3 Problem-Solving Questions You'll Get in an Interview—and How to Answer Each One

Over the course of your interview, the hiring manager needs to figure out a few things. She needs to get a better sense of how your skills and experience line up with the open role. She needs to figure out how likely you are to fit in with your prospective teammates. And she needs to find out how sharp your problem-solving techniques are in an effort to figure out if you’re truly someone who “thinks on his feet.”

You could add this to the list of reasons why interviews are unnatural and intimidating. Or, you could use it to your advantage. After all, once you know what the other person is looking for, you can come prepared to answer any sort of problem-solving interview question.

Here’s how to respond to the most common ones:

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How to Reach out to a Really Old Contact — and Make a Positive Impression

According to Statista.com, 87% of LinkedIn users have over 101 connections, and one-quarter of all users have between 500 and 999 connections.

That may seem like plenty of people to have in your network. But connecting online means all kinds of caveats, such as accepting requests from strangers. Moreover, even if you knew all 100, or 500, or even 900 people at one point, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to stay in touch with everyone.

It’s more realistic to think about the general types of people you need in your network and then remain in contact with a few in each group: some people on your holiday card list, some you see at industry events, some you go to for advice. Then accept that the rest, one year grew to two years and two years grew to five (or more).

But now, suddenly, that person you knew way back when is relevant. Maybe a classmate you haven’t seen since graduation works at your dream company. Maybe your first boss is the best person to ask about a work dilemma or possibly, someone you interned with is your only contact in a new city. You can (and should) reach out to these old connections — rather than start from scratch — just go about it the right way. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

 

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Every Resource a Full-Time Freelancer Could Ever Need (Plus Some)

According to the Freelancer’s Union, as of Fall 2015, almost 54 million Americans considered themselves freelancers, and nearly two-thirds of those people “made the jump by choice.”

But interestingly, the results of a 2015 survey conducted by Contently show that only about one-third of freelancers would decline “a full-time job in [their] field, with identical pay plus benefits…” Part of that may stem from the fact that, along with the perks respondents identified—like making their own hours and choosing what they work on—there are also concrete challenges. One-third of those surveyed listed “securing enough work” as their greatest struggle, and another 14% indicated they had trouble making enough money.

If you are (or would like to be) a full-time freelancer, you’ll need to prepare for and address the real issues that might come your way so you can be as successful as possible. Luckily, there are a ton of resources out there to support you in your endeavor—and we’ve gathered them all in one place:

Find a ton of resources for finding work, managing your business, and staying inspired by reading the rest of the article on The Muse.

How to Pay Anyone a Compliment Without Sounding Insincere

Who doesn’t enjoy hearing that they did great work? Sure, you might respond awkwardly on occasion, but considering how nice it is to receive compliments, you’d assume it’d be pretty easy to dole out.

And yet—it’s not.

And that’s usually because you want to avoid coming off like a suck up. You don’t want to tell your boss you admire something she did, only to have her think you’re a teacher’s pet. You don’t want to tell your colleague he did something great, and have him assume you’re trying to get a lead role in his project. And you don’t want any direct reports thinking you’re trying to be the cool boss.

So, how can you praise others in a professional setting and strike the right note? Keep these tips in mind:

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Should You Talk About Your Personal life When You're Looking for a Job?

Laura Vanderkam, author of I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time wrote in an article for Fortune:

"Increasingly, people are rejecting the notion of ‘work/life balance’ in favor of another metaphor: ‘Work/life integration’… That’s what I found when I recently completed a time diary study of 1,001 days in the lives of high-earning women and their families. A full 75% of time logs showed something personal during traditional work hours: exercise, school visits. On the flip side, 77% showed work outside the workday norm. Women took calls after their kids went to bed. They wrote reports on weekends."

So, as modern work habits blur personal and professional lives, it’s not surprising to think that this trend would extend to the job search. And it does: According to Forbes contributor Dan Schawbel nearly half of job searchers “say that flexibility is the most important aspect” when searching for a new position.

But how do you find the balance? How do you ascertain whether a role will work with your particular situation, without getting too personal? The secret is varying your answers by a degree so that they’re appropriate for each stage of the job search process. Here’s how:

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3 Keys to Managing a Super Motivated Employee Who Has Horrible Ideas

You have an employee who loves stepping up to the plate. He analyzes situations and always has ideas for next steps.

It sounds pretty ideal—and it is—unless your employee’s approach regularly requires some (major) tweaking.

In a prior role, I was responsible for managing volunteers—including someone who, despite the best intentions, frequently suggested cringe-worthy plans for action. Julia (not her real name) would argue that we should keep at failing strategies to see if the tide would turn; apply the same idea across a varied slate of situations, because it worked once; or confront someone who responded better to diplomacy, for the sake of being straightforward. And because she cared about the work, she felt strongly about following her instincts.

The unique thing about being a volunteer manager is that you can’t simply say, “That’s not the way it’s done around here.” After all, you’re working with people who are donating their time. So, you have to find a way to guide them toward a successful result, without be a taskmaster.

Based on that experience, here’s a three-step plan for anyone who has to manage a motivated person who wants to take initiative, but could use some (or a lot of) redirection:

Read the rest of this article on The Muse.

Why Job Seekers Shouldn't Describe Themselves as Passionate (and What to Say Instead)

It’s true that hiring managers want passionate candidates—people who are fired up about the position, the company, and even life itself.

But here’s where it gets sticky: Everyone knows it. So, in one cover letter after the next, and one meeting after another, all interviewers hear is “passion, passion, passion,” and candidates start to blend together.

I know, it’s ironic—even unfair—that you’d pick a word to get to the core of who you are and what an opportunity means to you, and rather than differentiate you, it just makes you sound like everyone else. And at first, you might feel worried: What if that’s really who you are? If you don’t talk about being passionate, how will the interviewer get that you really care?

Well, take it from this writer—sometimes looking for a different way to say something helps you say it better. So, think about what you’re trying to get across and try some of these alternatives:

Read the rest of this article on The Muse.

How to Stop Working With a Client When You're a Freelancer

Leaving a 9-to-5 takes work. You have to tell your boss, be productive for two additional weeks, give an exit interview — and accomplish all of these tasks thoughtfully enough to make a good final impression.

While part of the allure of freelancing is being your own boss, quitting is still difficult. In this case, you’ll be telling a client — rather than a supervisor — that you won’t be working together anymore. You'll still have to have that tough conversation (and then actually transition).

Here are few things to keep in mind:

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3 Professional Thank You Note Templates (for Situations Other Than a Job Interview)

Yes, you’ve heard thousands (or at least dozens) of times that you must send a thank you note after a job interview. But what about all of those other professional situations—the ones in which expressing your gratitude isn’t “expected,” per se, but it’s a nice (and smart) thing to do.

Just because you want to write the email doesn’t mean the words will magically come to you. Maybe you have a tendency to be too effusive and overdo it. Maybe you aren’t quite sure where to start. And so, you find yourself staring at a blank draft for far too long—tempted to just write “Thanks!” and be done (or give up).

Whenever I’m feeling stuck, I remember the advice I once read in a Miss Manners column that—believe it or not—the best way to express your appreciation is to avoid making “Thank you” your first two words.

For example, in response to a reader who’d asked about graduation presents, she suggests:

"Start with a statement of emotion—that you were delighted that they came to your party, or thrilled when you opened their present. Then come the thanks…and then a friendly line about the donors (such as that you remember something they told you, or that you hope to see them soon). A line about your own plans—summer, college or work—is optional."

When I’m stumped, I’ve found taking this advice and bumping my gratitude to the second line makes writing these kinds of notes much easier (and makes them look more genuine and interesting). Here are some templates to show it in practice for three common professional situations:

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3 Types of Interviewers Who Will Throw You Off Your Game (and How to Prepare for Each One)

As a job applicant, you tend to think a lot about your role in an interview. Much of your prep is you-focused: coming up with stories about your experience, considering unique contributions you could make, and preparing answers for why you’re personally interested in the company mission.

But as you know, interviewers figure likability into the equation when deciding who to offer a position to. That’s why sometimes the person with the perfect qualifications on paper is passed over for someone who seems like a better “fit.”

In other words, no matter how “good” a response is, it’ll resonate with some people more than others. So, along with practicing some go-to answers, give a bit of consideration to how you’ll adjust your strategy based on the person you end up meeting with.

Here are some common types of tough interviewers—and how you can win them over:

Read the rest of this article on The Muse.

How to Handle Getting Ghosted During Your Job Search

You’ve probably heard the term ghosted. And even if you aren’t familiar with the word, you may’ve experienced it at some point (though, when I was single, the “slow fade” was the in-vogue way to end a relationship without “the talk”).

But ghosting doesn’t just happen in the context of dating. Who hasn’t applied for a job, certain that you and the hiring manager had a bright future together, only to have him or her fall completely out of touch? You watched the process proceed from submitting materials, to multiple interviews, to things that indicate finalist status (like take-home assignments and follow-up discussions on salary), and just when you thought there was a really good chance you’re going to get hired: You hear nothing—ever again.

Suddenly, the interviewer won’t return your emails or answer your calls. He or she doesn’t even have the decency to tell you someone else got the job instead. Instead, you see the listing disappear from the company’s webiste, only to be replaced shortly after with a shiny new face on the team page. You got ghosted—and it’s upsetting as anything.

But, before you make start posting angry Facebook statuses and warning all your friends to stay away from this two-timing company, keep the following dos and don’t’s in mind:

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How to Stay Sane When Waiting to Hear Back About a Job You Really, Really Want

You’ve found it: the dream job. Not just that, but you made through the final round of interviews. Now, all you have to do is wait

And it’s killing you. 

OK, you’re not literally dying. But it’s all you can think about. You rehash every interview answer as you lay in bed at night. You check your email so much that you have to bring a phone charger with you everywhere you go. You’re checking your spam filter every 30 minutes and texting your mom (or your significant other, or your BFF, or whomever will let it slide) hourly about whether or not you’ve heard back.

And then you realize: This is not sustainable. Hiring processes can drag on, and you’re going to need to keep being a person in the meantime.

To get through this time—sanity and relationships and current job intact—I suggest these complementing strategies:

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Here's How You Can Be the “Cool Boss” Without Losing Your Authority

Horrible Bosses is more than a movie. You don’t have to look very far to find tales of terrible managers.

Supervisors read these stories, too. So, when it’s their turn to lead, they may try to things differently—to be a cool boss. But of course, doing so at the expense of being taken seriously can lead to a host of other problems.

I’ve been lucky to work for several great people who the team still respects the heck out of. What I’ve observed is that all of these people strike a balance: They’re not dictators, but they take their managerial role seriously. Yes, they take the effort to connect with their teams, but it’s clear who’s steering the ship. Here’s what I’ve learned from them:

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Why January is the Perfect Month to Meet Your Career Goals

As a new year starts, it seems cliché to talk to about resolutions. But this truly is the time to set and attain career goals.

According to CareerSidekick, the early months are “…probably the best time to apply for jobs all year.” As they explain: “A big reason for the boost in hiring activities in these late winter months is that companies often get their new budgets for the year in January, and a lot of the hiring activity that was delayed in November and December can now move forward.”

A new budget could also mean money for other, more exciting projects at your current job — or an opportunity for freelancers to strike while the iron is hot.

So, regardless of where you are and what you’d like to achieve this year, January seems like a prime time to be intentional and strategic, because it is. Keep these two things in mind as you go into the New Year.

Read the rest of this post on Mashable.

3 Times Your Thank You Note Could Make the Difference in Whether or Not You Get the Job

You know you need to write a thank you note after an interview. It’s just one of those things you’re supposed to do—like research the company in advance and come prepared with questions.

But, because you can’t see the hiring manager’s reaction when she opens your email—or letter, or both—you might wonder if it really matters. Or is this another formality that everyone else has dropped besides you?

Believe it or not, sometimes it makes all the difference. Here a few instances when sending a thank you note could shift the balance in your favor:

1. When You’re Neck and Neck With Another Candidate

Sometimes there’s a candidate who clearly sticks out from the pack. But other times, it’s a tight race. Maybe two candidates have very similar qualifications. Or, maybe they have a totally different set of experiences, impressing the interviewer for different reasons, and leaving her baffled as to who would be the better choice.

Now, let’s say one candidate sends a note and the other doesn’t. Or maybe, one sends a great follow-up and the other sends one that is one-line, a week late, or too aggressive (all common faux pas). Well, in the first instance, the sender pulls ahead of the other applicant because she demonstrates she’s willing to follow the rules—even when other people might find them perfunctory. And in the second scenario, the person with the killer letter will also come out on top, because he demonstrated that he could be more thoughtful, prompt, and diplomatic than his competition.

Read the rest of this article on The Muse.

Why You Should Job Hunt Even if You're Not in the Market

There are a number of reasons why you’d actively look for a job. For example, you may hate what you do, get fired or laid off, or move to a new city. In these circumstances, you spend much of your free time filling out applications and reaching out to your contacts.

But there are a host of other scenarios too, such as starting a new position, enjoying what you do, or feeling like your current role is the key to broader career goals. In these instances, you might take a break from looking around, leave your resume untouched and maybe even let your network grow cold.

Certainly, I’m not suggesting you spend every day scouring job sites regardless of whether you’re actually interested in pursuing new opportunities. However, it’s unwise to see job hunting as an all-or-nothing activity (i.e., that when you want new employment it’s all you can do, and the rest of the time it’s the furthest thing from your mind). Why? Here’s just one example: Your contacts will see right through you reaching out only when you want job leads or a reference.

So, instead of thinking on terms of absolutes, think in terms of degree. This way, you won’t feel like you’re always job hunting or like you never get to take a rest from being a candidate. Instead, you’ll be pursuing a few career-boosting activities (that could also prepare you for an opportunity you don’t even know you want yet).

Read the rest of this article on Mashable.

3 Cover Letter Mistakes That Make You Look Like a Total Rookie

When I was a Fellowship Program Manager, I saw my share of bad cover letters. There was the one where the student told me how much she wanted to work at Greenpeace (I had no connection to Greenpeace). There were the super generic letters, the ones that professed undying love and loyalty, and the ones that went on about how this role fit perfectly into someone’s five-year plan—with no mention of if that person could, you know, do the job.

While common mistakes can sink an application, when a letter showed inexperience more than anything else, I tried to put myself in the candidate’s shoes. It took me years to hit my groove, and my first attempt was full of rookie mistakes.

In the spirit of full disclosure, here are three lessons you can learn from my first, awful attempt at a cover letter—that I still keep in mind to crush it today.

1. The First and Last Paragraphs Aren’t Formalities, They’re Real Estate

I opened my letter with some variation on, “I am writing to apply for the position of [title] at [company name]. I possess relevant administrative experience and I am eager to contribute to [organization], which makes me an excellent candidate for this position.” To close out, I’d write: “My references are available upon request. Please let me know if I may provide any additional information.”

Now, for a short quiz:

  1. True or false: All of those lines would be true for any given applicant. (Answer: True.) 
  2. True of false: The cover letter is the place to say the exact same thing as everyone else, because you don’t need to stand out, and you can go on for as long you’d like. (Answer: False.)

Read the rest of this article (and how to fix this common mistake and others) on The Muse.

3 Better Ways to Ask “What Will I Be Doing Each Day?” in Your Interview

Picture this: You apply, interview for, and accept a great new role—only to find yourself frequently asked to do things that were nowhere in the job description. I’m guessing that is basically your worst (career) nightmare.

Sometimes, it’s inevitable; like if your company is bought out or your manager leaves soon after you’re hired. But thankfully, more often than not, if the description has little in common with the job itself, you’ll be able to spot the discrepancies before you sign on.

You may have heard you should ask the interviewer “What will I be doing each day?” Or maybe, “What does a typical day look like?” However, these questions can be dismissed with a “there’s no such thing” or an answer about last Tuesday that’s so specific it includes details down to the lunch order—but doesn’t really tell you what you need to know.

So, when it’s your turn to ask questions, try a different approach with one of the variations below. They’ll not only make you look good—but they’ll help you get the real scoop.

1. What Are the Top Organizational Priorities? Are There Any Recent Shifts in Strategy or Direction?

It’s natural for you—and your interviewer—to hyper-focus on the position you’re applying for. So, you ask questions specifically about what database you’ll use and what percentage of time you’ll actually be expected to spend on the road.

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3 Personalized Ways to Network Designed With You in Mind

70% of career opportunities are discovered through networking. However, it’s still an activity that most people dread.

Maybe that’s because we treat networking like it’s one size fits all — encouraging people to attend the event or employ the strategy that worked for others. But people are different.

It’s valuable to build up your skills (and comfort level) talking to new people or building out your social profiles. But it’s also important to be honest about what your particular networking preferences — and challenges — are, and adjust your personal strategy accordingly. Read on for best the kind of networking based on your situation.

Read the rest of this article on Mashable.

How to Write a LinkedIn Request That Anyone Will Accept (Even People You Don't Know)

Call me old-fashioned, but I like to know the people who are in my network. And if we’ve never met, I’d like to know there’s some reason why we’re getting in touch.

I don’t see the purpose in a sprawling list of LinkedIn contacts unless I feel like I could actually ping one of those people with a career question, meet up if I was in his or her city, or have some sense of the value we add to each other’s networks. 

It’s not that I’m against connecting with new people: It’s just that the generic note that throws me every time. 

And it’s because I’m always left with three questions: 

  • Who are you? 
  • How did you find me? 
  • Why do you want to connect? 

These answer-less questions usually lead to an invite sitting around in my inbox for awhile, before, inevitably, being deleted. 

However, those questions right there create a simple three-line formula that’ll make strangers much more likely to accept your invitation.

Let’s do a comparison.

Check out the rest of this article (including templates you can use) on The Muse.