TIME Careers & Workplace

6 Reasons You Didn’t Get the Job (That No One Will Ever Tell You)

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The way you speak can, surprisingly, be a huge indicator to your interviewer about whether you’re the right fit for the position

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

You dressed the part. You told engaging stories. You asked insightful questions. Frankly, you nailed the interview, but you didn’t get the job. What gives?

You can certainly try to ask for feedback after receiving a rejection, but most employers probably won’t say much. If they do, it’ll be something fairly generic, along the lines of “other qualified candidates.” That, of course, isn’t always the real reason—it’s just that the real reason might be a little too awkward to actually say to someone’s face.

So, what are some of these uncomfortable reasons for not selecting a particular job candidate? Read on for a list of commonly cited deal breakers that are pretty difficult for hiring mangers to admit to.

1. You Spoke Funny

Do you have a habit of making your statements sound like questions? Tend to speak in an overly casual or formal tone?

The way you speak can, surprisingly, be a huge indicator to your interviewer about whether you’re the right fit for the position. Maybe you sound too meek to manage a team of 10 or too aggressive to handle customer complaints. This might not be a fair assessment, but it happens all the time—so it’s definitely worth thinking about and practicing for as you’re doing mock interviews to prepare.

2. You, Um, Smelled Funny

And I don’t just mean that you didn’t shower. That could be it—or it could be that you overdid it on the cologne. Either way, you don’t want to be that interview candidate who overpowered the conversation with your aroma rather than your charisma.

To combat this, lay off the perfume and make sure your personal hygiene is top notch. Seriously, please don’t let this be the reason you didn’t get the job.

3. You Were Too Eager

Did you show up 45 minutes early to the interview? Did you offer to do the internship unpaid without being prompted? It’s good to be enthusiastic during your interview, but be careful not to be over the top. It can come off as a little much and, like the first example, even inconvenient for the hiring manager. Instead, show your excitement by being exceptionally well versed about the company and position. Top it off with a thank you note, and you’re all set.

4. You Were Too Arrogant

Don’t get me wrong: Confidence in an interview is essential, and apparently it’s even good to be a little narcissistic. But don’t step over the line toward being arrogant. This can really rub people the wrong way and make you seem a little hard to manage.

To make sure you’re not overdoing it, back up your claims and your skills with concrete stories, and show an openness to learn by asking thoughtful questions. And even if you think you have it in the bag, think twice before letting that show.

5. You Didn’t Pass the Airport Test

This reason might be the most awkward of them all: It’s possible that your interviewer just didn’t click with you. You’re not going to get along swimmingly with everyone, and most people are too polite to tell you if you didn’t with him or her.

That’s okay. The most you can do is try to be yourself. Do some mindfulness exercises before you head over to the interview, take a deep breath before you walk into the building, and relax. Don’t let people judge you based just on your nerves. Try to let your interviewer actually get to know you a bit.

6. You Weren’t the Internal Candidate They Wanted All Along

It’s a sad truth of job hunting: At many companies, hiring managers are required to do a few interviews before making a decision, even if they have a strong internal candidate that they probably knew from day one that they were going to hire. There’s pretty much no way to know when you’re interviewing for a position like this and, unfortunately, there’s almost nothing you can do. So, if you didn’t get the job, it could also very well be because it was impossible to get in the first place. Don’t get too hung up on it.

At the end of the day, there are some things you can control about the interview process (like showering and doing your company research), and then there are some things you can’t do anything about (like knowing your interviewer’s pet peeves ahead of time). So, do what you can and understand that interviewing is an incredibly subjective way to evaluate whether someone is a good fit for a position.

TIME Careers & Workplace

11 Perfect Vacation Ideas That Won’t Disappoint

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Working all year round can actually hurt your productivity. Take a break and have a look at these vacation options

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This story was originally published on StartupCollective.

Question: Describe your idea of the perfect entrepreneurial vacation.

Surfing in the Middle of Nowhere

“Part of being an entrepreneur is exploring new industires or shaking up current ones. I like to take a trip to a off the beaten getaway where I can surf or just relax where there aren’t that many tourists and there is an opportunity for me to focus, meditate and enjoy the simple life. This type of vacation gets me to recharge my batteries and look at my life and business in a different way.” — Derek Capo, Next Step China

Gathering With Geniuses

“Being an entrepreneur is about the love for learning and the love for sharing. My dream vacation is spending a few nights in a new city drinking and partying with a bunch of geniuses. Business talk is allowed, but far from serious. South by Southwest Music and Media Conference is a perfect example, and Geeks on a Plane is a dream vacation.” — Brian Curliss, MailLift

Touring Artisan Lands

“In fashion, everyone talks about using artisans from South Asia in their lines, but young designers have no way of accessing those artisans. I would love to be able to go to villages in the North-West Frontier Province or to the Rajasthan desert to develop personal relationships that can lead to a wider, more fair distribution of these dying professions.” — Benish Shah, Before the Label

Engaging With New Communities

“Vacations are not merely about relaxing. They’re about exploration, engaging with new communities and cultures and challenging and inspiring yourself. My perfect vacation would be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, soaking in the beauty of the continent and its people and touring local entrepreneurial ecosystems. I’d also like to go to AfrikaBurn or Burning Man and participate in the giving economy.” — Christopher Pruijsen, Sterio.me

Traveling Without Interruptions

“I’d love to vacation with the smartphone turned off and a qualified individual left in charge at the business. I would take no business phone calls — just a few quick and simple check-ins. I’d spend time at a favorite destination with enough money saved on airfare, food and lodging so that the vacation can be enjoyable and interesting each and every day.” — Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance

Finding Inspiration While Relaxing

“I go on what I call innovation vacations. The purpose is to pull myself out of the day-to-day routine and think big. I pick a place of relaxation, unplug and get inspired by a wide range of books. I then plan, think and write.” — Brent Beshore, adventur.es

Golfing With My Inspirations

“Golf is a distant memory at best, but my entrepreneurial dream vacation would be hitting a post-Master’s round with Pete Carroll, Jim Collins and Warren Buffett. Nothing beats passion chatter with your biggest inspirations on a beautiful green.” — Matt Erlichman, Porch

Pushing Your Limits

“Some of my favorite vacations are on dirt bike trails at campgrounds. It’s not always relaxing and fun, but it makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something big after coming back from a tough trail ride. Going on a vacation that pushes your limits and lets you accomplish something outside of business is a great ego boost.” — Jennifer Donogh, Ovaleye, LLC

Making Time for Luxury Activities

“The key to a great vacation is doing luxurious activities — things that make you happy but you don’t create time for weekly. I enjoy staying in shape and sleeping, and both suffer during the work week! I also love my job and my team. The vacation part is about not opening a laptop and not creating new work, but I always want to be responsive to help my teammates and our partners.” — Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches

Reading and Enjoying the Quiet

“I always feel like I don’t have enough time to read all the books and other materials that are recommended to me as an entrepreneur. I’d love the opportunity to go away for a while and just consume some of those important ideas without an obligation to try to squeeze the effort in between my work.” — Thursday Bram, Hyper Modern Consulting

Keeping in Touch No Matter Where

“I always have my phone, iPad and computer with me, so I never really take a vacation from work. Why? Because I love what I do, get bored easily and always feel that I must reply to someone within 48 hours (otherwise, it’s rude).” — Trace Cohen, Launch.it

TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Best Morning Rituals for a Super Productive Day

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Here's how to make the most of your morning, and set the tone for a great day

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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.

Whether or not you’re a morning person, morning rituals set the tone for the rest of the day. You can either stumble out of bed and rush at the Keurig like your life depends on it, or you can take this time to prepare for a productive, less stressful day. “Sleep hygiene” doesn’t end when you doze off–how you start your mornings restarts the cycle and gives you a genuine opportunity to begin fresh.

As an entrepreneur, you need to be a master at prioritizing. You have to revere drive over multitasking. The pressure of making money from scratch day after day is a lot of responsibility to shoulder. Try out these morning tips to optimize your productivity–and help keep you sane when the pressure starts to mount.

1. Skip the coffee (for now)

Before you go on that tangent about how you can’t possibly live without your coffee, hear me out. You don’t have to give up coffee for good, but try reaching for something else first. A cup of lukewarm water with freshly squeezed lemon gives you a more natural “kick” in the morning. Plus, it has many health benefits such as shifting your metabolism into higher gear, clearing your skin, providing a nonaddictive form of energy, and keeping your mouth healthy. To optimize the benefits, wait at least an hour before eating or drinking anything else.

2. Don’t reach for your phone

Many Americans report that they grab their phone as soon as they wake up. They browse through Facebook feeds (which studies show just make you feel worse about yourself). They groan at the influx of client requests already piling up. They scan through their favorite news app and see heartbreaking coverage of diseases and breaking wars, photos of celebrities in feuds, and other stressful scenarios. Instead, adopt a healthier “first thing in the morning” habit such as light stretching, dancing in front of a mirror, or making the bed (you’ll feel better for it).

3. Adopt a good hygiene ritual

Whether you like to shower first thing or wait until after your morning workout session, a good hygiene ritual is crucial–even if it’s just for your face. This is pampering time, and an easy way to continue looking your best while running a successful business. Entrepreneurs who work from home are especially vulnerable to getting into slob mode. At the very least, care for your face, which isn’t just a beautifying move but also refreshing.

4. Create a triage to-do list

Most entrepreneurs have a smorgasbord of requests to fulfill every day. This can easily be overwhelming, but don’t delve into multitasking. Research shows that nobody is good at it, and when you’re not giving 100 percent to any project, it’ll come back to bite you. Have an evolving task list each day that you check off. It’ll help keep you on track and ensure none of the minor details are missed. Start the business portion of each day updating your list and gauging where you stand.

5. Claim your space

A productive workspace is critical whether you call your home an office or you have to commute. Ideally you neaten up your work area each evening–but if that didn’t happen, do it in the morning. A sharp, clear mind demands a clear space. If you’re into feng shui (or are willing to give it a shot), find out how to better organize your office area. You might be surprised by the results.

Your mornings set the stage for the entire day. Choose wisely, take your time, and don’t forget to prioritize yourself along with your business.

TIME Careers & Workplace

The One Word You Should Basically Never, Ever Say

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Anyone aiming for great success should quit using it immediately

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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.

Language is powerful. Using the right words can signal you’re part of the group, convey difficult decisions without ruffling feathers, and demonstrate power. Meanwhile, sloppy word choices are often a red flag for sloppy thinking or a company culture with something to hide.

That’s true of firms with impenetrable or pretentious job ads and mission statements, and it’s also true of individuals. How we speak says a lot about our values. That being true, there’s one word you really, really should stay away from if you want to be successful in business, according to Aha! co-founder Brian de Haaff on LinkedIn recently.

What word does he think ambitious entrepreneurs should ban from their vocabulary? The innocuous sounding adverb “honestly.”

What about the rest of the time?

What’s wrong with signaling your intention to be entirely straightforward? That’s a quality that you shouldn’t need to signal, de Haaff insists, because it should be fundamental to your communication style all the time. If you have to highlight that you’re speaking honestly by saying “honestly,” you need to take a hard look at why you’re being less than forthcoming or authentic the rest of the time. Other people are already wondering, he warns.

“A VP of sales who I worked closely with before I co-founded Aha! always said ‘honestly’ when he really wanted something. He thought that it was a way to make a hard point, but we all questioned whether he was lying to us at all other times,” de Haaff writes.

But calling your credibility into question isn’t the only problem with using “honestly” for emphasis, according to de Haaff. In the full post, he also explains how the expression can highlight your frustration in an unhelpful, passive-aggressive way, and push people away in conversation.

He’s not the only one out there with a very strong and specific verbal pet peeve. Here on Inc.com, we recently rounded up expressions that even well-educated folks use without thinking that make them sound dumb or inconsiderate, for example. Business jargon and inflated diction are another continuous source of complaint as well. No doubt there are lots of other verbal pitfalls out there.

TIME Careers & Workplace

8 Habits of the Most Highly Respected Businesswomen

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The best female leaders provide support, respect and firm guidance in equal measure. Here are 8 habits that differentiate them from the pack

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This story was originally published on StartupCollective.

Women get a bad rap in the work world, and we don’t have to look much further than pop culture for examples. Consider Monica from Showtime’s “House of Lies.” Being an addict, uninterested mother, and demeaning boss somehow makes her incredibly successful at work. Or take, for example, the famous caricature of Anna Wintour in “The Devil Wears Prada.”

Fortunately, executives like Facebook COO and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg are fostering an important discourse that is reaching female and male executives alike to spark change. And we’ve already come a very long way. Women can be executives who drive results, empathic mentors, and loving mothers all at the same time.

Nevertheless, female CEOs remain subject to intense scrutiny. Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer has been widely criticized for working through her maternity leave and for putting a nursery next to her office, and recently she’s been in the media because “good-looking CEOs get better returns.”

The question is, does this type of scrutiny have a trickle-down effect for other professional women?

There are socioeconomic factors at play that we cannot solve overnight. We need to teach women how to be confident in the workplace so they can succeed on their own merits. I offered some tactics in my previous piece, “Confidence Breeds Success — And It Can Be Taught.” However, individual confidence is only part of the equation. We also need to support and champion women in the workplace, particularly when we, as women, are the executives.

The best mentors I’ve seen are those who do the following:

  1. Relinquish your need to be right. It’s a common adage among CEOs: hire people smarter than you. Assuming you’ve done that, give those smart people an opportunity to do what they do best.
  2. Fix, don’t blame. At an event last year, I heard Sheryl Sandberg offer this advice about good bosses: “A great boss gives credit to everyone else when things are going well. When they are not, she asks, ‘How can I fix it?’” Blame is where solutions go to die. So create an environment that fosters collaborative problem solving.
  3. Disagree respectfully. Disagreement is not synonymous with argument. In the office, love, like and hate should take second chair to respect. Look to drive consensus and action, not stalemate.
  4. Give credit generously. A rising tide lifts all ships. The accompanying economic concept is that general economic improvement will benefit everyone. I use these words to remind employees that the act of giving credit confers its benefits onto you by proxy. If the people who work for you are successful, you will be seen that way too.
  5. Trust your gut. Intuition is real, but it’s something you have to learn to trust. A therapist friend once told me that her patients who’ve suffered physical attacks have one thing in common: they sensed something amiss before the act occurred. This does not mean they could have prevented it, of course. But it demonstrates the existence of instinct. At work, intuition can help us read the room, parse good customer engagements from bad, and identify potential in an unlikely candidate.
  6. Build consensus, not factions. Don’t save your complaints for the secrecy of closed doors. In her book, Woman’s Inhumanity To Woman, Phyllis Chesler writes, “Girls learn that a safe way to attack someone else is behind her back, so that she will not know who started the attack.” Gossip is toxic, so stop it by dealing with issues quickly, calmly and openly.
  7. Never say, “You will understand when…” This reduces a younger woman’s feelings to simple naiveté. Supporting one another means commiseration and support. Judgment only teaches the recipient to seek help elsewhere.
  8. Develop a thick skin. Every leader will be criticized. It’s part of the job, so find a way to take the things that matter seriously and brush off the distractions. It’s an amazing example to set for younger women executives.

Godspeed, Marissa Mayer! May many come after you and because of you.

TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Things That Drive Interviewers Totally Nuts

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When you’re hyper-prepared and hanging on the edge of your seat waiting for certain questions

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

Having spent the last decade recruiting, I’ve had many a conversation with hiring managers after a candidate exits the interview. And, while I always hope for exceptional feedback, sometimes the news is not so glowing.

Sometimes, the candidate has done something so annoying to the interviewer that, at best, she is now questioning her interest in keeping this person in the running.

What are the things that drive interviewers the most crazy? Listen and learn.

1. You Arrive Super Early

Everybody knows that you’re an idiot if you show up late for an interview. It’s completely disrespectful of the interviewer’s time.

But showing up insanely early is also going to make you look like a jerk. Why? Because, when you arrive more than five or 10 minutes before your meeting, you’re putting immediate pressure on the interviewer to drop whatever she may be wrapping up and deal with you. Or, she’s going to start the interview feeling guilty because she knows she just left you sitting in the lobby for 20 minutes.

A secondary problem with showing up early is that it says, “Hi, I have absolutely nothing else going on in my life, so I’ll just park it here in your company lobby.” You don’t want that. If you arrive super early, hang in the parking lot or a nearby coffee shop until just a few minutes before your scheduled time.

2. You’re So Over-Rehearsed That You Act Like a Robot

Once again, we all know not to show up to an interview completely unprepared.

Fewer of us, however, realize that it’s entirely possible to arrive over-prepared. Are you someone who thinks through every possible question that you suspect might be asked, writes out verbatim “best answers,” and then practices them in the mirror (or with a friend) until you’re beyond exhausted?

You might think you’re doing yourself a solid, but what you’re actually doing is putting yourself at risk for coming across as robotic or, worse, disinterested. (More on that here.)

When you’re hyper-prepared and hanging on the edge of your seat waiting for certain questions for which you’ve prepared to be asked, you will likely have a very hard time engaging in genuine conversation with the interviewer.

And interviewers don’t tend to hire detached people who can’t seem to have a genuine conversation. Certainly, walk in prepared, but force yourself to not memorize or over-rehearse the practice questions.

3. You Head Into the TMI Zone

Is your underwear riding up your rear end as you sit in that interview? Did you totally run a red light (and nearly sideswipe a school bus) so that you could be on time? Did your husband lose $15,000 at a craps table in Vegas last weekend? How interesting—yet all completely off-limits conversation topics while you’re in the interview.

Even if you’re interviewing for a role within the most free-wheeling, fun-loving organization, the fact remains that you are in an interview. Never, ever get wooed into believing that the casual nature of the environment frees you to enter the TMI zone.

Be friendly and conversational, for sure. You want this crew to feel that you’ll fit in around the joint. Just never, and I mean do not ever, cross the line into TMI. When in doubt, leave it out.

4. You’re a Clear and Obvious WIIFM

Guess what interviewers want to know when they meet with you? First and foremost, they want to know what you can do for them. What can you do to make that company money, improve businesses processes, grow the organization and, importantly, make their lives easier?

That said, when you bust out with an immediate litany of WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) questions, you look both arrogant and, frankly, unappealing.

Of course you want to know what the benefits are, how much vacation you get, and if you get a cell phone, company car, and corner office. But in the early interview stages, all the hiring managers and HR people really care about is what you can do for them. This is a business they are running, not a club.

Making you happy will be important if they want you, but you’re not even going to get to that stage if you make your list of demands clear too early.

5. You Don’t Say Thank You

I’m not just talking about the after-interview thank you note here. Surely, sending an immediate thank you out to each person with whom you’ve met is critical. But it’s also super important to thank the interviewer enthusiastically before you even part ways.

Certainly, it can be stressful and exhausting to shuttle through hours of interviewing at a company, to the point it all starts feeling like a bit of a blur. But if you really want this job, you need to stay focused and energized, and you absolutely must end strong. A strong, genuine, “Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me—it was great to meet you” will go a long way.

Interviewing can be among the most stressful things we do as adults, especially when we need the job badly. It’s definitely never a breeze. But keeping a cool head, arriving prepared to engage in conversation, and staying focused on the value you can bring to that organization is going to help you make it through with flying colors. People hire people, not robots, not jerks, and not people who don’t value their time.

Keep this top of mind as you march forth and conquer.

TIME Careers & Workplace

7 Things You Can Learn From the Greatest Businessman of All Time

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett speaks at an event on Sept. 18, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan.
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett speaks at an event on Sept. 18, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. Bill Pugliano—Getty Images

Warren Buffett shares words of wisdom from decades of experience, success, and failure

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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.

The “most successful investor of the 20th century” has a thing or two to teach you about being a great leader. Warren Buffett is a famed philanthropist, business magnate, and sharklike investor. As the CEO and biggest shareholder of Berkshire Hathaway and someone who consistently ranks among the richest people in the world, he’s smart, business savvy, and slick, even into his 80s.

However, the “Oracle of Omaha” is also a notoriously frugal spender and reveres value investing. Having pledged to donate 99 percent of his wealth, he’s proof that sometimes old-school techniques work. If you’re an up-and-coming leader (or just want to be), check out what Buffett can teach you about leadership, wise moves, and humility.

1. On Risk

“Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing,” says Buffett, which means you can do one of two things. Either you can be a big risk taker and gambler, or you can learn what you need to do, play it a little slower, and minimize your risks. Obviously the latter approach is best, but it doesn’t lead to instant gratification. Put those multimillion-dollar fantasies on the back burner long enough to get in control of your risk factor.

2. On Reputations

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” This is especially true in the digital era, when, if something’s in writing or on video, it’s forever. You can even take a screencap of a Snapchat, so be diligent when building your reputationonline and off. Remember Congressman Anthony Weiner tweeting pictures of his genitalia? Yeah, don’t be that guy. His reputation is toast.

3. On Who You Surround Yourself With

“It’s better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours, and you’ll drift in that direction.” Birds of a feather flock together, and you’re probably not in the position to be anyone’s mentor yet. If you surround yourself with better people, they’ll inspire you to do better yourself.

As I tell my children, “If you want to soar like an eagle in life, you can’t be flocking with the turkeys.”

4. On Hindsight

“In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield,” quips Buffett. Of course, this is true in every other aspect of your life, too. Stop focusing on that rearview mirror, though, after you’ve gleaned the necessary lessons from it. Move forward, even if that direction isn’t quite as streak-free.

5. On Stupid Mistakes

“I bought a company in the mid-’90s called Dexter Shoe and paid $400 million for it. And it went to zero. And I gave away about $400 million worth of Berkshire stock, which is probably now worth $400 billion. But I’ve made lots of dumb decisions. It’s part of the game.”

No successful person is mistake-free, and that’s a good thing. Each stumble is a chance to learn and a warning when you’re tempted to do something similar in the future.

6. On Knowing When to Quit

“Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.” In other words, ditch the stubbornness and know when to call it quits. Not every project is worth saving.

7. On Frugality

Buffett is legendarily frugal. He lives in the same house in Omaha, Nebraska, that he purchased in 1958 for $31,500. He is well known for his frugality, which includes enjoying McDonald’s hamburgers and cherry Coke, and his disdain for technology, such as computers and luxury cars. Despite a net worth measured in billions, Buffett earns a base salary of $100,000 a year at Berkshire Hathaway. It’s a salary that has not changed in 25 years.

Today, many top leaders take as much as they can and live as extravagantly as possible. More leaders should take a page from the book of Buffett.

Listen to the Wisdom of the Oracle of Omaha

These words of wisdom come from decades of experience, success, and failure. Why make the same mistakes somebody else has already made all over again if you don’t have to? With the likes of Buffett doling out advice by the shovelful, take advantage of it–then spend that saved time putting his words into practice.

It’s certainly worked for Buffett.

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.

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