person using smartphone

Before You Pitch a Journalist on Social Media, Read These Tips

A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack.

It’s hard to imagine the modern news cycle without social media. In addition to serving as a real-time resource for breaking news and trending topics, these digital channels provide valuable insights for PR professionals looking to learn more about reporters and their media outlets.

The prominent role of platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn in professional communications also affords you a unique opportunity to reach journalists through the apps they probably check more often than their inbox. But just because you can pitch someone via tweet or direct message, doesn’t mean you necessarily should.

There’s an art to connecting with journalists on social media: Do it well, and you’ll start a memorable conversation about your story idea. Do it poorly, and you risk not only stepping far beyond the boundaries of a professional relationship, but also ending up on a journalist’s blacklist.

If you want to pitch story ideas via social media, here are a few basic guidelines for successfully engaging with your target reporters.

1. Consider the nature of the network.

As any social media marketer will tell you, every site is different and has its own set of unspoken rules and guidelines for using it. Think about how you use your accounts on various social networks: You might participate in industry Twitter chats or group discussions on LinkedIn, but you probably wouldn’t leave a business-related comment on someone’s Instagram post of their weekend brunch. Though they may not always seem like it, journalists really are human, too — most of them don’t want to get bombarded with professional requests on their personal blog, YouTube channel, or Instagram any more than you would.

That being said, many journalists are happy to connect with PR pros on LinkedIn and Twitter (I certainly was when I worked as an editor). Those who are will often put “DMs open” or something similar in their profiles to indicate that pitches are welcome through these channels.

2. Gauge interest instead of outright pitching.

If you’ve determined that a social channel is appropriate for pitching, the idea is not to copy and paste your standard email pitch into that medium. The most effective social media pitches are those that simply gauge a reporter’s interest in the topic or client. For example, you could send a journalist a direct message saying something like, “Based on your work, you seem to cover employee productivity a lot. Are you looking for sources? I have a client who would be perfect!” or, “What are you working on these days? I’d love to be a resource for you if my clients are a good fit.” You’re much more likely to get a quick response to these low-pressure, easy-to-answer questions.

3. Move it over to email.

Inefficient as it may sometimes be, email remains the primary mode of communication in the professional world. The reporter you just messaged may not want to learn about your client and set up an interview through their DMs, so once you’ve gotten their attention on social, ask for an email address where you can send more information about your idea. This means they’ll be looking for your message (especially if your subject line references the original social network you used) and will be much more likely to respond since you’ve already started a conversation.

4. Build relationships first.

Before you go into full-on pitch mode on social media, why not use it to establish a relationship with the reporter first? A great way to start is by sharing or commenting on journalists’ articles that are relevant to your clients’ expertise. If you tag them, they’ll most likely see it, and if you haven’t worked together before, this will put you on their radar. Most importantly, follow and pay attention to what a reporter posts about their work and professional life. It could hold the clues you need to make a smart, effective, and lasting impression when you do eventually send that pitch.

Image credit: Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash

laptop on table

5 “Firsts” You’ll Experience as a Full-Time Freelancer

I started freelancing when I was 19 years old. I still remember panicking when I filed my taxes after earning a few thousand dollars that summer. 

What do you mean I owe THIS MUCH money?!

Self-employment is often glamorized for the freedom and flexibility it offers — and I’ll readily admit that I am currently taking full advantage of these perks. However, there are certain parts of entrepreneurship that tend to get glossed over in these discussions. 

Sure, you know in theory that you’ll have to pay quarterly taxes and get your own health insurance and, like, remember to think about your retirement savings once in a while. I knew it at 19, too — my father, a small business owner, warned me that I’d owe taxes on my freelance income. But until you have to sit down and figure out how to live on your earnings, cover your taxes, AND keep chasing new clients, you can’t truly comprehend all the ramifications of self-employment. 

If you’re newly self-employed or just thinking about taking the leap, here are five milestones every full-time freelancer goes through that you’ll want to prepare yourself for.

1. Your first freelance check.

There is nothing more exciting to a freelancer than landing your first gig — except maybe getting the check at the end of the project. 

My first freelance check was $900 — more money than I’d ever seen on a paycheck at that point in my life. As much as you want to cash it and use it right away, you absolutely NEED to put away at least 25 percent of it for self-employment taxes (I do 30 percent to be safe). I recommend transferring the money to a savings account that you can’t regularly access with a debit or ATM card, so you won’t be tempted to spend it. If you have the money saved up, you’ll have absolutely no problem paying your tax bill every quarter. 

2. Your first “missed” corporate paycheck. 

On the flip side, if you quit your job to launch a business, you will need to adjust to your new lack of cash flow — even if you already have a steady client base and a bunch of money in savings. It’s probably going to sting the first time you check your bank account on the day you would normally get paid by your employer. If you’re lucky enough to have clients who pay twice a month (or more often), it might not hurt as much, but if you’re like most freelancers who get paid on a monthly basis, make sure you plan accordingly to make that lump sum last you through the month. 

3. Your first quarterly tax payment.

If you’re not making a ton of money freelancing, you can probably get away with paying all your self-employment taxes at once when you file your annual return. Once you start bringing in the big bucks, though, the IRS is going to want their slice on a quarterly basis. 

Although it really sucks to watch a huge chunk of your money fly out the window, that’s probably the hardest part of paying your estimated quarterly taxes. You just download Form 1040-ES from the IRS, which gives you a worksheet to figure out how much you’ll need to pay each quarter, along with payment vouchers. If you’re keeping good accounting records (an absolute must for the self-employed), you should have no problem forecasting your income and determining how much to set aside for your payments. 

Two important things to keep in mind: First, if your business scales up significantly in one quarter, you will definitely need to run your numbers again and adjust your payment(s) accordingly. Second, because the IRS operates on its own wonky calendar, your “quarterly” payments are due in April, June, September, and January. Mark these dates; you don’t want to accidentally miss the payment deadline because you assumed IRS quarters run the same as everyone else’s quarters. 

4. Your first client breakup.

Nothing lasts forever, and that includes client relationships. Whether a recurring contract ends, a great steady client runs out of money to pay you, or you decide you need to end things with a toxic client, you’ll eventually go through a professional “break up” with someone who was a regular source of income for you.

This is why it’s critical to a) sign a formal contract with every client (get payment terms and an exit clause in there!) and b) consistently be working on business development. Spread the word that you’re looking for new projects and market yourself wherever and however you can to attract your ideal clients. If you’ve got a steady client base and a pipeline of potential leads, losing one shouldn’t make or break your finances. 

On a related note, one very good reason to dump a client is if they don’t pay you in a timely manner. Hopefully you never get a client that ghosts on payments, but it’s a VERY common problem in the freelance world. If someone doesn’t have enough professional respect to pay your invoice, they don’t deserve your time and energy, no matter how exciting the work is. 

5. Your first inbound lead

You know you’ve “made it” as a freelancer when a potential client reaches out to you first to propose a project. As challenging as self-employment can be, it is all worth it when you get that email, phone call, or DM from someone who found you and wants to work with you. 

It’s those moments that make you feel like you’re in demand; like you’re the best at what you do; like you’re truly living your dream. Hold onto those feelings and remember them when you’re overwhelmed with a project or your growth seems like it’s stalled. It’s all part of the business cycle, and as long as you keep going, you’ll be back on top again before you know it. 

Image credit: Brina Blum via Unsplash

startup diagram

I Left My Full-Time Job to Start a Business. Here’s What I Would (and Wouldn’t) Do Differently

2018 was a pretty exciting year in my life. I visited eight states. I moved into a cute little townhouse. I paid off my biggest student loan. Oh, and I left my full-time job to launch and grow Lightning Media Partners.

As I explained in this blog post, the leap was a long time coming. A few years ago, I started actively seeking freelance writing clients to earn extra income. I joined Upwork and found a couple of steady, recurring projects. They didn’t pay the bills, but it was money I didn’t have before.

At first, my side hustle let me do the “fun” stuff I couldn’t justify while paying off credit cards and student loans — fancy restaurants, weekend vacations, new gadgets, etc. Then, my life took an interesting turn: I got divorced, and suddenly I had to pay rent on a new apartment plus mortgage payments while my ex and I tried to sell our house. A new freelance client helped me do it.

After the house sold, I didn’t “need” my side hustle the way I did before. But I didn’t want to stop. I loved the thrill of chasing new clients and landing ongoing contracts. I loved being able to make sizable dents in my debt, and still having money left over to put in savings.

I realized that the only limit to my freelance earning potential was my own capacity to take on new work. Working for someone else full-time wasn’t going to give me that kind of growth, so around this time last year, I made a pact with myself to save up, quit my job, and make freelancing my primary source of income by the end of 2018.

With the help of my very supportive partner, I conceptualized and soft-launched Lightning Media Partners. His background in SEO and marketing helped round out my editorial skills, so we could offer a fuller range of services to clients. What started as solo freelance work doing occasional blog posts and copy edits evolved into a two-person team of polished, ambitious content marketers.

I started reaching out to connections and letting people know I was looking to grow my new agency, and the floodgates of opportunity opened. In September, I was earning enough to drop to part-time at my corporate job, and shortly after that, my partner was able to quit his full-time job, too.

What I’d Do Differently

I’ve learned so, so much in these last few months of self-employment. If I had to do it all over again, there are a few things I’d approach differently:

I would market myself more aggressively.

If I had put my current level of effort into client acquisition when I started freelancing, my whole timeline probably would have moved up by a year or two. My priorities and goals were different back then — my 2015 self wasn’t necessarily expecting to earn a living as a freelancer. Still, I might have been able to get out of of debt sooner if I’d done some more business development!

I wouldn’t undervalue myself.

Like many new freelancers, I had no idea what “fair” pricing was for content work. I was also desperate for clients, so I lowballed myself and worked for far less than I could and should have been earning based on my skill and experience level. I later realized that many clients were willing to pay more than what I was charging — I just had to confidently ask for it and back it up with my past results.

I would have planned better for taxes.

In 2017, I was hit with a massive tax bill that I wasn’t quite prepared to pay. I had been saving a portion of my freelance checks all year for self-employment taxes, but it’s reeeeeally easy to start dipping into that savings account when your laptop crashes or your dog has an expensive vet visit. If I’d made quarterly payments instead of waiting to pay it all at once when I filed my taxes, I’d have been able to manage that money better (and yes, I learned my lesson for 2018).

What I Wouldn’t Change

To be honest, there isn’t much else I would have done differently in getting to this point. Here are a few things I’m glad I did in my entrepreneurial journey:

I waited to leave my job until I could fully pay my bills with client work.

I definitely wasn’t out-earning my full-time corporate job when I left, but I had enough steady work to cover my basic living expenses plus self-employment taxes. Could I have left sooner and stretched my budget? Probably. But I’m glad I didn’t.

I asked for help.

I was burning out HARD in the months before I left my job because I was trying to do everything by myself. Delegating some work to my partner helped, but what really freed us up to focus on our strategy and growth was hiring a few talented freelancers to take on our spillover projects and administrative tasks. It’s a tough paradox to accept, but spending money to hire help lets you go after bigger contracts and earn more in the long run.

I trusted whole-heartedly that I could do this.

Fear and self-doubt stop so many would-be entrepreneurs from going after their dreams. I wasn’t going to let myself be one of them. I knew what I was getting into and worked hard to prepare for the challenges ahead. Because of that, I had — and still have — the utmost faith that I did the right thing for myself and my career.

I chose to live by my own definition of success, and I will keep defining it for myself as Lightning Media Partners continues to grow in 2019.

Image credit: rawpixel.com via Pexels

5 PR Pitching Tips from a Former Journalist (Who Now Works for PR Firms)

I worked as a freelance and staff journalist for about eight years before I launched Lightning Media Partners. During that time, I learned a lot about the important — and ideally, symbiotic — relationship between reporters and public relations professionals. I learned what good and bad PR looks like, and I also discovered that, for some reason, most journalists don’t answer emails from PR pros.

While I still don’t know the secret to getting a reporter to politely reject a pitch (rather than flat out ignore it), I do know what it takes for an editor to say “yes” to a story idea. Many of my clients are independent PR agencies that hire me to write the very same pitches, blog posts, and bylines I once received on a daily basis as a journalist.

Based on my past career experiences and my current PR-focused projects, here are a few things that will make your pitch more likely to receive a response.

1. Be informative, but concise. 

Make sure your pitch isn’t too long or too short. Journalists don’t want to scroll through half a dozen paragraphs to know what you’re pitching, but they also don’t want to be left wondering what exactly they’ve just read. A good rule of thumb for what to include in your pitch: who your client is, what their area of expertise is, and why they’re a good fit for the publication. If a reporter has to do their own research just to find out what the company does, they’ll be less inclined to want to write about it.

2. Give some options. 

Narrow pitches are a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the journalist will know right away if the topic is something they can or can’t cover. But if your client sounds interesting and just can’t be used for that particular story idea, reporters may want to feature them in something else. I always appreciated when a PR pro let me know upfront that a client could speak about a few different things, based on the type of coverage we were looking for at the time. Your clients have a much better chance of coverage if they’re flexible.

3. Ask reporters what they’re working on. 

Journalists absolutely cannot accept every pitch they get. It’s just not possible. That’s why I always found it incredibly helpful when PR reps asked me for a list of upcoming topics I was working on. This way, you can look through your list of clients (who you already know very well), and tell the reporter who might be able to add to a piece they’ve already got in the works. It’s a rarely-used but highly effective tactic for getting your client quoted.

4. Stick to email pitches unless you’re told otherwise. 

Every reporter has their own preferred method of being pitched, but it’s always best to proceed with caution and stick with the email pitch at first. Although pitching via Twitter DM or LinkedIn message is becoming more common, some journalists (myself included) prefer not to receive pitches through their personal social media channels, so don’t do it unless they clearly indicate that it’s okay to to do so.

5. Give journalists the same respect you want in return. 

You’re busy, they’re busy. The client you’re setting them up with for an interview is not the only one that you have to deal with, but the story you’re working on together is not the only one they’re currently writing. We all have lives outside of our jobs and other things we need to worry about, so if you can extend a bit of patience and understanding to a journalist, a good one will do the same for you.

Image credit: Pixabay via Pexels

networking

Smart Social Media Strategies to Advance Your Career

Making connections are crucial for getting ahead in any career field. Reaching out to the right people can open all kinds of doors to new and exciting opportunities — and social media is a great way to find those “right people.”

Whether it’s on Twitter, LinkedIn, or even Instagram, participating in your industry’s social media community can help you make new connections and establish yourself as an expert, if you’re smart about it. Here are a few tips that have helped me network with other professionals via social media.

Follow active, engaging accounts. 

If you want to get the most out of the time you spend networking on social media, look for accounts that actively engage with their followers and share a healthy mix of content (i.e., not just their own article or product links). If you find that an account is posting too frequently and clogging up your feed with irrelevant items, it’s okay to unfollow or mute them.

Participate where you can. 

Unless you’re getting paid to manage social media accounts, you probably don’t have time to be checking and posting throughout the whole work day. However, if you have a few minutes to spare during your breaks or in between tasks, use that time to catch up on what people are sharing and commenting on, and when it’s appropriate, share or comment on something yourself. When done correctly, this activity will signal that you’re on top of industry news and have something valuable to contribute to the conversation. If you want a few more tips on this point, I wrote this piece about developing a good professional social media presence.

Keep it focused.

You should always look to inject a little bit of personality into your social media presence, but if you really want to use it as a tool for professional growth, try to keep the majority of your content focused on your industry, your career, and your work or side projects. The occasional tweet about your latest Netflix obsession or a great restaurant you discovered is fine (and welcome!), but without a clear theme or focus for your posts, people are unlikely to recognize your account as one of industry authority and expertise.

Don’t trash talk anyone. 

In today’s culture, it’s pretty common to complain on social media when you’ve had any kind of negative experience. As tempting as this is, it’s probably not a good idea to get too specific when you air your grievances. The most obvious example would be bashing your employer, but even bad-mouthing third parties outside your company can be detrimental. I see this happen a lot with journalists complaining about PR pros — who, as a reminder, spend a lot of time trying to help reporters chase down stories. I won’t pretend I’ve never vented about a frustrating professional encounter on Twitter, but it’s incredibly unwise to call out a person or agency by name. You never know who other people in your network know — a potential employer, business partner, or client might look at your feed and be dissuaded from working with you because of what they find there.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Image credit: Syda Productions/Shutterstock.com

writer typing on laptop

Want to Be a Journalist? Here’s How to Get Hired

A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack.

Somewhere around middle school, I decided I wanted to be a journalist when I grew up. Whenever I discussed my chosen career path with well-intentioned family and friends, I was often met with skepticism.

“You’ll never make a lot of money as a journalist.”

“Don’t you want to do something with more stability?”

“It’s really hard to get a job in the media industry.”

They weren’t entirely wrong. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has been reporting decreases in journalism jobs for years (the current prediction is a 9 percent decline by 2024). Major news organizations like Huffington Post, the New York Times, Yahoo and VICE Media have all suffered rounds of layoffs this year alone. These facts, combined with the ever-changing media landscape, is enough to make even the most talented journalists fear for their careers.

Though it can indeed be difficult to find quality journalism jobs, it’s not impossible. I’ve applied to my fair share of reporting jobs over the years, and when I worked as an editor, I hired a few reporters of my own.

Whether you’re looking for a full-time staff position or an ongoing freelance gig, here are a few tips for making yourself irresistible to an editorial hiring manager.

1. Create a portfolio website

In addition to your resume, most editors will ask you for “clips” (published samples of your work) when you apply for a journalism job.

Make it easy for them to find and view your past work by collecting it in a digital portfolio. Sites like Muck Rack and Contently make it simple to build a portfolio by adding URLs to your page. You can also create a personal landing page via WordPress, Squarespace, Wix or other website building platform to house other digital assets, such as video clips or PDF scans of printed articles you’ve written.

Don’t have any work published yet? Start self-publishing. You can create a personal blog or vlog about the topic of your choice, or simply write and publish content via platforms like Medium or LinkedIn. These can serve as your clips until you start getting writing gigs with media outlets.

2. Maintain a public social media presence

Many of today’s journalists have established a personal brand for themselves across their social media platforms. Some choose to promote themselves and their work via every available channel, but at minimum, you should have a public LinkedIn and Twitter account (after all, a lot of journalism happens on Twitter).

Here, you can connect with other journalists and editors, follow news outlets you’d like to write for, and share your own thoughts and articles on current trends and events. Networking is also hugely important for landing a job in any field, so it never hurts to get on the radar of successful players in your industry.

Bonus tip: Add links to your public social media accounts to your portfolio page to encourage potential employers to follow your work.

3. Learn basic photo and video skills

Modern journalism is no longer just about being a good writer. Outlets large and small are placing an increasing emphasis on “visual storytelling” – in fact, a 2016 Poynter article cited this skill as an essential one for landing a job in journalism. Basic photo and video editing skills will go a long way in an age when video clips, infographics, social media images and other visual assets serve as the primary vehicle for telling news stories.

Of course, not everyone is going to be able to master (or afford) software like the Adobe Creative Suite, so start by playing around with the free tools available to you. Most devices – PC, Mac, smartphone, tablet, etc. – come pre-loaded with photo and/or video editing software (or at the very least, there are plenty of free options available online for your desktop or on your mobile device’s app store). Teach yourself what you can, or better yet, take an online course if you have the time and resources to do so.

Another key component of visual journalism is being on camera. Although aspiring broadcasters know they’ll have to appear on-screen, many outlets now have their writers star in recorded clips and live video streams. Practice this by recording your own videos. Whether you decide to share them online or not, just getting comfortable talking to a camera can help you considerably if your dream journalism job requires it.

4. Write as much as possible

You may have heard the phrase “publish or perish” used to describe the pressure to produce academic work. It applies to the journalism industry, too: If you’re not continually sharpening your writing and editing skills, they’ll languish.

Additionally, editors want to see that you’ve been actively publishing work. If the last thing you wrote was for your college newspaper (and you’ve been out of school for months or years), you might want to think about getting back on the horse.

You don’t have to wait for a writing job to land in your lap, though. As mentioned above, you can start your own blog or self-publish articles. Find outlets that are looking for contributed content (preferably paid, but there’s nothing wrong with writing the occasional unpaid article if you’re passionate about the topic and it builds your portfolio). Write in a journal just for yourself. Regardless of what kind of writing you choose to do, it just matters that you do it. Like anything else, practice makes perfect, and practicing your craft every day can only help you when you’re looking for work.

Image credit: Startup Stock Photos via Pexels

The Next Chapter of My Career

Today was my last day as a full-time employee of Business News Daily/Business.com. While I will continue working with the team part-time for the immediate future, my primary focus will be the independent writing and content marketing work I’ve been doing as a side project for many years. 

Business News Daily was my very first freelance writing gig, which I started as a college student back in 2010. It was my source of income during my unpaid internships. It was also the first time I realized I didn’t have to work in a newsroom to be considered a media professional.

In the five years since BND hired me as a full-time staff writer, I’ve tried on many different hats here. I’ve been a reporter, a content strategist, a social media marketer, a copy editor, a regular editor, and occasionally even a coder. I’ve also developed tons of amazing professional relationships, not only with my team of coworkers and freelance writers, but with marketers and PR reps who gave me a deeper understanding of opportunities in the media and communications field. All the while, I continued taking freelance writing and editing gigs to expand my skills, grow my network, and bring in a few extra bucks.

Over time, those “few extra bucks” grew into several long-term client contracts. As my side hustle expanded, I quickly fell in love with the idea of setting my own course and turning my freelance work into a full-fledged content marketing agency. I wanted to tackle different projects every day and use all of the skills I’ve developed in my career to help people create awesome content for their blogs, company websites, social media accounts, email newsletters, and more. 

So here I am, standing at the beginning of a dream job that’s been eight years in the making. It’s been a lot of early mornings, late nights, and work-filled weekends. It’s been stress, tears, and near-mental breakdowns. It’s been thoroughly and utterly exhausting, and frankly, I’ve wanted to throw in the towel more times than I can count. But I have arrived, and I wouldn’t trade this journey for anything in the world. 

I can’t say exactly where I’ll go from here, but I’m excited as hell to be behind the wheel. 

Printed resume and chart on table

Common Resume Mistakes to Avoid If You Want to Land the Interview

As a manager who’s hired employees and as a former journalist who regularly covered career-related topics, I know a few things about what employers want to see on a candidate’s resume. From your layout and font choice to the phrases you use to describe your previous jobs, hiring managers will pick up on the smallest details of your application, so it’s in your best interest to present a polished, professional-looking document if you want that interview.

Most job seekers are aware of this fact and understand how important their resume is. While we generally know to check for spelling errors and inaccuracies, many of us continue to send out job applications that are too wordy, poorly designed, or contain outdated information.

Here are a few of the most common mistakes people make on their resumes and how to avoid them the next time you apply for a job.

1. Listing every single position you’ve ever held

Hiring managers don’t care how many employers you’ve worked for in the past. All they want to know is how your experience is relevant to the job, and what you learned and achieved while you were there.

Because LinkedIn and other digital portfolios allow for a lot more room to expand, you can use your profile as a more comprehensive work history, and save only the most important items for your actual resume. For example, I interned at a public relations agency during college, but I took it off my resume years ago when I realized I wanted to focus on editorial. However, it’s still listed on my LinkedIn profile so a potential employer can see that I have some experience working in PR.

The best thing you can do is tailor your resume to the job you’re applying to. If a previous work experience isn’t aligned with the position or you don’t have a lot to say about it, leave it off and just include it on LinkedIn. Then, insert a hyperlink to your profile on your resume (since nearly all resumes are sent digitally now) so the hiring manager can investigate further if they’re interested. Following this method also helps keep your resume down to a single page by cutting straight to the most important thing a hiring manager needs to know.

2. Using cliché phrases and “buzzwords”

Does your resume summary say you’re “hardworking,” “detail-oriented,” and a “team player?” If so, you might be wasting valuable resume real estate.

Hiring managers and recruiters would rather see clear examples of your accomplishments, rather than read cliché descriptors. Those phrases have been used on so many resumes that they’ve lost much of their impact. Let your summary be fact-based (i.e. describing your concrete professional qualifications), and let your job descriptions speak to your soft skills. For instance, if you want to show you’re a team player, say that you collaborate with other colleagues or departments to achieve the company’s goals. To show that you’re a strong leader, write that you served as the point person on certain projects, or that you developed and launched an initiative at your company. As the old adage goes, actions always speak louder than words.

3. Omitting key information

Whether it’s up-to-date contact information or previous employment dates, make sure you’re not missing any important details that a hiring manager would need to know.

Sometimes job seekers with large employment gaps will try to cover up this fact by writing a functional resume (where experience is listed by skill set, rather than by employer) or leaving off the dates entirely. Many hiring managers are automatically suspicious of this, and may hold it against you if they think you’re trying to hide something. Instead, be honest about your employment history (even if you just include the year), and don’t forget to count any freelance or volunteer experience you may have done in between jobs.

As for contact information, you should, at the very least, include a current email address and phone number. Your home address is no longer necessary, and in fact may even hurt your chance if you’re trying to get an out-of-state job, but you can include it if you wish. You should also include links to your relevant social media profiles (LinkedIn for sure, but you may also want to put Twitter if you use it for work) and/or portfolio websites, so the hiring manager has access to a wide range of examples of your past work. They’re going to look it up anyway; you may as well make it easy for them!

4. Poor formatting

This one’s a bit subjective, especially since some industries value creativity and design more than others. But no matter how you choose to lay out your resume, make sure it looks clean and readable. Don’t use an illegible font (no matter how cool it might look), and make sure you keep your formatting (bold, italics, bullet points, sizes, etc.) consistent throughout your resume.

Play around with heading sizes and styles to make the most important information stand out. Even if you simply put your previous employers’ names in bold or caps, it breaks up the document and helps the hiring manager follow your resume better.

(P.S. – Here’s my current resume as an example of how a little color and creative formatting can get all your relevant information on one page without looking like a big wall of text.)

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Image credit: Lukas / Pexels.com

Team brainstorming

Is It Worth It to Stay at Your Current Job?

Most of today’s employed 20 and 30-somethings see their current job as a stepping stone: It’s fine for now, but they won’t hesitate to leave if something better comes along. We’re young and we’ve got a few decades’ worth of career opportunities waiting to be taken. Why shouldn’t we experience everything we can while we’re able to?

For some people, the goal is bounce around until they land a job or start a business they love and stick it out until retirement. Others accept that the “dream” job they envisioned as a young, hopeful undergraduate may not exist, and are content to continue job hopping throughout their career. But even those in the latter camp know when a gig is good enough to stick around for a while.

How can you tell that a position is worth more than a year or two of your time? While the specifics of an ideal job vary from person to person, there are a few basic elements that most employees want out of their workplace. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to discover if your current job is worth keeping – even if it’s just until the next opportunity presents itself.

Do I have a good relationship with my direct supervisor? 

Your relationship with your manager can really make or break a work experience. This person directly oversees your daily responsibilities and plays a huge role in your career progress within the company. You don’t have to be best friends with your boss, but the ability to have open, mutually respectful communication and a clear understanding of each other’s expectations goes a long way in terms of your job satisfaction.

Do I feel like a valued member of my team? 

When you work on a team, you don’t want to feel like your co-workers are getting all the credit while you’re left behind. At a good job, you’ll feel a sense of camaraderie, and everyone will be appropriately acknowledged for their efforts. As with your boss, it’s also important that you get along with your immediate colleagues, or at least be on civil terms — bad blood among team members makes for a hostile, unpleasant work environment.

Does my company care about its employees and their well-being? 

It’s good to get along with your team, but the company as a whole should treat you like more than a cog in the machine, too. It should be evident from company-wide HR policies such as paid time off, flexible work arrangements, or even employee activities and training opportunities that the organization actively invests in its people.

Can I realistically see myself advancing at this company? 

Based on employees who have held your position (or similar ones) in the past, you should be able to get a general idea of where your career could go if you stay at this job. Whether you can move up in your current track or switch to a different department, you should be able to see a future for yourself there.

Do I like the work I’m doing now? 

Your “daily grind” shouldn’t actually feel like a grind. Every job has its fair share of grunt work now and then, and you’ll get a few projects you don’t particularly enjoy, but overall, you should like what you’re doing. If you’re stressed all the time and dread doing your day-to-day job duties (and they’re not likely to change anytime soon), it might be time to start seeking out other opportunities.

Am I consistently motivated to do my best work? 

This is perhaps the most important question of all. It’s easy to stay motivated when everything is going your way, but what happens when you hit a rough patch? If you enjoy your work enough to keep coming back every day, you can overcome a grueling project, a strained colleague relationship, or a stalled promotion.

A bad workplace chips away at your motivation until you dread the thought of even getting out of bed on a work day. But a good company will keep your sense of optimism alive. It gives you hope that any negative situation you face there is only temporary. Something — whether it’s your close-knit team, a fun company outing or even a sincere note of thanks from your boss — makes you hold on and assures you that better days lie ahead.

If you don’t feel this way about your job, it’s probably time to start sending out your resume.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Image credit: Kaboompics.com via Pexels

Isolated iPhone

How to Break Your Smartphone Addiction (Without Giving Up Your Device)

When was the last time you intentionally left your smartphone at home? You probably don’t remember; I certainly don’t.

If you’re anything like the average American, you check your phone once every 12 minutes (or about 80 times a day), both for work and play. Don’t know the answer to a question? Google it. Got a work email after hours? Answer it now so you don’t have to worry about it tomorrow morning. Bored on the train? Play a game or watch a YouTube video. Want to know where your friends are? Pull up social media and find out.

We’ve become so used to having the world’s knowledge at our fingertips that we feel lost when we’re not using our mobile devices.

A while ago, I downloaded the Moment app to track my phone usage. On the first full day I used it, I had checked my phone 73 separate times for a total of 2 hours and 21 minutes of use, most of which occurred before and after I left the office. That’s 141 minutes glued to my phone; 141 minutes that I could have been reading a book, working on a craft, or going for a walk. But instead, I was distracted by emails, Instagram posts and black holes of random “related articles.” It’s a habit, and like any other habit, it can be unlearned and eventually broken.

While I am making a conscious effort to use my phone less and be more present and aware of my surroundings, I admit that sometimes I need a little help. Here are a few tricks that have helped me cut down on the impulse to constantly pick up my phone.

Turn off all email and social media notifications. 

I’m one of those people who needs to look at a notification as soon as it pops up. I need to know what was texted, emailed, retweeted, or liked. And that was a huge factor in how often I checked my phone.

For the last year or so, I’ve intentionally turned off notifications on email and social media. It sounds crazy, I know. But I make a point to check these apps a few times each throughout the day so I don’t miss anything. And you know what? It doesn’t take me that long to catch up. It’s rare that something is so important that it can’t wait until I have a few minutes here or there to look at it.

If something is truly urgent, my boss, coworkers, and freelance clients all have my phone number — they can call or text me, and I’ll know it’s something that requires my immediate attention.

Can’t bear to turn off email notifications altogether? Apps like BoomerangSaneBox and Inbox Pause help you filter and regulate your inbox better by controlling when messages come in.

Take advantage of airplane/do not disturb mode. 

Mobile devices allow you to set them to “airplane mode,” which blocks all incoming and outgoing data. If you don’t use this setting in everyday life (i.e. when you’re not on an airplane), you’re missing a valuable opportunity to enjoy a short stretch of notification-free time.

On occasions when you want to truly be present — family dinner, date night, the kids’ soccer game — just switch airplane mode on and put up a digital barrier. This is also useful when you’re trying to sleep and don’t want to be woken up by any random texts or emails you may get in the middle of the night.

Leave your phone in another room or face down.

Want a really easy way to stop obsessing over your notifications? Just don’t look at your screen.

When I work from home, I try to leave my phone on my nightstand or in my kitchen, away from my desk so I don’t get distracted throughout the workday. If I know I’m expecting a call, I’ll have it next to me, but facing down so I don’t see the screen light up with any other notifications that may come through.

Keeping your phone face down is a really good habit to get into when you’re with other people, too. You don’t want to be that rude friend who keeps texting other people when you’re trying to catch up over coffee, or that distracted person in a meeting who’s clearly not paying attention.

Acknowledge your “boredom” phone use. 

When there’s a legitimate reason to check your phone — an important email or text from a good friend, for instance — and it won’t interrupt something else that requires your full attention (especially driving!), go ahead, open up that notification. But it’s the times when you check your phone out of boredom, simply to scroll through Instagram photos and tweets or stalk a high school acquaintance’s Facebook profile, that really detract from living in the moment.

If you feel yourself itching to light up that home screen when there’s no notification waiting for you, take a minute and ask yourself why you want to check your phone. And if there’s no good reason, don’t do it. Find something else to do for a few minutes — fold laundry, pick up a magazine, clean out your fridge, etc. If you can learn to be comfortable with periods of mental silence, without a digital distraction, you might just break that compulsive need to look at your phone.

Image credit: Negative Space/Pexels.com