What are your weaknesses? 10 tips to deal with the inevitable question

Michael Kingston, freelancer

Unless you've suddenly morphed into Henry Cavill's Superman and can confidently reply "only Kryptonite," "What are your weaknesses?" is the one interview question you can't avoid. While there is no one-size-fits-all response, the following tips will help you prepare for the inevitable question.

1. Be honest with yourself: We all have weaknesses. We all make mistakes. You need to be as clear on your weaknesses as you are on your strengths. If you're unsure, take an online personality profile test or ask colleagues who you trust to give you a candid opinion of what they perceive your weaknesses to be (and strengths).
2.  Put a positive spin on it: Always highlight examples of where you've turned your weakness into a strength, but don't mention a weakness you're still working on. Any you reveal to the hiring manager must be those you've resolved, especially if they are in any way related to the vacancy for which you've applied.
3. Watch your language: Words such as "frustrated" and 'impatient" will reflect negatively on you, for example, "I get frustrated when analyzing financial information." Respond with, "I don't always find financial analysis an easy part of this job, but I have attended additional training courses and spent time with our financial manager to gain a thorough understanding of what's needed. He was so pleased with my progress that last month he asked me to prepare a financial report for his department." This demonstrates a depth of self-awareness and an ability to respond to your personal weaknesses.
4. Don't rehearse the response: It's impossible to role play an exact response to this question as it will be influenced by the way the interview is progressing. Mentally prepare a general answer but nothing more. Most hiring managers prefer a natural reply, not a clearly rehearsed one.
5. Some weaknesses won't be relevant: If you struggle with admin but you've applied for a sales position, that won't generally be an issue. Good sales people are notoriously bad when it comes to admin. You are demonstrating that your job search is focused on roles that will play to your strengths. Apply a positive approach, for example, "I'm quite weak when it comes to admin so I have developed my own checklist in every job that I've been in and monitored it throughout the project's life cycle." In that way, you demonstrate your awareness of your weakness and how you manage it.
6. Stick with work-related weaknesses: Your inability to resist munching your way through copious amounts of popcorn every time you go to the movies isn't really relevant.
7. Don't use clichéd responses: "I work too hard" or "I'm a perfectionist" are typical responses to this question uttered by many candidates. They don't ring true and sound rehearsed. Don't be tempted to use them.
8. Make it specific: By citing "lack of organizational skills" as a weakness, your response is too vague. Give specific examples, such as those mentioned above. Why are your organizational skills poor? How have you taken steps to resolve those issues?
9. Avoid jobs that work on your weaknesses: Continually being called to work in an area of weakness is demoralizing for employees and one of the top reasons that people change jobs.  If you know you lack the confidence or ability to make a formal presentation to a room full of potential clients, don't apply for jobs that rely on those skills.

10. Above all, be authentic: Having a weakness doesn't make you inadequate, it makes you human. Even Superman had a weakness, remember?

How to Handle Tough Conversations At Work

Are you a topper or a plusser? Become a first-class listener

Dr. Mark Goulston was three times named one of America's best psychiatrists by the Consumers Research Council and now focuses on helping people communicate more effectively in the workplace. He has been a columnist in the Los Angeles Times and Harvard Business Review and written a number of books, including Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing.

He was a guest on my NPR-San Francisco radio program. Here are the conversation's highlights:

Marty Nemko: You believe in something called heartfelt leadership. Famed GE CEO Jack Welch would not have been called a heartfelt leader. Indeed they called him, Neutron Jack. What would you say to Jack Welch?

Mark Goulston: I know Jack Welch. He is a heartfelt leader. If a leader's commitment to excellence serves selfish needs, they're not heartfelt. But if their goal is the greater good, then they are. Many people who call Jack Welch "Neutron Jack" are simply defensive. They fear accountability.

MN: If a leader is selfishly motivated but that drives him or her to work 60, 70 hours a week and to make tough decisions -- like firing B players -- that do lead to better products and services, can you really call him heartless?

MG: The problem is that usually if someone gets a taste of greed, feeling like master of the universe, it's corrupting, so the larger good takes a back seat to their desire for money and power. You need to check with those around you and see if your behavior really does serve the larger good.

MN: Most studies find that we get better performance from others if we use both carrots and sticks. That's why some leaders induce fear. Is there a role of fear-inducing even in the heartfelt leader?

MG: If you're aggressive, fear-inducing for a larger good, okay. For example, a leader might say, "Our new product can make a real difference but I need you to work real hard on this. And if you don't, I will not be happy."

MN: How about appealing to cosmic good, even with something as mundane as toilet paper? If I'm the president of Northern toilet paper, I might say, "It's easy for us to think we're just selling toilet paper. But as you know, our R&D department has worked like dogs to come up with a toilet paper that's soft yet strong. That matters to millions of people. At the moment of truth, we can't afford that toilet paper to not be strong."

MG: You're right. I wasn't appealing to a noble-enough cause. We should appeal not to where they are but to where they should aspire. That reminds me of when JFK or a NASA administrator said something like, "We get to be a part of science fiction. We'll get to put people on the moon and back. We'll have something that will inspire our children and our grandchildren."

MN: People agree they should be direct, tactful but direct. But there's a Grand Canyon of difference between what we do and should do. How do we close the gap?

MG: Many people are conflict-avoidant, afraid how a person will react. So they don't provide necessary feedback.

MN: You told me that even though you wrote a book on listening, Just Listen, you find it hard to listen well.

MG: When I talk a lot, it's my insecurity. Before I go into a conversation, I tell myself to listen, to not be a topper but a plusser -- adding to someone's statement rather than trying to top it, for example, if someone says "I went to Hawaii" and I say, "Oh, we went to Fiji."

MN: Has anyone given you a second chance when you felt you didn't really deserve it?

MG: I had been kicked out of medical school and asked the Dean of Students, Dean McNary for another chance. I'll never forget what he said: "You're a very kind person. The world needs doctors like you." And he gave me that chance.

Caller #1: I've been a substitute college instructor for 22 years and been well-received, caring and diligent. But a year ago, my supervisor told me that a student complained that I was too strict and rude. I've been taken off the sub list without even being able to find out who the student was, let alone talk with her. What should I do?

Mark Goulston: Call people who think well of you and say something like, "I'm having to look for another job and wondering if I could pay you to give me some honest feedback." I'll bet they'll give you useful and positive feedback and wouldn't even take your money.

Marty Nemko (to the caller): Remember too that especially here in the Bay Area, we've done a perhaps too good a job of building students' self-esteem, that their opinion is as worthy as anyone else's -- even an instructor's. If, for example, you did invalidate some student's opinion, that doesn't mean they have the right to be offended, let alone get you fired.

Mark Goulston (to the caller:) It may help in the future to say something to students like, "Sometimes, I'll be direct with you. Know that it comes from a good place and a desire to be helpful."

Caller #2: I got fired. I want my job back.

Mark Goulston: Sometimes, the 4R's can help. The first R is Remorse: The 2nd R is Restitution; If you were to give me a second chance, here's what I've learned--what I'll always do and never do. And if that's not right, tell me. The 3rd R is Rehabilitation: Propose how you'll learn your new habits. The 4th R is to Request forgiveness.

Marty Nemko: Anything else you want to share with us?

Mark Goulston: Become a first-class noticer. Notice what's making people happy, sad, engaged, disengaged. That may be the most important communication tool.

6 career lessons from the World Cup


No Job Bites? Try The Emotional Cover Letter

Create a warm and fuzzy connection by telling your story

amazing chihuahua eyes very...

Most cover letters have had an emotionectomy. Any sign of humanity has been replaced by sterile, job-seeker language like, "Spearheaded initiative that yielded 17% ROI," "Dynamic, self-starter seeks leadership opportunity with progressive company" or "Drove profit maximization through rigorous cost-control measures."

Cover letters' lack of emotion is ironic When a job is advertised, chances are that a number of candidates are pretty similar in qualifications. What often differentiates them is a feeling, an intuition the boss has about the candidates. Sterile cover letters don't create warm and fuzzies.

I'm aware that it's a risk to speak from the heart but my clients have found that doing that tends to screen out cold-hearted employers and makes it more likely that a warm-hearted one will say yes. And isn't that who you want to work for anyway?

What's an emotional cover letter? Of course, it starts by avoiding job-seeker language--That makes you seem like you're hiding your real self behind resume-speak. Replace that with a cover letter that tells your true human story in plain English, beauty marks and warts. Consider this letter from a hard-to-employ person: an ex-felon.


You may be tempted to throw my application in the trash when you see that I just finished doing four years in Sing-Sing for armed robbery. I wouldn't blame you if you would. After what I saw in Sing-Sing, I'd probably do it myself.

But on the off chance that maybe someone gave you a break at some point, let me tell you my story-no excuses. I was a jerk, bad in school, joined a gang, did a bunch of robbery. Never hurt anyone. Not my style. But I was a robber.

I'm now 24 and sick of it all, sick of myself, to tell you the truth. I hope I'm being honest in saying I'd rather make $10 an hour honestly than $1,000 robbing some liquor store.

I realize I don't deserve a good job, at least not yet. So I'll do anything: sweep floors, clean toilets, load boxes all day. I want to prove myself to you and to myself.

If you'd be willing to at least interview me, it would give me hope, which is what I need right now when I hear that most ex-felons can't find a job.

Anyway, here's my resume but it won't look good---Sing-Sing for four years isn't going to make my resume top-of-the-heap.

Against the odds, hoping to hear from you,

If you were that employer, wouldn't you be more likely to interview him based on this letter than on the standard sterile one?

If that's true for an ex-felon, it's more true for the more common situations in which an applicant doesn't have the usually desired continuous employment showing increasing responsibility in which the target job is the perfect next step. Examples: You're sick of being a corporate employee and want to work for a nonprofit. You've been a stay-at-home mom for 15 years. Or you're a fun-lover who, before starting your career, took a couple years after college to "find yourself" and just have some fun.

Especially if you haven't had much success using the standard, antiseptic cover letter, consider trying an emotional one.
* * * * *
Marty Nemko welcomes your visiting his website: www.martynemko.com where lots of his writings and radio show are archived. And, if you need career help, you can email Marty Nemko at mnemko@comcast.net

Help and Hope for the Depressed Job Seeker

Practical ideas for job seekers who think they've tried everything

Senior Woman watching sunrise

Ben has reason to be depressed. "Laid off" twice, not sure how strong a reference his ex-boss will give him, he's 50 years old and overweight, been job-hunting for eight months, having gotten a total of three interviews and batting 0 for 3. He blames it on his having mainly soft skills, a widely held skill-set.

His wife, too, is struggling despite great credentials. She's tried to land a full-time college teaching job but the best she's ever landed has been a part-time community college instructor position, no benefits. She said, "It's ironic that I teach a class in which I champion worker rights yet my own employer pays me what ends up being little more than minimum wage and hires me 49% time to avoid paying benefits."

At 50, they feel the need to pay for health insurance. They're behind on their rent and their landlord is making eviction noises. Ben has networked, answered countless ads, even cold-called employers that are not advertising a job, all to no avail. He feels he's run out of options. He's beyond depressed; he's thought of suicide.

Indeed, the suicide rate among middle-aged people is up 30% between 1999 and 2010, more than the number that die in car accidents, with men being more than three times as likely to kill themselves. While there are many causes, the researchers specifically cite the economic downturn and resulting financial stress.

Realistic hope

Long-term unemployed job seekers have more options than they may think:

Circle back. The odds of your network having a job lead for you at any given moment is tiny. If it's been more than a month, circle back to everyone. Here's sample wording:
Susie, I appreciate your having offered to keep your ears open for me. By any chance, is there someone you think I should talk with? If you'll recall, I'm looking for a people or project management job, especially in the health care or environmental space but I'm flexible. I'm even open to a launchpad job, one that's lower-level but when I prove myself, I could move up.
If your contact doesn't have a lead for you, ask, "Would you mind continuing to keep you ears open and if I'm still looking in a month, I circle back to you?"

Change job targets? Perhaps you've been overreaching. If so, should you drop down your search, say from management to individual contributor positions. Or have you been pursuing a job in a field with too few openings or with great competition. For example, sexy fields like the environment, entertainment, biotech, fashion, and journalism tend to be tougher than, for example, the transportation, food, or housing industries.

Consider enjoyable interim jobs.
Sitting at home may make you more depressed. So you might want to apply for jobs for which the employer would be lucky to have you. Even some low-level jobs can be quite enjoyable. Any of these appeal?
  • Sports fans might enjoy selling beer and hot dogs at the ball park
  • Book lovers might enjoy working at a bookstore or in a library, even if just shelving books.
  • Fashionistas might enjoy working at a favorite boutique or department store.
  • Plant lovers might want to do landscaping or garden maintenance.
  • Café lovers might seek a job as a waitperson or even busser.
  • The most fun job I ever had was as a New York City cab driver. I got to meet all sorts of people, I enjoy driving and that I could double-park when I wanted to grab a great slice of pizza.
  • Some people don't mind or even like working in a grungy job: janitorial, warehouse, even a water treatment plant.

Walk in. If someone phoned you asking if you wouldn't mind taking care of a newborn temporarily, you might well say no. But if the doorbell rang and there was a cradle with a newborn, wouldn't you be more likely to take it in?

Same is true of job seekers. It's easy to say no to a voice on the phone and especially to an email. It's harder to brush away a flesh-and-blood human being, especially one who politely asks for help. That probably won't work at a large organization where there's a phalanx of security to keep you out but, for example, in an office building in which many businesses have an office, it might be worth going door-to-door.

Imagine how you'd feel if you were the receptionist and someone walked in and said, for example:
I'm an accountant or I should say I was. Although I got good evaluations, I got laid off. So I'm looking for a job. I know the standard way is to answer ads but I live near here and so I thought I'd drop in and see if I could get some advice and maybe even an interview. I'm wondering if you might allow me to speak with someone?
Is it not possible you'd say yes? Certainly, if you're a job seeker, you have nothing to lose. You can survive "No." You can survive 20 "Nos." And all you need is one decent job offer.
Start an ultra-low-cost business
At least as an interim, start a service business that has near-zero startup costs. Examples:
  • Relationship ad consultant. Help people craft their ad: how they describe themselves, the sort of partner they're looking for, and take photos likely to attract their desired type of partner.
  • Grief coach. People who lose a loved one, even a pet, may want support in getting past their sadness. They may not need a psychotherapist. They may just need a good listener who's gently encouraging.
  • Sports tutor. Many high school athletes want to up their game, both for now and because they dream of a college sports scholarship and their parents will spend to boost their child's chances.

Find support
For some people, support is the only thing that keeps them from giving up. Options:
  • A friend to check in with daily.
  • A job-search support group. Here's a link to a directory of them.
  • Religion. As in 12-step programs, it helps some people to surrender some control to a higher power. They feel, "If I'm doing my part and still am not finding a job, maybe it's God's will. When God decides it's time, I'll land a job, perhaps a better one than I would have gotten earlier."

It's clichéd but true that even the most successful people fail and usually have failed a lot. Key is how they respond to failure: curl up in bed or be resilient. Here are a few quotes that may drive that home:

"Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in."
Bill Bradley

"When you feel tired, it means you've tried. It doesn't mean you quit trying."
Constance Chuks Friday

"I tried and failed. I tried again and again and succeeded."
Epitaph on Gail Borden's gravestone.

"To make our way, we must have firm resolve, persistence, tenacity. We must gear ourselves to work hard all the way. We can never let up."
Ralph Bunche

"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent." Calvin Coolidge

I can leave you with no better advice.    

Learn How to Sell Yourself to a Future Employer

In 2014, you need to turn yourself into a brand

Hiring New Talent

You can give anyone a run down on the latest season of 24, Net Neutrality or the Amazon vs. Hachette showdown, but yourself...that's a much different story. Especially when it's attached to your professional experience, industry, desires and goals.
What's Your Brand? Ten years ago you'd never compare yourself to a brand but in 2014, you need to do just that. You are your best (and only) salesperson. As a new jobseeker you must learn how to sell – regardless of whether you're looking to go into sales at all. Learn about your field, research the power players, study the startups and the Fortune 500 companies. Learn their language. Understand how your internship, school courses, life experiences and skills can help shape this industry. Once you can see how you belong in this job sector you'll be much more able to 'sell' yourself.

Own Your Story: As a recent graduate you might feel insecure about your lack of professional work experience and get a bit stumped when it comes to talking about yourself. You need to develop your professional elevator speech and learn to articulate your accomplishments and professional goals. There's no doubt that during every interview you'll be asked two classic job interview questions: "Tell me about yourself," and "Why do you want this job?" Master your answers for these questions. Instead of winging it, write a script. It could even been a few bullet points identifying volunteer experiences, coursework, presentations, leadership roles or even conferences you attended.

Get it on Camera: Have a trusted (but honest) friend set up a mock interview and record your responses. Ask for their constructive feedback and play back the tape. Pinpoint where you stumble as well as the sections where you flourish. The more you rehearse, the more confident you'll be in the interview. As for the other question, "Tell me why you want this job" is actually a trick question. The interviewer is really asking, "Why should I hire you?" For each job you apply for you're going to have to re-write your script and identify what the company's needs and wants are. You'll also need to showcase your skills and most importantly let your passion shine through. Showing energy, and knowledge about the company are two traits that will set you apart from the rest of the applicants.    

Everything is awesome…or can be: 5 lessons from ‘The LEGO Movie’


Career Lessons from the LEGO movie

If you’re like me, for the past several months you’ve been startling co-workers, friends and family members by breaking into random renditions of “Everything is Awesome,” the signature song from “The LEGO Movie.” In an effort to get the song out of my head and to convince my colleagues that yes, even Legos can be work-related, I thought I’d look at what career lessons we can learn from the film.
For anyone not familiar with the plot, “The LEGO Movie” tells the story of an ordinary construction worker, Emmet, who is picked as “The Special” who can save the world from sure domination and destruction at the hands of President Business, aka Lord Business. Enlisted by a team of uniquely talented, diverse people — including a wise mystic, Batman and The Spaceman Benny — Emmet embarks on a journey he is hilariously unqualified for, picking up valuable lessons along the way.

Regardless of where you are in your own career journey, here are five lessons from The Lego Movie to help you along the way.

1. Everything is awesome.
In LEGO world: City inhabitants sing this song consistently throughout their day, blindly and blissfully unaware of approaching disaster. President Business realizes positivity is powerful and uses it for evil to keep people in line.
In your world: You can use positive thinking and reflection for good. Job search can be stressful, work can be overwhelming, and you may have days when you feel like nothing is going right. Even Emmet has moments where he feels defeated and ready to give up.
Instead of dwelling on what is going wrong, take some time each day to reflect on what is going right. Acknowledge the obstacle and then move on by envisioning your ideal future actions, behaviors, state of mind and environment. Business Insider notes that daily meditation can prevent you from burnout and get you closer to your ideal reality. A “can-do” attitude will keep you motivated whether you’re trying to save the world or find your target job.

2. Use the skills and talents that make you, YOU.
In LEGO world: Every member on the team of superheroes guiding Emmet in his journey is known as a Master Builder because they each have a unique area of skill or expertise. They believe a prophecy that Emmet is the most talented Master Builder and expect him to have similar abilities as the group. But he doesn’t. In fact, he’s pretty awful at most of the tasks the rest of the team can do with ease. Luckily, it doesn’t matter because he has other valuable talents that he can contribute.
In your world: It’s up to you in your job search and career to identify and highlight your strengths to build a personal brand. It enables employers to see the unique personality and character traits you bring to the table and how they set you apart from other job seekers.

3. Think outside the box…and inside the box.
In LEGO world: During a pivotal battle, the team of highly creative Master Builders attempts one failed outside-the-box idea after another. Finally, the responsibility falls to Emmet to save the day with a fresh idea. No pressure, right?
In your world: Many of us have faced the challenge of coming up with answers for an interview or new concepts that “wow” our audience. Stay calm by taking inventory of what you already know, creating a written list of as many ideas as possible. Avoid judging any of them right away. Instead, look for ways to improve or evolve what you wrote down. You may find an exciting new combination or alternative use for seemingly “normal” ideas that would otherwise been thrown away.

4. Don’t be the President Business of your office.
In LEGO world: President Business, an uptight company president and secret evil Lord Business, sees creativity as messy and chaotic. He attempts to keep everyone and everything in perfect, uniformed order using a robot militia of Micro Managers. In other words, he is the worst boss you could imagine.
In your world: If you manage others, create a culture that embraces a little wiggle room. Mistakes will happen occasionally and that is okay because your employees are people too. You will ultimately get better results when you foster creativity and avoid micro-management. If you’re the one dealing with a difficult boss, pick-and-choose your battles. Find ways to compromise and use your boss as a professional example for yourself of what not to do.

5. Keep priorities in sight. (SPOILER ALERT!)
In LEGO world: The LEGO Movie eventually reveals that the lives of all of the people in the LEGO universe are not real and were dreamed up by an imaginative young boy secretly playing with his father’s LEGO set. His father, referred to as “The Man Upstairs,” is the inspiration for the imaginary President Business — a controlling, strict and conventional work-a-holic who wants to build LEGOs only according to the directions. Eventually, the business-suited man upstairs comes downstairs for a little work/life balance reflection.

In your world: There is no perfect equation for balancing the activities in your life, but you can prioritize. If you feel you are neglecting an important area, whether at work or at home, consider which unnecessary or unfulfilling tasks you can cut out. Draw clear boundaries for certain activities and find time to unplug.

INFOGRAPHIC: The 10 biggest productivity killers at work

By Susan Ricker
Choose your own adventure: You’re at work and can either A) Start that big project or B) Just check your Facebook first. Tough choice, right?
While it’s tempting to take advantage of technology’s vast supply of entertainment, communication and information sources, these minor sidetracks could end up costing major time. According to a new CareerBuilder survey, 24 percent of workers admit they spend at least one hour each day on personal calls, emails or texts. The amount of time workers spent searching the Internet for non-work reasons wasn’t much better. But are employees really working less? Or can technology and other productivity killers actually help keep your work day balanced?
“While many managers feel their teams perform at a desirable level, they also warn that little distractions can add up to bigger gaps in productivity,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder. “It’s important to be organized and designate times to work on different deliverables. Minimize interruptions and save personal communications for your lunch hour or break. It can help put more time and momentum back into your workday.”
To learn about where you may be wasting your time, and what employers are doing to stop it, check out the infographic below (and click to enlarge):
While employers are taking measures to cut down on productivity killers, you can find ways to work smarter — not harder — by employing these tips Haefner offers to avoid wasting time on the job:

  1. Organize and prioritize – De-clutter your workspace and clearly lay out your game plan for the week. What do you need to accomplish each day? How much time will each project take? Which projects have the highest priority?
  2. Limit interruptions – Incoming calls and co-workers dropping by to chat about their weekend can break your concentration and eat up time. Block off a conference room to work on a project to avoid distractions at your desk. Read email at intervals instead of opening each one as soon as it comes in. Consider telecommuting on certain days.
  3. Avoid unnecessary meetings – Don’t set aside an hour to meet about an issue or initiative that can be addressed with a quick phone call. Politely decline the meeting invitation and follow up with the organizer.
  4. Get personal on your own time – Whether you want to call a friend, take advantage of an online sale or post a picture of your dog on your social profile, do it during your lunch hour or break time or after work.
  5. Communicate wisely – Don’t spend 20 minutes crafting an email to the person sitting in the next cubicle. Save time by picking up the phone or walking over to your colleague’s desk.
  6. Don’t delay the inevitable – Finding other things to do so you can put off a project you don’t want to work on will only end up wasting more time. Don’t procrastinate. Dive in and tackle the task at hand.

11 Things You Should Never Say at Work

Including one word you should drop from all sentences immediately

By Emmie Martin

What you say matters. Whether you're voicing an idea during a meeting or making an offhand comment at lunch, everything you say adds to your overall character.

In the new book "Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success," Sylvia Ann Hewlett says three things signal whether a professional is leadership material: how they act, how they look, and how they speak.

Speaking eloquently not only improves your daily communications, it builds up your overall persona and executive presence. "Every verbal encounter is a vital opportunity to create and nurture a positive impression," Hewlett writes.

Some phrases instantly undermine your authority and professionalism, and should be banned from the office. Here are 11 things you should never say at work:

1. "Does that make sense?"
Instead of making sure you're understood, asking this tells the listener that you don't fully understand the idea yourself, career coach Tara Sophia Mohr told Refinery 29. Instead, she suggests asking, "What are your thoughts?"

2. "It's not fair."
Simply complaining about an injustice isn't going to change the situation. "Whether it's a troubling issue at work or a serious problem for the planet, the point in avoiding this phrase is to be proactive about the issues versus complaining, or worse, passively whining," Darlene Price, author of "Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results" told Forbes.

3. "I haven't had time."
"More often than not, this is simply not true," said Atle Skalleberg in a LinkedIn post. Whether you didn't make time for the task or forgot about it, Skalleberg suggests giving a time when it will be done instead of explaining why it's late.

4. "Just"
Adding "just" as a filler word in sentences, such as saying "I just want to check if..." or "I just think that..." may seem harmless, but it can detract from what you're saying. "We insert justs because we're worried about coming on too strong," says Mohr, "but they make the speaker sound defensive, a little whiny, and tentative." Leave them out, and you'll speak with more authority.

5. "But I sent it in an email a week ago."
If someone doesn't get back to you, it's your job to follow up, says Skalleberg. Be proactive when communicating instead of letting the other person take the blame.

6. "I hate..." or "It's so annoying when..."
Insults have no place in the office, especially when directed at a specific person or company practice. "Not only does it reveal juvenile school-yard immaturity, it's language that is liable and fire-able," says Price.

7. "That's not my responsibility."
Even if it's not your specific duty, stepping up to help shows that you're a team player and willing to go the extra mile. "At the end of the day, we're all responsible," Skalleberg says.

8. "You should have..."
"Chances are, these fault-finding words inflict feelings of blame and finger-pointing," Price says. She suggests using a positive approach instead, such as saying, "In the future, I recommend..."

9. "I may be wrong, but..."
Price calls this kind of language "discounting," meaning that it immediately reduces the impact of whatever you're about to say. "Eliminate any prefacing phrase that demeans the importance of who you are or lessens the significance of what you contribute," she says.

10. "Sorry, but..."
This implies that you're automatically being annoying. "Don't apologize for taking up space, or for having something to say," says Mohr.

11. "Actually..."
Prefacing sentences with this word, as in, "Actually, it's right over there," or "Actually, you can do it this way," puts distance between you and the listener by hinting that they were somehow wrong, according to Carolyn Kopprasch, chief happiness officer at Buffer. Rephrase to create a more positive sentiment.    

Cures for the common interview mistake

common job seeking ailments

Sometimes it seems that my job as a career coach more closely resembles a career “doctor” for certain job seekers who come to me with their aches and pains of job search. I try to track their symptoms so I can understand their issues and help give them a treatment plan to get them back on their feet.

Many job seekers would agree that interviews are the most painful part of the hiring process. It often leaves you with more questions than answers: “What did I say wrong? What did I forget to mention? I thought it went great — what should I be doing differently? Why haven’t I heard anything yet?”

I recently spoke with a job seeker suffering from just that. Walking through his approach to the entire interview process, we were able to identify opportunities for him to improve what he’s doing before his interview, during his interaction with a hiring manager and the steps to take once the interview has concluded.

Job seeker symptom: “I feel like I’m not connecting with the interviewer.”
Diagnosis: Failure to research the company, industry, interviewer(s) and employees.
Prescription: Candidates who walk into an interview and ask surface level, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions can come off as lazy or careless to a recruiter or hiring manger. By digging deeper into the company’s industry, competitors and what current employees have to say about the environment, you can decipher some more meaningful questions that allow you to determine whether the company is up to your standards when it comes to places you want to work. Remember – being prepared isn’t the same as being pompous. You’re not trying to grill the interviewer but instead create a great dialogue.
Job seeker symptom: “The interview feels like an interrogation.”
Diagnosis: Failure to comfortably talk about one’s self.
Prescription: An interview is a conversation. While nerves can set you on edge to feel like you’re up against the wall, take a breath and realize that you’ve made it this far. Avoid stress through practicing interviews with common interview questions. Review your résumé and consider how you can talk about each of those points with an example or story of how you reached those achievements. The more comfortable you are talking about yourself as it relates to the position, the more at ease you will be, making way for a confident interview experience.
Job seeker symptom: “Follow up is useless!”
Diagnosis: Skipping a crucial step in being memorable.
Prescription: Last month, I emphasized the importance of sending thank-you notes after every interview. If you do this and didn’t get the job it doesn’t mean you should stop sending thank-you notes. It is the essential final step to marketing yourself and is proper etiquette for any interview. If you aren’t offered the position, reflect on what you’re doing before and during the interview. You should also ask the interviewer what you can do to improve for future interviews as part of your job search. While many companies do have legal restrictions regarding feedback, any information they can share will help you better prepare for future opportunities.

If you’ve matched any of these symptoms, don’t worry — they’re common and can be cured. If you are proactive in practicing interviews and doing your research, learning how to behave in an interview and using proper follow-up techniques, you can have a healthy job search.

Here's The Incredible Cover Letter Leonardo Da Vinci Wrote In The 1480s

"Should the need arise, I will make mortar and light ordnance"

Self portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, drawing in red chalk
By Drake Baer

Even a Renaissance man is occasionally on the job hunt.

Such was the case back in the 1480s, when a young Leonardo da Vinci was coming up in Florence.

Born the lowly son of a notary, da Vinci couldn't enter the "higher professions" of the city, like lawyer or statesman. Instead, his lot was that of a craftperson - a painter, to be exact.

Under the tutelage of Verrochio, an established artist and goldsmith, da Vinci honed the powers of observation that would drive his illustrious career.

But Florence, he realized, was crowded with artists. If da Vinci was to make a name for himself, he'd have to try another town.

So he turned his sights toward Milan, then ruled by Ludovico Sforza, who hoped to make Milan a cultural capital on par with Florence and Venice. He also had a habit of getting into wars, as one did back in the day.

Da Vinci applied to work for him, and knowing his potential patron's penchant for war, he wrote a cover letter positioning himself as a military engineer. As the best cover letters do, it tailored his career history to his employer's needs.

Here are a few of the inventions da Vinci proposed:
  • "Very light, strong and easily portable bridges with which to pursue and, on some occasions, flee the enemy"
  • "Covered vehicles, safe and unassailable, which will penetrate the enemy and their artillery"
  • "Where the use of cannon is impracticable, I will assemble catapults, mangonels, trebuckets and other instruments of wonderful efficiency not in general use."
  • Beyond weapons, da Vinci promised innovations, like tunneling beneath castle walls, redirecting the waters of moats, and methods for destroying fortresses.

"In short," he humbly proclaims, "as the variety of circumstances dictate, I will make an infinite number of items for attack and defence."

Surprisingly, the legendary artist doesn't mention his ability as an architect, painter, or sculptor until the close of the letter, and, by today's standards, it's a bit long-winded.

Regardless, the letter worked: Da Vinci worked for the duke for 16 years, completing some of his most memorable work, including "The Last Supper."

Care of blog-based archive Letters of Note, here's the cover letter in full:
My Most Illustrious Lord,

Having now sufficiently seen and considered the achievements of all those who count themselves masters and artificers of instruments of war, and having noted that the invention and performance of the said instruments is in no way different from that in common usage, I shall endeavour, while intending no discredit to anyone else, to make myself understood to Your Excellency for the purpose of unfolding to you my secrets, and thereafter offering them at your complete disposal, and when the time is right bringing into effective operation all those things which are in part briefly listed below:

1. I have plans for very light, strong and easily portable bridges with which to pursue and, on some occasions, flee the enemy, and others, sturdy and indestructible either by fire or in battle, easy and convenient to lift and place in position. Also means of burning and destroying those of the enemy.

2. I know how, in the course of the siege of a terrain, to remove water from the moats and how to make an infinite number of bridges, mantlets and scaling ladders and other instruments necessary to such an enterprise.

3. Also, if one cannot, when besieging a terrain, proceed by bombardment either because of the height of the glacis or the strength of its situation and location, I have methods for destroying every fortress or other stranglehold unless it has been founded upon a rock or so forth.

4. I have also types of cannon, most convenient and easily portable, with which to hurl small stones almost like a hail-storm; and the smoke from the cannon will instil a great fear in the enemy on account of the grave damage and confusion.

5. Also, I have means of arriving at a designated spot through mines and secret winding passages constructed completely without noise, even if it should be necessary to pass underneath moats or any river.

6. Also, I will make covered vehicles, safe and unassailable, which will penetrate the enemy and their artillery, and there is no host of armed men so great that they would not break through it. And behind these the infantry will be able to follow, quite uninjured and unimpeded.

7. Also, should the need arise, I will make cannon, mortar and light ordnance of very beautiful and functional design that are quite out of the ordinary.

8. Where the use of cannon is impracticable, I will assemble catapults, mangonels, trebuckets and other instruments of wonderful efficiency not in general use. In short, as the variety of circumstances dictate, I will make an infinite number of items for attack and defence.

9. And should a sea battle be occasioned, I have examples of many instruments which are highly suitable either in attack or defence, and craft which will resist the fire of all the heaviest cannon and powder and smoke.

10. In time of peace I believe I can give as complete satisfaction as any other in the field of architecture, and the construction of both public and private buildings, and in conducting water from one place to another.

Also I can execute sculpture in marble, bronze and clay. Likewise in painting, I can do everything possible as well as any other, whosoever he may be.

Moreover, work could be undertaken on the bronze horse which will be to the immortal glory and eternal honour of the auspicious memory of His Lordship your father, and of the illustrious house of Sforza.

And if any of the above-mentioned things seem impossible or impracticable to anyone, I am most readily disposed to demonstrate them in your park or in whatsoever place shall please Your Excellency, to whom I commend myself with all possible humility.

25 Things We Wish Someone Had Told Us At Graduation

"Drink higher-end liquor. The hangovers aren't as bad."

By Leah Goldman

It's graduation time, and everyone is sharing advice for graduates.

So we decided to ask our co-workers at Business Insider, "What do you wish someone had told you at graduation?"

From where you should try to get a job, to what you should drink, to how you should spend your money, our colleagues had a lot to say.

But it's all valuable and comes right from the brains of people who have already experienced it.

Among the tips is this one from Mamta Badkar, Senior Markets Reporter
Call employers after you've sent in a job application. Unfortunately getting a job interview isn't just about your skills; it's about being the annoying kid who won't give up. Follow up, cold call, and accept that more often than not, you won't hear back.

Tip #24 comes from Peter Jacobs, Education Reporter
Make an effort to keep in touch with your friends from college. It gets trickier when they're not living down the hall from you, but it's really cool to see what people are up to - whether they're in your city, across the country, or on the other side of the world.

Enjoy, and good luck!


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