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

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: via Pexels

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/ 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 /

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: via Pexels

Home office setup

How to Actually Get Work Done When You Work from Home

Like many of today’s professionals, I work from home. A lot.

I do occasionally work remotely for my full-time job, but in most cases, I get in from the corporate office and walk right into my home office to start on side projects for my freelance clients.

Regardless of the tasks you’re doing, it takes a lot of discipline to get work done in your home, especially when the couch, the TV, the fridge, the laundry, the dog, etc. are all just a few steps away. You need to proactively create an environment that’s conducive to productivity, while drawing mental and physical boundaries between work and play.

While everyone’s ideal remote work conditions vary, here are a few general tips for making the most of your work-from-home time.

Create a space that’s just for work

Working from the couch or your bed may sound nice in theory, but in practice, these spaces are too “cozy” and relaxed to put you in the right mindset for productivity. I have a desk and office chair set up in the spare room of my apartment, and do my best to contain business-related tasks, calendars, notebooks, etc. to that space.

No space for a home office? Set up a small folding table in the living room and use it strictly for work, or work at the kitchen counter. Wherever you choose to set up shop, keep your “work” area clutter-free to minimize distractions (hello, dirty dishes and baskets of laundry).

You may also want to join a coworking space or head to a local coffee shop from time to time, just for a change of scenery.

Get dressed

Working from home equals working in your pajamas, right? Technically, yes, it could. But it’s not a good idea if you want to set boundaries between work time and lounge time.

Wearing comfortable clothes is a great perk when you’re home for the day, and there’s no need to dress in office attire. However, changing out of the clothes you wore to bed really does make a difference in how you approach your work (even if it’s just a pair of yoga pants and a different t-shirt).

Develop (and stick to) a schedule

When you don’t have a commute hanging over your head, you can justify starting your workday a little earlier or wrapping up a little later to accommodate any non-work things that pop up during the day. It’s fine to take a little time away from the “office” when you’re working from home — and you should, since people are generally more productive when they take frequent breaks. But make sure you set time limits for yourself and build these breaks into your daily schedule. If you don’t, you could end up stretching out your day without getting any real work accomplished.

Become a top-notch communicator

One of the biggest arguments against working from home is the idea that if you’re not physically in the office, the boss can’t keep tabs on you to make sure you’re actually doing your work. This isn’t necessarily true, and many managers have realized that trusting employees to complete their tasks no matter where they are creates a much more positive, productive work culture. However, that trust needs to be earned through your communication skills.

If you’re working from home for your employer, your boss should be able to get in touch with you during normal work hours, as they would if you were in an office. This could mean being available on an instant messaging platform, responding to emails quickly or checking your phone for calls and texts from co-workers. And don’t wait for your manager to hound you with messages — check in with them when you sign on and off for the day, or when you’re taking a break. No matter what method of communication you and your team agree upon, don’t let yourself become “out of sight, out of mind” when you work from home.

Working for yourself and setting your own hours? You should still be available for your clients when they try to reach you. While you don’t (and shouldn’t) have to be on-call 24/7, do your best to respond to emails, messages, and calls in a timely manner, and always communicate well ahead of time if you can’t meet an agreed-upon deadline. Your clients will appreciate it, and you’ll establish a reputation as a responsible, reliable freelancer.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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Business Presentation by

How to Give a Great Business Presentation

Whether you’re giving a project update to the management team, leading a seminar, or a pitching a new client, you’re likely going to have to give a handful of business presentations during your career.

Unfortunately, most of these presentations just don’t land. They’re boring; not engaging enough; too long.

In an age of constant distractions and shrinking attention spans, it seems that giving an engaging presentation is an art that few have been able to master successfully. However, with a combination of powerful data and the right messaging strategy, you can hold your audience’s attention.

Here’s how to keep all eyes and ears on you during your next presentation.

Tell a story. 

Statistics and facts are important to any presentation, but without a good story behind them, your audience isn’t going to care about those charts and tables. An anecdote or story can provide context to your data and make listeners more receptive to it. But don’t tell stories just for the sake of telling them: Make sure they connect back to your main points.

Most importantly, don’t just read off of your slides. If your audience can get everything they need to know from the slideshow, you should have just emailed them your PowerPoint instead.

Be aware of your body language. 

Few things can ruin a great presentation like a nervous speaker. Public speaking is a common and understandable phobia, but it’s imperative to remain calm and in control of your body movements and tone of voice if you want to come across as a strong presenter. Connect with your audience by looking them in the eye, smiling, and relaxing your body. Try not to be too stiff, fiddle with your notes, or cling to the podium.


They say that practice makes perfect, and this is especially true for presentations. Go over the data you’re presenting and the notes you’ve written. If possible, test out your technology to make sure it works. Rehearse your speech in front of a test audience, and ask for feedback. The more prepared you are, the more likely you are to gracefully handle any unexpected hiccups, tangents, or audience questions.

Be yourself. 

The most important thing you can do is stay true to yourself. Know your strengths as a presenter and stick with what comes naturally to you. Humor can be a great way to engage an audience, but don’t try to make jokes if that’s not who you are. Remember, your audience is there to listen to you for your expertise. Rather than try to be the person you think they want, just give them your truest, best self.

A version of this article appeared on Fox Business.

Image credit: via Pexels

Garbage can image by Steve Johnson/Pexels (CC0)

‘No, Thank You’ – The Art of Polite Professional Rejection

When I worked as a staff journalist and editor, I received dozens of story pitches per day. I regularly rejected 95 percent of them.

These types of cold pitches from external parties are overwhelmingly common in the media industry, but it’s certainly not unique to our field: Businesses work with all kinds of agencies and vendors to get things done, and everyone’s trying to sell something. More often than not, you’ll probably have to reject those offers.

There are three ways people typically decline requests:

  1. Ignore it.
  2. Respond with a “no” and move on.
  3. Briefly explain why they’re saying no, and if possible, offer a different way to work together.

I admit I use the first two response methods often enough, but whenever I can, I try to take the time to give helpful feedback. Does it take time and energy? Yes. But it also helps you improve both your professional reputation and your working relationships.

While ignoring an unwanted offer or request is certainly the easiest and most convenient course of action when it arrives, it actually creates more frustration in the long run. The person on the other end will almost certainly follow up, just in case it got lost in your inbox or accidentally went to your spam folder. Most people will get the hint and give up after a second or third ignored email, but you might earn a reputation as being unresponsive, unapproachable, or even rude.

Giving a simple “no” is certainly better, because you’re not leaving the other person hanging and wondering if you’re interested, but it’s not particularly helpful to either party. Without further feedback, your contact may keep making the same type of offer,rather than adjusting their strategy to find a more effective way to help you.

When you’re drowning in emails, it’s impossible to answer each and every person who contacts you. However, if you do decide to dish out a formal rejection, here are a few tips I’ve learned to soften the blow — and perhaps even benefit you in the end.

1. Be as honest as possible. 

Sometimes there’s a legitimate reason that you need to turn down a request: You don’t have time or room on your schedule, it conflicts with your company’s policies, etc. If that’s the case, let the other person know. But sometimes there really isn’t a “good” reason, other than the fact that you just don’t find the offer appealing. Making up an excuse to avoid offending someone, especially if that person has taken the time to research you and your company’s needs, might seem like the polite path, but honesty is usually the best policy. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “I’m not interested.”

2. Suggest an alternative solution. 

Just because you can’t or don’t want to accept this person’s specific offer as stated, doesn’t mean they can’t provide value in some other way. If there’s a different way for us to collaborate, or if I think a colleague might be more interested in the offer, I’ll say so. If not, I let the person know I plan to file the email away and add them to my contact list — you never know if they might be able to help you out down the road.

3. Let the person know what you’re looking for instead. 

If there’s no possible way for you and this person to work together at this time, consider sharing a bit more about your professional needs. This will (hopefully) help the person on the other end fine-tune their communications with you and only send you relevant information and offers in the future. Better yet, they may know someone else who can help you with your current needs and make an introduction.

If you find yourself giving out the same basic responses to similar types of requests, you can save yourself a few minutes by creating a file of “stock response” templates that can be customized to fit the situation. Just make sure you proofread and fill in all the right names and details!

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Image credit: Steve Johnson/Pexels (CC0)

Graduation ceremony via Pixabay/Pexels (CC0)

Career Advice for New Grads: What I Wish I Knew Before My First Job

Congratulations to the graduating class of 2018. For four (or more) years, you’ve poured your blood, sweat and tears into your studies and extracurricular activities, all in preparation for this day. Every all-nighter, every stress-inducing exam, every term paper will be worth it when you finally receive that long-awaited diploma, which has the potential to open the doors to your dream career.

This time six years ago, I was in your shoes. Days before graduation, I had officially accepted a full-time, entry-level job at a marketing company in midtown Manhattan. I fully believed I was ready to take my first steps into the “real world.”

I felt like I had the hang of working in an office from my part-time internships during college. How different could it be? I’d arrive at 9 a.m., sit down at my desk, do my work and go home eight hours later. I’d get a steady paycheck and paid vacation time, and make some great new friends. That’s what I thought, anyway.

I had a lot of expectations going into my first day on the job. Some of them turned out to be correct, but many of them were quickly shattered. The year that I spent at this company taught me a lot of valuable lessons — both about my career and life in general — that I took with me when I moved on to my next corporate job. Below are just a few of the things I would go back and tell my 21-year-old self, in the hopes that the newest members of the workforce can benefit from them. 

Work might follow you home.

Many first-time members of the workforce make the naïve assumption that work will end when you leave the office. This is how it was at my internships: I never had to worry about what happened once I walked out the door. But when you’re a full-time, salaried staff member, your responsibilities can and will extend outside the confines of your desk. With today’s cloud and mobile tech, people don’t follow the “9-to-5” mentality anymore. While you shouldn’t be expected to respond to your boss’s emails at midnight, there are going to be times when an after-hours emergency pops up, and you may need to be the one who deals with it.

… but don’t let work become your life. 

Just because you can work from anywhere at any time does not mean you should. Yes, you will have to stay late or come in early sometimes, or miss out on a social events because of a big project. But you’re an entry-level employee. You’re not running the company, and the company certainly isn’t paying you enough to spend every waking moment doing work. Set a time each night when you’ll stop checking your emails. If you’re working for a company that expects you to be on-call and working 24/7 (when you were hired for a 40-hour-a-week job), that’s not a place you want to stay at for too long.

You won’t earn everyone’s respect. 

Most of us know that respect in the workplace needs to be earned, especially as an entry-level employee. However, you also have to realize that there will be certain people in the office who will never respect you. They will never see you as anything more than a means to a corporate end, no matter how hard you work or how valuable your contributions are. Don’t fight it, and don’t lash out because of it. Find the ones who do respect you and stick with them.

Speak up about problems (but don’t gossip). 

If there’s a serious problem with the way your boss is running things, you need to speak up. Ask for a private meeting, or if you’re too afraid to approach your boss directly, bring it up to the next person in command. If you don’t say something, the situation will never change. What won’t help anything is gossiping with your fellow lower-level colleagues about how you’re planning to apply to other jobs just to get out. You never know who’s listening, or who will bring that second-hand news back to the boss.

Perception matters, so give 100 percent, even if there’s no reward. 

You’re not always going to get credit for the work you do. As frustrating as it is to receive little to no recognition for the hours you spent slaving over a project, don’t use that as an excuse to slack off and fade into the background. That’s something your bosses and colleagues will immediately notice, and it won’t do you any favors when it comes time for evaluations, promotions, or even future job recommendations. On the flip side, if you establish a reputation as someone who gets things done, solves problems, and eagerly accepts new challenges, you’ll be one of the first in line to climb the ladder.

Your job description will change as you go.

No position is static. When you first start working, your duties should at least resemble the ones listed in the job description. But as your skills develop and the company’s needs change, you may (and probably will) be asked to go in a different direction, take on more work, and tackle some new challenges. You shouldn’t feel stressed and overworked 24/7, but if the boss asks you to do something you weren’t necessarily hired to do, welcome the project as an opportunity to grow and learn. You never know if the experience will come in handy at a future job.

Make time to recharge and take care of yourself. 

Most full-time jobs come with the benefit of paid time off, and they’re there for you to use. Don’t avoid taking a vacation day because you’re afraid your boss will think less of you for taking a day off. Even taking a single day off every couple of months can help you recharge and keep you from burning out. If you’re running yourself into the ground by working nonstop, your performance and overall attitude will start to decline.

Have an exit strategy. 

Unless you hit the corporate jackpot and find a job where you can swiftly move up the ranks, it’s more than likely that your first job is just going to be a stepping stone to bigger, better things. There’s nothing wrong with that, and most companies have come to expect high turnover rates in their lower-level positions. Keep an eye on companies you might want to work for in the future, and network with other people in your industry — both great ways to begin planning your exit, even if you’re happy where you are for the moment.

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