What Do YOU Say when THEY Say “Tell Me About Yourself”

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What Do YOU Say when THEY Say “Tell Me About Yourself”

With all the work that goes into job-hunting, sometimes simply landing an interview feels like a victory in itself. But don’t start eyeing that corner office just yet: You’ve still got to ace that interview, and that may be trickier than it sounds: one of the first things interviewers learn is that people can be completely different on paper than they are in “real life.”

That’s one reason potential employers ask what seem like trick questions: they’re trying to throw you off, so they can see the “real you.” The classic example—and usually the first one you’ll encounter—is “So. Tell me about yourself…”

“I Started Life as a Child…”

You’ve known you all your life, right? You’ve lived through every moment of every event. So why, when your interviewer smiles at you and says “Tell me about yourself,” does your mind go completely blank? And what do they really want when they ask that, anyway?

Before we go into that, let’s take a look at what we know they DON’T want: your entire life history, from DNA up that afternoon. Too often, potential hires treat an interview like a first date, reeling off long-winded answers, irrelevant stories, and personal interests. Your interviewer doesn’t need to know everything about you in order to make a judgement call. It’s better to remain as focused as can on the moment.

The Art of Selling of You

Even if you’re not in the Marketing field, you still should think of an interview as a sales pitch, with you being the service or product you’re selling. To do that, you need to know both the product (you) AND the target market (your interviewer).

How do you go about that? Imagine a late-night television commercial. We’ve all seen them, but have you ever stopped to analyze how they work? Most follow a similar pattern:

  • Introduce the problem (“Tired of eggs sticking to your skillet?”)
  • Introduce the solution (The product being sold)
  • Make an offer (“But wait! There’s more!”)

Admittedly, you don’t want to come across anywhere near as hokey as those commercials. But the principles are the same:

  • The company obviously has a need; identify that, and build on it
  • Craft a response that shows you answer as many of those needs as possible
  • Show how you meet other needs, besides

One thing you’ll note about these commercials: they push the positive, and they don’t dwell on the negatives. You want the same thing in your response. It’s called being self-aware.

Self-awareness is a great barometer of emotional intelligence, and that’s one of the “soft skills” HR managers are looking for with this type of open-ended question. It’s a subtle way of offering more than a skillset directly relevant to the job. Sure, you may be a little uncomfortable talking about yourself: get over it.

How? Well, consider this: When a company goes to market a product, they don’t book a :30 television spot, then just show up and wing it. A lot of preparation goes into what they are saying (and not saying), trying to make sure they show the product in the best possible light. Your interview is no different: take the time to write it out, memorize the high points, and practice in front of a mirror.

Practice Professional Authenticity

The need to be professional should go without saying. But while it’s important to be professional, you don’t want to be so married to your script that it sounds like you’re reciting a history lesson. Allow your personality to shine:

  • Know what motivates you

You’re self-aware, remember? Knowing what motivates you is useful to your potential employer, because it often indicates what you value: the details you highlight or gloss over usually reflect the accomplishments you’re most proud of.

  • Share relevant work experience, with examples of why they matter

Select one or two accomplishments or events you’re especially proud of and build your response around them. Someone truly dedicated to their career can be appealing to a potential employer, and that trait usually comes through.

  • Make sure your enthusiasm shows

If you’re engaged in and talking about work that matters to you, your enthusiasm should come across. Plus, when you’re talking about yourself—even for professional reasons—it’s easy to sound arrogant; tempering your list of accomplishments with authentic excitement makes it feel (and sound) less like you’re simply bragging.

Being presented with the “Tell me about yourself” question can seem daunting, but try to think of it as an opportunity to share your natural strengths, demonstrate your value, and help guide the interviewer into asking the question you want to answer.

Try to get into an entrepreneurial mindset: Remember, you’re selling the product you know best!


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Job-searching When You’re Overqualified

Anyone who has spent any time looking for a job understands how depressing it is to be rejected by a potential employer. For overqualified job seekers, however, that rejection can seem even worse. In many ways, it sounds like a cop-out: by definition, “over-qualified” means that you have all the requirements for a position, AND your employer would be getting any number of additional skills and work experience for the same price. How is that not a bargain? Who wouldn’t jump at that?

Quite a few managers, according to an article published in the Wall Street Journal, which pointed out how hiring managers as a rule tended to gravitate toward rather less-impressive candidates over the ones who seemed to offer more a good deal more than the position actually required. The report went on to explain that managers expect highly capable candidates will have a measurably lower commitment to both the position and to the organization, as opposed to less-capable but adequate candidates.

Why is “overqualified” even a thing?

If you’ve never done a specific job, it’s hard to imagine you’re actually overqualified. Still, there’s an old adage that says if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. When it comes to hiring, managers often seem to adhere to the adage that if a prospect seems too good to be true, there has to be some kind of catch.

Based on this, it’s really not a big jump for the decision-maker to doubt a candidate’s future commitment to the company: a highly capable candidate might care less about the mission and values of the organization (and consequently would invest less effort learning, sharing, and applying them), simply because those candidates have other options.

To put it another way, there is a fear-factor at work here: for lack of a more descriptive term, overly qualified applicants are considered a flight risk. The belief is that any person accepting a position below their qualification level would constantly and actively be trying to find a job more in-line with their abilities, at which point they would “jump ship.”

The other side of that coin is suspicion: WHY would a candidate be willing to take a “lesser” position? There are several obvious possibilities, none of which bode well for the employer:

  1. The candidate is lazy, and not interested in a challenging position, but is rather looking for a job with little effort and input required;
  2. The candidate lacks confidence in—or is unaware of—his or her true qualifications and capabilities … or worse, has presented false qualifications to land the job;
  3. The candidate is in desperate need of a job, and is willing to accept a lesser position just to gain employment … implying they would stay only until a better opportunity arose.

Women have it worse.

Any of those are reason to give a manager pause, but there is another possibility that applies particularly to women: the fear that while a woman may need a job, she’s looking for one below her skill grade because her first priority will always be her kids or family. This sounds noble in the abstract, but again, poses problems for an employer.

While CEOs are declaring that shareholder profits are no longer their top priority, and that policy emphasis is shifting to worker wellness … the fact remains that optimistic decisions made at the C-level don’t always play out on the showroom floor. Talk of adding flexible hours for parenting or even on-site daycare sounds good in the press release … but that is no guarantee the final product will actually be helpful or practical.

Even if leadership is sincere in its intent, an operational turnabout of this magnitude will take time to trickle down into the thinking of the manager, whose chief concern is getting the job done. With that in mind, it is understandable—unfair and borderline illegal, but understandable nevertheless—that managers might hesitate to hire someone who isn’t perceived as being a full-fledged “company (wo)man.”

Being female is still, sadly, enough of a barrier to hiring, just in itself; how much more so if you’re seen as a woman who COULD do more for the organization, but chooses NOT to? Consciously or otherwise, it would seem hard to fully trust a person who is claiming she will give you her all: under those circumstances, does “all” mean all she has to give? Or is it just all that the job requires?

This could easily lead to thinking along the lines of “Why go for an advanced career, when having those qualifications may do me more harm than good?” Which in turn might explain why women are enrolling in and graduating from science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) doctoral programs in much smaller numbers than ever before … making the problem multi-layered and long-term.

Can you avoid the overqualification trap?

The large-scale answer here would seem to be more education, but we’re still talking about human nature: the last thing a manager—particularly a middle-manager—wants is to be seen as making a poor decision that costs the company money. When viewed in that light, YOUR best option is to always to make clear any reasons for applying for a lesser position, and doing what you can to make hirers confident that despite what seems like an over-abundance of qualifications, you’re still the best person for the job.


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Top Tips for Making Yourself Hirable

Sure, you’re a hard worker. And you’re good at what you do. But in today’s job market, unfortunately, that’s not enough to stand out. When recruiters (or worse, computers) have to sift through slush-piles of  resumes for every position, they’re going to need something beyond the same-old “same-old” that everyone else is saying.

Being hirable is about more than just doing your job. That’s not to say that skill, experience, a good work ethic aren’t important: those are all essential parts of DOING your job. Actually GETTING the job, however, requires that you demonstrate to people that you are a leader—someone who regularly goes above and beyond, the glue that holds a team together and the oil that makes it run smoothly.

Today’s job-seeker must rely on an entire arsenal of skills and talents, but perhaps the most important of these is organization. From the ability to set and meet deadlines all the way to keeping your work space decluttered to reduce stress, every aspect of your job is affected by your organizational skill.

But how do you go about making sure the person on the other side of the interview desk knows this about you? We have some suggestions that may help.

Be professional, not formal.

Of course you’ll be expected to behave in a professional manner, which includes dress, arrival time, and approach. When it comes to the actual interview, however, taking a less-formal approach allows for a more natural, free-flowing conversation—which is the best way to give an interviewer a sense of who you are on a real-life basis. Going beyond the resume, as it were, provides a greater opportunity to show (not tell) the other person you’ll be a strong match with the company’s needs and culture.

Don’t wing it, though. You’ll want to think about examples you can use long before you actually get to the interview. Consider instances that illustrate your “can-do” attitude, as well as the ability to balance your work and personal lives. While it might seem like companies would prefer to hire workaholics, more and more are realizing that employees who can strike a balance are less likely to burn out, increasing the odds of them staying with the company for the long-haul—and that’s something hiring managers love.

Know what you’re getting into.

If it all possible, find out what you can about the person who held the job before you. Why? Well, when searching for a replacement for a successful employee, there’s a tendency to seek out candidates that will serve as their predecessor’s replica. Knowing how that person operated can give you a leg up on the competition.

Selective hiring, particularly in periods of growth, is essential for stability and sustainability. Based on that, hiring decisions are often influenced by what has worked in the past. At the same time, make sure you’re keeping the future needs of the business in mind: while management might be searching for a familiar candidate, new ideas are often highly valued as well.

ORGANIZATION!

We can’t really stress this enough: Organizational skills can make or break your candidacy.

  • Time-Management. Knowing how to manage time is critical when it comes to keeping on task. Show that you can be aware of approaching deadlines and know how to allocate resources to meet them—this helps everyone do their jobs better. 
  • Physical Presence. As we mentioned earlier, a cluttered workspace causes stress. Show you know how to present yourself professionally and neatly.
  • Resource Handling. Can you demonstrate a history of knowing how to delegate tasks to others, rather than trying to handle everything solo? The best candidates will be able to.

As a candidate, you should constantly present yourself as flexible, adaptable, and organized. Such abilities are vital to an efficient and productive workforce, and are therefore highly sought after by recruiters and hiring managers.


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They Made an Offer. Should You Take It?

You apply. You wait. You ace the phone interview. You wait. You get called in to meet the team, then go back home and wait. And wait. And wait.

And then you get The Phone Call: “We’d like to offer you a position; when can you start?”

Rein it in there, buckaroo: the deal is not sealed by someone making an offer. Before you accept any position, you need to evaluate the situation carefully and make sure you know what you’re getting into.

The Pressure’s On

Getting a job offer feels good…and that can be dangerous. You can get so caught up in playing Sally Field that you accept a position based on nothing more than euphoria. Especially in a bad economy—or in situations where you’re dying to get out of your current job—any offer can seem like a godsend. As Washington Irving once said, “There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse.”

But determining whether you really should take that job offer can be a difficult decision—and in fact, it should be. This is important stuff. At the same time, the hiring manager is on the other end of the line hearing nothing but static…so there’s pressure to make a call right then and there. So what should you do?

Start at the Beginning

There’s an old Hollywood adage: If there’s trouble with the third act of a movie, it probably started in the first act. The same sort of thing applies here: to avoid getting to the point of the offer with a metaphorical “deer in the headlights” feeling, you have to start much earlier in the process…like, before you even apply.

How does that work? Well, before you even start looking, it helps to sit down and take a good hard look at where you are, what you want, and where you want to be. Think about the questions you might hear in an interview—such as “What role do you see yourself playing in the company?” and ask them of yourself. What’s your ideal situation? What do you need? Flexible start times? Little to no travel? A salary based on commission?

It’s a bit Pollyanna to believe that your perfect position is waiting for you out there, but if you haven’t even thought about it, you’ll never know. Don’t just assume, however, that it will fall in your lap: you may have to work to uncover it. Companies are notorious about not communicating with potential future employees (which ironically, is what many CEOs say about the people who work for them).

Learn as You Go

This same principle applies to every contact you have with the company before the offer is made. Pay attention in interviews. Ask questions. Take subtle notes about the atmosphere and people you come in contact with. Every touchpoint can offer a small tidbit of information; put those together and you can start to get an overall picture of what this future job might be like on a day-to-day basis.

And, too, you can find out a lot about a company by doing more extensive research. Sure, you should have vetted the company before you submitted a resume, but that usually only gets you the “official” version. During your interviews, be on the lookout for things you can check on later: for example, if an interviewer complains about federal regulations, check to see if the company has had recent run-ins with the government. Dig around for as much data as you can about the company and its culture. Look for your future co-workers on social media and see what they say about their job. Check business journals to get an idea about the organization’s future prospects: at the rate things change in our digital world, it makes sense to consider whether an organization will still be around in a few years.

Weigh Your Options Realistically

Assuming you’ve sent out more than one resume, odds are that you could be interviewing (or hoping to interview) with other organizations when your first offer comes in. It’s fine to hold out for a position you’re more excited about, but keep yourself grounded: that other offer might not come, and even if it does, it may not be as amazing as you’ve built it up to be.

That’s another reason for thinking hard about what you want before you start your search: it helps you look at an offer realistically, based on what you’re looking for. And it also helps you evaluate the possibility of that “perfect” offer coming in: the offer you have might not include everything you want, but a bird in the hand, as they say, is worth a lot of potential offers that never materialize.

If You Have to Say No, Say No

Turning down a job offer sucks. You feel like you’ve wasted everyone’s time, including your own. If possible, it’s best to avoid appearing to string them along; if at any point during the interview process you realize that you probably wouldn’t accept an offer, say so. That allows them to focus on more viable candidates, and lets you get on with your search.

One other thing: if you do say no, do it graciously. A lot of time and energy goes into generating an offer. Don’t act like the job or the salary are not good enough for you. Simply focus on what’s not a good fit. Not only will people appreciate your candor, it will also keep the door open for the future.


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Top Tips for Making Yourself Hirable

Sure, you’re a hard worker. And you’re good at what you do. But in today’s job market, unfortunately, that’s not enough to stand out. When recruiters (or worse, computers) have to sift through slush-piles of  resumes for every position, they’re going to need something beyond the same-old “same-old” that everyone else is saying.

Being hirable is about more than just doing your job. That’s not to say that skill, experience, a good work ethic aren’t important: those are all essential parts of DOING your job. Actually GETTING the job, however, requires that you demonstrate to people that you are a leader—someone who regularly goes above and beyond, the glue that holds a team together and the oil that makes it run smoothly.

Today’s job-seeker must rely on an entire arsenal of skills and talents, but perhaps the most important of these is organization. From the ability to set and meet deadlines all the way to keeping your work space decluttered to reduce stress, every aspect of your job is affected by your organizational skill.

But how do you go about making sure the person on the other side of the interview desk knows this about you? We have some suggestions that may help.

Be professional, not formal.

Of course you’ll be expected to behave in a professional manner, which includes dress, arrival time, and approach. When it comes to the actual interview, however, taking a less-formal approach allows for a more natural, free-flowing conversation—which is the best way to give an interviewer a sense of who you are on a real-life basis. Going beyond the resume, as it were, provides a greater opportunity to show (not tell) the other person you’ll be a strong match with the company’s needs and culture.

Don’t wing it, though. You’ll want to think about examples you can use long before you actually get to the interview. Consider instances that illustrate your “can-do” attitude, as well as the ability to balance your work and personal lives. While it might seem like companies would prefer to hire workaholics, more and more are realizing that employees who can strike a balance are less likely to burn out, increasing the odds of them staying with the company for the long-haul—and that’s something hiring managers love.

Know what you’re getting into.

If it all possible, find out what you can about the person who held the job before you. Why? Well, when searching for a replacement for a successful employee, there’s a tendency to seek out candidates that will serve as their predecessor’s replica. Knowing how that person operated can give you a leg up on the competition.

Selective hiring, particularly in periods of growth, is essential for stability and sustainability. Based on that, hiring decisions are often influenced by what has worked in the past. At the same time, make sure you’re keeping the future needs of the business in mind: while management might be searching for a familiar candidate, new ideas are often highly valued as well.

ORGANIZATION!

We can’t really stress this enough: Organizational skills can make or break your candidacy.

  • Time-Management. Knowing how to manage time is critical when it comes to keeping on task. Show that you can be aware of approaching deadlines and know how to allocate resources to meet them—this helps everyone do their jobs better.
  • Physical Presence. As we mentioned earlier, a cluttered workspace causes stress. Show you know how to present yourself professionally and neatly.
  • Resource Handling. Can you demonstrate a history of knowing how to delegate tasks to others, rather than trying to handle everything solo? The best candidates will be able to.

As a candidate, you should constantly present yourself as flexible, adaptable, and organized. Such abilities are vital to an efficient and productive workforce, and are therefore highly sought after by recruiters and hiring managers.


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In Defense of the Humble Cover Letter

When it comes to job-hunting, no single tool is as important as your resume. That doesn’t mean you should neglect other elements of your search, such as a social media presence and active networking; that’s pretty much a given. But there is one part of the job search that is getting less and less attention… and that’s probably not a good thing.

Let’s talk about cover letters.

In these days of virtual interviews and electronic everything, it’s easy to think that cover letter have outlived their usefulness. Regardless of what you might have heard, however, cover letters are not a useless formality. Sure, with the rise of online applications and social media recruiting, there may come a day when they become obsolete; to quote Aragorn, however, “it is not this day.”

Who Reads Cover Letters?

Generally speaking, recruiters won’t spend much time poring over your cover letter: face it, they’re less worried about presentation (they handle that aspect of things) then they are about making sure you’re qualified for the job. That information is pretty easy to find on your resume or online.

Human Resources Managers, on the other hand, tend to look at a bigger picture. They want to know who you are as a person, what they can expect from you, and how you’ll fit in with existing team members … and that’s the kind of stuff better seen in a cover letter.

And, too, the cover letter’s importance can be affected by multiple factors: for example, some organizations place more emphasis on cover letters than others, just because that is how they operate. In other situations, cover letters can play an extended role: when filling creative positions—designers, writers, art directors—the cover letter is often considered a portfolio piece in and of itself.

Cover Letters Are Still Important

Having a cover letter that no one reads is no big deal compared to NOT having a cover letter when a potential employer is looking for one. If a hiring manager is on the fence about whether or not to interview you, a strong cover letter may be what tips the scales in your favor. That in itself should be reason to spend some time optimizing your cover letters.

Don’t try to make a cover letter a copy of your resume: it’s job is merely to provide context for your resume. It should explain your interest in the position, demonstrate your communication skills, and help you make a more personal connection with the reader.

Like resumes, each cover letter should be customized for the company and position you’re applying for. Working from a standardized format is fine, but tailor the information to the job.

How long should it be? Opinions vary, but one of the best answers comes from a financial technology COO,  who feels that the cover letter “… needs to be long enough to tell the story, no more, no less.” Whether that means a paragraph or an entire page depends on your story.

Another suggestion is formatting: keep your letter easy to read by keeping the paragraphs a reasonable length and breaking them up with subheadings. Before you consider it finished, read it aloud. Better yet, have someone else read it aloud to you. You might be amazed at the phrases that seemed fine when your wrote them, but can be confusing to someone who doesn’t know what you’re trying to say. You’ll also find more typos and omitted words this way.

A Final Word

All indications point to the impending demise of the cover letter … but it ain’t dead yet. When considering whether to include a cover letter not specifically asked-for, a post on career website Monster.com suggests you ask what’s more important: a letter explaining why you want the job, or bulleted facts in your resume showing you can do the job?

From where we stand, that seems like something of a sucker bet. One of the cardinal rules of copywriting is that maybe 3% of readers will actually read anything beyond the headline of an ad … BUT … that 3% is actually interested, so you’d BETTER have something there for them to read.

The same logic applies to cover letters. Most hiring managers may completely ignore your letter, but the ones who do read it are trying to learn more about you…isn’t it worth a few extra minutes of work to insure there is something there worth reading?


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Laid Off? Clean Up!

Nobody, of course, wants to lose their job—especially when it was “nothing personal.” But it happens: one day you’re employed, the next day you’re sitting at home watching reruns on The Game Show Channel. Life isn’t fair, as the saying goes: wear a helmet.

There’s no point being Pollyanna about it, but there’s nothing to gained by wallowing in it. You didn’t exactly ask for more free time … but that doesn’t change the fact that you suddenly have more free time. Why not make the most of it?

Sure there are forms to be submitted and resumes to be updated, and those take priority. But this isn’t just a good time to reevaluate your career: it’s a good time to reevaluate your life, too. And if you’re like most people, that will probably me you feel the need to clean up.

Psychologists tell us that a sudden urge to organize is often the result of underlying mental angst or unrest: when our lives seem particularly uncertain and out of our control, there is a natural drive toward finding activities where we feel in charge—say, mowing the lawn, or cleaning out a closet, or even just putting all your playlists in alphabetical order on your phone.

At least one study has demonstrated how apprehension can more or less directly lead to  repetitive, ritualistic behaviors; cleaning or organizing falls under that heading. Links can easily be established between rising stress levels  and the need to put order to one’s surroundings. It’s just how we operate.

And that’s not inherently a bad thing: when other events in our lives make us feel helpless or impotent, tidying up can be psychologically settling. If you can exert some control over your inbox or your junk drawer, it can feel like the first step toward jumping fully back into the driver’s seat.

The thing is, tidying is finite: Point A to Point B. There’s a definite and satisfying ending. Yes, there is no telling what will be living in your couch cushions this time next week, but this morning, cleaning it was a job you had been meaning to get to for months … and right now, doggone it, there isn’t so much as a single errant Cheerio under there. Today the couch, tomorrow the world.

So cleaning up doesn’t just deliver a sense of control; it also provides the kind of resolution few other things in life do. As our world gets more splintered and tasks more abstract, it can feel impossible at times to get any feeling of closure or completion at the end of the day: we DO and we DO, but we never seem to get anything DONE.

In other words, going all Marie Kondo on your dresser can be immensely satisfying.

But there’s a dark side to tidying up, as well. If you’re spending all your time and energy on organization organizing can almost become pathological, interfering with your ability to focus or function—or look for a new job.

Certainly, a clean car can leave you feeling confident and accomplished … but so can many other things: dancing, exercise, meditation (check out what entrepreneurs do in their spare time), or even brushing up on your typing or spreadsheet skills.

Be open and honest (and kind) with yourself: if dropping off three bags of clothing at the local Salvation Army helps keep you out of the doldrums, go for it! Just remember that anything you clean or organize today will likely need it again next month. Tidying up can helpful, but see it for what it is: a Band-Aid, not a cure.


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Is Accepting Praise Part of Getting Hired?

You’re in the middle of your second interview. You’re feeling positive about things, but the job isn’t yours yet. The interviewer mentions some high, difficult goal you achieved in a previous position. Instead of saying thank you, or giving more background on you resolved the issue, your response is to treat it like it’s no big deal: “Oh, it was nothing…”.

What you just did was completely undermine your ability in the interviewers eyes. Instead of taking the win, you’ve more or less gone on the defensive, arguing that no, this incredible thing that we’re insanely proud of having achieved is not, in reality, anything worth celebrating.

You’re not only dissing your own accomplishments, you’re more or less calling the interviewer an idiot for thinking what you did was worth mentioning. Not a great way to get hired.

Receiving acknowledgement and praise for our accomplishments is a normal—and important part—of any career. Most of us understand that in theory. But here’s the problem: while it may make us feel warm and fuzzy on the inside when our work is complimented, it can make us embarrassed or uncomfortable on the outside. Unfortunately, it is the outside that people see: they take their cues from our outward actions, and respond accordingly.

Too many people tend to downplay any praise of our accomplishments. But dismissing positive feedback can negatively affect your career. Again, people take their cues from your reactions: if you treat your achievements like they’re no big deal, your employer and co-workers may be inclined to believe you. That means similar future “wins” are likely to be even less impressive: you’ll need to accomplish more just to receive the praise you’re getting now.

A recent post in CNN Business pointed out that how we receive praise can be as influential to our careers as what we did to earn that praise in the first place.

The post quoted Rebecca Aced-Molina, a coach and consultant who works with leaders to build their confidence and purpose: “Giving and receiving feedback is one of the most essential skills for creating trust and meaningful relationships at work, but it’s one of the hardest things we as human beings have to tackle.”

Take a look at a list (like this one or this one) of successful people, and you will find individuals who work hard, fight for their ideals, and make sacrifices to succeed. What you won’t find is people downplaying their accomplishments. Nor are they apt to dismiss the work of others, if such work contributed to their success.

Consider this: how many times have you ever looked at something someone else has done and offered up an insincere compliment? Sure, we may tell a child his stick drawing is art; if asked, we may tell an acquaintance that her Mumu doesn’t make her look fat. But have you ever looked at someone’s admirable accomplishment and lied that it was better than it was? What’s the point of that?

The simple truth is, if someone compliments you on something you’ve done, they’re usually being honest. This dynamic is even amplified in a job interview. So when given an accolade, embrace the praise with grace and confidence. Believe it, appreciate it, and take it for what it is: a verbal pat on the back. You did a good job, and someone noticed… and in an interview situations, that means you scored a few points. Smile, say thank you, and take the win.


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How to Avoid Getting Hired by a Jerk

Most of us have, at least once, worked for a Class-A jerk. Maybe you’ve just quit working for one. Maybe you’re working for one now. In any event, you don’t want your next job to have that sort of boss…but how do you know beforehand?

It’d be nice if we could look at a person in an interview and immediately be able to assess what kind of boss he or she would be. But people are seldom 100% upfront when we meet them–that’s the premise the entire online dating industry is based on. And the reality is, you’re going to be on your best behavior during the interview, too…it’s human nature.

Having said that, everyone pays the price for working with a bad boss: morale and productivity drop, and suspicious absences become the norm. Even the BOSS of a bad boss is impacted: the manager of a bad manager can end up spending an excess of time just resolving conflicts and smoothing ruffled feathers.

Horrible bosses are a fact of life, and you simply can’t know for certain. But there are ways to be informed before you accept a job. Here are three key steps you can take before you accept a position.

Learn all you can about the job

It’s exciting to start a new job, but keep in mind that the new job will be an old job in a matter of weeks. Before you begin, be sure you understand not only what you’ll be doing on a day-to-day basis, but also what kind of career path you can expect within the company. This isn’t just a matter of what you can contribute to the company, as important as that may be; interviews are also the time to figure out how much the company and/or your boss will contribute to your career growth and personal development.

During the interview process, be sure to probe for details on how your own personal and professional objectives fit in with those of the company. Ask what you can expect in terms of continuing education, compensation, company travel, future opportunities, and the like. Make sure these types of questions aren’t dismissed or evaded: it’s crucial that your own expectations and objectives fit with those of the company and the person you will be working for.

Learn all you can about the company

Research the company online before you even submit a resume. Check the obvious places, like the company’s website and their social media sites. But don’t stop there: feedback sites like Glassdoor can give you a feel for what current and former employees have to say about the company.

Of course, there is an inherent bias to online reviews: typically, the only people who write them either really love or really hate a company, whether it’s justified or not. All the same, if half the reviews are negative and the rest are so-so, it’s a pretty good sign the company is not all it should be.

Search the news, too: bad press could be a red flag, as well. An unflattering article here or there might not represent the entire company, but a pattern of bad press could mean trouble. Look for patterns: high turnover, slipping stock prices, trouble with government watchdogs, and so on.

Learn all you can about the employees

It’s easy to do a quick check on a company’s employees just by following links to social media. There’s no need to dig into everybody’s past: you can learn a lot by simply clicking a few LinkedIn profiles. How long to people stay at the company? Do they follow and share information from the company? Is there anything in their profile that feels negative about your potential employer?

Another trick is to simply observe: show up for you interview a few minutes early (good advice in general). But while you’re sitting in the lobby, take care to notice the people and activity around you. Watch the ways employees interact. What’s the energy level? Are people friendly or perfunctory? If you witness behavior or overhear conversations that make you uncomfortable, take note: that can be very revealing and tell you a lot about what the working environment will be like.

Overall, the thing you don’t want to do is give in to fear of being rejected. Being accepted isn’t nearly as important as finding a good fit. Remember, the interview is a two-way street: it’s not just a matter of a company deciding if they want you, it’s also about YOU deciding if you want to work for THEM.

With that in mind, ask questions about your would-be boss as a person, as well as a boss. Someone who is in the office 11+ hours a day could indicate the level of expected input from you. By the same token, many managers are passionate about a hobby, which could show a good understanding of work/life balance.

Above all, keep in mind that a bad boss might not be a deal-breaker: putting up with an annoying manager for a couple years might be worth it if it could potentially open the door to greater professional growth and advancement. Only you can make that call. So be sure to consider the good and the bad,  and make an informed choice for you and your future.


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Lost Your Job? Now’s the Time for New Habits

Experts will tell you that when you suddenly find yourself without a job, you should still keep up the routines you had when you were employed: go to bed at a reasonable hour, get up and dressed as if you were going to work, and the like.

It’s good advice; we’ve offered it here on this site a few times ourselves. But there is another side of the argument: now is the perfect time to pick up a new GOOD habit. Think about it: this is the start of a new phase in your life. So why not start it off with a positive change?

It will take effort, no doubt: strip away the sugar coating, and the basic truth is that change takes work. We’re creatures of habit, and we already have habits to start with, so changing our behavior is always going to be a challenge. It takes more than just good intentions: it takes a plan.

So if your intent is to try to establish a good habit–like say, exercising on a regular basis–there are certain steps you need to take to make that goal a reality. For example:

  1. When you’re excited about an idea and have too much free time, there’s a tendency to create laundry lists of things you want to change. Doing so, however, is just setting yourself up for failure: it’s hard enough to make one change, let alone make all the changes on a list the size of a CVS receipt. Narrow your focus down to one alteration you want to make, and concentrate on that.
  2. One of the biggest struggles with making a change is that we try to “tack on” something new in our already full lives. That’s like trying to stick a part of the picture outside of the frame. So once you’ve decided what you want to do, start thinking in terms of what you’re not going to be doing in that time frame. You want to jog for an hour each morning? Great. But you need to plan now to be aware of what isn’t going to happen while you’re out on road.
  3. Despite the bad rap resolutions get every January, research has shown that change is best accomplished through making a resolution and sticking to it. To successfully create a new habit, your resolution must be SMART:
    1. Specific “Worry less” sounds nice, but it’s not really a resolution.
    2. Measurable There has to be some type of measurable metric.
    3. Rewarding At the end of the day, you have to know that the work is worth it.
    4. Trackable You have to be able to track your progress.
  4. It’s also helpful to make a commitment strategy. In other words, try investing more than just the outcome. Tell all your friends what you’re doing. Put money down. Find some way to keep yourself accountable. Instead of just exercising, join a group like CrossFit that will provide you with a built-in community: friends that always have your back … but who will also keep pushing you to reach your goals.
  5. The longer you stick with your new commitment, the more likely it is you’ll develop a habit that’s automated so you don’t have to think about. Once you hit that point, you’re not worried about self-discipline, there’s not a lot of active internal debate, you simply–to quote Nike–“Just do it.”

In most situations, this starts happening after about 3 months. That’s when you really start feeling like you’re really going to stick with it; it’s become part of your life.

Being able to make a change and stick with it can be a huge deal. You’re likely to feel more confident and in control–two things that your life may be lacking after being let go. Some studies even suggest it can make you a better friend, partner–even a better boss.

Of course it isn’t easy. No one said it was. We’re only saying that it’s worth the effort.