TIME Careers & Workplace

11 Tips for Running Meetings That Aren’t Totally Terrible

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Here are a few ways to ensure your next one is both productive and organized

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This story was originally published on StartupCollective.

Question: What’s one best practice for running a successful Meetup-style group for entrepreneurs?

Plan in Advance

“The best practice to run a successful meetup group for entrepreneurs is taking time to plan the event in advance. I’ve found that it is best to plan at least three to four weeks in advance so there is enough time to work out all of the details, find a venue and ensure every entrepreneur attending the meetup-style group is able to make arrangements for the day.” Jay Wu, A Forever Recovery

Set the Tone Immediately

“Create the culture you’re hoping to have for your group at the first event. Do this by stacking the room with your contacts who know what you have in mind, and let the word spread from there. I run several such events, and by doing this very thing, I’ve been able to grow them exponentially both locally and around the country — all true to the same values and mission. ” — Darrah Brustein, Network Under 40 / Finance Whiz Kids

Focus on Relationships

“Entrepreneurs are excited to be part of something that is growing and becoming grand, so tap in to those desires by helping us create relationships with other dreamers, people we can share with, learn from and with whom we can explore new possibilities. Focus less on being cool and more on being human.” — Corey Blake, Round Table Companies

Make It Exclusive

“Make your group invite-only so it’s more exclusive and to ensure quality control. Many of the best entrepreneurs I know in London don’t bother with general meetups anymore, and by creating an invite-only group with a strong core, you will generate a lot of interest from those aspiring membership. Plus, knowing your niche is very important in today’s crowded landscape.” — Christopher Pruijsen, Sterio.me

Lay out Helpful Assignments

“The hardest part of a meetup is the first 15 minutes. You want to balance structure with freedom so that people don’t run to the bathroom to avoid the exercise. Lay out a couple challenges that have clear personal benefits for attendees but no deadline. A goal could be to learn about three new valuable apps or find two people for whom you can make introductions. Make it about helping one another.” — Heidi Allstop, Spill

Get to Your Venue Early

“Get to your venue early, and make sure everything is in order. This includes making sure enough seating is available and ensuring that all audio/visual equipment works properly. One of your goals in running a meetup is to impress, and if the meeting encounters a hitch, you’re unlikely to achieve that goal.” — Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance

Get Startups to Demo

“It’s the best way to invite someone to see what your meetup is all about. Plus, it’s a nearly instant way to make it valuable for them. The audience hears what they’re working on, wants to hear more, and suddenly, there’s a family of people there every time.” — Derek Flanzraich, Greatist

Give Everyone a Name Tag

“I love meeting people, but I’m horrible at remembering names. If everyone has a name tag, then it’s much easier to make introductions and build relationships. Bonus points if you encourage everyone to include his or her Twitter handle, business name or ‘I’m interested in…’ as well.” — Kelly Azevedo, She’s Got Systems

Create Clear Goals and Expectations

“Many people join communities because they attend an event from that community. Once they do, the organizer needs to work to keep them there. Providing a clear mission statement and adhering to it is essential in growing and maintaining the community. If the goal is education events, don’t just do happy hours. People join because of what you offer up front, and keeping that as a baseline is key.” — Aron Schoenfeld, Do It In Person LLC

Organize Specific Discussion Topics

“There’s nothing worse than having a meetup with no direction. Groups that don’t have focus will fizzle and die very quickly. This can be through the form of talks, events, etc. If you give everyone something to talk about, it creates an environment of learning and meaningful connections, which is ultimately the purpose of a meetup.” — James Simpon, GoldFire Studios

Be Confidential

“Start every meetup with an explicit statement that everything shared within the group should stay within the group. Knowing that the discussions are confidential can help founders open up and share their real problems, such as running out of cash or dealing with a difficult employee. And they can learn from the entrepreneurs who have gone through these situations before.” — Bhavin Parikh, Magoosh Inc

TIME Careers & Workplace

The 8 Indispensable Elements of Real Wealth

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Health and family are important for one's success

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.

What’s the purpose of life?

That’s a powerful question that deserves your attention. My answer has drastically changed the past five to 10 years, and will continue to evolve. Success is part of life’s purpose but I know that on the other side of success is the quest for more success, more milestones, more achievements, more people to help and learn from, more money to be made. That’s great. Life becomes mundane and boring without goals and dreams to reach for but I believe there is more to life and real wealth.

Don’t get me wrong. Becoming a millionaire is a valid desire for everyone, but there is no higher success than building and maintaining a world class life with meaning and significance. Awareness precedes choice, and your choices determine the quality of your life. I’ve put some serious thought into what makes a world class life. Here are the eight forms you must adapt and start improving if you want to live an exceptional life with no regret.

Related: Find Your Purpose

1. A world-class inner life.

Your outer world, who you are and the quality of your life, is 100 percent determined by your inner world. Your inner world consists of your peace of mind, the quality of your thinking and living authentically. Are you living your true values or doing things based out of fear and worry? Your inner world determines your self worth and how connected you are to your core.

2. World-class health.

Your health is a very important part of wealth. If you don’t have your health, you have nothing. At the end of your life, the things you now perceive as the big things might be the little things. When we are young, we will compromise our health for wealth, but when we are old we will gladly sacrifice all of our wealth for just a little bit of health.

It’s extremely important to put health first, if you really want a world class life. We take our health for granted until we lose it, then we spend all our waking time trying to get it back. Those who don’t make time for exercise must eventually make time for illness.

3. World-class family life.

Having loved ones around you, and being able to see your family whenever you choose, is a crucial part of success. Gary Vaynerchuk told me his business is extremely important, but a distant second to his family. The greatest support system in the world is good family and friends. You can’t be careless here, you need great relationships and those who make you better. Remember, you can’t change your family, and trying to do so will cause you endless stress and frustration. Love them and appreciate them for who they are.

4. World-class profession/career.

The attitude you bring to your days determine your destiny and it’s extremely hard to carry a great attitude when you don’t enjoy what you do. According to the new Gallup survey “71 percent of employees are activity disengaged at work.”

Be patient and figure out your strengths. Purposefully choosing (or creating) your ideal professional is crucial to a world-class life. When you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. It’s important to get to the end of your career knowing you gave your best. Yes, unexpected circumstances do happen but you are in control of your own future through the choices you make. Life is not easy nor promised, but it’s how you adapt and adjust that determines what happens next. Never settle.

Related: 7 Steps to Find Meaning in Your Work

5. World-class financial freedom.

Less than 5 percent of our society will be financially stable by age 65. WTF? Money is extremely important and makes the world go round. It also gives you one of the most important aspects of a world-class life — freedom.

Money allows you the choices to do what you want, when you want, wherever you want, so you can live on your own terms. What’s your game plan to assure a financially free future?

6. World-class circle of genius.

You become who you spend the most time with. Are the people you’re associating with holding you to higher standards and challenging you? If you spend time with people who are playing at a world class level, you drastically increase your chances of doing the same. Their ways of being will rub off on you. You’ll adapt their philosophies and perspectives.

Start surrounding yourself with people whose lives you want to emulate. Keep company with those who are thinking and acting at an extraordinary level.

7. World-class experiences.

Ultimately, life is an adventure. Experiences and memories are what separate the elite lives from the mediocre. I’ve recently started focusing more on producing instead of consuming, and valuing experiences over material things. I like both, and appreciate the finer things in life, but after studying countless world-class people, it’s clear they are constantly creating memorable experiences. What’s the point of doing something if you’re not having fun?

8. World-class impact and legacy.

The worthiest aim of life is service to the world around us. How much difference are you making in the world around you? Are you adding consistent value that improves the lives of others?

Generosity the key that unlocks happiness. There is no greater feeling than when you help or give to others, asking for nothing back. Whether it is a compliment or a small gift, do something nice for somebody every day. Realize every tweet, every blog post and every conversation you have is part of your legacy.

I challenge you not to postpone your life. Most say “when I have more time I will take time for myself” but the reality is life waits for no one. Don’t postpone travel or chasing your dreams. Nobody knows when their time is up, so make the most of it by focusing on these eight forms of real wealth.

Related: 4 Simple Actions to Lead a More Meaningful Life

TIME Careers & Workplace

Why You Need to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

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Seeking comfort will never enable growth

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.

I absolutely love my job. I almost feel like life isn’t real. That’s how much I love it. I have fun, flexibility and I’m working in the industry of my dreams.

Yet I just accepted a new job. Let me elaborate. A few weeks ago, I was invited to interview for a new position. Several days later, I was offered the job. This unleashed a world of struggle inside me because I love my current job.

I’ve been at this company for a little over a year now, and it’s been an amazing experience. I have learned a lot and grown as a person. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a mentor who has guided me and propelled me along. And I’ve had flexibility: I can, for the most part, work the schedule I set for myself. There’s something invaluable about that.

So when I was faced with the decision of accepting a new job, I had to take a really hard look at my options. I kept thinking, Well, I have fun at work. I have a flexible schedule. I like the people I work with. There are certain perks I’d be giving up.

And then I examined my new choice: longer hours, potentially less exciting work. But there was a network to be gained. I’d been given an opportunity to expand and grow my network with people who’ve worked in a different part of my industry or another market — one I’d eventually like to explore.

I weighed my options, oscillating back and forth. Emotionally, I felt inclined to remain right where I was. But rationally, I knew what I needed to do.

Related: When Working on Personal Goals, Competition Is Beside the Point

This was an extremely difficult decision for me as I value comfort. I don’t think I’m alone in this. People like to be comfortable. They enjoy the familiar. Even when the familiar is far from optimal (even horrible), people still resist change. Although a workplace might be tiring and frustrating, they know at least what level of tiring and frustrating to expect. They think, Why knows what the result would be if they were to move, change or try something new? They might be in for entirely new levels of tiring and frustrating.

While I was in the process of making this difficult decision, I sought feedback from a few trusted friends. One friend, a self-proclaimed workaholic, bluntly told me, “I don’t understand why this is difficult!” She saw the opportunity for what it would do for me professionally and set aside any emotional component. Another trusted friend shared a painful insight: “I think you’re too comfortable.”

Seeking comfort, however natural it is, will never enable growth. As my fifth-grade teacher instructed, “There can be no amount of learning without a certain level of discomfort.” Think back to your greatest moments of growth: What was the process like? Was it easy?My guess is no. Growth rarely is.

It would have been much easier for me to stay where I was. I know the ropes at the job. I know (for the most part) what to do to excel at the tasks given me. I know the people. I know the office dynamics. I even know my co-worker’s Starbucks order. How am I supposed to learn a new Starbucks order? I know that changing jobs will mean abandoning the familiar, and that’s scary.

But in the quest for growth, people have to allow themselves to be a little scared. Complacency is dangerous. People must constantly work to challenge themselves, acquire new skills, meet new people and say yes to new experiences. Financial advisors often encourage young investors to invest in higher-risk assets.

When someone is young with few attachments is the optimal time to take this chance. This high-risk, high-reward mentality applies to job opportunities. This is the time to take calculated risks. The magic truly does happen outside of the comfort zone. Here are a few tips for getting there:

Related: What I Learned From Being a Broke, Unemployed Graduate

1. Identify strengths and weaknesses.

To step outside of your comfort zone, first understand what makes you comfortable. What’s your security blanket and what do you shy away from? Perhaps it’s people. Perhaps you have a best friend who you do everything with. Perhaps it’s a certain skill set that you frequently use or a job you’ve stayed at out of familiarity. Identify things you cling to and what makes you nervous.

2. Seek opportunities to improve skills.

You’ve identified your strengths and weaknesses: Now, and you’re not going to like this, you have to have to head toward the thing that makes you most nervous. For me, it was leaving the comfortable job. Maybe for you it’s public speaking or taking a class. Or maybe, it’s inding a new job. Allow yourself to be uncomfortable. That’s the only way to turn your weaknesses into strengths. Babying a previously broken limb only weakens it more. It needs use.

3. Reach for goals.

People can set immediate, intermediate and stretch goals, all in varying degrees of difficulty and time range for achievement. This is the time to keep longer range goals in mind. Often to achieve these goals, people have to step outside of their comfort zone. Keep in mind what you’re aiming to achieve. This will motivate you to take chances. Don’t be intimidated by hard work: That’s how you score results.

4. Remember nothing is permanent.

In the search for the right decision, people often paint their options as being the “final decision.” But almost nothing is final. Always remember that no matter what you do, you’re not stuck. Even certain contracts can be voided. And if a decision means you are committing to doing something for several years, that’s OK, too. That stretch of time is just a drop in the bucket.

Keep perspective. Very few decisions are permanent. Keeping this in mind helps alleviate some of the pressure brought to the decision-making process. I also don’t believe in mistakes — only learning experiences.

Everything serves to teach you something. Whatever choice you make will be the right choice for that moment.

5. Have a good support system.

I have friends and family in whom I can confide. I have trusted them and their opinions, and they have served as good sounding boards for me. They were able to be rational when my emotions were flaring. They helped me to weigh the pros and the cons of my decision objectively. Don’t deploy an army, but a few trusted advisors can really help provide perspective and give you the motivational push you need.

Related: Mentors Can Fill in Any Yawning Gaps as Your Startup Integrates New Grads

TIME Careers & Workplace

The 25 Absolute Best Workplaces in the World

The Google logo is seen at the company's offices on August 21, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.
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Levels of employee trust, camaraderie and pride rise within top-performing companies

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.

Of 6,200 companies across the globe boasting 11.9 million total employees, Google has been named 2014’s best workplace in the world.

For the third year in a row, the search giant topped the World’s Best Multinational Workplaces List unveiled today by global consulting firm Great Place to Work (GPTW). Other notable performers included Microsoft and Marriott (numbers 6 and 7, respectively), as well as eBay, 24, and Coca-Cola, 25.

While an employee survey regarding workplace culture comprised two-thirds of each company’s ranking, the other third was determined by a third-party assessment of company policies and practices. GPTW says its study is the largest of its kind.

Overall, the firm reported that levels of employee trust, camaraderie and pride had risen within top-performing companies — all of which are crucial factors in determining employee engagement and business success. “The best are getting better,” GPTW said.

Related: How to Be the Best Boss (Infographic)

Read on for the full list:

1. Google

2. SAS Institute

3. NetApp

4. W.L. Gore & Associates

5. Belcorp

6. Microsoft

7. Marriott

Related: Richard Branson Announces Unlimited Vacation Policy for Virgin Staffers

8. Monsanto

9. Cisco

10. American Express

11. Scotiabank

12. SC Johnson

13. Autodesk

14. Telefonica

15. National Instruments

16. Fedex Corporation

Related: The 10 Biggest Motivation Killers and How to Fix Them (Infographic)

17. Atento

18. EMC

19. Daimler

20. Diageo

21. Hyatt

22. Mars

23. Accor

24. eBay

25. The Coca-Cola Company

Related: Why Peter Thiel’s Philosophy on Hiring Is Hurting Silicon Valley

TIME Careers & Workplace

7 Insanely Productive Habits of Successful People

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Make lots of lists as soon as you get to the office

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.

Entrepreneurship isn’t for the faint at heart. Founders must forge their own path, gather resources and take on huge financial risks – all in the hopes of avoiding the fate that 80 to 90 percent of startups suffer: failure.

So to be successful, entrepreneurs really have beaten the odds – especially young entrepreneurs. Starting with almost no wealth, network or business experience, many create more success in a few years than most people do in their entire lifetime.

To understand what they do differently, we interviewed several young entrepreneurs from this year’s Empact Showcase, an annual program highlighting the power these founders and their companies play in the community.

Rather than focus on generic insights or basic hacks, we looked at unique, concrete habits you can immediately adopt in your life and business that can have a game-changing impact.

Create a regimented schedule.

My overarching goal is to be consistent in my schedule, and as a result, I live a lifestyle that allows me to maximize the amount of work I get done. I believe this type of prioritization has made a huge impact on how quickly Fueled has grown.

My dinner ends at 11 p.m., and I always have a solid work session afterwards until 3:30 a.m. Setting aside a block of time in my schedule for uninterrupted productive creation is vital to my work process. It’s when I answer emails and do my thinking around bigger ideas without any distractions. Then I go to bed every day at exactly 4:00 a.m. and typically wake up without an alarm clock.

Other people might want to focus on other areas, like family, but a consistent schedule is key.

—Founder Rameet Chawla of Fueled

Ask yourself this question before going to bed.

Every night before bed, I think about this question: If I live every day the same way I did today, what kind of future would that create? It forces me to constantly evaluate whether or not my actions are lining up with my priorities. The future is shaped one day at a time, and it’s never as far away as we think.

—Co-founder Jesse Lear of V.I.P. Waste Services

Related: 6 Suggestions for an Aspiring Entrepreneur

Take an adventure walk every weekend to connect the dots.

Every weekend, I go on a long hike in a place that I’ve never been before. I do the research in advance and sometimes, I drive as far as an hour away. My hikes are anywhere between one and four hours long. I take an old-school composition notebook with me, and I let the thoughts come; I don’t force anything.

The habit helps to relieve stress and unpack the ideas from the week. It’s kind of like meditation. By constantly evaluating ideas and how they fit into your business, you can slowly render them into reality and watch your imagination unfold.

As an added benefit, research in the new field of inactivity studies shows that moving around daily is critical to health. In fact, sitting for an hour is worse than smoking two cigarettes, according to another study.

—Founder Ryan Kania of Advocates for World Health

Take a hot-cold contrast shower every morning.

My most unique personal habit is the hot-cold contrast shower. I’ve done it every morning, no matter where I’ve lived or what hotel I’m staying in, for 14 years. By doing 30 seconds of ice cold water, followed by 30 seconds of hot, then 30 seconds of cold water (always ending with cold water), I gain the energy and clarity to start my day feeling refreshed.

To get started in this habit do a normal shower. Then crank the water as cold as it goes for 30 seconds. Then crank as hot as you can stand it for 30 seconds.Then ice cold for 30 seconds (this cold-hot-cold is one cycle).

I’d start with one cycle for the first time. If it’s too much, try it on the legs first. (That’s what my girlfriend does; she also thinks I’m crazy.)

Not convinced? Learn about the research behind cold showers.

—Founder Phil Dumontet of Dashed

Related: 6 Things I Wish Somebody Had Told Me When I Started My Small Business

Reflect on critical open questions through different lenses.

Most of the technologies we’ve ended up inventing and developing, and most of the strategies we’ve ended up pursuing, have been borne by a long cultivation of an open question, followed by the nurturing of a slow hunch. I am able to tolerate open questions for months, or years. Open questions could include queries about how to find a co-founder for your business idea when people have their own interests and projects to work on or how to sell your new product to an entity that is typically averse to risk (Answers: Work with them on their projects to show your worth and tempt them with interesting questions; show how to dramatically reduce a risk they already bear.)

Usually, the simple answers that come quickly do not satisfy me. But instead of giving up or forgetting it, I work at the problem each day from different angles, under different lenses — which can include but are not limited to: looking at extremes, considering what essential assumptions are and how to test them, and discovering how a different industry might solve a problem. Eventually I find some real traction with an idea that seems novel and has a good chance of working.

—Co-founder Danielle Fong of LightSail Energy

Set three specific goals weekly and monthly — and ignore everything else.

There are a million things you can do to improve your business. The problem is, if you try to fix or improve them all at once, you end up not making much progress in any of them.

You need to be relentless in following your goals. At least once a day, I find myself asking, “Is what I’m working on directly helping one of the three goals?” It’s easy to distract yourself with tasks that aren’t critical. You just need to stay on top of it. This helps us accomplish big things quickly.

To hold ourselves accountable and stay on the same page, we have weekly meeting on Fridays. During these meetings, our company sets the goals for the upcoming week and see where we are on the previous week’s goals. It’s a lot easier to say “what went wrong this week” then “what went wrong this quarter”

—Co-founder Patrick Ambron of BrandYourself

Related: The Best Business Advice You’ll Ever Get

Make lots of lists as soon as you get to the office.

My habit is that I create lists for everything for one hour as soon as soon I get to the office every morning or the day before at the end of the day. I record these lists in Notes on my iPad, computer, and iPhone. I also use Gmail Tasks so I can link my lists to emails.

It forces me to think through my day, my week, my year, and my long term plan before beginning to execute. This improves my organization and clarity. In the past, I got caught up with the day-to-day details, and I took my mind off of the big goals.

There is a great YouTube video that I love, which inspired me to start the habit.

–Founder Jonathon Nostrant Of ivee

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Forming the right habits is critical to success as an entrepreneur. In fact, 40 percent of our daily behaviors happen automatically as a result of our habits according to researchers at Duke University. So, if you choose the right behaviors to turn into habits, you’ve just supercharged a large portion of your day.

What is the single biggest productivity habit that has created the most impact in your life?

Related: 5 Characteristics Shared by the Most Successful Organizations

TIME Careers & Workplace

The 1 Spot in Your Office You Need to Avoid at All Costs

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Want to get things done? Avoid this spot if you can

Want to have a productive day? Stay away from the printer. A new survey finds that printer and copier stations are basically a black hole for productivity. Office technology company Brother International Corporation says workers waste an average of 13 hours a year dawdling at their company’s printer and copier stations.

“Movement toward centralized printers has unintentionally created a new employee gathering spot,” says Jeff Sandler, director of marketing for solutions and content at Brother. Workers waste time schlepping to and from printer stations, waiting for jobs to be completed and shooting the breeze with colleagues. It’s only a few extra minutes a day, but those minutes add up and make it harder to get back into a focused frame of mind.

While productivity experts say that it is important to take breaks during the day, unscheduled interruptions can derail your momentum. “Since printing devices are widely dispersed across offices, long trips to the device are a given. And social conversations have become the norm,” Sandler says.

Brother’s survey finds that more than 60% of workers say they chat with co-workers at print and copy stations, and many of those conversations aren’t about work. Those non-work conversations make people 98% more likely to stop by a colleague’s desk to talk about non-work topics.

Sandler suggests tackling the problem by adding printers closer to work spaces (he does, after all, work for a company that sells printers). Other increasingly common options are the use of electronic file-sharing and cloud-storage services that eliminate the need for so many hard copies.

If the printer is sapping your productivity, try working in an area of the office that naturally delivers better productivity. The physical space you’re sitting in can have a significant impact on well you work, says Bob Best, executive vice president of energy and sustainability services at commercial real estate company JLL.

Access to sun and natural light is “like magic,” Best says. Studies have shown it energizes people and even makes them less likely to take sick days. Beyond that, the most productive space in your office will depend on the task you’re trying to accomplish.

If you need to focus intensely or complete a project within a firm deadline, find a place that’s quiet with high walls and minimal outside distraction. Conversely, if you need to troubleshoot or generate ideas, an open cafe or lounge-type environment will give you the stimulation you need to get your creative juices flowing.

Read next: 5 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Work Harder

TIME Careers & Workplace

31 Secrets to Writing the Perfect Cover Letter

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Instead of just repeating yourself, use your cover letter to describe additional details that you weren’t able to squeeze onto your resume

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

Ah, the dreaded cover letter. Every time you sit down to write one, you probably browse cover letter examples online, get overwhelmed, and think something to the effect of: Does anyone really read these? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if I could just let my resume speak for itself?

First off: Yes, we can assure you that cover letters do, in fact, get read. In fact, to some hiring managers, they’re the most important part of your application. And yes, while it would be easier to let your resume speak for itself, if that was the case you’d completely miss the opportunity to tell prospective employers who you are, showcase why they should hire you, and stand out above all the other candidates.

Ready to get started? To make sure your cover letter is in amazing shape (and is as painless as possible to write), we’ve compiled our 31 best cover letter tips of all time into one place.

Read on—then get cover letter writing.

1. Don’t Regurgitate Your Resume

Instead of just repeating yourself (“I was in charge of reviewing invoice disputes”), use your cover letter to describe additional details that you weren’t able to squeeze onto the single page of your resume: “By resolving invoice disputes, I gained a deep analytical knowledge—but more importantly, I learned how to interact calmly and diplomatically with angry customers.” A cover letter gives you the freedom to use full sentences—instead of bullet points—so use them to expand upon your resume points and tell the story of why you’re the perfect fit for the company.

2. Think Not What the Company Can Do for You

A common cover letter mistake? Talking about how great the position would be for you and your resume. Frankly, hiring managers are aware of that—what they really want to know is what you’re going to bring to the position and company. On that note:

3. Clearly Show What You’re Capable Of

Beyond explaining what you’ve done in the past, show hiring managers what you can do in the future. “Determine the key requirements and priorities for this job, and make it instantly clear to the reviewer that you can deliver the goods on these key things,” says Jenny Foss, job search expert and founder of JobJenny.com. “Consider crafting a section within the letter that begins with, ‘Here’s what, specifically, I can deliver in this role.’ And then expound upon your strengths in a few of the priority requirements for that role.”

4. Showcase Your Skills

When you know you have the potential to do the job—but your past experience doesn’t totally sell you as the perfect one for the position—try focusing on your skills, instead. Here’s a template that helps you do just that.

5. …Not Necessarily Your Education

Many new grads make the mistake of over-focusing on their educational backgrounds. At the end of the day, what hiring managers care about most is your work experience (and yes, that can be volunteer or internship experience, too)—and what you can walk through the door and deliver on Day 1.

6. Don’t Apologize for Skills You Don’t Have

When you don’t meet all of the job requirements, it’s common for job seekers to use lines like, “Despite my limited experience with marketing…” or “While I only have work experience doing administrative tasks…” But why apologize? Instead of drawing attention to your weaknesses, try to focus on the skills you do have, says career expert Lily Zhang. “Stay positive, focus on your strengths, and immediately launch into your transferable skills and infectious enthusiasm for the position.”

7. Highlight the Right Experiences

Not sure what skills and experiences you should be featuring? Drop the text of the job description into a word cloud tool like Wordle, and see what stands out. That’s what the hiring manager is looking for most.

8. Tell a Story

What brings you to this company? Did you used to sing along to all of its commercials as a kid? Did the product make some incredible difference in your life? Do you sometimes pull into the parking lot and daydream about what it would feel like to work there? Stories bring your background and experiences to life, so feel free to tell them. (Just, you know, keep them short and to the point.)

9. Use a Few Numbers

When it comes to the job search, numbers often speak louder than words. “Offer stats to illustrate your impact on companies or associations you’ve worked for in the past,” suggests career expert and founder of ProfessionGal Megan Broussard. “Employers love to see numbers—it shows them that you speak their language and that you understand what they’re looking for in an employee: results.”

10. Consider Testimonials

If you have great feedback from old co-workers, bosses, or clients, don’t be afraid to use it! A seamless way to integrate a positive quote from a previous manager or client is to use it as evidence of your passion for your area of expertise. For example, “I have developed a keen interest in data science during my years working various political campaigns (as my past supervisor once said, I love Excel more than anyone she knows).”

11. Cut the Formality

“Don’t be overly formal (‘I wish to convey my interest in filling the open position at your fine establishment’),” writes career expert Mark Slack. “It makes you seem insincere and even robotic, not anything like the friendly, approachable, and awesome-to-work-with person you are.

12. Think Custom, Not Canned

Most companies want to see that you’re truly excited about the position and company, which means creating a custom letter for each position you apply for. “When a recruiter reads, ‘Dear Hiring Manager, I am so excited to apply for the open position at your company, where I hope to utilize my skills to progress in my career,’ he or she immediately recognizes it for what it is—a stock cover letter that you’ve mass-distributed to every place in town,” says Muse career expert Katie Douthwaite. And then probably throws it in the trash.

13. Start With a Template

That said, there’s nothing that says you can’t get a little help. Our easy, downloadable cover letter guide will walk you through, step-by-step, how to create a cover letter that rocks.

14. …Or Some Inspiration

Having trouble getting started? Check out 31 examples of how to start your cover letter in an engaging, attention-grabbing way or these eight examples of awesome cover letters that actually worked.

15. Be Open to Other Formats

If you’re applying to a more traditional company, then the tried-and-true three-to-five-paragraph format probably makes sense. However, if you’re gunning for a more creative or startup job—or need to explain to the hiring manager, say, how your career has taken you from teaching to business development, a different approach could be appropriate. Here at The Muse, we’ve seen cover letters use bullet points, tell stories, or showcase videos to (successfully) get their point across. This professional even turned hers into a BuzzFeed-style list!

16. But Don’t Go Too Far

Like this guy did. Just—don’t.

17. Consider Adding a Headline

One formatting idea from The Undercover Recruiter? Add an eye-catching headline to your letter, like “3 Reasons I’m an Excellent Fit for the Marketing Manager Position.” Again, no one says you have to follow the tried-and-true format, and this can be an easy way to catch the hiring manager’s eye quickly.

18. Be Real

“Honest, genuine writing always goes much, much further than sticking to every dumb rule you’ve ever read in stale, outdated career guides and college textbooks,” explains Foss.

19. …And Normal

We can’t tell you how many cover letters we’ve seen from people who are “absolutely thrilled for the opportunity” or “very excitedly applying!” Downplay the adverbs a bit, and just write like a normal person.

20. Cut the Fluff

Avoid, at all costs, describing yourself as a “team player” or a “people person,” says Broussard. “Instead, show off your skills with descriptive statements like ‘I’m an expert communicator with experience bringing together diverse departments to develop a cohesive program.’ It’s longer—but it’s also stronger.”

21. Write in the Company’s “Voice”

Cover letters are a great way to show that you understand the environment and culture of the company and industry and prove that you’ve got what they are looking for. So, always keep in mind who will be reading your cover letter, and tailor it to what you know will get them excited. Spending five or 10 minutes reading over the company website before you get started can be a great way to get in the right mindset—you’ll get a sense for the company’s tone, language, and culture, which are all things you’ll want to mirror as you’re writing.

22. Boost Your Confidence Before Writing

Writing guru Alexandra Franzen offers a simple mind trick that will dramatically change the way you write cover letters: Pretend. “Pretend that the person you’re writing to already loves and respects you. Pretend that the person you’re writing to already believes that you’re worthy and valuable. Pretend that the person you’re writing to doesn’t need a big sales pitch,” she explains. Then, write. Your words will come out so much easier. (Here’s more on how to do it.)

23. Have Some Fun With It

News flash: Cover letter writing doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, there are plenty of ways to spice it up! Hoping for a job at a startup? Making your cover letter more creative—whether you use a spunkier tone, play with the format, or make it more visual—will likely improve your chances of getting a call back. Applying for a corporate position? Stick with the traditional format, but make it more conversational, or include a story about how you first came in contact with the company or how much you love it. Much more fun, right? (Here are a few other ways to make cover letter writing suck less.)

24. Don’t Let Your Fear of Bragging Get in the Way

If you tend to have a hard time writing about yourself, here’s a quick trick: Imagine you’re someone else writing a letter about yourself. Think from the perspective of a friend, mentor, or previous employer—someone who would only sing your praises—and then write the letter from her point of view. If it helps, you can even write the letter in third person (i.e. “Erin would be a great fit for this position because…”). Just make sure you’re very careful about going back through and changing it to first person when you’re done!

25. Have Someone Gut Check It

Have a friend take a look at your cover letter, and ask him or her two questions: Does this sell me as the best person for the job? and Does it get you excited? If the answer to either is “no,” or even slight hesitation, go back for another pass.

26. Keep it Short and Sweet

There are always exceptions to the rule, but in general, for resumes and cover letters alike, don’t go over a page. “According to the Orange County Resume Survey, almost 70% of employers either want a half page cover letter (250 words) or ‘the shorter the better,’ approach,” writes Slack.

27. Don’t Start With Your Name

Because, well, the hiring manager can see it already on your resume. Get right to the point with what you can bring to the job.

28. But Do Include the Hiring Manager’s Name

Use the person’s first and last name, including a “Mr.” or “Ms.” (e.g., Mr. Jack Smith). Never use “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear or Sir or Madam”—nothing could be more generic (not to mention archaic).

29. Unless You Don’t Know It

OK, sometimes, even after hours of online searching (try these tips), you still might not be able to definitively figure out who exactly the hiring manager for the position you’re applying for is. If you can only find a list of executives and you’re not completely confident who the hiring manager is, use the head of the department for the position you’re applying for. If you really don’t have a name to use, try to still be as specific as possible in your greeting. Consider using “Senior Analyst Hiring Manager” or “Research Manager Search Committee”—something that shows that you’ve written this letter with a particular audience in mind.

30. Edit

We shouldn’t have to tell you to run your cover letter through spell-check, but here’s an even better step: Check out how the wording sounds to others using Hemingway. Drop your text onto the page, and the color-coded app will give your writing a once-over. Is a sentence too wordy, overly complex, or totally unreadable? It’ll be highlighted in red until you revise it. Tend to overuse the passive voice? Every instance of it will show up in green. The site will even recommend when you can use shorter or simpler words (Why take up precious resume space with “utilize” when you can say “use?”).

31. But Care Most About Standing Out

Perhaps the best piece of cover letter wisdom we can offer you comes from Foss: The most memorable cover letters are written by people who care less about the rules and more about standing out to the hiring manager. “Next time you sit down to write a cover letter, vow to not get uptight about all the tiny little ‘rules’ you’ve picked up along the way,” she writes. “Instead, buck convention. Be memorable. Nail the stuff that will make you a true standout.”

TIME Careers & Workplace

8 Brilliant Books That Will Lead You to Your Dream Job

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The best place to start if you're thinking about getting a new (better) job

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

Okay, eight books is a lot to get through for one job search, but hear me out. I guarantee you the time it takes to do your job search right will be less than the time it takes you to do a job search wrong—or worse, do a job search again because you didn’t properly figure out what you wanted in the first place.

So, consider the time you put into reading these books an investment. (And, to be honest, you probably only need to read four or five.)

Job Search Basics

1. What Color is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers, by Richard N. Bolles

2. Knock ’em Dead: The Ultimate Job Search Guide, by Martin Yate, CPC

If you’ve ever perused the job search section of a bookstore, you’ve probably seen some version of these two books. There is a new version of Bolles’Parachute book and Yate’s Knock ’em Dead every single year, and there is a good reason for that. Both books cover the gamut of job search basics, fromthinking about what you might want from your next job to the nuts and bolts of how to get it.

Reading both might be slightly overkill, so flip through the first chapter of both to find the voice and style you prefer—then read it cover to cover.

Career Exploration

3. How to Find Fulfilling Work, by Roman Krznaric

4. Life Reimagined: Discover Your New Life Possibilities, by Richard J. Leider and Alan M. Webber

To go a bit more in depth into what your next big career move should be, take some time to read Roman Krznaric’s How to Find Fulfilling Work. No matter what stage of your career you’re in, the self-reflection encouraged by this book will help you become more confident in your career decisions.

Life Reimagined by Leider and Webber is solidly for the more experienced, encore career crowd. If you’re ready for take two of your career but not sure what to do with it, this is the book for you.

Career Assessments

5. Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type, by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron

6. The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success, by Nicholas Lore

If you’re looking for a bit more structure in your career exploration, these two books make use of career assessments. Do What You Are relies on your Myers-Briggs Type Indicator results. Pathfinder, on the other hand, uses more personal, less formal career assessments. Both have their merits, so your choice will depend a bit on what you’re looking to get out of a career assessment.

Networking

7. 100 Conversations for Career Success: Learn to Network, Cold Call, and Tweet Your Way to Your Dream Job, by Laura M. Labovich and Miriam Salpeter

8. The 20-Minute Networking Meeting: How Little Meetings Can Lead to Your Next Big Job, by Marcia Ballinger and Nathan A. Perez

Whether you like it or not, almost all job searches have some component of networking. Get ready for those informational interviews and find out the best way to use social media to your advantage while networking by (ideally) reading both100 Conversations for Career Success and The 20-Minute Networking Meeting. Learn the tricks and nail all those awkward little interactions, and you’ll save yourself the trouble of stressing over networking.
Whenever I want to learn something new, my first instinct is to find a book about it. If you’re anything like me, hopefully this list will be helpful as you begin navigating your job search. Happy reading!

TIME Careers & Workplace

3 Amazing Mind Tricks That Will Help You Remember Small Details

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Here are three tricks to remember information, especially at seminars and conferences

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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.

It’s all in your head. No, really—your capacity to remember the name of a new investment company, which products are going to present the fiercest competition for your startup, and how to find that bistro downtown where you are meeting a new employee is part of the untapped potential in your brain. Let’s dispense with the old “non-truism” that we have only tapped 10% of the capacity in our brains. Cognitive scientists doubt that’s true.

What is true, though, is this. You can teach yourself to remember details about your day and recall that information when you need it most. Like, say, when you are about to present the case for why someone should invest in your company or that the new employee in your company is named Greg. I’ve used these tricks before, especially during business conferences when I can’t jot down a reminder or record a memo on my phone.

1. Say the Information Out Loud Five or Six Times

I can’t say there is any proven science behind this trick, but I have used it many times at CES in Las Vegas each year when I really wanted to remember a new company name. There’s something about saying the information out loud a few times that works for me.

You might repeat the name and location of a new investment company, or the widget you noticed on the show floor. It seems to help if the name is unusual, like Twitch or Uber. Maybe it’s because you are hearing the information and speaking it or because you are isolating that information in your brain as separate from things you’ve read and only heard. Either way, it works.

2. Associate the Information With One Other Thing

I recently had a meeting near downtown San Francisco and, just as I was driving to the location across town, I realized the GPS on my phone was directing me to the wrong address in the same area.

I didn’t have time (or the guts) to pull over in heavy traffic to look up the company name, but it wasn’t a huge problem. I had memorized the street name. It’s a good backup technique I use, because this seems to happen quite a bit. The company was on Gilbert Street. When I read the address at my hotel, I thought about the composers Gilbert and Sullivan and how they made comic operas way back in the 1800s. I’m not sure why, since I’m not even a fan of their work, but it worked. I spoke the street name to Siri on my iPhone and set that as the new destination in San Francisco. Eureka, instant recall. And, close enough—it’s a short street.

3. Create a List of Items With the Thing You Want to Remember on the List

This one last trick I use at business conferences and seminars routinely. Sometimes, it helps to take a bit of information you want to remember—like the name of a new mobile app or a new contact—and mentally make a list of a few other related items.

Let’s say you want to remember the name Lyst, the fashion site that is creating buzz in the mobile shopping space. You’d create a list (no pun intended) of other well-known retailers, such as Macy’s and Best Buy, and then recite the list. Maybe it’s the fact that we all make shopping lists for eggs and milk or the fact that our brains remember information in lists better than isolated items. (That might even explain the incredible popularity of list articles like this one!) I’ve used this trick before, and it works, especially if the items are a bit unusual.

TIME Careers & Workplace

15 Exceptional Ways to Kick Your Productivity Way Up

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Here's how you can quickly get on track

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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.

Being productive is a great thing. Not only does it increase your self-confidence and sense of well-being, it can also make you more effective and your company more profitable. The ultimate reward for keeping your focus and being productive is more free time for you. And who doesn’t want more free time?

Everyone hits productivity lows, which is OK as long as they don’t last too long. Here are 15 ways to kick your productivity into high gear.

Don’t know where to begin?

1. The first step is to create a to-do list. When is the best time to create a to-do list? At the end of your workday while everything is still fresh in your mind or Sunday night after (hopefully) a restful weekend. This allows you to shut out work completely once you’re home for the night or weekend and to hit the ground running with your list in hand the next morning. It’s always a good idea to keep some paper handy during your workday to take notes and add things to your to-do list. This allows you to clear your head by getting those thoughts onto paper so you can continue to focus on the task at hand.

2. The next step is to choose one difficult, possibly longer task on your list to complete first. The sense of achievement you experience from checking off that one really hard thing on your list helps set the tone for the easier tasks to follow. They will feel like a walk in the park after you’ve tackled the hard stuff.

When is the best time to be productive?

3. A lot of this depends on who you are as a person. It is often suggested that we get up early and get to work while things are still quiet—less office chatter, fewer interruptions, just peace and solitude. Although this advice is good for some, it’s not good for everyone—we’re not all early birds. You need to dig deep and figure out when you are most productive. Maybe it’s closer to noon when you begin to feel the stirrings of being alive and able to produce. The point here is, don’t push through your to-do list during times when you tend to be the least productive—choose those times when you function at your best. Save easy to-dos for your less productive times of the day.

Hit a wall?

4. Take a walk outside and get some fresh air. Even a five-minute walk can wake you up and make you feel rejuvenated enough to dig back into work.

5. Take time out to clean and organize your desk and perhaps redecorate.Sometimes the clutter, the dust, and the really dirty keyboard can be a distraction. It’s amazing how cleaning your desk and making it an organized, beautiful place to work again can boost your productivity. Consider a new chair or adding some plants or a fish in a small bowl. Research has proved that the simple addition of a plant can increase productivity by 15 percent.

6. Take some time to browse the Web–look up things that are of interest to you.Research has shown that if you take a short break to surf the Web—say five to 15 minutes—you will feel refreshed and ready to throw yourself into work again. You may even find new inspiration and think of a new way to get through the current to-do.

7. Try laughter. Watch a couple of skits from Saturday Night Live or some other comedy show you enjoy, even if for only five minutes. Laughter increases productivity and makes you feel happier too.

8. Stand at your desk, stretch, and try deep breathing for at least five minutes. A good recipe for deep breathing: Inhale through your nose while counting slowly to 7; hold your breath for another slow count to 7; and then slowly exhale through your mouth for a slow count to 7. Go through this process 7 to 10 times. Now pat yourself on the back for completing your first meditation session and because you feel much better and can get back to work.

9. Take a snack break–the high-protein, high-fiber variety. This kind of snack—search the Web for ideas—will give you the brain boost you need for increased productivity. Sugary, high-carb snacks just bog you down and make it more likely that you will want to take a nap instead of work.

10. Stay hydrated. The older you get, the harder it is to sense that you’re thirsty. Dehydration can cause sleepiness, confusion, irritability, and other side effects (another great Web search opportunity). What is the best way to hydrate? Water—keep it handy at all times and keep drinking the stuff. It will help you maintain your focus, stay awake, and keep your productivity on high.

11. If your wall is still up, try taking a nap for up to 20 minutes. Yes, you read that right. Go to your car, a couch, or other place you feel comfortable—and take a nap. Naps as short as 15 minutes can increase alertness, improve your mood, and get your productivity juices flowing again.

Do you multitask?

12. Don’t. Research has shown that multitasking can be a productivity crusher, causing wasted time and more errors. Boost your productivity by focusing on one to-do at a time instead of switching from task to task. Occasionally, you will have to switch tasks if something hot hits your desk. Just make this the exception and not the norm. Better to place that hot item at the top of your to-do list and finish what you were doing first, thereby keeping your productivity from ending with a screeching halt.

If nothing seems to be working

13. Sometimes the problem is constant distractions. Shut off the email ping, put a Do Not Disturb Sign on your office door, or wear some headphones to shut out the noise. Research has shown that each distraction can cause up to a 20-minute delay in productivity. This can really add up, with multiple distractions decreasing productivity significantly.

14. Take a vacation. Not just a long weekend–a real vacation away from it all. If you can, take a couple weeks. Two weeks is optimal for complete recovery from the stresses of work. It’s amazing how real time away from work can give you a whole new perspective and research has shown that even a weeklong vacation increases reaction time and productivity.

15. Last resort. Perhaps you are having trouble with productivity because you simply don’t enjoy what you’re doing anymore. Think about your current work choice—is it still resonating with you? Do you ever feel excited about your work? If the answer is no, it may be time to find a new job or career entirely. If you can find your real passion in life, your productivity will go through the roof without your even trying.

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