TIME Workplace & Careers

7 Ways to Get Ahead at Work Before the New Year

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Coworkers in discussion at conference room table Thomas Barwick—Getty Images

7 things you must do before January

You have a little more than a month to go before the end of the year, so make the most of it. Experts say these are the important things to get done now if you want to start your career in the new year off on the right foot:

List your wins. Think of the best three things you accomplished over the last year and write them down, says career coach and personal branding strategist Pamela Weinberg. “Having these accomplishments on paper will help you to be able to better articulate your strengths when you get a review, or bonus,” she says. And if you’re looking for a new job, you’ve just written a couple of your resume bullet points.

Deliver bad news. If you manage other workers, this is the time to have any hard conversations you’ve been putting off. “Think about needed discussions with your subordinates concerning ongoing work,” says career coach Todd Dewett. “What needs to be improved that you’ve noticed but not addressed?” Be as specific as possible so the employee knows how to improve in the new year.

Brace for change. “Companies are constantly evolving,” says Margaret Spence, an expert panelist at the Society for Human Resource Management. “This work economy doesn’t allow you to be stagnant in your career.” The end of the year is a great time to look ahead and figure out what you’re going to need to know for the coming year. Is the company shifting to a new tech platform or implementing a new process? Are there any legal or regulatory changes the new year will bring that will change how you do your job? Get out in front of these changes in advance, Spence advises.

Get people’s contact info. “Get in touch with people who are leaving [or] moving to new roles,” says Patti Johnson, author of Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life. Get their personal phone number and email address so you can stay in touch, and make plans for an initial meet-up or get together now so you already have networking opportunities on your calendar for the new year.

Check in with your boss. “If you’ve signaled interest in a role shift or promotion and it’s been six months or more, it’s time to initiate conversation once again,” Dewett says. “You want to go into the new year with clarity about where to invest the bulk of your networking efforts — internally or externally.”

Plan on education. Consider your professional development and determine what skills you’ll need to make it to the next rung on the corporate ladder, Weinberg advises. Maybe a public speaking course or participation in an industry conference might give you the boost you need. “December is often a slow time business-wise so take some time to research how you might gain the skills you need to reach your 2015 career goals,” she says. Bonus: By getting a jump on this process, you won’t need to worry about a course or event selling out before you can sign up.

Say thanks. “It’s a great time to write hand-written personal notes of appreciation,” says career coach Glo Harris. She’s not referring to holiday cards, although those are important, too. The intent of this is to say thanks to standout clients, mentors and others. “Do the same with your team,” Harris says. Acknowledge what you appreciate about your colleagues — and be specific.

TIME Companies

7 Companies That Spend More on CEO Pay Than Federal Taxes

Ford Issues Recall For 850,000 2013-14 Vehicles
Ford Ford has benefitted from a stronger economic recovery in the U.S., as many drivers look to replace their aging vehicles. Executives also expect it to be profitable in North America this year, albeit at a lower level than in 2013. In Europe, where Ford has closed factories and cut thousands of jobs, the company expects to report a narrower loss in 2014 and achieve profitability the following year. Worldwide, Ford’s 2013 revenue increased 10% from the previous year to $146.9 billion, while profits climbed 26%. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

Average CEO salary has climbed to almost $32 million from $16.7 million in 2010, according to study

Seven of the country’s 30 largest corporations doled out more to their chief executives last year than to Uncle Sam.

These seven firms reported more than $74 billion in profits last year and received a combined total of $1.9 billion in refunds from the Internal Revenue Service, according to a study, giving them an effective tax rate of negative 2.5%.

The findings are part of a report from theCenter for Effective Government and the Institute for Policy Studies. The twoWashington, D.C., think tanks have published an annual study called “Fleecing Uncle Sam,” which looks at CEO salaries and corporate taxes, since 2010.

The U.S. corporate tax rate is 35.3%, according to federal law. The reality is that most large corporations’ pay a far lower rate. Large American companies pay an effective corporate tax rate closer to 12.6%, according to the Government Accountability Office. Essentially, a host of items can lower a corporate tax bill, such as write-offs for research and development costs, or the depreciation of buildings and equipment.

As firms find ways around big tax burdens, the rift between what they pay the federal government and what they pay their top executives has been widening. The average compensation paid to CEOs that the study singles out has climbed to almost $32 million from $16.7 million in 2010.

Here are seven corporations that paid their CEOs more than the U.S. government in 2013 (the numbers below were compiled by the study’s co-authors).

1. Boeing

Boeing pre-tax income: $5.95 billion
CEO James McNerney total pay: $23.3 million
U.S. corporate income tax total: refund of$82 million

2. Ford Motors

Ford pre-tax income: $6.52 billion
CEO Alan Mulally total pay: $23.2 million
U.S. corporate income tax total: refund of$19 million

3. Chevron

Chevron pre-tax income: $4.67 billion
CEO John Watson total pay: $20.2 million
U.S. corporate income tax total: $15 million

4. Citigroup

Citigroup pre-tax income: $6.4 billion
CEO Michael Corbat total pay: $17.6 million
U.S. corporate income tax total: refund of$260 million

5. Verizon

Verizon pre-tax income: $28.83 billion
CEO Lowell McAdam total pay: $15.8 million
U.S. corporate income tax total: refund of$197 million

6. JPMorgan Chase

JPMorgan pre-tax income: $17.23 billion
CEO Jamie Dimon total pay: $11.8 million
U.S. corporate income tax total: refund of$1.3 billion

7. General Motors

GM pre-tax income: $4.88 billion
CEO Daniel Ackerson total pay: $9.1 million
U.S. corporate income tax total: refund of$34 million

TIME Workplace & Careers

The Unlikely Secret to Succeeding at Your First Job

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How not to mess up your foundation to future success

40 under 40 Insider Network is one of several online communities where the most thoughtful and influential people in business under 40 answer timely career and leadership questions. This week, we ask: What are 3 must-have skills to land your first job? The following is an answer by Kevin Chou, CEO and co-founder of Kabam.

Your first ‘real’ job should give you the foundation needed for future success. This couldn’t have been more true in my case, but not in the ways you’d expect.

After graduating from the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, I went to work as an analyst in the technology group of a bulge bracket investment bank. It paid very well and was in the tech field I wanted. This was it. I was on my way.

It was 2002, during the depths of the dot-com bust and when the tech sector was a wasteland. I was working with the only active client for the group, a private technology company that engaged our bank to sell itself. As this was the only business for the group at that time, this deal was under tremendous scrutiny on all levels.

I was working 100-plus hour weeks for three straight months, and I remember vividly one weekend when I had a horrible flu. I was at the office working on a Saturday when the VP managing this deal went out to dinner. As she left, she asked for “another rev” on the presentation. Translation: I had to put in another eight hours that night, with a fever, and the CEO wanted to review the presentation on a 7:00 AM call the next morning (Sunday).

I cant remember the exact mixture of caffeine and decongestants I took, but I somehow managed to get the presentation done, nab a couple hours of sleep and arrive back in the office for the call. I was drowsy, achy and coughing miserably during the call. At one point the VP muted the phone, looked at me and said, “I’m going to need you to perk up.

Perk up I did, but not in the way she was thinking. At that precise moment, I knew I was in the wrong job and more importantly, the wrong career path. In one life lesson she had unwittingly (and unrelentingly) taught me three key things:

  • Pursue great people and not the paycheck
  • Do work you love
  • Create a healthy work-life balance

Suddenly, the income was not as important as being able to work with great mentors and people I could learn from. I had hoped for this when accepting the investment-banking job and soon realized it didn’t exist. I remained blinded by the pay until that mute button was pressed. I left and ultimately took a job that paid much less but was far more rewarding in terms of the people and the work.

Having a clear understanding of what was important to me was critical not just when co-founding a company that I wanted to work at – but also to create a place that fosters satisfying careers for all those I work with as well.

TIME Workplace & Careers

3 Little Words You Should Never Say

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PhotoAlto/Frederic Cirou—Getty Images/PhotoAlto

Easy to blurt out, hard to take back

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

You’re in a meeting, just wrapping up your status update, and things are going well. The group seems reassured that you’re on top of things. Then, just as you’re about to close your laptop and head for the door, your boss’ peer asks, “How are projections looking for Q2?” Your boss nods in your direction and suddenly, all eyes in the room are back on you.

Blurting out a panicked “I don’t know!” may seem like the path of least resistance in an uncomfortable moment—but if you want to be taken seriously as an emerging leader, you should ditch that phrase and learn what experienced leaders say when they don’t know the answer.

Saying “I Don’t Know” Costs You Credibility and Influence

I once spoke with a woman who was truly an expert in her field—the only engineer on her software team with a PhD. But despite her technical chops, people kept sidestepping her and going to her boss with questions that she could have answered.

It turns out that the tech-savvy PhD was in a job that required her to represent the department in senior-level executive meetings where it had been deemed acceptable—even encouraged—to interrupt whoever had the floor and fire a rapid stream of tough questions at him or her. No matter how meticulously the engineer prepared for the meeting (and firing squad), she would inevitably fumble, lose her composure, and say, “I don’t know. I’ll ask my boss.”

Just like that, she had inadvertently trained people to go to her boss with their tough technical questions. It turns out that Dr. Phil was right when he said, “We teach people how to treat us”—and that this is especially true when it comes to establishing credibility and influence at work. Every time you say “I don’t know,” you teach people not to come to you next time.

“I Don’t Know” is Not an Answer—or an Option!

Once, while at a professional crossroads, digital marketing executive Dr. Patricia Fletcher reached out to a mentor for help. When her mentor, Jeanne Sullivan, a seasoned investor and corporate board member, asked what Fletcher would do in a hypothetical situation, Fletcher began her response with “I don’t know….”

Sullivan cut her short, reminding her, “‘I don’t know’ is not an answer. The correct answer is, ‘I don’t have enough information to answer your question.’”

Fletcher now looks back on this as one of the best pieces of advice she’s ever received. “When it comes to business, there’s no such answer as ‘I don’t know,’” she says.

Prepare a More Powerful Response

In the business world, a person who speaks with confidence is likely to be perceived to be competent.

Writing for ForbesWoman, negotiation and leadership expert Selena Rezvani suggests, “Rather than turning to ‘I don’t know’ as a default, prepare yourself with some more powerful responses.”

Wondering what your options are? Here are four powerful options I recommend you commit to memory:

  1. “I don’t have enough information to answer your question.” —Jeanne Sullivan, founding partner of Starvest Partners (and Dr. Patricia Fletcher’s mentor)
  2. “Good question. I’ll find out.” —Chris Turkovich, principal program manager
  3. “Based on what we know today, my thoughts are…” —Selena Rezvani, leadership author, speaker, and consultant
  4. “I don’t have the data at hand, but I’ll get it to you later today.” —Senior software engineer

The PhD software engineer from the story above practiced these responses while standing in front of a mirror until she was able to stand her ground when fielding a tough question. Now, when pressed for an answer, she looks the inquisitor in the eye and responds in a way that builds her leadership presence and authority. And now, colleagues and execs alike know to come to her—first, before her boss—with technical questions.

Communicating with confidence is part of a leader’s job. To join the rank of truly exceptional leaders, upgrade your communication toolkit and eliminate your “I don’t knows” in favor of more powerful responses.

TIME Workplace & Careers

This Is Where All of America’s Employed Bachelors Live

It's raining men, especially along the Tennessee—Kentucky border

Roughly eight in 10 single women who want to tie the knot one day say it’s “very important” to them that their future spouses hold down a steady job, according to a recent poll by Pew Research. Less than half of the surveyed men felt the same way. In either case, Pew Research has created an interactive map of the marriage market to showcase which parts of the country tend to have a bumper crop of employed bachelors and bachelorettes:

 

The highest concentration of single men with jobs is in the city of Clarksville, straddling both sides of the Tennessee-Kentucky border. They outnumber the women 145 to 100.

Interestingly, there isn’t a single city in the nation where employed, single women outnumber the men. They live in the highest concentration in Lewiston-Auburn, Maine, at a roughly 1 to 1 ratio with the male population.

But the most intriguing differences emerge depending on the definition of “eligible.” If the goal is to find the highest proportion of bachelors, then large swathes of Arizona, Indiana and Louisiana offer favorable odds, but refine the goal to employed bachelors and suddenly those states appear to be wastelands. It reveals how drastically the marriage market can change depending on what you’re looking for, and how unlikely it is that a map of just one or two preferences will lead to that life-long mate.

Then again, it doesn’t hurt to look.

TIME Workplace & Careers

Here’s How Long It Would Take Most Americans To Earn As Much As The Highest-Paid CEO

Allen & Co. Media And Technology Conference
Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp., arrives to a morning session at the Sun Valley Lodge during the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, U.S., on Wednesday, July 9, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Most workers in America would have to work 354 years in order to make what the average CEO makes in one year

Most Americans know that the CEOs of America’s biggest companies rake in piles of wealth, but according to a recent study by Harvard Business School, they have no idea just how much.

“People dramatically underestimate actual pay inequality,” the study said. Americans, for example, estimate that the pay ratio between CEOs and unskilled workers is about 30:1, but the actual ratio is a whopping 354:1.

That means that most workers in America would have to work 354 years in order to make what the average CEO makes in one year.

And that’s just compared to the average CEO. According to calculations by research engine FindTheBest, it would take most Americans thousands of years to catch up to the highest-paid CEO—Charif Souki of Cheniere Energy—who made $141,949,280 in 2013.

How many thousands of years, exactly?

We calculated how long it would take people in seven professions, with median salaries from $18,000 to $187,200—which represents the low and high end of U.S. occupational salaries based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics—to make as much as Souki does in one year.

For jobs that are most often paid on an hourly basis, workers would need about seven to eight thousand years to make what Souki did in 2013.

Fast food workers: 7,774 years

Cashiers: 7,483 years

The results are still grim for Americans who earn near the median U.S. household income of $51,058 per year.

Telecommunications line installers and repairers: 2,761 years

Elementary school teachers: 2,658 years

And as for those who’ve managed to break into the six-figures?

Computer hardware engineers: 1,407 years

Lawyers: 1,250 years

It would even take professionals with the highest-paid jobs by median salary over half a millennium to amass the kind of wealth Souki did in 2013.

Physicians and Surgeons: 568 years

But keep in mind that $142 million was Souki’s 2013 total compensation, which is different from salary because it includes earnings like bonus, restricted stock awards, and non-equity incentive plans — indeed, some CEOs take a $1 salary, making up the difference with these other earnings. So how long would it take the above professionals to make as much as the highest-paid CEO, just when measuring salary?

The CEO with the highest salary was Rupert Murdoch of Twenty-First Century Fox, who made $8.1 million in 2013.

Although it’s a ways below $142 million, $8.1 million is still more than a lifetime’s work away for Americans making the median salary within their professions. It would take cashiers 427 years, teachers 152 years, and lawyers 71 years to make what Murdoch did in one. Our highest-paid professionals, physicians and surgeons come closer, but it would still take them almost half a century (43 years) to catch up.

FindTheBest is a research website that’s collected all the data on jobs and executives, and put it all in one place so you don’t have to go searching for it. Join FindTheBest to get all the information about jobs, execs, and thousands of other topics.

TIME Workplace & Careers

There’s a Reason You Work Better Some Days

Working at laptop
Hero Images—Getty Images

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

By Alex Honeysett

During a session with my business coach earlier this year, I was explaining that even though I had a million things to crank through, I felt like doing the opposite—I wanted to stroll around in my own thoughts, quietly observe, and write things down only as they came to me, rather than fight to get things done, like, yesterday.

And my coach said, “Well, that makes sense. It’s part of your process.”

Uh, what process? I know I have a process for doing laundry. I have a process for organizing my desk. I have a process for doing my taxes. But I never considered that I had process for the way I approached work—or life, for that matter.

But in the months since, she has helped me understand that I do. We all do! And the more we can recognize and take ownership of our own unique process, the less frustrated and guilty we’ll feel when we’re in the middle of it. And ironically, the more we’ll get done.

So how do you figure out what your process looks like? For most of us, our process is a mix of “curation mode” and “creation mode.”

When you’re in curation mode, you may be feeling what I described above—more introspective, more observant, and more thoughtful. In this mindset, you’d probably be more interested in digging into some meaty research or a great book and less interested in giving a presentation to a room packed with people. During this part of the process, you’re taking in.

Creation mode is the other side of the coin: You’re hitting the pavement, excited to get things done. Whether you’re growing your business, writing plans, or bringing in new clients, you’re doing it with ease. You’re not dragging your butt out of bed to write that proposal—you’re at your desk early, coffee in head, ready to get it done. Here, you’re pushing out.

Once you identify these processes in your own life, you’ll see how they affect your productivity. For example, I realized that I always feel great writing these articles when I spend a few days paying attention to what’s happening in the industry, tapping into my network, and recognizing what I’m experiencing in my own life—in other words, when I’m in curation mode. I don’t force myself to write anything; I just take a look around. Then, on the third or fourth day, I snap into creation mode. A topic will hit me and I basically need to find a computer that instant to get it all down.

In the times that I haven’t let myself do that initial observing, I often end up staring at a blank screen for hours, writing the same crappy sentence over and over and getting increasingly cranky.

Before understanding this was part of my process, I just thought that some weeks it was easier for me to write than others. Now that I understand how my brain works best, I know that I need to give myself that space to curate—ideas, themes, and experiences—before I can jump into creation mode.

To identify your unique process, start by digging into what you like to do when you’re in curation mode: What do you need to do before you get things done? Take a long walk? Keep a journal in your pocket for any thoughts that pop up?

Then, do the same for creation mode: What’s the ideal environment for you to actually get those things done? A super-organized desk? A noisy coffee shop?

Next, spend a few weeks being mindful of which mode you’re in. Sometimes, we can circle through them both several times a week—other times, we may sit in one for a few weeks before we switch to the next.

Finally, it’s important to recognize that you can’t always map out the balance of your internal process in a perfect 1:1 ratio. There will be some days when you’ll be on a deadline to finish a presentation when you’d much rather be curled up on the couch with a stack of research learning quietly.

On those days, your focus should be on bringing the balance back. If you’re in curation mode and need to be creating, for example, what activities or experiences do you most enjoying when you’re curating? Are there any of them, however brief, that you can bring into your day? You may find that going for short walk or drinking a quiet coffee before you begin may put yourself in the right mindset to start creating.

That may be all you need to snap back into getting things done, like, yesterday.

More from The Muse:

TIME

9 Rules For Emailing From Google Exec Eric Schmidt

In a new book out this week chock full of Google-flavored business wisdom, How Google Works, Google executive chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt and former Senior Vice President of Products Jonathan Rosenberg share nine insightful rules for emailing (or gmailing!) like a professional

Communication in the Internet Century usually means using email, and email, despite being remarkably useful and powerful, often inspires momentous dread in otherwise optimistic, happy humans. Here are our personal rules for mitigating that sense of foreboding:

Cover of ‘How Google Works,’ by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg How Google Works

1. Respond quickly. There are people who can be relied upon to respond promptly to emails, and those who can’t. Strive to be one of the former. Most of the best—and busiest—people we know act quickly on their emails, not just to us or to a select few senders, but to everyone. Being responsive sets up a positive communications feedback loop whereby your team and colleagues will be more likely to include you in important discussions and decisions, and being responsive to everyone reinforces the flat, meritocratic culture you are trying to establish. These responses can be quite short—“got it” is a favorite of ours. And when you are confident in your ability to respond quickly, you can tell people exactly what a non-​response means. In our case it’s usually “got it and proceed.” Which is better than what a non-​response means from most people: “I’m overwhelmed and don’t know when or if I’ll get to your note, so if you needed my feedback you’ll just have to wait in limbo a while longer. Plus I don’t like you.”

2. When writing an email, every word matters, and useless prose doesn’t. Be crisp in your delivery. If you are describing a problem, define it clearly. Doing this well requires more time, not less. You have to write a draft then go through it and eliminate any words that aren’t necessary. Think about the late novelist Elmore Leonard’s response to a question about his success as a writer: “I leave out the parts that people skip.” Most emails are full of stuff that people can skip.

3. Clean out your inbox constantly. How much time do you spend looking at your inbox, just trying to decide which email to answer next? How much time do you spend opening and reading emails that you have already read? Any time you spend thinking about which items in your inbox you should attack next is a waste of time. Same with any time you spend rereading a message that you have already read (and failed to act upon).

When you open a new message, you have a few options: Read enough of it to realize that you don’t need to read it, read it and act right away, read it and act later, or read it later (worth reading but not urgent and too long to read at the moment). Choose among these options right away, with a strong bias toward the first two. Remember the old OHIO acronym: Only Hold It Once. If you read the note and know what needs doing, do it right away. Otherwise you are dooming yourself to rereading it, which is 100 percent wasted time.

If you do this well, then your inbox becomes a to‑do list of only the complex issues, things that require deeper thought (label these emails “take action,” or in Gmail mark them as starred), with a few “to read” items that you can take care of later.

To make sure that the bloat doesn’t simply transfer from your inbox to your “take action” folder, you must clean out the action items every day. This is a good evening activity. Zero items is the goal, but anything less than five is reasonable. Otherwise you will waste time later trying to figure out which of the long list of things to look at.

4. Handle email in LIFO order (Last In First Out). Sometimes the older stuff gets taken care of by someone else.

5. Remember, you’re a router. When you get a note with useful information, consider who else would find it useful. At the end of the day, make a mental pass through the mail you received and ask yourself, “What should I have forwarded but didn’t?”

6. When you use the bcc (blind copy) feature, ask yourself why. The answer is almost always that you are trying to hide something, which is counterproductive and potentially knavish in a transparent culture. When that is your answer, copy the person openly or don’t copy them at all. The only time we recommend using the bcc feature is when you are removing someone from an email thread. When you “reply all” to a lengthy series of emails, move the people who are no longer relevant to the thread to the bcc field, and state in the text of the note that you are doing this. They will be relieved to have one less irrelevant note cluttering up their inbox.

7. Don’t yell. If you need to yell, do it in person. It is FAR TOO EASY to do it electronically.

8. Make it easy to follow up on requests. When you send a note to someone with an action item that you want to track, copy yourself, then label the note “follow up.” That makes it easy to find and follow up on the things that haven’t been done; just resend the original note with a new intro asking “Is this done?”

9. Help your future self search for stuff. If you get something you think you may want to recall later, forward it to yourself along with a few keywords that describe its content. Think to yourself, How will I search for this later? Then, when you search for it later, you’ll probably use those same search terms. This isn’t just handy for emails, but important documents too. Jonathan scans his family’s passports, licenses, and health insurance cards and emails them to himself along with descriptive keywords. Should any of those things go missing during a trip, the copies are easy to retrieve from any browsers.

Excerpted from the book HOW GOOGLE WORKS by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, with Alan Eagle. © 2014 by Google, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

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 Workplace & Careers

1 in 5 U.S. Workers Say They Were Laid Off in Last 5 Years: Poll

New York Job Fair Offers Services For Chronically Unemployed
People stand in a line that stretched around the block to enter a job fair held at the Jewish Community Center (JCC), on March 21, 2012 in New York City. John Moore—Getty Images

Total of 30 million say they received pink slips since 2009

One in five American workers say they have lost their jobs at some point within the last five years, according to a new survey that reveals that the recession, which technically ended in 2009, has continued to rattle the labor market.

The survey findings, released by Rutgers University’s John J. Heldrch Center for Workforce Development, exposes the lingering costs of lay-offs, both for those who cannot find work and those who have. Nearly 4 out of 10 laid-off workers say they spent more than seven months searching for a new job and nearly half of those who managed to find work said their new job was a step lower on the payscale.

Regardless of employment status, two-thirds of all adults in the survey say the recession negatively impacted their own standard of living, but the workers that took the hardest hits to income and savings were those who had been unemployed for a period longer than 6 months, whose struggles the authors called “among the most persistent, negative effects of the Great Recession.”

 

TIME Workplace & Careers

The Resume Section That Matters More Than You’d Think

Resume
Mark Stahl—Getty Images

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

By Lily Zhang

What section headings do you have on your resume? Let me guess: “Experience,” “Education,” “Additional Information,” and maybe a “Summary” section. That about covers it, right?

Well, if your resume doesn’t have a “Skills” section, you’re seriously missing out on an opportunity to showcase, you know, your skills. In fact, this is the most straightforward way for you to show to a hiring manager what you can accomplish in the position on day one.

The trick is, of course, figuring out what to actually include to illustrate what you bring to the table. While there’s no real go-to list of skills for you to pick and choose from (unfortunately), you can get pretty close by following these three steps.

Step 1: Review the Job Description

The most obvious place to look for the skills that the hiring manager will find exciting and eye-catching is the job description itself. Usually, for any given position, you’ll find minimum qualifications and preferred qualifications. For example, for an app developer position, you might find “programming experience in Java, Objective-C, or C++” listed under minimum qualifications and “deep technical knowledge of mobile application development (either Android or iOS)” under preferred qualifications.

Mine the job description, find all the low-hanging fruit, and, of course, decide for yourself if you feel comfortable listing those skills on your resume. (Obviously, lying won’t get you very far.)

Side note: While you’ll sometimes find soft skills, like organizational or communication skills, listed as qualifications, it’s important to point out that “Skills” sections are usually reserved for hard skills.

Step 2: Do Some Digging on LinkedIn

Next, pop the job title of the position you’re applying to into LinkedIn and have a look at some other professionals who are doing what you want to be doing. Scroll down to their “Skills” sections and look for trends in what’s listed. They might be different from what’s listed on the job description, but if you see them over and over, they’re clearly good to have in the field. Using the same example, for an app developer you might find “data structures,” “graphic design,” or “XML.”

Step 3: Don’t Limit Yourself to Skills

Now that you have a pretty good list of skills going for your target position, consider expanding beyond that. In fact, you don’t have to limit yourself to just a “Skills” section; you can create a “Skills and Projects” section that describes freelance gigs you’ve done or a “Skills and Interests” section that describes some of your relevant professional interests. If it makes sense, you might even want to pop job-related coursework into this section.

Lastly, don’t forget to include skills that you have that are always good to list regardless of the position, like foreign languages or technical certifications.

All in all, you should have two to three lines of skills, ideally broken up into sensible subsections, like “Technical,” “Courses,” and “Languages,” to keep it all tidy. If you have relevant work experience for the positions you’re applying to, place your “Skills” section at the end of your resume. On the other hand, if you’re looking to break into a new field, it makes more sense for you to place this section closer to the top—maybe even before your “Experience” section.

Whatever you decide to go with, your resume will definitely benefit from having a designated place for a hiring manager see what skills you bring to the table quickly.

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