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10 career hacks for every ambitious man

(EDITORIAL) Succeeding in business takes grit and determination – here are 10 hacks for any fella looking to get ahead in their career.

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Gender equality (for real)

Most career hacks are focused on women these days, but guess what? Men still exist, too! News flash! And another news flash – men of all races and sexual preferences are ambitious in their careers. Wow. What a concept.

Sure, there’s a pay gap. Sure, men have always been allowed to be ambitious without any questions. Sure, sexual harassment is more often inflicted upon women. But there are plenty of men that are underpaid, questioned for their ambitions, and even sexually harassed.

If we truly believe that genders are equal, we must offer career advice to men as well, so in that spirit are 10 career hacks for our male readers that want to be even more ambitious about their careers.

1.) Maintain insanely detailed notes

Early in my career, I got in the habit of keeping a phone log where I documented every single inbound and outbound call, who I talked with, and what the highlights were, no matter how minor or major. I even wrote down (in front of leadership) when the President of the company sat on my desk, inches away from me, and lingered to touch my shoulders. Ick. I wrote down the time, who was at my desk, and what happened. Right in front of him. It never happened again.

Notes, whether digital or hand-written, are an insanely valuable tool. When digitized, all meeting notes and information can can be searchable and easily tracked.

If you meet someone, take real notes, and immediately add a calendar item to follow up with them at a specific time (this is the part everyone always forgets).

Finally, keep an accomplishment journal to be able to suggest and defend a future raise or promotion – it works.

2.) Know your tools

Perhaps you’re recently really into Trello, and during your next job interview, they happen to ask about your organizational skills. Instead of rambling on, you can talk about how streamlined your life is with Trello and follow up by mentioning your three favorite browser extensions that aren’t about sports or beauty but about real work.

Remember your tools when you’re climbing the ladder and always refine them – nothing’s ever good enough, nor is your process. Test them out, be able to defend them, and be ready to recommend them to others.

3.) Be a master of research

Never stop learning, or seeking relevant information. If you’re a new coder, obsess over Stack Overflow during lunch every single friggen’ day. If you’re in the marketing department, stalk Quora topics. Read every industry publication you can get your eyeballs on.

Establish yourself as the go to person in your office, no matter your job title. Be careful not to be the office know-it-all, but definitely act as an information absorber.

4.) Communicate like a boss

This doesn’t mean condescend, it means to over-communicate, which is more rare than you know.. When you meet someone, reach out to them without waiting for them to reach you.

When working on a project with a team, make sure to keep teammates apprised of what you’re doing (without bragging); too often do people assume everyone knows what’s going on.

An example of over-communicating effectively without sounding narcissistic is letting your team know: “I’ve completed X and am moving on to Y – before I do, is there anything I can do for you guys since I’m at a stopping point?”

5.) Always ask if you can help

No matter how busy you are, no matter where you are in the hierarchy, stop to ask others if you can simply help. Just as with the closing of #4, come to a stopping point and ask.

Most people will say no, but a simple, “hey, I know you’re working on the Simon account – I have 30 minutes I could help you reorganize if you’d like!” helps significantly.

Give them a specific reason you can help, too. Not only will this make you the office “go-to” but it makes you so deeply ingrained in the team that people can’t imagine the place without you! Which they shouldn’t!

Just don’t be annoying – know when you’re coming across as fake and knock that off.

6.) Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”

Too often in the workplace, people are scared to sound stupid so they’ll guess. This can lead projects down really bad paths, so get used to hearing yourself say “I don’t know.”

And then add the phrase, “but I’ll find out!”

Yeah yeah, you already know this advice, but you haven’t been told is to try this: “I don’t know, but I’ll find out within the hour.” Add a deadline for yourself so you set expectations just like we talked about in number four.

Or suggest that you both work together to find a solution: Teamwork makes the dream work.

7.) Be kind, even when it kills you inside

You may hate the guy in the office next to yours and Lord knows you might literally die if he tells you the same fishing story again, but you spend more time with these people than you do your own family and they’re human.

They want to be heard, they want to belong, so remember that annoying as they can be, they’re people. They’re YOUR people.

Be kind, and remember that something about you is probably annoying, too.

8.) Smile (hear us out on this one)

Smile when you’re on the phone – your positivity conveys even when people can’t see you because you literally transform your facial muscles, thus altering your voice. It feels awkward, but so what? Kindness is memorable! Especially smile when someone is speaking in a meeting and meets your eye contact – not a flirty smile, but the disarming kind that says “I’m listening and you’re interesting.”

9.) Get to know your five minute tasks

If you always know what can be done in less than five minutes, your down time is never used standing around like a moron.

For me, I keep all emails unread that require any sort of action, and if I only have five minutes before my next call, I’ll hop in and deal with one because I already assessed how long it would take. No down time, no twiddling of thumbs. Those five minutes add up over a week!

10.) Exercise a little

Without exercise of some form, be it running, yoga, or even just walking, research proves the brain is less focused, less sharp.

We won’t recommend a type of exercise, a time of day, or anything specific, but almost every single successful executive, regardless of gender, is pretty serious about fitness.

Eat well, make yourself get up from your desk and move around every hour, and mostly – extend your lifetime so you can actually enjoy retirement instead of enjoying heaven (or whatever afterlife you subscribe to).

It’s a trick!

If you’ve read this far and you’re thinking, “Lani, I just read this exact same list, verbatim but it was called 10 career hacks for every ambitious woman, what the hell?”

You’re right. Because guess what? I don’t believe general career advice is different for men and women. Stories about negotiating salary are slightly different, suggestions for how to request a breastfeeding room are different, notes on gender identity are different, but to succeed in a career takes the same grit and dedication, no matter what’s in your pants.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Opinion Editorials

Basic tips on how to handle common (and ridiculous) interview questions

(EDITORIAL) There will always be off the wall questions in an interview, but what is the point of them? Do interviewers expect quick, honest, or deep and thought out answers?

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We’ve all been asked (or know of friends who have been) some ridiculous interview questions:

  • What type of fruit would you be in a smoothie and why?
  • If you were stuck on a deserted island, what is one item that you couldn’t live without?
  • Could you tell us a joke?

Sound familiar? You may have worried about stumbling in your response, but the reality is, you will receive questions in an interview that you may not know the answer to. Many of us sweat bullets preparing for interviews, trying to think through every possible scenario and every question we might be asked. Usually the hardest part about these questions is simply that you cannot prepare for them. So how do you approach questions like these?

First and foremost, you have to be comfortable with the uncomfortable and do your best to answer them in the moment. Interviewers are not expecting you to know the answer to these question. Instead, they are literally looking to see how you handle yourself in a situation where you may not know the answer. Would you answer with the first thing that comes to mind? Would you ask for more information or resources? What is your thought process and justification for answering this question? Please know that how you answer this particular question is not usually a deal-breaker, but how you handle yourself can be.

Now, with more common questions, even though some can  still feel ridiculous, you have the opportunity to practice.

“What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

They want to be able to see that you have confidence and know your strengths – but also that you are human and recognize where you may have areas of improvement, as well as self-awareness. This isn’t a trick question per se, but it is an important one to think through how you would answer this in a professional manner.

If you’re not feeling super confident or know how to answer the strength question, it may be worth asking your friends and family what they think. What areas of business or life do they feel comfortable coming to ask you about? Were there subjects in school or work projects that you picked up really quickly? This may help identify some strengths (and they can be general like communication or project management.) One great way to delve in to your strengths is to take the CliftonStrengths Test.

“Your CliftonStrengths themes are your talent DNA. They explain the ways you most naturally think, feel and behave.” It gives you your top 5 strengths (unique to you), as well as a detailed report on how those work together and amongst groups. Per the research from Gallup, they say time is better spent on growing your strengths than trying to overcome your weaknesses.

The thing with the “What is your weakness?” question is that you cannot say things like “I really cannot get up in the morning!” or “I absolutely hate small talk!” – even though those may be true for you. They are looking for a more thoughtful answer demonstrating your self-awareness and desire to grow and learn.

They know you’re human, but the interviewer is looking for what you’re doing to address your weakness. An example of a response may be, “I have struggled with advanced formulas in Excel, but have made sure to attend regular workshops and seek out opportunities to practice more functionality so that I can improve in this area”. Another example might be, “I have a very direct type of communication style and I have learned that sometimes, I need to let the other person share and speak more before I jump to a decision.” Many times you can also find some great insights in self-assessment tests too (like DISC, Myers-Briggs, Enneagram for examples).

“Why do you want to work for this company?”

Let’s be real. Companies want people that want to work there. They want you to be interested in their products/service because that usually means you will be a happier employee. You should be able to answer this question by doing some company research, (if any) drawing from your personal experience with the company, or getting “insider insight” from a friend or colleague who works there and can help you understand more about what it’s like to be employed by that company.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

All companies have goals and plans to make progress. They ask this question to see if you, a potential future employee, will have goals that align with theirs. Jokingly, we are all curious about how people answered this question back in 2015…but in all seriousness, it is worth asking yourself and thinking through how this company or role aligns with your future goals. This question is similar to the weaknesses question in that you still have to remain professional. You don’t want to tell them that you want to work there so you can learn the ins/outs to then go start your own (competitive) company.

Take a few minutes to think about what excites you about this job, how you can grow and learn there, and maybe one piece of personal (hope to adopt a dog, travel to India, buy a home) but it doesn’t have to be anything super committal.

When it comes to behavioral interview questions, these are also much easier to prepare for. You can take out your resume, review your experience, and write out 3 examples for the following scenarios:

    • Handled a difficult person or situation
    • Decided steps (or pulled together resources) to figure out a problem/solution that was new to your team or organization
    • Brought a new idea to the table, saved expenses and/or brought in revenue – basically how you made a positive impact on the organization

These are very common questions you’ll find in an interview, and while interviewers may not ask you exactly those questions verbatim, if you have thought through a few scenarios, you will be better conditioned to recall and share examples (also looking at your resume can trigger your memory). Bring these notes with you to the interview if that makes you feel more comfortable (just don’t bring them and read them out loud – use it as a refresher before the interview starts).

Practicing is the best way to prepare, but there’s always a chance that you’ll get a question you might not know the answer to. Do your research and consider asking friends (or family) about how they’ve handled being in a similar situation. Ultimately,  you have to trust yourselves that you will be able to rise to the occasion and answer to the best of your ability, in a professional manner.

Whatever you do, please also have questions prepared for your interviewers. This is a great opportunity to help you decide if this is a right fit for you (projects, growth opportunity, team dynamics, management styles, location/travel, what they do for the company/what are they proud of/how did they choose to work here). Never waste it with “Nope, I’m good” as that can leave a bad final impression.

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Opinion Editorials

Be yourself, or be Batman? A simple trick to boost your self-confidence

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) “If you can’t be yourself, be Batman.” We’ve heard it before, but is there a way that this mentality can actually give you self-confidence?

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Batman symbol has long been a way to boost self-confidence.

The joke with scary movies is that the characters do stupid things, and so you scream at them. No you dumdums, don’t go FURTHER into the murder circus. Put down the glowing idol of cursed soda gods and their machine gun tempers. Stop it with the zombie dogs. STOP IT WITH THE — WHAT DID I JUST TELL YOU?

We do this as the audience because we’re removed from the scene. We’re observing, birds eye view imbued ducklings, on our couches, and with our snacks. Weird trick for horror movies to play — makes us feel smart, because we’re not the ones on meat hooks.

But if a zombie crashed through our window, like RIGHT NOW, the first thing we’re going to do doesn’t matter, because that thing is going to be stupid. So so stupid. You can’t believe how stupid you’ll act. Like, “I can’t leave behind my DONUT” stupid, as a zombie chomps your arm that was reaching for a bear claw you weren’t even really enjoying to begin with. “Oh no my DOCUMENTS I can’t leave without my DOCUMENTS.”

There’s a layer of distinction between those two instances — removed versus immersed. And really, this colors a lot of our life. Maybe all of our life. (Spoiler: It is all of our life.)

It’s Imposter Syndrome in overdrive — the crippling thought that you’re going to fail and be found out. And you tell yourself that all the little missteps and mistakes and mis…jumps are entirely your fault. Feedback loops reiterates, and then you get paralyzed. And man, what a time to be alive — what with the world on fire — to start up a self-deprecation engine shame machine. No way our self-confidence is suffering now, right?

The point is: You — as a being — experiencing things first hand is the perfect time to see your shortcomings. You can’t help but do it. You are living in your skeleton meat mecha human suit, and all the electronics in your head strangely remember all the times you struggled. And weirdly, if you look at someone else in the exact same situation you were just in, you suddenly have this powerful insight and awareness. It happens naturally. It’s why you think I would never head on down to the basement in a creepy mansion. Watch any cooking competition show to see this in action. Armchair quarterbacks, hindsight 2020. It’s all the same.

But when it’s just you and you’re doing things in real time? You lose focus, you stumble, and you wonder why it’s suddenly so hard to make rice, or why you fell for the really obvious fake punt.

So where does that leave you? How do you solve this problem? There are ways. But the journey is arduous and hectic and scary and difficult. Time tempers your soul over and over, you harden in ways that build you up, and you become better. The process is ages old.

I bet you’d like at least… I dunno, there’s gotta be a small trick, right? Life has secrets. Secrets exist. Secrets are a thing. Let’s talk about one to boost your self-confidence.

Stop seeing things in first person, and instead, talk to yourself in the third person. Yes, just like George did in that episode of Seinfeld. Don’t say, “I need to finish the project today.” Say “Bob needs to finish the project today.” If your name is Bob, I mean. Substitute in your name. In effect, you are distancing yourself from the situation at hand, as you begin to view it from outside yourself.

Studies have shown that doing this causes a fascinating side effect — an odd insulating barrier that can give someone just enough distance from the problem at hand, which in turn lets someone more calmly examine the situation. Once that is achieved, a plan can be written and executed with great results.

There’s some research demonstrating this concept, and as truly crazy as it sounds, marked improvement in behavior has been measured when participants are told to think of themselves as a different person. It’s like the “fake it ’til you make it” principle — suddenly you’re sort of cheering on this other person, because you want them to succeed. It’s just that in this case, the other person is still you.

I’ve heard the concept also said that “your current self can give your future self an easier life if you work hard now.” It seems like distancing functions on that wavelength — that by thinking you are supporting some other entity (and even when that entity is still you), some empathetic mechanisms spring into play, and your natural desire to see success rebounds back onto yourself. This is you eating your cake, yet something still having cake.

So that’s magic in and of itself, right? I want you to try it. Don’t think in terms of what you have to do, but what you watching yourself will do. All these fun tiny benefits concurrently happen — encouragement, pressure removal, controlled thought, drive, momentum, and motivation. It’s all there — a trail mix built out of emotions and psychological buffs. And they’ll all fire off at once and you’ll start noticing how much better you feel.

Here’s the best part — we can take this further. At least two different studies have shown with children that thinking of an alter ego and then distancing creates even stronger outcomes. Now we’re not just hyping ourselves up — we’re hyping up an impressive figure. Batman is already taking down jerks. So what if you say you are the night and combine that with self removal? Even in children, the conclusion was fascinating. When they were given a menial task to complete, those who were told to believe they were Batman had an improvement of 23% in focus and productivity over a group who was given no directive. Even without the consequences of adult life and its inherent complexities, children naturally showcased that they work harder if they undergo an alter ego transformation. Now you’re not just there for yourself, you’re there for Batman himself.

“But that’s just children.” Ok, well, it works in adults too. Beyoncé and Adele would psych themselves up by creating onstage personas that were confident, successful, fearless versions of themselves. It’s an act within an act, with a performer further elevating themselves away from reality through the substitution of a personality built and engineered for success. Set aside that these are powerful, fierce, intimidating entertainers in their own right; the focus here is that they also used this mental trick, and it worked.

(There’s an aside here that I think is worth mentioning — in the midst of performing to a crowd, you are 100% in control, and I think this simple realization would help scores of people with their fear of public speaking; a concept to write about another day.)

Distilled down: If you think you’re a hero, you’ll act like one. Easier said than done, but give it a try by taking yourself out of the equation, even if for a moment. You’re not changing who you are so much as you are discovering the pieces of innate power you already had. You aren’t erasing yourself — you’re finding the hidden strength that’s already there. Having a way to kickstart this is perfectly fine.

The ultimate goal with all of this is to build the discipline that lets you begin to automatically engage this mode of heightened ability – that you’ll naturally adopt the good parts into life without the need for ramping up. Armed with that, you’re unstoppable.

Life — as a series of interactions and decisions — can be gamed, to a degree, with tiny and small shifts in perspective. Dropping a surrogate for yourself gives you enough room to have the chance to take everything in, and augmenting this concept further with the thought of having an alter ago creates even wilder possibilities. Psychologists are finding that this sidestep phenomenon can potentially help in different areas — improved physical health, learning how to better handle stress, emotional control, mastering anxiety, and a host of others.

So put on a mask, and then put on a whole new self. It’s almost Halloween anyway.

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Opinion Editorials

Don’t forget about essential workers in a post-COVID world (be kind)

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) As the world reopens, essential workers deserve even more of our respect and care, remembering that their breaks have been few and far between.

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Tired essential workers wearing an apron leans against the doorframe of a cafe, eyes closed.

Anxiety about returning to work post-COVID-19 is real. Alison Green, of Ask A Manager, believes “much of that stems from a break in trust in the people and institutions that have shown they can’t be counted on to protect us.” Green also goes on to remind us that a lot of people don’t have the luxury of returning to the workplace – the essential workers who never left the workplace. The grocery store clerks, janitors, garbage collectors, and healthcare providers, just to name a few. As the country reopens, we have to be more sensitive to these essential workers, who often are left out of the discussion about safety, work norms, and benefits.

Essential workers got lip service during the pandemic

At the start of the pandemic, the essential workers were hailed as heroes. We appreciated the grocery store workers who tried to keep the shelves stocked with toilet paper. We thanked the healthcare workers who kept working to keep people healthy and to take care of our elderly. I remember being more appreciative of the person who delivered my mail and the guy who came and picked up the trash each week. Now that the pandemic has been with us for more than a year, these workers are still doing their jobs, just maybe not so tirelessly.

Some of these workers don’t have sick days, let alone vacation days for self-care, but they are still making it possible for their community to function while being treated with less than respect. They’ve weathered the pandemic while working in public, worrying about getting sick, dealing with the public who threw tantrums for policies beyond their control, and managing their health while employers didn’t enforce safety measures. I’d hazard a guess that most of the C-level executives didn’t bring in any of their essential employees when writing new policies under COVID-19.

Bring essential workers into the conversation

In many cases, it has been the workers with the least who are risking the most. In Oklahoma, even though Gov. Stitt deemed many industries as essential, those same workers had to wait until Phase 3 to get their vaccine. Please note that elected officials and government leaders were eligible under Phase 2 to get their vaccine. Society pays lip service to the essential workers, but in reality, these jobs are typically low paying jobs that must be done, pandemic or not. In my small rural town, a local sheriff’s deputy contracted COVID-19. The community came together in fundraising efforts to pay his bills. It’s sad that a man who served the community did not have enough insurance to cover his illness.

As your office opens up and you talk to employees who are concerned about coming back to the office, don’t forget about the ones who have been there the entire time. Give your essential workers a voice. Treat their anxiety as real. Don’t pay lip service to their “heroism” without backing it up with some real change. As offices open up to a new normal, we can’t forget about the essential workers who did the jobs that kept society going.

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