calligraphy class in his response on Quora. After dropping out of school, the future Apple founder had a lot of time on his hands and wandered into a calligraphy course. It seemed irrelevant at the time, but the design skills he learned were later baked into the first Macs. The takeaway: You never know what will be useful ahead of time. You just need to try new things and wait to see how they connect with the rest of your experiences later on.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future,” Parrish quotes Jobs as saying. In order to have dots to connect, you need to be willing to try new things–even if they don’t seem immediately useful or productive.

9. Learn a new language.

No, you don’t need to become quickly fluent or trot off to a foreign country to master the language of your choosing. You can work away steadily from the comfort of your desk and still reap the mental rewards. “Learn a new language. There are a lot of free sites for that. UseLivemocha or Busuu,” says Saloi (personally, I’m a big fan of Memrise once you have the basic mechanics of a new language down).

10. Take some downtime.

It’s no surprise that dedicated meditator Azula Altucher recommends giving yourself space for your brain to process what it’s learned–“sit in silence daily,” she writes–but she’s not the only responder who stresses the need to take some downtime from mental stimulation. Spend some time just thinking, suggests retired cop Rick Bruno. He pauses the interior chatter while exercising. “I think about things while I run (almost every day),” he reports.

Do you have any suggestions to add to the list?

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TIME Careers & Workplace

Doing This on Social Networks Could Cost You a Job

A portrait of the Facebook logo in Ventura
A portrait of the Facebook logo in Ventura, Calif., on Dec. 21, 2013 Eric Thayer—Reuters

With his Blurred Lines parody, Weird Al is onto something: America’s grammar stinks. And there’s strong evidence that it’s so bad, it’s costing us jobs. A new survey from CareerBuilder finds that about a third of HR managers say they’ve taken an applicant out of consideration because of “poor communication skills” on social media.

Yes, people know by now that posting pictures of them funneling beer or making racist jokes on Facebook will probably take them out of the running, but even the types of grammar errors Weird Al is skewering can be enough to cost somebody a job.

CareerBuilder says a third of the roughly 70% of HR managers who use social media to check out candidates have dropped them from consideration because of “poor communication skills.”

More than nine out of 10 HR professionals say they see poor communication displayed on candidates’ pages, says Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer at iCIMS, a talent acquisition company. “Job seekers should pay special attention to their social media profiles, ensuring all publicly accessible information is professional,” she says. “It’s difficult for a recruiter to ‘unsee’ these references.”

In other words, sometimes it’s not what you say online: It’s how you say it that can be a dealbreaker. We asked HR pros what would give them pause if they ran across it on an applicant’s social media page.

Bad or nonexistent punctuation: “If they can’t punctuate, if they can’t make a coherent sentence, then they are not, in my opinion, what we’re looking for,” says Thomas Anderson, a panelist with the Society for Human Resource Management and director of HR at the Houston Community College System. “If they don’t punctuate properly, you get a sense that the way they probably write all the time.”

Misspelled words: According to Vitale, 47% percent of recruiters say spelling errors are their biggest turn-off when reviewing a social media profile. Spell-check is there for a reason, people.

Incoherent rambling: “The employer is more apt to question your professionalism if you show a pattern of misspelled words… or your commentary seems rash, uninformed or non-cohesive,” says Jennifer Grasz, spokeswoman at CareerBuilder.

A stuck caps-lock key: “If they’ve got it all in capitals, that’s a big red flag… that indicates in social media or email that you’re shouting,” Anderson says. This is a widely known bit of online etiquette, so an applicant that isn’t savvy enough to pick up on this might have serious knowledge or social skills gaps elsewhere.

Using words the wrong way: Using words incorrectly can also trip you up in an employer’s eyes, Grasz says. If you’re not sure what a word means, look it up.

Texting shortcuts: It might be natural for people — especially young adults — to abbreviate words with letters or numbers when texting, but Grasz says it can be a turn-off for hiring managers if your conversations on social networks are riddled with this kind of shorthand.

 

TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Scientifically Backed Ways to Seem More Powerful

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Compassionate Eye Foundation/Jamie Grill—Getty Images

Mail clerk? Administrative assistant? Make the honchos look at you in a whole new light. Here’s how social scientists say you can make people think you’re more powerful.

Take up lots of space. MIT researcher Andy Yap says the way we stand and sit can give both those around us as well as ourselves the sense that we’re powerful. Specifically, what Yap calls “expansive poses,” where people adopt a wide stance when standing, put their hands on their hips instead of at their sides and stretch out their arms and legs when seated. “High-power posers experienced elevations in testosterone, decreases in cortisol, and increased feelings of power,” Yap writes. “That a person can, by assuming two simple 1-min poses, embody power and instantly become more powerful has real-world, actionable implications.”

Scientists who study the effects of these hormonal changes say they’re associated with status, leadership and dominance — and all you have to do is take up more space.

Tap into the “red sneaker effect.” This is why Mark Zuckerberg can get away with wearing a hoodie. Researchers from Harvard Business School studied how sometimes looking out of place can have a positive effect. “Under certain conditions, nonconforming behaviors can be more beneficial than efforts to conform and can signal higher status and competence to others,” they write. (They give the example of someone wearing a pair of red sneakers in a professional setting as an example.) Since most of us try to conform to social norms, we tend to think that people who deliberately don’t do so because they have enough social status that they don’t have to care what the rest of us think.

Use big-picture language. Yes, it pays to be detail-oriented, but when you communicate, think in terms of broader ideas, because it makes people think you’re more powerful. Researchers discovered that when people use abstract languages in phrases, sentences and short paragraphs, experiment subjects were more likely to perceive of them as powerful than when they used more concrete verbiage.

Call the shots on eye contact. Social scientists observe that people with lower status tend to make eye contact more than those with higher status — probably because the higher-status person doesn’t need to seek approval or isn’t as concerned with the other person’s response. More powerful people also aren’t afraid to break eye contact, according to Audrey Nelson, writing in Psychology Today.

“Investigators found that people who are more dominant break a greater number of mutual gazes than those who are more submissive or in the power-down position,” she says. Just as Andy Yap finds with our bodies, the amount of space a person’s gaze takes up also telegraphs how high they are on the social or corporate food chain.

Stand at the back of the elevator. In an Australian study, researcher Rebekah Rousi, a PhD candidate at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, observed people’s interactions in an office complex elevator. “As a result of 30 elevator journeys (15 in each building) a clear social order could be seen regarding where people positioned themselves inside the elevators.” She found that senior male staffers, who she suggests have a greater relative amount of power, tended to cluster along the back wall of the elevator.

TIME Careers & Workplace

The 3 Most Important Words You Should Learn Right Now

How To Ace A Job Interview: 7 Research-Backed Tips
Chris Ryan—Getty Images/Caiaimage

Hard to say—but very important

One thing I’ve learned at Buffer is that being open to not knowing things seems to be the best way to learn quickly and teach others at the same time. So many of our biggest hits on the blog have come from saying, “We don’t know the answer. Let’s find out!”

On many matters, we haven’t any authority.

Is this an OK way to get by?

We’ve found great success in not knowing, and there’s no reason why you can’t, too. While we can certainly see the value in establishing yourself as an authority in your industry, being the answer-man or answer-woman isn’t the be-all, end-all of your options.

You can survive and thrive by embracing “I don’t know.”

Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

The leading authorities on not knowing

An interesting phenomenon occurs when you’ve been not knowing things for as long as we have. You become an authority on not knowing.

That seems to be the case here at the Buffer blog. We’d like nothing more than to be known as a go-to source for social media content. When you think about social media, we’d love for you to think of us!

At the same time, we understand that we may not be authorities on everything social media—we may not have all the answers right away, near at hand.

And that seems to be alright.

Instead of being authorities on social media, we can be authorities on thorough research, fascinating statistics, and personal experience. In other words, there is more than one way to cement yourself in the minds of your followers beyond traditional authority. If we can earn a reputation as a go-to source for social media content by embracing what we don’t know, then the opportunity’s there for you to do the same.

If you aren’t able to claim authority in your chosen field, you can still seek after a subset of authority. You can be an authority on:

Find whatever it is you’re good at, and become the best you can be. Soon enough, your Facebook and your Twitter and your blog will be known for the quality, exceptional work you do, regardless of what it is that you don’t know.

The authority pyramid

So maybe authority means more than expertise, influence, and confidence. If we expand our definition, we can each find our own path to authority, however it may look.

Impostor syndrome: We all feel like we don’t have all the answers

I’ve had moments where I wasn’t sure I was cut out for my job. Have you had these moments, too?

We’re not alone. Psychologists call this impostor syndrome, and it applies to those of us who are unable to internalize accomplishments. Despite outward evidence that we’re great at what we do, we’re convinced that we’re frauds and undeserving of our place.

This level of “I Don’t Know” is more common than you might think. The term has been around since the 1970s, and researchers believe that up to 70 percent of people have felt the effects of impostor syndrome at some point.

If you’re interested in finding out if you have any characteristics of impostor syndrome, you can take the Clance Impostor Scale survey and see where you land. For each statement in the survey, you mark how true it is of you. For example,

  1. I tend to remember the incidents in which I have not done my best more than those times I have done my best.
  2. I often compare my ability to those around me and think they may be more intelligent than I am.
  3. At times, I feel my success has been due to some kind of luck.

Part and parcel of impostor syndrome is the feeling of not knowing—the lack of expertise that we’ve been talking about so far. Via the Crew blog, here is a simple illustration that shows how impostor syndrome feels:

Impostor Syndrome chart

In the same Crew blog post, Andrea Ayres explains what the manifestations of impostor syndromemight look like, how people may compensate for feeling like a fraud. Do either of these sound familiar to you, whether you’ve done them yourself or witnessed them from colleagues?

Overdoing: When people prepare to an almost obsessive level, putting in much more effort than is realistically needed in order to ensure they don’t fail

Underdoing: People will under prepare or put off doing something until the last minute so they can blame any possible failures on a lack of readiness, as opposed to their actual ability. If you don’t really try you can’t really fail, right?

Of course, neither of these outcomes is preferable. Overdoing will lead to pressure and burnout; underdoing will lead to poor quality and performance.

With the prevalence of impostor syndrome being as great as it is, there must be a better way to survive and thrive while feeling like you don’t have all the answers. Here’s one way that we’ve found.

Giving yourself permission to not know it all

I believe part of the reason for the pressures of impostor syndrome is that there is a stigma around not knowing something. If you feel like an impostor because you don’t have all the answers, it’s because somewhere along the line you learned that it’s best to have all the answers all the time.

Not only is this impossible, it might not even be the best way to go about it.

I’m fortunate to work at a place that embraces the “I don’t know.” Buffer’s values highlight the fact that it’s okay to not have all the answers. We phrase this in terms of curiosity, improvement, listening, and humility.

Here are some choice phrases pulled from our Buffer culture slide deck:

You take the approach that everything is a hypothesis and you could be wrong

You approach new ideas thinking, “What can we do right now?”

You are suggestive rather than instructive, replacing phrases such as “certainly” and “undoubtedly” with “perhaps,” “I think,” and “my intuition right now”

You seek first to understand, then to be understood

Does your company share this belief? I’d be interested to hear which perspective your work takes on the matter of authority and knowledge.

It certainly helps to have an employer so openly embrace the idea of not knowing. And at the same time, there is power in the individual assertion that you don’t have to know it all. Even if your company isn’t outspoken on the matter, you can change your personal philosophy and give yourself a break from chasing authority. You may find this new mindset refreshing, among the many other benefits of embracing the power of “I don’t know.”

3 incredible effects of embracing what you don’t know

“I don’t know” and trust

Jason Freedman of 42 Floors shared a story about a competitive hiring process where one of the key deciding factors for the candidate was Freedman’s openness about not knowing an answer. When Freedman said, “I don’t know,” the candidate was sold. Here’s the reason why:

When people say I don’t know, it lends credibility to everything else that they’ve said.

Think about someone who always seems to have an answer for everything. You’ve maybe wondered along the way if he or she really could know all this stuff, right? But when you admit to not knowing, you give power to the things you do know. People learn to trust your responses to questions and to know they can get an honest answer from you at all times.

“I don’t know” and innovation

Stay hungry, stay foolish

This quote from entrepreneur Sahar Hashemi plays off the idea of embracing the power of “I don’t know” as it relates to curiosity—a key to innovation. Hashemi believes that being clueless and curious is essential to entrepreneurship. Without it, you no longer dream, tinker, and ask “why not.” In this way, knowing too much can actually be a detriment.

“I don’t know” and creativity

Would you hire someone with little experience in your industry? Common sense might say no; however, some would argue that inexperience might be just the thing a company needs.

Nils Sköld writes about this idea on Medium, telling how a lack of knowledge can actually be an ideal way to spur creativity and think outside the norms of an industry. Have you experienced anything similar to this?

My theory is this: when you know everything about an industry, you don’t know whats good for it. What an industry needs is people who have no idea on how it operates. People that don’t know that there are any rules. While it is good to break rules and to push boundaries, it’s much better to just never know that any rules exists.

Our key to not knowing: “We don’t know the answer. Let’s find out!”

In our experience, there’s a bit more to the matter of not knowing than simply embracing our lack of knowledge.

We’d be sunk if we stopped at “I don’t know.” That’s why we follow up by finding out.

Much of our blog content comes from experience. We hunt for answers to our questions (and your questions!) and we report back with what we find.

What we lack in authority on social media, we make up for by seeking input from our audience in chats and conversations and by approaching our social updates with a curious, open attitude.

Embracing “I don’t know” is an opportunity to discover. We’ve found that having an attitude of improvement, experimentation, and curiosity makes it such that there’s no need to worry about not knowing this or that.

If we don’t know, we’ll find out.

Over to you: In what ways has not knowing benefited you?

Having authority in your industry is great, but it isn’t the be-all, end-all for growth. You can enjoy authority in many number of different ways from being the expert of experts to being the expert of your unique perspective.

We’ve embraced the power of “I don’t know,” and we’ve seen the benefits for trust, innovation, creativity, discovery, and so much more.

If you liked this post, you might also like The Beginner’s Guide to Putting the Internet to Work for You: How to Easily Save 60 Minutes Every Day and The Big List of IFTTT Recipes: 34 Hacks for Hardcore Social Media Productivity.

Kevan is a content crafter at Buffer, the super simple social media management tool. His social media and productivity tips have appeared in Fast Company and Lifehacker, and he’s always on the lookout for a good headline pun. Connect with him on Twitter .

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