TIME psychology

Why Negativity Is the Key to Your Future Success

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Marty Nemko holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology from UC Berkeley and is a career and personal coach.

Our culture of praise and positivity encourages the status quo, but doesn't really do us much service

Worldwide and even in the U.S., most people live challenging lives. Many live and die poor and in pain. Perhaps that’s the reason to try to be upbeat. As singer Peggy Lee said, “If that’s all there is, let’s break out the booze.”

But a case can be made that we need more negativity.

In the workplace

Many bosses focus on the positive, both because that’s what they learned in psychology and management courses, and because when an employee gets a poor evaluation, the reaction is often not, “Thanks for the feedback. I’ll work to improve.” It’s defensiveness, and sometimes a legal grievance.

True, praise reinforces desired behaviors, but it can also encourage complacency and certainly doesn’t provide the feedback an employee needs to improve. And such criticism can be motivating: “Now it’s clear, if I don’t improve, I’ll lose my job. I better do something.” Here are some specific examples I’ve used before of criticism being motivating:

  • A 250 lb. woman, Cearra Swetman, wearing a Hooter’s tee shirt, was told, “You don’t look like any Hooter’s girl I’ve ever seen.” That criticism is what finally motivated her to lose weight—128 pounds to be precise, after which she got hired as a waitress at—you guessed it–Hooters.
  • A high school counselor told Phil Padrid, who had done poorly in school, that he “wasn’t college material” and should consider getting a job in the post office. He’s now a veterinarian.
  • A professor told me I couldn’t write. That made me want to prove him wrong. I’ve since had seven books and almost 3,000 articles published in major publications.

Beyond these anecdotes, a University of Exeter study found that taunts from opposing fans improved players’ performance.

Job seekers

Job seekers, too, suffer from the lack of criticism. They work hard to apply for a job and usually get no response or a form-letter rejection that provides no feedback, only the useless, “We had many qualified candidates. Sorry.”

Personal life

America’s bias toward excessive positivity, of course, also takes a toll on a person’s integrity. People feel they must hold their tongue and not criticize lest they be viewed as negative, naysayers, curmudgeons.

And in dating, how often do people go on first dates and the person never calls again without explaining why. A client of mine said it frustrates her so much. She wonders if she’s doing anything wrong but she can’t improve if she doesn’t get feedback.

Across the board

Praise encourages the status quo. A bias toward searching for what’s wrong is more likely to unearth what needs improvement.

The roots of our hyperpositivity

Our bias toward positivity has its roots in the schools and colleges. Grade inflation is rampant. In Academically Adrift, by sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roska, a survey of 1,600 undergraduates nationwide found that the average GPA of students who were studying less than five hours a week was 3.22.

Our hyperpositivity is driven also by our prioritizing self-esteem, sometimes even over performance. That’s ironic in that true self-esteem comes from accomplishment.

Our excessive positivity may also have roots in Christianity, in which the highest good is not truth or accomplishment but love.

What should we do

1. Stop grade inflation. A C grade should mean “average,” not “terrible.” If a 7th-grade teacher wants to reward a student who worked hard on a term paper that showed only 4th-grade level work, give an A for effort and a F for performance.

Critics of that would argue that too many students wouldn’t get promoted or graduate. The antidote is to reinforce tracking, the placement of students in classes by ability and achievement, which became unpopular for a period in the late 1980s and 1990s. Not everyone can achieve to the same level. There needs to be different levels of high school and college diplomas. That way, students could move on to a next grade but without that promotion or diploma being meaningless, as are so many of today’s. The aforementioned survey found that 36% of college graduates showed no improvements in writing and critical thinking in four years of college.

2. Honor, don’t denigrate, well-meaning criticizers. How feeble are we that we’re swayed more by dubious flattery than by valid suggestions. We should replace denigrations of the well-intentioned critic. He’s not “negative” or “a curmudgeon.” He’s “good at finding areas for improvement and brave enough to suggest them.”

3. Make candid feedback the workplace norm. Employers should take a lesson from famed former GE CEO Jack Welch. He was called “Neutron Jack” because, as much as possible, he retained only top performers. When I interviewed him on my radio program, he defended that by explaining that no one who got let go was surprised. He installed a culture at GE that emphasizes honest feedback and that only A players get to stay. He said that the GE employees appreciate that they get to work with only high performers. “Not everyone is meant to work at GE,” he said. Accoding to Welch, when he came to GE, its refrigerators were at the bottom of the Consumer Reports ratings. When he left, they were at the top.

4. Seek out criticism. People will respect your willingness to ask for feedback, especially if you ask well. For example, you might ask your boss and coworkers something like: “I’m trying to keep growing. I’d really appreciate candid feedback on where I’m doing well and where I might improve.”

Even if well-worded, many people are reluctant to provide criticism, so you might try TalentCheckup.com. It enables you to pick three to eight people to provide feedback anonymously by email.

Negativity is key to America’s future success

Feedback is crucial for improvement–for individuals, workplaces and society. Praise is not enough. Earned praise plus well-considered, tactfully dispensed criticism may, without costing the nation a dime, be among the more potent ways to increase America’s future success.

Marty Nemko holds a Ph.D. specializing in education evaluation from U.C. Berkeley and subsequently taught there. He is the author of seven books and an award-winning career coach, writer, speaker and public radio host specializing in career/workplace issues and education reform. His writings and radio programs are archived on www.martynemko.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

4 Changes That Will Make Your Resume Incredibly Powerful

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Little things that you do make the difference between being just another job candidate and one who actually makes a hiring manager smile

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

As a job seeker, it’s easy to see hiring managers as big, bad obstacles that need to be overcome. They’re the gatekeepers, after all. But, this kind of thinking actually leads to weaker job applications.

Think about it this way: Hiring managers read a ton of resumes—to the point at which their eyes cross. More importantly, hiring managers are just people. With this in mind, the only thing you really need to do to stand out is to have the one resume that actually lets them breathe a sigh of relief during this painful process. Here are four ways you can do just that.

1. Make the First Thing on Your Resume Immediately Relevant

There’s nothing worse for a hiring manager than having to dig through a resume to find what, exactly, an applicant’s relevant experience entails. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be for the person who will be reading your resume, and make sure the first thing on your resume is something you know he or she wants.

Are you applying to a sales position? Titling the first section of your resume “Sales Experience” might be a good way to start. Throwing your hat in for a position that requires specific training or certifications? Make that section number one. Go ahead. Make that hiring manager’s day, and actually start your resume with something that makes sense for the position.

2. Don’t Slap Your Reader in the Face With Text

So, you’ve managed to fit your resume all on one page with some efficient formatting and size eight font. Well, let me stop you right there. No hiring manager is going to see that resume and think, “Well, it’s still technically one page, so I better give it my full attention.” He or she will either read it while developing an impression that you’re already a burdensome job candidate, or he or she won’t even bother with the eye strain and just toss it.

Be kind to your resume reviewer. Leave plenty of white space on that page, and use a reasonable size font—even if it means you have to cut some details. No big blocks of text. Favor bullets that don’t exceed two lines of text over paragraphs when describing your experience. And, of course, think about what you can do to make your resume easier to skim overall. (These 12 little tricks will point you in the right direction.)

3. Cut the Resume Speak and Get to the Point

Does your resume have phrases like “utilized innovative social media techniques” to describe how you posted to the company’s Twitter account every once in awhile? If so, you might be guilty of resume speak. (For extreme—and extremely hilarious—examples of this, the Resume Speak Tumblr is worth a browse.) Not only can hiring managers usually see right through this, but worse, resume speak often obscures what your real experience actually is.

There is no way your resume can make a strong case for your skills and experiences if the language you use is imprecise, fluffy, or hard to comprehend. Be concise and specific when describing your past experience (in the example above, perhaps, “Posted weekly Twitter updates and grew followers by 200%”). The hiring manager will thank you—and maybe even call you.

4. Just Be Thoughtful

I can’t stress this point enough. The person who will (eventually) be reading your resume is a human being. If you’re thoughtful, it won’t go unnoticed.

What does that mean? To start, save your resume as your first and last name plus “resume,” make your job titles more descriptive for easier scanning (for example, “Viral Marketing Intern” instead of just “Intern”), and actually send a cover letter that’s tailored to the position.

Beyond that, put yourselves in the shoes of the hiring manager and consider what would make his or her job easier when it comes to evaluating job candidates. No need for gimmicks, inflated descriptions, or corporate jargon. Try to get your experiences across as precisely and succinctly as possible, and emphasize the parts that are the most relevant by pulling them out into their own section and placing that section at the top of your resume.

Yes, your resume might go through an applicant tracking system before it ever gets to a human being, but if you’re a good fit, it will eventually get in front of a hiring manager. When that happens, it’ll be these little things that you do that make the difference between being just another job candidate and one who actually makes a hiring manager smile.

TIME Careers & Workplace

10 Ways to Use Competition to Your Advantage

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A little competition can actually be a good thing

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This story was originally published on StartupCollective.

Question: How can I use my competition to my advantage?

Out-Innovate Them

“Look at what your competitors are doing and where they all have assumed the same outcome — whether that be market, product offering, etc. — and then try the opposite of what they’re doing. Companies that follow will never prosper. Be the company that takes the lead and explores new territory, and you might end up taking the entire market!” — Liam Martin, Staff.com

Attack Their Biggest Weakness

“A lot of people see competition as a negative, but there’s always a way to leverage it to your advantage. One of the most effective ways of doing that is to find your competition’s most glaring weakness and attack it head-on. If you can do this one aspect so well that your competition’s customers simply can’t ignore you, then you’ve already won a significant battle.” — James Simpson, GoldFire Studios

Monitor Complaints

“Monitor complaints customers of your top competitors make via Twitter/Facebook, and try to glean insights from them. We launched free shipping after seeing a ton of complaints from customers about shipping charges on some of our competitors’ sites.” — Josh Weiss, Bluegala

Support the Larger Community

“By listening on social media, you can hear the problems customers are having with your competitors and offer solutions. While you can’t offer full tech support, you can offer ideas, generalized information and, most importantly, help them switch to your product. You can jump out in front of your competition by helping people with their products directly.” — Thursday Bram, Hyper Modern Consulting

Partner With Them

“I find that your competition can actually be a great partner for two reasons. First, there is often enough to go around — people usually read more than one blog or buy more than one kind of coffee. Second, no product offering is exactly the same. Highlight your differences, package your products or services together, and then share marketing costs.” — Vanessa Van Edwards, Science of People

Analyze Your Competitors

“Analyzing our competitors has honestly been one of the best sources of data for our business. Analyzing where they put their marketing dollars, the way they organize products on their sites, their best-selling products and site design elements they use have all helped us greatly.” — Pablo Palatnik, ShadesDaddy.com

Learn From Their Mistakes and Successes

“Let them figure out what works and what doesn’t, and learn from it — you can often avoid costly mistakes by paying attention to your competitors!” — Alexis Wolfer, The Beauty Bean

Use the Advantage of Multiple Winners

“In a big market, there will likely be multiple winners. You can use that to your advantage. When a competitor gets press in one outlet, try and get similar press in another. This will raise the profile of the industry as a whole. Even if you wind up in second place, the pie has still gotten a lot bigger and your business will have grown.” — Wade Foster, Zapier

Spy on Them With SpyFu

SpyFu exposes the search marketing secret formula of your most successful competitors. Search for any domain, and see every place they’ve shown up on Google: every keyword they’ve bought on AdWords, every organic rank and every ad variation in the last six years. Then, use your competitors online activities to improve your own.” — Brett Farmiloe, Markitors

Use the Association of Professionals

“As fellow professionals, other attorneys are actually one of my best sources of clients and can be great resources for my practice and clientele. I may bring them in for a client because of a conflict with one of my other clients on a project, for extra help during an upswing in business or if the other attorney is just a better fit for the client’s immediate legal needs.” — Peter Milton, Minton Law Group, P.C.

TIME Careers & Workplace

The Unspoken Leadership Skill You Need to Survive

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No matter how large or small your organization, your political skills play a critical role in your success as a leader

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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.

Recently, I attended the Inc. 5000 conference, where I conducted a session on skills for moving an agenda. To open, I asked the group if any of them had good ideas that they’ve successfully implemented. One colleague and entrepreneur from Texas told the story of having a great idea, but not having talked to right people, and not having gained the right support.

More often than not, entrepreneurs fail not because of a lack of good idea, or even because of a lack of resources. Leaders fail because they have not honed their political competence. For the past generation, we’ve talked all about “leadership,” but political skills are only politely whispered about, if they are mentioned at all.

Look around. What differentiates a failed entrepreneur from one that is successful? What is the defining factor between a successful corporate leader, and one who has failed? Put simply, successful leadership comes down to having the ability to rally people behind an idea and gather the support necessary for your idea to bear fruit. Regardless of the quality of your idea and the appeal of your charm, if you lack political competence, you are not a leader. Without the skills of political competence, your most brilliant innovation, your best-laid plan will get stuck in the quagmire of inertia, in the muck of repetition, in the doldrums of inaction. Your dreams will become delusions, and your agenda will be nothing more than talk.

People who push ideas that never get off the ground may become organizational casualties. Their idea is crushed by opposition before it has a chance of survival. On the other hand, successful leaders not only push an idea, but understand the opposition, get people on their side, and make things happen. Maybe–just maybe–the difference between casualties and successful leaders is not a question of which one has a better idea, but rather a question of their political competence.

Political competence is the ability to understand what you can and cannot control, when to take action, who is going to resist your agenda, and who you need on your side to push your agenda forward. Political competence is about knowing how to map the political terrain, get others on your side, and lead coalitions. More often than not, political competence is not understood as a critical core competence that is needed by all leaders in organizations.

Having studied the behavioral skills of leaders, specifically their political skills, I’ve learned that this isn’t mysterious. These specific behavioral skills can be learned. At their core, these political skills enhance your ability to win people over, to get others to join your effort, to mobilize, and get results.

I am often reminded of a discussion that I once had with a corporate leader. I told him that what he needed to do in his organization was to enhance the political skills of his people so they could work across turf and across departments. He responded with a condescending look and told me with a touch of moral indignation, “I don’t do politics.”

He implied that he lived in an apolitical reality. While this may be an aspiration, it is not a reality. We all operate in the political context. As for his moral indignation, I simply reminded him that many of our heroes–Martin Luther King, Jr., Dwight Eisenhower, Mahatma Gandhi, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mother Theresa–were all leaders who mastered political competence. Every single one of them will were pragmatists who knew how to politically sustain their campaigns to achieve results. They understood that the leadership wasn’t achieved by having flair or great sound bites, but by keeping the focus and mastering the micro-skills to go the distance. What they had in common was the understanding that in order to survive that they needed the skills of political competence.

TIME Careers & Workplace

10 Awesome Companies That Give You Unlimited Vacation

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Especially among the startup community, unlimited vacation policies are more common than you might think

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

It seems every time a new company announces that it’s switching to an unlimited vacation or “no vacation policy” policy, there’s a whole new flurry of media (and job-seeker) excitement. And while it is exciting to see companies rethinking how they approach work-life balance (and to imagine yourself working for a place where you can take time off without meticulously counting the days), we’ve got a secret for you.

There are plenty of companies already doing this.

Especially among the startup community, unlimited vacation policies are more common than you might think. If you’re looking for a workplace that gives you enough time off to take that two-week trip to Bali, look no further than these 10 workplaces already offering this highly desired perk.

Disclaimer: Unlimited vacation policies do not mean you can take half the year off (hardly). If you’re working for a company with a policy like this (or considering it), make sure to read our run down of how it actually works.

1. Factual

From mobile apps to social media sites, modern businesses need a way to get good data to optimize their products. At Factual, the team collects, structures, and organizes facts and information from many different sources to create very clean, high-value databases for all types of businesses—letting companies use the power of data without spending all of their time dealing with it.

Crunching numbers all day is hard work, so Factual gives employees plenty of ways to wind down when they need to, including enjoying a nice lunch or cup of tea with your co-workers, taking a break for an in-office yoga class, or, yes, using whatever time off you need.

See Open Jobs

2. Sailthru

Sailthru is an incredibly client-focused company. The team believes that every user is unique and does everything it can to help clients engage with their customers one-on-one, use data to generate and deliver the most highly personalized, connected digital experiences, and ultimately increase their revenue.

And while the client comes first, the culture at Sailthru is one where the company seriously invests in its employees. Professionally, this means offering talent development stipends to learn about topics you’re interested in, speaker series’ from industry experts, leadership training, and the like. But the company understands that it’s important to invest in the well-being of its employees, too; that’s why it also offers things like unlimited vacation, a flexible working policy, and regular company-sponsored lunches, happy hours, and chair massages.

See Open Jobs

3. Pocket

Pocket is revolutionizing the way customers interact with content online. Offering a beautiful desktop and app experience, Pocket gives users the ability to save articles, videos, or anything else they find online to view it later.

Pocket thinks the best teams are happy and healthy ones. All employees are given a membership to the Sports Club LA—conveniently located next door—and are encouraged to take a break and catch a yoga or spin class. There’s also an unlimited vacation policy, meaning employees can take time off and come back refreshed, recharged, and ready to keep redefining how people consume content online.

See Open Jobs

4. Umbel

Umbel is on a mission to take the world by storm (using data). The smart data company helps clients gain a deeper understanding of their target demographics by responsibly managing massive amounts of data through a beautiful and intuitive interface.

Like the company’s fictional Lucha Libre wrestler mascot El Umbel, each employee is eccentric, mysterious, technical, tactical, and hard-working. Still, even the best need a break, and that’s why you can take it when you need it at Umbel.

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5. ZestFinance

ZestFinance’s goal? To help the 60 million Americans who aren’t supported by the traditional finance system get access to fair, transparent, and low-cost credit.

And while you’ll be working hard toward this lofty goal, life at ZestFinance is kind of like an eternal vacation. First, you’re based in sunny LA, you are encouraged to wear whatever makes you comfortable to the office (hello, t-shirt and jeans), and you get to enjoy daily catered lunches from a local restaurant. And when you need to escape this fantastic environment for some reason? Unlimited paid vacations should do the trick.

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6. PaperG

The New York Times called PaperG “an ad engine to put Mad Men out of business.” The advertising technology company makes display advertising simple for any size business by automatically creating and distributing display ads across platforms and devices—thus drastically lowering the cost of online advertising for small- and medium-sized businesses.

It’s great for businesses—and great for employees. As senior account executive David Benitez says, “My favorite thing about working here is that PaperG takes care of me.” What excatly does that mean? Everything from buying employees breakfast and lunch to offering education credit for books, conferences, and courses to help employees expand their skills and enough vacation days to keep employees happy.

See Open Jobs

7. Prezi

Prezi is on a mission to make the world better by improving the way people communicate. How? By wiping out boring presentations. Prezi is a totally different kind of software that lets users engage their audiences and share their story in entirely new ways, far outside the confines of traditional slides.

Whether you’re working from the company’s San Francisco or Budapest office, you’ll be having fun while doing it. You’ll never have to look far to find a furious ping-pong battle, a chilled-out yoga session, or a silly word game in full swing. Prezi eats well, too—healthy and delicious. Plus, there are plenty of opportunities to travel all around the world, either with the company or during your unlimited time off.

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8. SoFi

SoFi wants to help save graduates from the rising problem of student debt. Focused on building a community around traditional financial products, SoFi connects students and recent graduates with alumni and other community investors through school-specific student loan funds, meaning a better deal for everyone.

In terms of office life, the SoFi team knows how to have a great time. Aside from fantastic events, SoFi also treats its employees to plenty of the standard startup perks, including gym benefits, a fully stocked cafeteria overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, and of course, unlimited time off.

See Open Jobs

9. Chegg

Chegg is an education hub that provides college students with the textbook rentals, eTextbooks, online homework help, course organization, scholarship tools, and more to take control of their educational experiences. With Chegg, students economize their time, save money, and get smarter all with the help of an online community that truly gets their needs.

While the company puts students first, the company has plenty of perks to make it worth its employees’ while. In addition to food, games, a gym, and great employees, the company offers plenty of time away from the office, including nine scheduled holidays, five days off to volunteer each year, and no set number on how many days you can take off for your own well being.

See Open Jobs

10. Crowdflower

CrowdFlower is changing the way work gets done. The company takes clients’ large data projects and breaks them into smaller, more manageable tasks that are then doled out to hundreds of thousands of contributors around the world, allowing clients to accomplish in hours tasks that would take their in-house staff weeks to finish.

CrowdFlower is all about making sure its team is as productive as possible, too, and understands that this often means letting people recharge so they can come back and do their best work possible. Whether that means enjoying free food in the kitchen, playing a quick game with your co-workers, or taking a nice vacation when you need it, you’ll come back more productive than ever.

See Open Jobs

TIME Careers & Workplace

The Surprising Things Wealthy People Spend Their Money On

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A new study sheds light on the spending habits of the wealthiest consumers

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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.

If you had to take a guess, what would you say were the top auto brands purchased by the wealthiest Americans? You’d probably guess Mercedes, BMW, Bentley… But according to the Martini Report, a study conducted by Ipsos MediaCT and Martini Media, you’re entirely wrong.

Among consumers that make more than $100,000 a year, the most widely owned car brands are Ford, Toyota, Honda, Chevy, and Nissan. Not only that, but these affluent consumers are shopping at Amazon, Target, and Walmart.

“Of course they’re the main target for more upscale stores as well, but you can go to pretty much any outlet, any retail environment, and find often a majority of the dollars being spent by this minority of the population,” Ipsos chief insights officer Stephen Kraus said when he presented the Martini Report findings in New York City on Wednesday.

The objective of the report was to learn more about the wealthy so that brands can better target them in their advertising. It looked at four subcategories of the affluent consumer: The aspiring affluent are those above 40 years old who make $75,000 to $99,000. The emerging affluent are between ages 18 to 39 and make $75,000 to $99,000 a year. The mass affluent make $100,000 to $249,000, and the hyper-affluent make $250,000 or more.

One of the big takeaways from the study was that the rich are really just like us. They buy mainstream brands in addition to luxury brands, and at the end of the day, they’re looking for advertising that’s relevant and entertaining.

What differentiates them, however, is how much of the national spending they account for.

The affluent spent 65 percent of all U.S. dollars paid for cruises, 60 percent paid for suits, 54 percent for hotels, 52 percent for airfare, 47 percent for online videos, and 42 percent for new cars.

It’s clear that brands should consider these statistics when figuring out their content and messaging strategies.

Another major finding from the Martini Report was that affluent consumers are hyper-technological.

“They live technology-infused lifestyles,” Kraus said. “They think of their lives as completely intertwined with technology.”

Which in turn means that they’re increasingly spending that money online. Sixty-seven percent of affluent consumers said they had made a purchase on a computer in the past week.

According to Ipsos, 70 percent of people who make more than $100,000 a year visited Amazon in the past 30 days, averaging 3.4 purchases. About a third are also Amazon Prime members.

That same category is purchasing airline tickets, women’s apparel and accessories, hotel reservations, event tickets, and books on a computer. They’re buying music, apps, games, takeout and delivery, and event tickets on smartphones. And they’re buying books, apps, games, women’s apparel and accessories, and music on tablets.

As Kraus explained, affluent consumers are spending tons of money online and across a variety of retailers and brands, so it behooves the average marketer to consider this sector when crafting strategies.

“Where do affluents shop?” Kraus asked. “They shop everywhere.”

TIME Careers & Workplace

27 Pre-Written Templates for Your Toughest Work Emails

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

Communication is hard work. A 2012 survey by McKinsey found that highly skilled desk workers spent an average of 28% of their work weeks dealing with email—a number that is surely rising. And that doesn’t even take into account the stress involved in figuring out how to convey a potentially difficult message, like asking for help, saying no, or admitting you messed up.

(MORE: Answering Emails After Work Is Bad for Your Health)

To help make the most of your time and energy, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite scripts and templates for making email (and a few other things, like that pesky LinkedIn recommendation you need to write) much easier and less time consuming. Whether you’re job searching, networking, dealing with day-to-day work communications, or trying to be a better manager, find your situation below, tweak the template to your liking, and send it off!

(MORE: 9 Rules For Emailing From Google Exec Eric Schmidt)

Job Search

1. You Need Your Network’s Help Finding a Job

Reaching out to your current network and letting them know you’re on the hunt is a surefire way to make your job search easier: Why search on your own when you could have a whole army of contacts keeping an eye out for opportunities, too? But, to make it more likely that they will help you, make it as easy as possible for them by sending an email like this.

See the Script

2. You Need a Referral at Your Dream Company

You’ve applied to a job at your dream company—and then noticed a friend is connected to someone there. Asking him or her to connect you and vouch for you can feel weird, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s how to do it the right way.

See the Script

3. You Want to Write the Perfect Cover Letter to Strut Your Skills

Your cover letter shouldn’t just walk through your job history (that’s your resume’s job). Highlighting your skills can be a great way to mix things up or show why you’d be an ideal candidate if you have a less traditional path. Try filling in this template, and see how impressive you sound.

See the Script

4. You Need to Write a Thank You Note for an Interview

Especially if you’re interviewing a lot, there’s no need to fret over each individual thank you note. For a basic note that gets the job done, start with this template, tweak it slightly for each company and role, and send it off by EOD after you’ve interviewed.

See the Script

5. You Want to Send a Thank You Note That Really Goes Above and Beyond

If you just interviewed for your absolute dream job, you may want to go a bit beyond the basic thank you note. Check out this template for an idea of how you can add value to the company before you’re even offered the job. With this approach, the hiring manager will have a hard time not bringing you on board.

See the Script

6. You Applied to a Job a Week or Two Ago—and Want to Check In

Haven’t heard back from your dream job? If you’ve been holding your breath for a few weeks, it doesn’t hurt to send a short, professional follow-up email, like this one.

See the Script

7. You Need to Turn Down a Job Offer

You interviewed, you’ve been given an offer—but you’ve decided you need to turn it down. Keep your message appreciative, give a brief explanation why, and make sure to keep the door open. These ideas should help craft your message.

See the Script

In the Office

8. You Don’t Really Know What the Sender is Asking For

You know the email: There are a lot of words, but nothing is really said, and you’re left wondering what the other person wants from you. It can seem like a tricky situation, but the solution is actually pretty simple: Punt it back to the sender nicely to ask for clarification.

See the Script

9. You Need to Say “No” to Something

Even if we need to do it (or really want to do it), we all have a hard time saying “no.” No matter the situation, these short and sweet scripts will make it much, much easier.

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10. You Need to Say “No” to Someone You ReallyWant to Help

Saying “no” is especially hard when it’s someone really want to help, you just don’t have the bandwidth: a friend, a close colleague, or someone who has given you support in the past. Use this template to make it easier and to let him or her down in the most caring way possible.

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11. You Receive a Complicated Laundry List of Thoughts, Ideas, and Tasks

This email is one full of action items, questions, thoughts, comments, tasks—the list goes on and on. It would take you forever just to weed through the message, let alone do the work. Your response will be a little different depending on if this is a boss or a colleague, but either way, you’ll need to ask for some help prioritizing.

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12. You Need More Information to Answer

Someone asks you a question out of the blue, and you have no idea what he or she is talking about. Or you have a sense, but know you need a little more information to answer well. Quickly email the sender back asking for context or the specific details you need.

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13. Your Colleague is Making a Project Too Difficult

Are you working with someone who is making something much (much) more difficult than it needs to be? It can be hard to suggest a better way without hurting somebody’s feelings, but by doing so you’re making everyone’s lives easier. Simply choose your words wisely and use phrases that remind your colleague that you’re working together collaboratively on this.

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14. You’ve Got a Workplace Conflict—and YouNeed to Tell Your Boss

Obviously, running to your boss shouldn’t be the first thing you do when you’re having problems with one of your co-workers; try working it out on your own first, before enlisting the higher-ups. But if the situation keeps coming up, it’s okay to go talk to your manager—as long as you follow this script to do it without sounding like you’re whining.

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15. You Need to Turn Down a Project

If you’ve been asked to do a project you really don’t want to do, you want to write a little more than “absolutely not” back. Whether it’s not part of your job or you just don’t think it’s worth your time, start with these scripts to nicely say “no.”

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16. You’re Quitting Your Job

Writing a resignation letter can be scary to say the least, but with this easy template you’ll have a great letter written and be out the door in no time.

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Management

17. You’re Inviting a Candidate in for an Interview

Whether you are interviewing someone for the first time or do this on the reg and are just tired of writing the email, we’ve got the perfect template for inviting a candidate in for an interview—full of all the details he or she needs to know.

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18. You’re Offering a Candidate a Job

You’ve interviewed someone who killed it, and you’re excited to invite him or her to the team! Use this easy template to get that offer out the door ASAP.

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19. You’re Turning a Candidate Down

This one can be tough, but the trick is to keep it short and to the point. Copying and pasting this template should make the job much easier.

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20. You Messed Up—and Need to Tell Your Customers

Delivering the news about a crisis or problem to your customers or clients can be hard, but it gives you the chance to show that you’re on top of it and working on the issue. This script should help get the message out fast—so you can spend more time fixing the problem.

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21. You Need to Write a LinkedIn Recommendation—Fast

Don’t hem and haw when you’ve been asked to write a recommendation for someone on LinkedIn. Fill in the blanks of this template, and you’ll have a stand-out recommendation done in less than five minutes.

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Networking

22. You Need an Introduction

You find out a friend or colleague knows somebody who would be perfect for you to know, whether it’s for your career growth, your job search, or your sales efforts. How can you ask your contact to introduce you—without sounding needy and annoying? This template should do the trick.

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23. You’ve Been Asked to Make an Introduction

If you’ve been asked by a colleague to introduce him or her to a contact. But you don’t just want to connect them right away—you want to make sure your contact is okay with being introduced, so as not to annoy him or make him uncomfortable. Here’s the email to send to get the OK.

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24. You’re Actually Making the Introduction

All is said and done, and your contact is happy to be introduced to your friend. Great! Use this short template to briefly remind each person why you’re introducing them, and then get this out of your hands!

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25. You Need to Explain What You Do

Whether in person at a networking event or over email with a new contact, it can be tricky to explain exactly what you do in a way that’s not totally boring. Hint: Don’t just tell your job title. Then look at this template to make your elevator pitch more memorable.

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26. You Want a Client to Recommend You to Others

Have some clients who love you—and hoping they will spread the word about how great your products or services are? This email will make it incredibly easy for anyone to help you out.

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27. You Have Way Too Many People Asking to “Pick Your Brain”

Don’t have time to answer all the emails asking for informational interviews, let alone actually going on them? Here are some strategies for making it work—or turning them down—with easy-to-email scripts for each.

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TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Non-Business Books That Will Super Charge Your Career

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Spare time is so precious—use it to take your mind to new places

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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.

Real thinking is hard and most people don’t like it. A recent experiment showed that most people would administer mild electric shocks to themselves in preference to sitting alone and thinking. But reading, at least, gives you a companion.

Most of the reading we do, however, is transactional: information we need to make decisions. Little of it is discursive or challenging; it merely requires processing. So when you take discretionary time to read, what is that precious time for? I’d argue it’s for thinking, not processing.

So don’t spend that precious time reading about business. Spend it on something that will challenge and stretch your mind. Fiction, in particular, has been shown to enhance theory of mind—that is, the ability to see the world through the eyes of others. There’s no more useful capability in any kind of work—but you won’t get it reading stock charts or productivity primers.

If you don’t have time or patience for fiction, try reading about leadership from a wildly different angle. My favorite piece recently was by William Deresiewicz, a former English teacher at Yale, writing about leadership and solitude. It gave me more insight into true leadership than any of the books I’ve read on the topic. And yes, great leaders need solitude and time to think.

Why is reading off-topic good for you? Because it forces your mind to go to different places, to access different parts of your brain. And that’s the beginning of creativity: when ideas collide and spark new thoughts. Sticking to areas and information you’re comfortable with may feel great, but it’s only doubling down on what’s familiar. For real insight, your mind needs to travel.

So here are some suggestions:

Foreign literature: If you do business in foreign countries, read their literature. I do a lot of business in Italy and have been reading the novels of Elena Ferrante, author of Days of Abandonment. They are great stories, modern, and give a lot of insight into the reality—not the myths—of Italian life.

History: Ed Conway’s book, The Summit, is about the forging of the Bretton Woods agreement, which determined global economics after World War II. It is a master class in the power of personality and the genius of fierce collaboration. You have to ask: If 44 nations could solve this hard problem in just three weeks, what could you do in a business summit in just a few days?

Judgment and decision making: It’s hard to imagine a harder job than Kenneth Feinberg’s when he was appointed to decide how much compensation victims of 9/11 should receive from the federal government. His story of administering the fund—What Is Life Worth?is a masterpiece of judicious empathy.

Natural sciences: Martin Nowak’s SuperCooperators is a landmark work on the true science behind evolution and altruism. It’s a worthy riposte to the stale idea that we all need to compete forever.

Fun fiction: My favorite book this year has been Dave Eggars’s The Circle. Eric Schmidt says it isn’t about Google, but he’s either in denial or hasn’t read it. It is a marvelously acute portrayal of a superpowerful company that believes it knows what is best for us. My tech friends love it; my non-tech friends love it; neither can decide whether to laugh or cry.

But if you don’t like reading, there’s always the option of that empty room and mild electric shocks.

TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Things You Didn’t Know Sex Could Do for Your Career

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Having more sex has been linked to lower stress levels at work and higher pay

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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.

You’ve probably heard the saying “sex sells,” which is why sexy images appear so often in advertisements. But did you know sex can also improve your business and boost your career?

We often think of our business and personal lives as two entirely separate spheres, but in fact what happens at home and what happens at work often have overlapping effects. For instance, a stressful day at work can often send you home cranky, and workplace stress can elevate your blood pressure and cause everything from headaches to insomnia.

Similarly, happiness at home can have a calming effect at work, helping you make more clear-headed decisions and making you less likely to fall ill or feel overwhelmed with stress. Sure, sex sells, but it also has the power to improve your 9-to-5 life, whether you’re a worker bee or the boss. Here are just a few ways a good sex life can turn your career around:

1. People who have sex get paid more. Apparently there are some outside-of-the-bedroom perks for having more sex. One of those perks is a higher paycheck, at least according to research from the Institute for the Study of Labor. The study found people who have sex at least four times a week make more money than their peers who get less busy. It seems the correlation lies in how those who have more sex tend to be both happier and healthier, leading to more enthusiasm at work, better decisions, and less discrimination, which in turn leads to higher paychecks.

2. Sex reduces stress and prolongs health. Sex is a major stress reduction agent, which means better health and fewer sick days. According to the book Your Doctor is Wrong by Sharon Norling, frequent orgasms can increase life expectancy by three to eight years. Plus, a study by Arizona State University showed sexual behavior with a partner correlated with lower negative mood and higher positive mood the following day in middle-aged women.

3. Sex produces immune system-boosting hormones, resulting in fewer sick days. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone released during sexual encounters, and it has a whole host of benefits. Some of these include health benefits like reducing symptoms in women with lupus and alleviating depression. In fact, DHEA can even take years off your real age. According to a study by the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, people in their 40s who reported having 50 percent or more sex than their peers also appeared to be about seven to 13 years younger than their actual age when judged by a panel of strangers.

4. No more office migraines: Oxytocin is pain relief. Oxytocin, released during sex, is also important in pain relief. Often called the “love hormone,” oxytocin is also released during labor in order to relieve pain. With its power to help relieve pain, the hormone could keep you feel healthier in the office.

5. Entrepreneurship can actually improve your sex life. Taking control of your own destiny by becoming an entrepreneur can be empowering–and it can empower more than just your career prospects. A recent survey of entrepreneurs found 14 percent reported having more sex after ditching their 9-to-5 job. So it works both ways–more sex can help your career with better health and higher wages, and finally breaking out on your own and following your entrepreneurial dreams can lead to more sex.

You might think your career and your sex life are completely separate entities, but what happens at home and at work can often intersect in interesting ways. By spending more time with your partner, you’ll actually be improving your chances of getting that promotion or taking your business to the next level.

TIME Careers & Workplace

Here’s What Basically Everybody Gets Wrong at Work

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The one quality you need to make your mark

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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.

Ever wonder why some managers just can’t get along with their teams? Or have you seen a boss who’s lost touch with reality?

Maybe you’re the leader, and you’ve noticed a slow-but-sure disconnect from your team. What can you do about it?

You’ve heard the advice time and again: Learn to show more empathy.

Empathy is considered by many to be a basic human quality. So why is it often still missing in our day-to-day work?

Many persons confuse empathy with its closely related cousin sympathy. The two qualities are definitely related, but the key to demonstrating empathy is knowing the difference.

According to Merriam-Webster, empathy is “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s feelings and emotions.”

Whereas sympathy involves feeling sorry for someone, empathy requires us to go a step further, and it lasts longer. Here’s an example:

Imagine a colleague goes through a difficult situation; let’s say he loses a close family member in an accident. We naturally feel sympathy for him. We may even write a card or express those feelings somehow. For the most part, though, we move on with our lives.

But when we show empathy, we take more time–time to remember how we felt when we lost someone close to us (or how we would feel, if we haven’t had this experience). We think about how this affected our work, our relationships with others.

Even further, we try to imagine specifically how our colleague feels in this situation. We recognize that he (like every individual) will deal with the trauma in his own unique way.

Empathy has been described as “your pain in my heart.”

The problem is, despite the fact that we crave for others to try fitting into our shoes, we’re often not ready to do the same for them. We see this every day: broken marriages, strained parent-child relationships, deteriorating communication in the workplace. (Author Mike Robbins illustrates this perfectly here.)

If a leader can demonstrate true empathy to individual team members, it will go a long way toward encouraging them to perform at their best.

It may even inspire the team to show empathy for the leader.

That’s right—empathy begets empathy.

So how do you get your company leaders—and employees—to be more empathetic?

  • If you’re a manager, the next time an employee comes to you with a problem or complaint, resist the ‘Not again. What now?’ attitude. Try to remember: You once had a similar problem. If not, someone you respect did. Ask yourself: Why does this person feel this way? What can I do to make the situation better?
  • If a specific task or process is causing problems, try to work alongside a disgruntled team member, to better understand the person’s point of view. Showing empathy in this way takes time, but you will often motivate the one(s) you are trying to help. Not to mention the benefits this will bring to your working relationship.
  • If you are an employee who feels your manager is being especially unreasonable, try to understand why. Maybe the manager is dealing with extreme pressure of his or her own, or maybe there’s a problem at home, or maybe … you get the drift.

Simply put, empathy starts with giving others the benefit of the doubt.

Once, I learned the value of showing empathy firsthand. I had been working a number of years for the same organization, and was now engaged to my fiancée from Germany. As we were trying to determine where to start our new life together, my office made it clear that it was reducing personnel, and my department was being reorganized. I was being considered for a new position, and my fiancée and I decided that if I got it, I would remain in New York City and she would join me. If not, we would move.

I was told I would be informed of the decision within four to six weeks. Six weeks came and went. Then seven. Eight. Nine. The wedding date was getting closer, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could take the suspense—I didn’t care anymore what happened; I just needed to know something.

After going through the normal HR channels, I decided to try something different. I wrote an email directly to Mr. Pierce—a member of the executive board who was the head of personnel (whom I had never met). Since our organization had about 6,000 staff members at the time, I wasn’t sure how he would take this: I was traveling to Germany to see my fiancée in a few days, and I thought it would be great to have some news to share with her personally. (Call me a romantic. Or call me stupid–I’ve heard both.)

After two months of anticipation, it took exactly two days after my email to get a decision. I then boarded a plane to Germany, and less than 12 hours later, my fiancée and I were planning our new life together—in New York City. We couldn’t have been happier.

Sadly, Mr. Pierce passed away some months ago. I’ve often wondered how many similar emails, letters, and requests he read throughout the years. A press release issued by my former agency made the following statement:

Mr. Pierce served on various committees … [and] his organizational responsibilities required that he travel extensively … Despite his workload, he was well known for never being too busy to listen to those needing assistance or advice, and he put others at ease with his warm smile and good sense of humor. His closest associates noted that people from different backgrounds or cultures were naturally drawn to him.

When Mr. Pierce read my email all those years ago, he wasn’t just reading the random request of a junior manager. He was reading my deep concerns and feelings. The problem was important to me, so it was important to him.

Mr. Pierce knew empathy. My pain in his heart.

Employer or employee, empathy makes us more flexible and compassionate. It makes us easier to work with, and in the eyes of others, it makes us more human.

So the next time you realize that the relationship you have with a colleague is not what you want, take the time to show some empathy.

It might be just what the person needs.

One day, it’ll be what you need, too.

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