Tag Archives: do the work

How To Explain That Blip In Your Resume.

the Golden Gate Bridge, photo by Denys Nevozhai

I’ve been talking to a lot of recent grads lately, young people who’ve moved to New York and are trying to figure life after college.(1) The market seems to be improving for grads, but it’s still not easy. The best way to get a job is by accumulating a lot of work experience and a big network of friends who can open doors for you — and both of those are things that recent grads usually don’t have yet.

Which is why a lot of these grads have been asking me: Is it OK if I take a job I don’t love because I need the money?

The answer is: Yes, of course!

It’s OK to take the job that isn’t quite what you want — that content marketing job at the law firm; that graphic design job at the big marketing agency; even that job behind the counter at Starbucks — because you need the money. You do have to pay the bills somehow! And know this: Hiring managers were once in your shoes, too. They’ve all taken jobs because they needed to, not because they wanted to.

Here’s the important thing to remember: When you’re writing your résumé, that’s the perfect opportunity to craft your story and to shape all of your experiences into a personal narrative. Same goes for an interview. You can always use it to explain the “big picture” reason why you took a job, like:

– “I loved my boss, and wanted to have her as a mentor.”

– “I wanted to learn more about how to work effectively as part of a big team.”

– “I was trying to launch a new project, and needed a side gig to keep me afloat while I launched.”

Just make sure you’re the one putting your story out there first. With your résumé and your interviews, you can explain why you’ve done the work you’ve done and where all of it is taking you.

I wrote this a few weeks ago about narratives in sports, but it’s also true for you, the recent grad:

“We’re all crafting these narratives, and every bit of work we put in is a chance to flip the script. You can always keep going, and always keep working to rewrite your story.”

Remember: A single job isn’t going to define you forever.

One last thing: Last night, I was watching an episode of “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee” with J.B. Smoove, and Jerry Seinfeld told this story about one of his first jobs. It’s too good not to share:

“I used to be a waiter. I was doing stand-up for free at night, and I would work as a waiter from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. I did the lunch rush, and a couple of times, J.B., I walked up to a table, and they looked up at me and said, ‘I saw you on stage last night! I thought those were professional comedians!’”

“And I would just have to go: ‘Well, not yet.’”

Like I said: Everyone has to pay the bills sometimes. Even Jerry Seinfeld.

But what I love most about that story: It’s a reminder that even then, Jerry Seinfeld had a career arc in mind. He wasn’t a waiter. He was always working towards becoming a comedian.

So it’s OK! Take that job that isn’t perfect — just as long as you know where you’re going and how the work you’re doing today helps get you there.

— — —

That photo of 5oo-foot view from above the Golden Gate Bridge comes via photographer Denys Nevozhai and Unsplash.com. 

  1. Way back in 2009, I wrote those three words as, “Life? After college?” And that still seems to ring true for recent grads.

Stuff I Didn’t Know Was OK When I Started My First Job.

feeling reflective

It’s okay to say, “No.”

It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”

It’s okay to be wrong, too — sometimes your intuition points you one way, or the data points you one way, and you end up being wrong. Happens.

It’s okay to ask for what you want.

It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to ask uncomfortable questions.

It’s okay to try hard things. And if you’re trying hard things, you should ask for help! Working with smart people on something hard is how you get better.

It’s okay to reach out to smart people — even outside your company — to ask for advice. (Just remember to ask good questions and bring them coffee!)

It’s okay to be the quiet one at work. And it’s okay to be loud, too. Either way, as long as you have a boss who supports you and your team, you’ll be okay. You don’t need to pretend to be someone you’re not to do great work and get noticed. You have a team behind you to support you and your work.

It’s okay to hate meetings. (Everyone hates meetings.)

It’s okay to take your vacation days. (That’s why we gave them to you!)

It’s okay not to respond to that unexpected late-night email from your boss until the next morning. (7-to-7 is fine! But be someone who responds to emails within 24 hours, OK?)

It’s okay do something different, and it’s definitely okay to make mistakes.

It’s okay to feel completely lost.

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed.

It’s okay to be the one who asks a few extra questions to make sure you understand.

It’s okay to pitch big ideas, and it’s okay to be the one who tries to turn those big ideas into big work.

To be honest: As long as you work hard; listen well; respect your team and your co-workers; and show up every day ready to do the work, then it’s okay to be whoever you are. We hired you for a reason. It’s okay to do your thing.

— — —

I picked that photo from Rosan Harmens and Unsplash.com because I was (sorry in advance, but you’ve been warned) … in a reflective mood.

It Takes A Lot To Know A Little.

I’m obsessed with learning about the habits of people I respect.(1) It’s no surprise, but: Great people often have awesome habits.

Take my favorite sports announcer, a guy named Bill Raftery. If you’re a college basketball fan, you know his catchphrases: “Onions!” “With a kiss!” “Send it in, big fella!” Watching a game with him is like watching a game with an old mentor: He knows everything and sees everything, but there’s never a moment where’s he not trying to make you feel comfortable.

The wisdom isn’t just an act. A few years ago, the Wall Street Journal did a profile on Raftery where they revealed the secret behind his madness: A yellow legal pad stuffed with game notes and scouting reports on every team he covers:

Produced while he watches a half-dozen tapes of each team he’s assigned to cover, Mr. Raftery’s one-page, double-sided reports are written in capital letters and a tiny, crowded scrawl. But his 60-odd team reports are also meticulously structured and filled with countless diagrams, notes on player tendencies, strategic predictions and statistics that could only be the work of a person whose life is set to the rhythm of balls bouncing on wood.

The reports “are like the random etchings of John Nash from ‘A Beautiful Mind,’ ” said Ian Eagle, the CBS play-by-play announcer who has worked alongside Mr. Raftery for years. But, Mr. Eagle added, “because his personality is so strong and effervescent, his basketball preparation often gets overlooked.”

This spring, CBS aired a documentary on Raftery, and they showed off his game notes. I couldn’t believe the detail in them.

Bill Raftery's game notes

If anything, the Journal article understated how in-depth he goes with his game prep. His print is tiny, and he squeezes notes into every square inch of those yellow pages. If you watch a Raftery-called game, he won’t bring up 95% of the stuff in his notes.

So why does he do it?

“I think it takes a lot to know a little,” he said in the documentary. “You try and know everything that they do, not to be a know-it-all, but just to be aware.”

It takes a lot to know a little. How great a motto is that? You study and prep for any situation. Most of the prep work will go unnoticed, but that’s OK. Whatever happens, you’ll be ready.

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What Do You Do On Your Best Day?

sunrise over Spain

There’s a question that Facebook’s recruiting team asks potential new hires, and it’s a great one:

“On your very best day at work — the day you come home and think you have the best job in the world — what did you do that day?”

I’d have done two things:

1) I’d have a great conversation with a co-worker. — Every one of my best days involves a great conversation. Some of those conversations help a co-worker find a way to get past the roadblocks that are keeping them from their best work. When you help someone find a solution like that, it’s an AMAZING feeling. I don’t always have the answers, but on the rare day I do… that’s an awesome day.

Other times, I’ll have a conversation that gives a co-worker the chance to vent about their problems to a sympathetic ear. I don’t always have much more to say than “I’m sorry” or “That sucks.” But just being there to listen is often enough to help them — and help make the workplace a little better that day.

2) I’d launch something. — I love to launch new projects. I’ve launched big projects at BuzzFeed and small projects on my own. Some have grown into big things, and many more have not. But I love the feeling of launching new stuff. I’ve read interviews with stand-up comedians where they say they’re obsessed with the sound of laughter; I’m obsessed with the feeling you get when you put new work out into the world and get to see how the world reacts. I love coming up with an idea, finding a team, and sharing it with others. And on a great day, I’d get to launch something new.

So that’s what I would do. What would you?

———

That’s a photo I took eight years ago off the coast of Spain. It was a pretty great sunrise, and a pretty good day.

Little Things You Can Do To Be A Better Team Player.

Office life, Vladimir Kudinov

I got coffee the other day with a friend who’s maybe a year out of college, and we were talking about how her work was going.

You know, she said, I just didn’t understand how hard it would be to adjust to working at an office.

And that’s a common sentiment! I know didn’t understand it either when I started my first job. Working at an office is a little different than working a service job or in education. At an office, you have to learn how to operate within a team and what kind of etiquette is required in the workplace.

Here are seven things I’ve learned over the years about being a good co-worker:

Be on time. — Everyone has the one co-worker who shows up 10 minutes late for everything. Don’t be that co-worker. Being on time means showing up at the assigned time if you’re meeting someone in your office, and 5-10 minutes early if you’re meeting someone outside your office.(1) And if you’re late — make sure to send the email 5-10 minutes before apologizing for your lateness.

Prepare people before the meeting. — Nobody should show up for a meeting and not understand what they’re meeting about. Make sure everyone’s on the same page — and has the necessary documents — before they walk into the meeting. And follow up with actionable next steps after the meeting, too!

Respond to emails/calls within 24 hours. —
If someone writes in asking you to take a specific action, you’ve got 24 hours to respond. After that window, I find that emails sit in the inbox for days and days, and projects stall. Respond quickly, and you’ll become someone co-workers actually want to work with because you have a track record of getting things done quickly.

Deliver on deadline. — This goes hand-in-hand with responding quickly. Be a “get shit done” kind of person, and be someone who sticks to deadlines. When you find out that a co-worker doesn’t finish their work on time, you might be less willing to work with them in the future.

Send friendly emails. — The occasional “Congrats!” email goes a long, long way towards setting a tone for your work. Send those friendly emails!

Ask great questions. — I love working with people who are curious and ask great questions. They’re people who think critically about issues and can push work in interesting and unexpected directions. I always try to work with people who love to ask “Why?” and “How?”

Be honest. — You can earn my respect by doing the work every day. But you can earn my trust by sitting down to have the tough conversations. If you do both, I’ll run through walls for you. Being honest with someone — even if you’re saying “I don’t know” when you don’t have the right answer — is the first step towards building that trust.

———

That photo of an office — as viewed from the outside — comes via Unsplash and photographer Vladimir Kudinov.

  1. This is really hard to do, and I’m still trying to get better at it myself.

When You Send An Email Matters As Much As What’s In The Email.

Last year, I wrote down six simple rules for writing better emails. Follow those six rules and you’ll get so much more out of your inbox.

But there’s something almost as important as learning how to write better emails.

Learning when to send those emails.

If you deliver your email at the wrong time, you’re significantly less likely to get a response or the action you’ve requested. And that’s an issue.

It’s why I use the 7-to-7 Rule — I try to send emails only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Why? At my office, most people are at work from 10 to 6. A lot of them are up earlier than that, and checking email. After work, many stop checking email entirely until the next day. So my goal is to send email during that window where they’re most likely to be on their work email and ready to take action on whatever I’m asking.

Does it mean I don’t check email after 7 p.m.? Actually, no! I usually do a quick scan of my email first thing in the morning, and I’ll hop onto email in the hour before bed. The only catch is: I won’t send the email until 7 a.m. the next day.

The secret behind all of this is an app called Boomerang. It works within Gmail and allows you to schedule emails for whatever time you want. I’ve set it up with a series of custom times that allow me to get my email to the top of your inbox first thing in the morning.

So if I realize on Saturday morning that I have something to ask a co-worker, I’ll write the email immediately but schedule it for Monday at 7 a.m. The result? More of my emails get answered at a time that’s convenient for both of us — and when we can move quickly to get the work done.

Boomerang is also great if you’re working with someone in another time zone. My team is doing a lot of work with our office in Sydney, and Boomerang makes sure we get the emails to them in the morning Aussie time — instead of in the middle of the night.

Boomerang’s been a lifesaver for me, and it helps me stick to the 7-to-7 Rule. (Which, in turn, helps me maintain a general sense of sanity.) If you want to give it a try, download it for your Gmail account right here.

———

That photo of a laptop comes via Unsplash and photographer Seth Schwiet.

How We Measure Success On the BuzzFeed Newsletter Team.

A photo posted by BuzzFeedx (@buzzfeedx) on

Fast Company has a cover story on BuzzFeed this month. In it, Dao — our publisher, and my former boss — talks at length about how we interpret data at BuzzFeed. She even dives deep into how we do things on the newsletter team!

I want to highlight one passage. When asked, Is the newsletter team looking at click-through rate(1), she answered:

For a long time, it was: you want to get subscribers up, you want to get clicks up, you want to get unsubscribes down. But one of the things we talk about all the time is there is no one metric you are optimizing for. Anyone who just optimizes to one metric is going to eventually have a problem. This obsession over time spent. In some way I feel that sort of rhetoric has died down. There really is no one metric.

I’ve learned a lot from Dao over the years. But one sentence in there really drives home Dao’s biggest message: “Anyone who just optimizes to one metric is going to eventually have a problem.”

What we’ve learned with newsletters is that there is no “silver bullet” metric. If you try to optimize your email for open rate, you’ll try to game the system with headlines that entice subscribers to click. (Case in point: “You’re Fired.”) But if you overpromise and underdeliver, you’ll lose subscribers in the long run. If you try to optimize for clicks, you’ll use bold colors and buttons. It’ll work well at first — but readers will learn to tune them out. There are dozens of other metrics out there for email. And what Dao’s taught me is true: If you focus all of your energy on a single metric, in the long run, you’ll fail.

So what we do at BuzzFeed is keep an eye on about five key metrics.(2) Knowing what matters most allows us to get a better understanding of how readers are using our newsletters. The data isn’t the full story — we still have to interpret it and figure out what our readers are trying to tell us from it. But in the long run, those data points help us iterate and build a better product.

And the same is true for any product you want to build. Try to pick a few metrics that give you a complete picture of the success of your work. If you’re a basketball coach, you can’t just tell your team to focus on 3-point shooting percentage — because that ignores huge metrics (rebounding, defensive field goal percentage, turnovers) that also make a difference in the outcome in a game. If you’re an app designer and the only metric is total downloads, you’ll do anything to game the system to get more downloads — while possibly neglecting an important set of metrics that can measure how much people like and use your app.

Point is: There is no silver bullet. The sooner you stop chasing one, the sooner you can start working to build a more complete product.

At top, a screenshot of BuzzFeed.com a decade ago.

  1. Click-through rate is a way to measure what percentage of readers who open a newsletter click through to a piece of content on our site.
  2. The five big ones right now: Subscription rate, open rate, click rate, clicks per 1000, mobile open rates.

Some Of My Favorite Books About Work.

books-i-like

When I was in 9th grade and starting to focus in on journalism as a career, I interviewed a neighbor for a school project. He was a reporter for the Washington Post, and he’d written a few books. I asked him for career advice, and I remember his advice well:

Read a lot, and write a lot.

That’s stuck with me over the years. I try to write a lot — here on the blog, especially — even when the core of my job doesn’t involve writing. And I’m always pushing myself to read more. (It helps that I live in a city with an amazing library system!)

I read for pleasure, but I also like to read books about the way people work. And these tend to fall into two categories: Books that’ll make you think about work, and books that’ll show you how others work. These are a couple of my recent favorites from both:

Books That’ll Make You Think About Work

 
Do The Work by Steven Pressfield
Anything You Want by Derek Chivers

These are both remarkable little (and I mean little — like 100 pages each) manifestos about doing your best work. I read them both in late 2011 — and it’s not a coincidence that some of the best work from Stry.us happened in the months after.

The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg
This book made me totally rethink my day-to-day habits and the stuff I need to do in order to do great work.

Design is a Job by Mike Monteiro
This is technically about working as a designer — but it’s really about how to choose the right people to work with and how to ask for what you want. (Also: It features chapters like “Fuck You, Pay Me.” This book is nothing if not very direct.)

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
This is all about startups — how to build them, how to grow them, and how to survive them. (Especially that last part.)

Books That’ll Show You How Others Work

 
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
Still maybe the single best book about what it’s like for a smart, dedicated team to take on a huge mission and… then fail over and over again. (When work goes wrong, I love thinking about Wolfe’s famous line: “Our rockets always blow up!”)

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
An inspiring book about one man trying to take on impossible work in a foreign land — and somehow finding success.

Sous Chef by Michael Gibney
A fascinating look into a day in the life of a chef, going minute-by-minute into all the little routines that allow a kitchen to do the work it needs to do.

A Season On The Brink by John Feinstein
Hey, I had to sneak a sports book in here! I love this behind-the-scenes look at a single season for Indiana University’s men’s basketball team, and the way a team changes in the face of tough leadership.

Which Lie Did I Tell? by William Goldman
How does a movie get written and made? Goldman goes deep (sometimes a little too much) into the process.

Sam Walton: Made In America by Sam Walton
The Everything Store by Brad Stone
I’m Feeling Lucky by Douglas Edwards

One’s about Wal-Mart. One’s about Amazon. One’s about Google. But all three dive deep into the beginnings of what would become three enormous brands. I loved reading about the early days of all three companies, and the decisions that helped shape their futures.

Setting A Reach Goal.

Goal

It’s January, and you’re two weeks into your New Year’s resolution, so let’s talk about goals for a second.

I love New Year’s resolutions. I think they’re a wonderful way to set ambitious goals for the year ahead. And if they’re matched with a change in habits, they can actually lead to some incredible changes in your life.

But most of all, I love when someone sets a New Year’s resolution that’s also a “reach goal.”

What’s a reach goal? It’s any type of goal that can’t be achieved without extraordinary effort. It’s a goal that you set knowing that you may try your hardest — and still come up short.

The difference between an ordinary goal and a reach goal is huge. An ordinary goal might be to say, “I want to write more this year.” But with a reach goal, you’d pledge something bigger: “I want to write 1,000 words a day this year!” The goal is both concrete and ambitious. With a reach goal, you set the bar well beyond your ordinary limits — and then find out how far you can actually go.

Sally and I set a few goals for ourselves this year. We want to bring our lunch to work more often, and we want to dedicate 30 minutes every Sunday to clean the house. Those are goals we can definitely achieve.

But we also set a reach goal for ourselves: Together, we want to run 1,000 combined miles this year.

I like running. But I’ve never run 500 miles in a year. I’m the kind of runner who might run 20 minutes on the treadmill every week, or run a 5k every now and again. In my best year, maybe I’ve run 250 miles. So to run 500 miles, I’m going to have to log some serious miles every single week.

It’s going to be a lot. I don’t know if I’m going to get there. But that’s besides the point: I’ve decided to push myself to do something that I don’t know if I can do, and I’m excited to see how far and how hard I can go.

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That photo of an actual goal comes via Flickr user Al King and Creative Commons.

Encouragers Make The Best Bosses.

photo-1450226840871-893c2e0bf620

I just finished Jason Gay’s excellent book of advice, “Little Victories”, and in the chapter about work, he touches on something I’ve been thinking about a lot:

“The best bosses share a common characteristic: they are encouragers. It’s easy to be an ass-kicker, to find holes in someone’s professional ability, but good bosses see a flicker of something and just let it barge out the front door.”

Two parts of that quote really spoke to me. The first was the “flicker of something.” In my career, I’ve had a few dozen of those ideas. I’ve had some big, crazy ideas, and I’ve written my fair share of memos trying to prove that my ideas could become a piece of great work. Many of my ideas were outlandish and were justifiably ignored. A handful were too good to ignore. But then there’s this strange middle ground of ideas: ideas that with the right team and a bit of work could become something great, but that could also be dismissed outright.

Which is where the type of boss comes in — because they’ll be the ones that decide which types of work get done. Like Gay wrote, some bosses are “encouragers.” To that, I’ll add the (obvious) second category: “discouragers.”

Encouragers tend to react with support to your ideas. When you’ve got a great idea, they’ll get the resources, talent, and money to make those ideas into great work. But when they hear a half-baked idea, they’ll give you the space and time to turn it into a really good idea. They’ll ask questions to try to draw out the idea. They’ll suggest that you talk with co-workers who might be able to help the idea along, or they’ll pass along a good article or book that might get the idea moving. They’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Encouragers try to turn a decent idea into a great idea, and a great idea into great work. When you try something and fail, encouragers back you up, share the blame, and don’t let it affect future work.

Discouragers tend to react with skepticism to your ideas. They’ll generally get behind your great ideas, but when it comes to anything less, they’ll try to pick holes in your idea. They’re critics. They’ll ask questions that are intended to find the faults in your pitch. Whatever your idea, you’ll have to prove it and maybe even debate it. You will not get the benefit of the doubt. Every idea has to stand on its own. Discouragers hear a half-baked idea and work to keep it from becoming a fully-baked flop. When you try something and fail, you will take the blame.

I think every boss needs be a bit of an encourager and a discourager — the perfect mix is probably 80/20, with a heavy lean towards encouragement. There certainly are times when it’s important to set boundaries and to say “no.” And when an encourager says “no,” that comes with some credibility, because “no” isn’t their default setting.

In general, I prefer to work with encouragers. When you’ve got a “C+” idea, it’s nice to know that you have a boss and a team that’ll work to turn it into an “A” idea. Working with a discourager is harder. It can feel like you have to reestablish trust with your boss every single day. Sometimes, you shy away pitching anything but your absolute best because you’re afraid of the debate that might come.

With encouragers vs. discouragers, it’s not just about positivity vs. negativity. It’s about support vs. discouragement. It’s about knowing that you have a team behind you, and that you don’t need to prove and reprove yourself.

Jason Gay’s not wrong: The best bosses are encouragers.

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That photo of horses traveling together comes via Unsplash and photographer Susan Yin. There’s a metaphor there somewhere about teams traveling together, maybe? (OK, that’s a stretch. But you get the idea.)