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Opinion Editorials

The interview tool for shorter attention spans: Sound bites!

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Let’s talk about an unexpected tool you should definitely be using during interviews – sound bites. It may sound intrusive, but there’s ways to do it right.

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Business woman holding her hand to a headphone as she listens to important sound bites.

There’s a brilliant Calvin and Hobbes comic where Calvin tells his dad he only wants ten second sound bites for all future communication as “a new policy in this house.” “I don’t want to hear any reasons, explanations, subtlety, or context.” Predictably, this is met with angry backlash from his dad, with Calvin concluding so much for that policy.

But let’s not dismiss sound bites – they are an incredibly effective tool when it comes to making a direct point, and there’s no shortage of instances where they can be leveraged with great results. Sound bites are takeaways – little bits of boiled and stripped down data that reveal powerful, memorable cores. They are succinct yet captivating, intentionally driving home a clear message.

See also: Elevator pitch, media training, literally everything on Twitter, quotations (I like to think of movie critics here), abstracts of abstracts, and dating profiles (ugh). They are built to grab attention, deliver a specific idea, and leave themselves etched in someone’s mind. And they are wildly useful for job interviews.

Attention spans keep falling, and you’re already in a high pressure situation when you’re doing a job interview because you have to sell yourself as the best candidate for a contested position. Politicians and other persons of influence and power have relied on this tactic for ages, generating a rallying cry that unites through simple and straightforward rhetoric. Even the great speeches of Shakespeare are frequently distilled down to singular lines and phrases against their majestic choirs of thoughtful composition.

Let’s take a look at some ways you can craft a worthy soundbite to give you an edge during your next job interview:

Vivid figures of speech and other literary devices: Similes, metaphors, and analogies all function as fancy comparisons between different elements. If possible, avoid overly used examples – “busy as a bee” – and instead substitute something a bit more organically derived. There’s no harm in using tried and true idioms, but putting your own personal spin – perhaps using another area of interest – can help here. Anyone can increase profits, but cleverly saying your impact causing meteoric rises paints a nice picture.

Triples: There’s an old law in comedy that you should do things in threes. Listen to any sitcom and you’ll hear this – characters will frequently list off several throwaway jokes rapidly to focus the audience. Talk about how your work did positives x, y, and z, as this helps provide background and illustrate how you succeed in multiple areas simultaneously.

Superlatives: This might be a bit more obvious, or perhaps seen as disingenuous, but it never hurts to put a stamp on your contributions as the peak of performance. Using -est words (strongest, best, etc.) or directly making comparisons where your work excelled may seem potentially hackneyed, but people will listen to these and remember that hey, this person was at the top of their game in a competitive environment.

Repetition: A powerful phrase that can link together your objectives, goals, and accomplishments can build a strong association. If you know you’re going to be the best in a particular area, try to emphasize that aspect of yourself frequently. It helps if you can link this to related duties for the position, as it shows consistency and dependability.

Clear Goals: Don’t walk into an interview unless you have practiced distinct and specific messaging that is built around goals you know will relate to the job at hand. You should always be building your case in a way that is relevant to the company, position, and – if you’re quick enough – to the interviewers. Knowing what you can bring and how this will help the company will always give you an edge.

Practice, practice, practice: I wrote it out three times, so you know it’s important. Once you’ve got your angle and how to present it in a catchy way, continue to practice it. It’s an extension of you, and it should never appear otherwise. You’ve got a powerful phrase to pepper in – don’t trip up on it!

While not directly related, know that no matter how intimidating an interview is, you are in control – the interviewer is there to listen to you and learn all about you.

I frequently tell people that this is the same as giving a speech – yes, it’s an incredibly scary thing, but the first step toward getting comfortable is to know that you are unquestionably able to control and maintain the situation. This isn’t meant to make someone anxious or nervous – it’s meant to instill a sense of hey, they have to listen to me and I’m going to exercise the freedom that comes with knowing I’m in charge.

Of course, if you think you need more help than just juicy bits, always know that there’s a lot of resources out there that can help you with your interviews. I don’t want to tell you to pin everything on a morsel of yourself – I’m just saying that sound bites are effective when used in tandem against a greater backdrop of tips, tricks, methods, and proven strategies.

Sound bites help you maximize the amount of time you have and elevate you above others. You want to walk into an interview with your prepared remarks and materials, and you want to leave the interview with the confidence that when your name comes back up in consideration, there’s a strong and immediate correlation in the interviewer’s head (and hopefully isn’t centered around “had a mustard stain on their shirt”).

Maybe a cynical take is that you’re reducing yourself down to a few words or a single sentence that can’t capture every facet of your abilities, personality, and experience. But that’s the beauty of the sound bite – you’re not so much minimizing yourself as you are revealing your absolute best traits, all polished up and shiny.

It’s like getting a song stuck in someone’s head, only it’s a song they really like and the lyrics are all about how great you are. Who wouldn’t want that kind of branding?

Robert Snodgrass has an English degree from Texas A&M University, and wants you to know that yes, that is actually a thing. And now he's doing something with it! Let us all join in on the experiment together. When he's not web developing at Docusign, he runs distances that routinely harm people and is the kind of giant nerd that says "you know, there's a King of the Hill episode that addresses this exact topic".

Opinion Editorials

7 ways to carve out me time while working from home

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It can be easy to forget about self-care when you’re working from home, but it’s critical for your mental health, and your work quality.

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Woman in hijab sitting on couch, working from home on a laptop

We are all familiar with the syndrome, getting caught up in work, chores, and taking care of others, and neglecting to take care of ourselves in the meantime. This has always been the case, but now, with more people working from home and a seemingly endless lineup of chores, thanks to the pandemic. There is simply so much to do.

The line is thinly drawn between personal and professional time already, with emails, cell phones, and devices relentlessly reaching out around the clock, pulling at us like zombie arms reaching up from the grave. Working from home makes this tendency to always be “on” worse, as living and working take place in such close proximity. We have to turn it off, though.

Our brains and bodies need down time, me-time, self-care. Carving out this time is one of the kindest and most important things you can do for yourself. If we can begin to honor ourselves like this, the outcome with not only our mental and physical health, but also our productivity at work, will be beneficial. When we make the time to do things we love, our body untenses, our mind’s gears slow down that constant grinding. Burnout behooves nobody.

Our work will also benefit. Healthier, happier, more well rested, and well treated minds and bodies can work wonders! Our immune systems also need this, and we need our immune systems to be at their peak performance this intense season.

I wanted to write this article, because I have such a struggle with this in my own life. I need to print it out and put it in my workspace. Last week, I posted something on my social media pages that so many people shared. It is clear we all need these reminders, so I am paying it forward here. The graphic was a quote from Devyn W.

“If you are reading this, release your shoulders away from your ears, unclench your jaw, and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth.”

There now, isn’t that remarkable? It is a great first step. Let go of the tension in your body, and check out these ways to make yourself some healing me-time.

  1. Set aside strict no-work times. This could be any time of day, but set the times and adhere to them strictly. This may look like taking a full hour for lunch, not checking email after a certain hour, or committing to spending that time outdoors, reading, exercising, or enjoying the company of your loved ones. Make this a daily routine, because we need these boundaries. Every. Single. Day.
  2. Remember not to apologize to anyone for taking this me-time. Mentally and physically you need this, and everyone will be better off if you do. It is nothing to apologize for! Building these work-free hours into your daily schedule will feel more normal as time goes on. This giving of time and space to your joy, health, and even basic human needs is what should be the norm, not the other way around.
  3. Give yourself a device-free hour or two every day, especially before bedtime. The pinging, dinging, and blinging keeps us on edge. Restful sleep is one of the wonderful ways our bodies and brains heal, and putting devices away before bedtime is one of the quick tips for getting better sleep.
  4. Of course, make time for the things you absolutely love. If this is a hot bath, getting a massage, reading books, working out, cooking or eating an extravagant meal, or talking and laughing with a loved one, you have to find a way to get this serotonin boost!
  5. Use the sunshine shortcut. It isn’t a cure-all, but sunlight and Vitamin D are mood boosters. At least when it’s not 107 degrees, like in a Texas summer. But as a general rule, taking in at least a good 10-15 minutes of that sweet, sweet Vitamin D provided by the sun is good for us.
  6. Spend time with animals! Walk your dog, shake that feathery thing at your cat, or snuggle either one. Whatever animals make you smile, spend time with them. If you don’t have pets of your own, you could volunteer to walk them at a local shelter or even watch a cute animal video online. They are shown to reduce stress. Best case scenario is in person if you are able, but thankfully the internet is bursting with adorable animal videos, as a backup.
  7. Give in to a bit of planning or daydreaming about a big future trip. Spending time looking at all the places you will go in the future and even plotting out an itinerary are usually excellent mood-boosters. It’s a bit different in 2020, as most of us aren’t sure when we will be able to go, but even deciding where you want to go when we are free to travel again can put a positive spin on things.

I hope we can all improve our lives while working from home by making time for regenerating, healing, and having fun! Gotta run—the sun is out, and my dog is begging for a walk.

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Opinion Editorials

Why robots freak us out, and what it means for the future of AI

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Robots and humans have a long way to go before the social divide disappears, but research is giving us insight on how to cross the uncanny valley.

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Close of R2D2 toy, an example of robots that we root for, but why?

We hate robots. Ok, wait, back up. We at least think they are more evil than good. Try it yourself – “are robots” in Google nets you evil before good. Megatron has higher SEO than Optimus Prime, and it’s not just because he’s so much cooler. It cuz he evil, cuz. It do be like that.

It’s not even a compliment to call someone robotic; society connotes this to emotionless preprogrammed shells of hideous nothing, empty clankbags that walk and talk and not much else. So, me at a party. Or if you’re a nerd, you’re a robot. (Me at a party once again.)

Let’s start by assuming robots as human-like bipedal machines that are designed with some amount of artificial intelligence, generally designed to fulfill a job to free up humanity from drudgery. All sounds good so far. So why do they creep us out?

There’s a litany of reasons why, best summed up with the concept of the uncanny valley, first coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori (Wow he’s still alive! The robots have not yet won) in 1970. Essentially, we know what a human is and how it looks and behaves against the greater backdrop of life and physics. When this is translated to a synthetic being, we are ok with making a robot look and act like us to a point, where we then notice all the irregularities and differences.

Most of these are minor – unnaturally smooth or rigid movements, light not scattering properly on a surface, eyes that don’t sync up quite right when they blink, and several other tiny details. Lots of theories take over at this point about why this creeps us out. But a blanket way to think about it is that our expectation doesn’t match what we are seeing; the reality we’re presented with is off just enough and this makes us uncomfortable .

Ever stream a show and the audio is a half second off? Makes you really annoyed. Magnify that feeling by a thousand and you’re smack in the middle of the uncanny valley. It’s that unnerving. One possible term for this is abjection, which is what happens the moment before we begin to fear something. Our minds – sensing incompatibility with robots – know this is something else, something other , and faced with no way to categorize this, we crash.

This is why they make good villains in movies – something we don’t understand and given free will and autonomy, potentially imbued with the bias of a creator or capable of forming terrifying conclusions all on its own (humans are a virus). But they also make good heroes, especially if they are cute or funny. Who doesn’t love C3PO? That surprise that they are good delights us. Build in enough appeal to a robot, and we root for them and feel empathy when they are faced with hardships. Do robots dream of electric sheep? Do robots have binary souls? Bits and zeros and ones?

Professor Jaime Banks (Texas Tech University’s College of Media & Communication) spends a lot of time thinking about how we perceive robots. It’s a complex and multifaceted topic that covers anthropomorphism, artificial intelligence, robot roles within society, trust, inherently measuring virtue versus evil, preconceived notions from entertainment, and numerous topics that cover human-robot interactions.

The world is approaching a future where robots may become commonplace; there are already robot bears in Japan working in the healthcare field. Dressing them up with cute faces and smiles may help, but one jerky movement later and we’ve dropped all suspension.

At some point, we have to make peace with the idea that they will be all over the place. Skynet, GLaDOS in Portal, the trope of your evil twin being a robot that your significant will have to shoot in the middle of your fight, that episode of Futurama where everything was a robot and they rose up against their human masters with wargod washing machines and killer greeting cards, the other Futurama episode where they go to a planet full of human hating murderous robots… We’ve all got some good reasons to fear robots and their coded minds.

But as technology advances, it makes sense to have robots take over menial tasks, perform duties for the needy and sick, and otherwise benefit humanity at large. And so the question we face is how to build that relationship now to help us in the future.

There’s a fine line between making them too humanlike versus too mechanical. Pixar solved the issue of unnerving humanoids in their movies by designing them stylistically – we know they are human and accept that the figure would look odd in real life. We can do the same with robots – enough familiarity to develop an appeal, but not enough to erase the divide between humanity and robot. It may just be a question of time and new generations growing up with robots becoming fixtures of everyday life. I’m down for cyborgs too.

Fearing them might not even be bad, as Banks points out: “…a certain amount of fear can be a useful thing. Fear can make us think critically and carefully and be thoughtful about our interactions, and that would likely help us productively engage a world where robots are key players.”

Also, check out Robot Carnival if you get the chance – specifically the Presence episode of the anthology.

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Opinion Editorials

4 simple tips to ease friction with your boss while working remotely

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Find it challenging to get along with your boss while working from home? Here are a few things you can try to ease the tension.

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Woman stressed over laptop in remote work.

Most people probably feel like their relationship with their boss is fine. If you’re encountering friction with your boss for any reason, though, remote work will often exacerbate it—this is one instance where distance doesn’t necessarily make the heart grow fonder. Here are a few ways to remove some of that friction without adding to your boss’ overflowing plate.

According to CNN, determining the problem that exists between you and your boss should be your first step. There’s one caveat to consider, however: Your boss’ boundaries. Problem-solving on your own time is fine, but demanding more of your boss’ time—especially when you’re supposed to be working—may compound the issue.

An easy way around this is a low-impact communique—e.g., an email—sent at the beginning or end of the workday. Since that’s a more passive communication style that takes only a minute or two out of your day, it’s less likely to frustrate your boss further.

If ironing out the issue isn’t your prerogative for now, examining your boss’ parameters for success is another place to start. Does your boss prefer to receive multiple updates throughout the day, or do they want one summative report each morning? Do you respect your boss’ preferred communication styles? These are important questions to ask during remote work. If you find yourself reaching out more than necessary, for example, it may be time to cut back.

It can also be difficult to satiate your boss if you don’t know their expectations. If you’re able to speak to them about the expectations regarding a project or task, do it; clarifying the parameters around your work will always help both of you. It is worth noting that some supervisors may expect that you know your way around some types of responsibilities, though, so err on the side of complementing that knowledge rather than asking for comprehensive instructions.

Finally, keep in mind that some bosses simply don’t communicate the same way you do. I’ve personally been blessed with a bevy of nurturing, enthusiastic supervisors, but we’ve all had superiors who refuse to acknowledge our successes and instead focus on our failures. That can be a really tough mentality to work with during remote periods, but knowing that they have a specific communication style that hampers their sociability can help dampen the effects.

As always, communication is key—even if that means doing it a little bit less than you’d like.

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