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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

Easy ways to help an unhappy customer

(EDITORIAL) We’ve all had to deal with an unhappy client or two, and maybe some situations didn’t play out too well. Here are some simple tips that will help.

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unhappy client

Who here hasn’t had a client get aggravated for what seems like no good reason?

(Raise your hand!)

Who here hasn’t had that awkward “I hear what you’re saying, but…” conversation?

(More hands!)

Whether you’re providing marketing work, strategic planning services, graphic design ideas, or basic business advice, you’re going to run into the occasional client who Just. Is. Not. Here. For. It. And it can be so hard to help that unhappy client get back to a place where you can all come together to get the job done.

(Hands! Hands! Hands!)

Especially in this day and age of angry emoji reaction clicks, dealing with confrontational feedback can require a new level of diplomacy and tact. You’ve got an unhappy client who doesn’t have the ability to communicate their “why” to you, so instead, they go nuclear and your inbox is suddenly filled with the kind of unhappy vitriol you’re more used to seeing in your Facebook feed.

How do you handle it?

Because… you can actually handle it.

First and foremost, understand where the negative reaction is coming from. They’ve asked you for help with their cherished project. Maybe they wouldn’t be happy with anyone’s work. Maybe they can’t quite communicate what they want. Regardless of where the sticking point is, understand that the sticking point is (a) not your fault and (b) not going to be acknowledged by them.

So then, the second step… remove yourself from the criticism. Even if they make it personal, remove yourself from the situation. Look at it in terms of the work. The client wants X. You feel you have given them X, but they see it as Y. Can you see it from their perspective? Because if you can, you are way more than halfway there. Where are they coming from?

If this is an external review, on Google or such, just ignore it and move on. It’s done. You can’t argue it. But if it’s feedback you’re getting from a current client and your project is still in play… seriously, take a deep breath and give it a harder look. It might feel personal. But is it?

The best assumption to make is that there is something else going on. If you can keep your cool and work with your unhappy client to determine what’s making them uncomfortable, in a non-confrontational way, and to get them to an acceptable delivery — you’ve won. Because you’re continuing to provide them the service they’ve come to you for.

So take a look at the situation, and figure out the best response.

1. Is the argument clear?
Don’t waste your time trying to establish whether you’re right or they’re wrong. Instead, look at framing it in terms of what the client is trying to accomplish. Ask them to give you specific examples of what they hope to achieve. Allow them to tell you what they feel isn’t good… in fact, encourage them to tell you why they’re unhappy with what you’ve given them. All of this will help frame what they’re looking for and what you need to give them in round two.

2. Is their feedback relevant?
Well, yeah. There are times when you know that your client knows nothing. But they feel the need to demonstrate that They Know What They Are Doing.

Let them.

Just let them tell you, and let it go.

And… keep searching for that nugget of truth in what they’re saying. Their feedback may seem ridiculous. But what’s at the heart of it? Look for that. Look at this negative reaction as a signpost for what they’re truly after.

3. IS IT WORTH DEBATING?
This fits right in with number 2. They feel passionately that you need two spaces after every period. Is this something you really need to argue? CHOOSE. YOUR. BATTLES.

If your client really wants to engage on an issue … two spaces, or the use of a particular phrase … then let them say their piece. Then say your piece. But giving them room for an out. And once again, think about it from their perspective.

Maybe it’s someone who didn’t spend all their time in their first post-college job debating the niceties of the Oxford comma. Does it ultimately matter to the overall success of the project? If it does… go to the mat. Show them, with respect, why it’s important. But if it’s just a point of pride for you, the provider? Can you let it go?

I can’t sometimes. So I get it if you can’t. But still, it’s a good point to keep in mind. A good question to ask yourself, as a provider of a service. Which sword do you fall on… and why?

Clearly, you shouldn’t just roll over because a client has turned nasty. But neither should you turn every unhappy client response into your personal cause du jour. When you encounter negative, hostile client reactions, take a moment. Try to see it from their point of view. At the very least, the shift in perspective will help you handle their concerns. And at best, you’ll re-frame the discussion in a way that gives you both a handle on how to move forward.

You might learn from the exchange. Or maybe you’re just right, dammit. But you still have to think about what’s worth getting worked up over.

Finally, don’t let it bring you down. If it’s serious enough that you have to part ways over their reaction, help them do so amicably. Point them in the direction of someone you think might be able to accommodate their ideas. Stay positive for them, and for yourself. Then chalk it up to experience, and take the lessons on to the next client.

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Opinion Editorials

This website is like Pinterest for WFH desk setups

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) If you’ve been working from home at the same, unchanged desk setup, it may be time for an upgrade. My Desk Tour has the inspiration you need.

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Man browsing desk setups on My Desk Tour

Whether you’re sitting, standing, or reclining your way through the pandemic, you’re most likely doing it from home these days. You’re also probably contending with an uninspired desk configuration hastily cobbled together in 2020, which—while understandable—might be bringing you down. Fortunately, there’s an easy, personable solution to spark your creativity: My Desk Tour.

My Desk Tour is a small website started by Jonathan Cai. On this site, you will find pictures of unique and highly customized desk setups; these desk configurations range from being optimized for gamers to coders to audiophiles, so there’s arguably something for everyone—even if you’re just swinging by to drool for a bit.

Cai also implements a feature in which site users can tag products seen in desk photos with direct links to Amazon so you don’t have to poke around the Internet for an hour in search of an obscure mouse pad. This is something Cai initially encountered on Reddit and, after receiving guidance from various subreddits on the issue of which mouse to purchase, he found the inspiration to create My Desk Tour.

The service itself is pretty light—the landing page consists of a few desk setup photos and a rotating carousel of featured configurations—but it has great potential to grow into a desk-focused social experience of sorts.

It’s also a great place to drop in on if you’re missing the extra level of adoration for your desk space that a truly great setup invokes. Since most people who have been working from home since the spring didn’t receive a ton of advance notice, it’s reasonable to assume that the majority of folks have resigned themselves to a boring or inefficient desk configuration. With a bit of inspiration from My Desk Tour, that can change overnight.

Of course, some of the desk options featured on the site are a bit over the top. One configuration boasts dual ultra-wide monitors stacked atop each other, and another shows off a monitor flanked by additional vertical monitors—presumably for the sake of coding. If you’re scrambling to stay employed, such a setup might be egregious.

If you’re just looking for a new way to orient your workspace for the next few months, though, My Desk Tour is worth a visit.

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Opinion Editorials

10 tips for anyone looking to up their professional work game

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It’s easy to get bogged down by the details, procrastinate, and feel unproductive. Here are a few tips to help you stay on track and crush your professional goals.

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work productivity

Self-reflection is critical to a growth mindset, which you must have if you want to grow and improve. If you are ready to take your professional game to the next level, here are some stories and tips to help you remain focused on killing your work goals.

1. Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy, as the quote goes. And, in the workplace it’s bound to make you second guess yourself and your abilities. This story explains when comparison can be useful, when to avoid it, and how to change your focus if it’s sucking the life out of you.

2. Burnout is real and the harder you work, the less productive you are. It’s an inverse relationship. But, there are ways to work smarter and have better life balance. Here are some tips to prioritize your workload and find more ease.

3. Stop procrastinating and start getting sh@t done. The reason we procrastinate may be less about not wanting to do something and more about the emotions underlying the task. Ready to get going and stop hemming and hawing, you got this and here’s the way to push through.

4. Perfection is impossible and if you seek this in your work and life, it’s likely you are very frustrated. Let that desire go and learn to be happy with excellence over perfection.

5. If you think you’re really awesome and seriously deserve more money, more responsibility, more of anything and are ready to drop the knowledge on your supervisor or boss, you may want to check this story out to see if your spinning in the right direction.

6. Technology makes it so easy to get answers so quickly, it’s hard to wait around for things to happen. We like instant gratification. Yet, that is another reason procrastination is a problem for some of us, but every person has a different way/reason for procrastinating. Learn what’s up with that.

7. Making choices can be a challenge for some of us (me included) who worry we are making the wrong choice. If you’ve ever struggled with decision making, you know it can be paralyzing and then you either make no decision or choose the safest option. What we have here is the Ambiguity Effect and it can be a real time suck. Kick ambiguity to the curb.

8. If you are having trouble interacting with colleagues or wondering why you don’t hear back from contacts it could be you are creeping folks out unintentionally (we hope). Here’s how to #belesscreepy.

9. In the social media era building your brand and marketing are critical, yet, if you’re posting to the usual suspects and seeing very little engagement, you’ve got a problem. Wharton Business School even did a study on how to fix the situation and be more shareable.

10. Every time you do a presentation that one co-worker butts in and calls you out. Dang. If you aren’t earning respect on the job, you will be limited in your ability to get to the next level. Respect is critical to any leadership position, as well as to making a difference in any role you may have within an organization, but actions can be misconstrued. There are ways to take what may be negative situations and use them to your advantage, building mutual respect.

You have the tools you need, now get out there, work hard, play hard, and make sh*t happen. Oh, and remember, growth requires continual reflection and action, but you got this.

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