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How to Set Meaningful Career Goals

This guest post is from one of my favorite workplace advice authors, Alexandra Levit. Here she provides tips on how to develop goals for your career--and how to set yourself up to ace the performance review.

Types of career goals vary, depending on the specific job and company, but every new college grad should aim to build a wide range of transferable skills(such as public speaking, client relations, project management, and budgeting) that are useful in many different types of careers and are not likely to become obsolete.

You can develop goals that focus on these skills and also pertain to your current position through a collaborative process with your supervisor.

Start by drafting your ideas for career goals and noting the obstacles you’re likely toencounter, knowledge you may need to acquire, and people who can support you.
Next, sit down with your supervisor and ask for feedback. In this meeting, you should make sure that your career goals are aligned with your supervisor’s goals for you and that the expectations set are reasonable and practical. For instance, if you’re in sales, your supervisor may or may not agree that you will be ready to make cold calls on your own by the end of your first year of employment. Before you leave, work with your supervisor to prioritize two or three career goals so you aren’t spreading yourself too thin, and create an immediate to-do list so that important goals don’t fall off your radar in the daily work/life grind.
If you arrange to meet with your supervisor every other month or so to revisit your career goals, you will be in great shape when it’s time for your performance review.

A few weeks before the review is slated to occur, gather facts to support how you’ve progressed on each goal. Identify concrete examples that illustrate outstanding performance and contribution, and practice communicating them so they’re on the tip of your tongue.

Your primary goal in the performance review process should be to demonstrate how you have made measurable contributions to the organization. If you are able to succinctly answer the question, "Why is the organization better off because you work there?," you will be well positioned for a productive discussion about your career potential as well as rewards and recognition. 

There's more where this came from.  Are you a student or young professional who wants to learn how to be successful TODAY?

Check out JobSTART 101 (, a free online course Alexandra developed!

The Six Reasons You'll Get the Job (Learn 'Em in NYC 10/14)

My friend and former colleague Elisabeth Harney Sanders-Park has just co-written her second book, the 6 Reasons Why You'll Get the Job (Penguin). I am pleased to announce that the NYC Job Seekers 6 ReasonsGroup, the grassroots job search group that I host in Manhattan, will be offering a special four hour workshop with Elisabeth and her co-author, Debra Angel MacDougall, the morning of October 14, 2010.

There is no cost to sign up. For additional details--including hours and location of the event--please sign up for the MeetUp group and RSVP.

Hope to see you there!

On the Job Hunt & The Listening Effect

I am pleased to announce that I've joined Susan Joyce and a host of other career management professionals on

I'm serving as the New Grads Job Search Expert on Job-Hunt, and will be writing a monthly column for the site. If you haven't checked out before, I encourage you to do so. The site is very easy to navigate and includes comprehensive information to help you throughout your job search process--from getting started with your first job search to how to work with recruiters and deal with a tough career transition.

In my first piece for Job-Hunt, I shared stories from my own first job, work in career management, and lessons learned from rocket scientists as well as the proverbial "water under the bridge."

This month, I focus on the importance of listening. It's not a skill that you find frequently in aListening-ear position description, but your ability to be a strong active listener can make all the difference in the interview process--and once you get hired.

For the past year, I've been taking classes in storytelling from Narativ. I'm learning how to tell stories that make an audience lean forward. I'm learning strategies to tell what happened instead of how I feel about a situation. The Narativ methodology is helping me to become a better storyteller. But mainly, I am learning how to be a better listener...without listening, you lose impact--in your job, in your ability to work with others, in your ability to communicate.

The process of finding your first job--and positions after that--can be fraught with anxiety, self-doubt, and doubt: Am I really qualified to do this job? Do I have the experience that it takes? All too frequently, you may miss a really obvious skill---one that can make all the difference--and that you already have. The skill I am referring to, of course, is listening.

Several years ago, I watched an Ivy League senior with a 3.98 GPA from a relatively unpopulated state (let's call it Nebraska) participate in the selection rounds for a Rhodes Scholarship interview. He had a long list of organizations he'd been involved in as well as measurable achievements for his extracurricular efforts. But there wasn't a single activity that he was involved in that he didn't hold the top title--President, Captain, Chair. As he told the committee, "I just prefer to be in the leadership role."

He didn't get picked. The committee went with other candidates who had experience in simply serving as a committee member, a participant, a team player.

In the midst of everything, never forget: Employers are looking for great listeners who can follow directions! Often, they will hire you for this singular ability--and then teach you the rest.

That's my two cents on listening. Now I want to hear what you have to say...

MIA the First Day at Work - How to Recover?

So you're supposed to start your job here


But you find yourself lost here two full days before your first day.


You can't find your cell phone. You can't feel your legs. You ache. Your car is upside down and smashed.  And time passes from day to night. You drink swamp water because it's the only thing you can do. And you wait to be found because you can't drag yourself any farther.
This is the situation Thomas Wopat-Moreau found himself in earlier this week. A 2009 graduate of William & Mary, Thomas missed his first day of work at Barclay's on Tuesday. He was stranded in a forest after his car veered off road and catapulted over 475 feet through the woods early Sunday morning.

He landed upside down. Crawled out of his car, made it 150 feet before he could go no further, and survived on swamp water for four days. On the fourth day---thanks to a weak cell phone signal and efficient police work, he was found. According to news reports, he has no feeling in his legs and is suffering from internal injuries...but he was healthy enough to respond to his rescuers and to ask for a drink of water. You can read the full story here.

If you were Thomas, how would you talk to Barclay's?
If you were Barclay's, how would you handle a new hire who went AWOL before the first day but who physically couldn't get to work? How would you handle a new set of physical challenges that did not exist when the offer was extended?

I'm interested in hearing the perspectives of both recent grads and "early careerists" as well as the HR perspective. Please weigh in!

Cross-posted at Secrets of the Job Hunt.

On "Useless" B.A. Degrees & "Incompetent" Career Centers

This is my first response to Penelope Trunk’s commentary on “How to Manage an Education.”  I’m going to write several pieces about Ms. Trunk’s opinions because I think she ignites a very important debate here—and one that is worth examining in the sunlight with the opinions of many others. Question

If you haven’t heard of Penelope Trunk before, you should get to know her as she's an active voice. She heads up the Brazen Careerist, a social network and community of bloggers designed for millennials, and has a blog which generates traffic that most bloggers—including me--envy. She has a wealth of life experience—she has worked for and founded start-ups, declared bankruptcy, worked as a professional player and has been a columnist on career issues for the Boston Globe. She is raising two children, has written a book and talks frankly about working and living with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Penelope Trunk is also fearless in talking about taboo topics—from the status personal relationships to health. In the fall of 2009, she created a frenzy of a debate when she tweeted that she was in a Board meeting while having a miscarriage—and her feelings of relief that she was having a miscarriage because Wisconsin’s abortion laws were restrictive. She went on CNN and used the controversy as a moment of public education: In her opinion, you can't  manage your work life if you can't talk about it. She talked about how people think miscarriages happen on a specific day, but how in reality it’s less of a moment and more of a process that takes time. She talked about how employees should be able to be transparent about the things that are affecting them at their work, because she feels you can work more productively when you can have frank discussions about what’s affecting you. 

In short, Penelope Trunk provides thought-provoking material, and her post “How to Manage an Education” is no exception. She begins by saying “the idea of paying for a liberal arts education is over. It is elitist and a rip off and the Internet has democratized access to information and communication skills to the point where paying $30K a year to get them is insane.” She then goes on to say that college “career centers are useless because most colleges presume you still need college to teach you to think critically. So they can get away with incompetent career centers.”  In her opinion, here are three reasons why career centers are “terrible”:

1. Career centers cater to companies not candidates. (One of her top criticisms: most schools endorse and teach students to write resumes using a standard format. In her opinion, this format doesn’t help students whose experience doesn’t line up with a traditional resume.)

2. Career centers don’t understand social media. (She says that career centers want to have credit for what students do. So she says they want everything students do–from blogs to domain names to be tied to the career center. And that this is limiting in the social media world.)

3. Career center staff is self-selecting for underperformance. (Her perspective: “Colleges, especially, the really expensive ones, think of vocational schools as pedestrian”…so career centers are not “exactly the hot button in budget meetings” nor the “landing ground for visionaries” because “what visionary wants to go to a part of an institution that no one cares about?)

There’s a lot to talk about here, and I’m looking forward to addressing each of these three points in posts here in the future. But first, I’m going to ask for comments from my friends in University Career Centers, because their perspectives are equally important.

I must admit I have a biased opinion about career center staff:  I am a veteran. Before starting my private practice, I worked in college career centers for ten years—eight of which were spent at Ivies. My work has brought me in contact with many visionaries in the area of career services—and very few “underperforming staff.”  I’ve worked with my peers to develop, analyze, and publish the results of salary surveys for graduates. I’ve partnered with colleagues to teach students how to customize their resumes and strategies for leveraging social media in the job search. (Yesterday, I finished a workshop series on social media at Dartmouth College.) And I’ve helped students set up web pages and blogs using outside hosts. I don’t think I’m unique.

I do agree that universities frequently undervalue the importance of career education from a funding perspective, but I don’t think that many career services visionaries let that stop them from finding innovative ways to assist students or create programming that has a lasting impact. Want a broader perspective? Follow Lindsey Pollak’s list of University Career Centers on Twitter. Many career offices are tweeting and developing LinkedIn groups for students and alums.

Over the years, I’ve worked with thousands of students and observed my own peer network. And the ones who frequently landed the most interesting jobs were the ones who worked closely with the college career center staff.  I’ve watched students score internships and jobs with employers that don’t participate in on-campus recruiting by creating innovative websites, blogs, and portfolios of their work. On CNN, I watch one of my fellow classmates from American University’s Washington Semester Program cover politics.  I remember the day our internship advisor introduced him to the syndicated columnist who set him on his course.

And don’t even get me started on the power and impact that university alumni can have in helping students launch their careers.  Alumni can be invaluable—from serving on panels and posting jobs to mentoring students and recent grads. I’ve met very few people who don’t want to help grads of their own school—even if they have their own quibbles with university administration. Yes, it’s true that the “wider world” of social networking can help students expand their range of opportunities—but starting within your own community is a more comfortable launch pad for many.  Who hosts these networks? More often than not—it’s the career center in conjunction with a school’s office of alumni relations.

I like Penelope Trunk because she sparks debate, and she makes me think.  Many of her posts are invaluable such as her advice on how to talk to a friend who has been laid off. But we have different perspectives on professionalism: In many work environments, I think “less is more” is an appropriate strategy when it comes to sharing personal information with your boss and colleagues about your life outside of work. As more than one-third of recruiters report that they have discounted candidates based on what they’ve found online, it is as important to know what to say as it is to know what not to say. See my post on Kodak’s Social Media Policies and call me the “Frugal Careerist.”

As I see it, social networking sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, and The Brazen Careerist can play an invaluable role in your career. These networks have the user demographics and the community buy-in to be game changers in terms of how job seekers connect with new opportunities. They provide an environment to share personal and career interests, exchange information, and to expand your connections. These sites—as well as new job search platforms--are changing the rules: In the course of doing research for our upcoming book, The Twitter Job Search Guide, my co-authors and I feature the stories of over a dozen job seekers who have found jobs through Twitter alone.

As powerful as social networks can be, they can also be overwhelming to learn how to use. Active participants on LinkedIn and bloggers forget how intimidating the technology can feel to the uninitiated. You need a guide and a filter to get started. 

For many people—from students to alumni who graduated 40 years ago—your college career office can be a great place to start. Many career center staff have been formally trained in how to use these sites (LinkedIn did an extensive training program several months ago) and have developed resources and guidelines on how to get started with social networking. (Here’s a piece I developed with my former colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania to do just that.)

Last time I checked, U.S. college graduates could expect to earn an average of a million dollars more over the course of their career than people who didn’t go to college or complete their studies. That’s a lot of money. Tuition may be expensive, but spending $120K over four years to make over a million dollars—still seems to me like a decent return.

What do you think?

Building Your Personal Brand: 4 Tips to Tell Your Story

This is a guest post from Matt Wilson at

106351903_39a2eceae0Building your personal brand is all about getting the word out. It doesn't matter if you are the most talented personal on earth if nobody knows about it. If you want more people to hear about you, you need to start telling you story as often as possible. Make your story compelling enough and people might just tell their friends.

Start with a Problem

Great companies solve a problem in the eyes of the consumer. The bigger you make the problem sound the better story it makes. This is the story that people tell themselves every time they make a purchase and it's the one they tell their friends about your product or service. Great people should also solve a problem in the eyes of their employer. Figure out what a company lacks and offer that to them, whether you are an independent contractor or employee.

Tell Your Story Early and Often

Make up your story now and tell it to as many people as possible. If the story is well received than you have a much better chance of getting known. The more people you tell the story to the better--get feedback, learn how to answer tough questions, perfect your pitch and practice persuading those in doubt. The more people you tell your story to the better chance it has at spreading. You never know who you'll meet when you are out planting seeds. Each person you talk to has the potential to introduce you to someone, or tell your story to a friend. Every seed you plant has the ability to help spread that story.

You'll Never Get Discovered Hiding in your Basement

Want to meet your significant other? Get out there. Want to make a name for yourself? Get out there. In the old days, celebrity entrepreneurs were the only ones to launch a brand around their stardom. They controlled the big stage and because they had thousands of followers to tell their story to. Today, everyday people are launching brands easier than ever, growing their followings online and telling their story over and over. Better yet, this story has the ability to spread with the click of a button via social media.

Steal these Strategies to Tell Your Story

Start a blog: write good content and people will read. Write really good content and it'll go viral. Network on Twitter: every person you connect with on Twitter has the chance to hear your story. Tell it in 140 characters. Get on Camera: host a uStream chat, post your videos on your blog, or start your own show. Broadcast your story to the world! Connect on Facebook and LinkedIN or and make your profile tell a story!

mattwilsonAuthor Matt Wilson is co-founder of Under30CEO, challenging people to defy the 9-5, stop doing stuff you hate and get innovative. Wilson graduated from Bryant University after leading Bryant University to becoming the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization of the year and being named National Student Leader of the Year.

Networking for Introverts

Today's blog post is authored by Catherine Ho, a recent Stanford grad and fundraising researcher at a large arts nonprofit. She spends much of her time networking, solidifying her long-term career goals, and advancing her interest in brand marketing. I asked Catherine to write a guest post after noticing her ability to ask thought-provoking questions on Twitter.Catherine_Ho (She also has a great knack for summarizing news and sharing interesting trends on Twitter.)
As you'll see, Catherine chose to wrote about a topic of interest to many of the job seekers that I work with--networking strategies for "introverts." (Thanks, Catherine!)

Transitioning into a new industry with little to no experience can be daunting. Over the last 2 years since graduation, I've taught myself the basics of successful networking.
As an introvert, networking never comes naturally. It requires quite a bit of planning and mental preparation. I see too many of my peers dismissing the power of networking as they sit comfortably in their jobs.

Regardless of whether you are job searching or not, networking can open many doors. With a lot of hard work, I've been able to secure a few volunteer and part-time opportunities that will boost my work experience in my chosen industry. If you excel at what you CAN control, you can trust in yourself that key contacts will come out of the woodwork and see you as a dependable, eager, curious learner. Confidence is absolutely key for introverts.

Tools needed: Linkedin, Twitter, resume, professional organizations, and of course informational interviews. The informational interview has been the most valuable for me because it is widely accepted as a way to meet people and receive real insight about a company or industry. Your mileage may vary. Utilize what works best. Here are my five recommendations:
1. Take Chances

When in doubt, take every little opportunity given to you. If you are nervous of the meeting's outcome, just remember that the worst thing that can happen is that he/she says no to your request, in which case you'll move on to the next possible contact. Last month I was given the option of meeting a CEO of a food startup for an informational interview either over the phone or at their office. I chose to go to his office despite the fact that it was all the way across town and quite early before my workday. This decision made a world of difference for me. I was able to get to know the company culture, study their product packaging, and meet one of the CEO's colleagues. I was also less nervous than I would be over the phone. I'm now working with his colleague on a very exciting volunteer project that will give me valuable experience to show to potential employers.

2. Know Your Objectives

Know your objectives before each and every point of contact. Have an agenda prepared before your meeting and do your best to stick to it. Make sure it includes thoughtful questions prepared in advance in addition to your research of a company. During the meeting you can gauge what direction the meeting is going and shift around your agenda as you see fit. To research the company, study the latest press releases, Google News and Finance, note any major changes in investor news and stock prices. A great resource is your local business times, well as Fast Company, BusinessWeek, and other business-related periodicals. If needed, prepare rough phone scripts and key points in notes form. I sometimes get flustered over the phone, so this helps me with my confidence level because I don't have to think on the spot about which questions I will ask. Obviously, this structure requires a bit of effort and preparation beforehand, but it will allow you to guide the meeting with ease and confidence.

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

As an introvert, I find that the only way to improve my networking skills is to have more face-to-face time with potential contacts. It has become a skill that I can turn "on" when I'm in the right mindset and about to enter a networking event. Strike a healthy balance of online and in person networking. Joining a professional organization is also a great idea. I'm an active member of a great professional organization called Future Women Leaders in San Francisco. It has helped me learn how to effectively network while learning key business skills in the company of similar young professionals. Develop a busy schedule of networking events, which you can often find advertised online. Practicing face-to-face made me more confident as a person and has positively affected my social life as well, which is a huge bonus for me!

4. Be Professional, No Matter What

Always be as professional, courteous and polite as you would want them to be with you, even if you think the meeting was a flop. Think positively and don't let your own perspective cloud your judgment because you have no idea what the second party is thinking. Apply all the skills you learned about personalized emails, prompt thank you notes, and common courtesy in full force. Always ask if there's anything you can do for your contact. You are not networking just for a job; you are networking to build a great group of trusted professionals you can turn to in future times of need. Demonstrate your maturity level and your awareness in the importance of networking, which is often unexpected in young professionals.

5. Trust Your Instincts
Be prepared for a lot of "no"s and non-answers. Realize that you will not always be able to connect or "click" with a person. Choose to cold-contact strategic people that you feel would be great to have and trust your instincts. Raid your alumni database. If you hear of a name mentioned by someone, research how to contact them. If you read an article by an author you find fascinating, find that person. Be persistent and proactive! It's easier these days to find people with LinkedIn, web search, and email. For the contacts that stick, update them regularly (quarterly is a good rule of thumb) with each major stepping stone or ask them out for coffee and a chance to get out of the office to catch up. This will keep you on their radar. Many people are impressed and flattered to be asked to share their knowledge and advice.


I have met some true gems through my networking, and I will never forget their kindness, taking a chance on me as I navigate into an industry in which I have little to no experience. Most importantly, be sure to pay it forward when you have reached your success! Best of luck.

You can find and connect with Catherine on Twitter: @catherinewithac

How to Get A Billionaire's Education

Forbes just published a report on "where the billionnaires studied," and it's somewhat similar to PayScale's recent report on which schools produce the highest earners in mid-careers: there's no shortage of Ivy League and highly selective school names on the short list of either list.Dartmouth

While Dartmouth College tops the list of mid-career salaries for the working public, Harvard, Penn, and Columbia, and Yale all occupy Top 5 spots on the Forbes' billionnaire's list.

I am not an Ivy League graduate myself, but I have worked in career offices at Penn, Dartmouth, and Columbia...My experience in what is frequently labeled as the "Ivory Tower" provided me with a first-hand glimpse of the wealth of connections, resources, and experiences that an "Ivy" education can provide.

It was a great experience to work in the Ivy League. I learned a tremendous amount and met many wonderful people. The commonly held assertion that an "Ivy League school opens doors" is true, but other schools and places do, too.

I remain firmly convinced that you don't have to go the short list of top ranked schools to get a top rate education or to make a great salary mid-career or to become a millionnaire. In fact, some of the smartest, most successful people I have encountered started their education at community colleges. Others, are "walking sponges"--furthering their education with all they see, read, and encounter along the way.

You can provide yourself with many of the same resources that would be available to you at an Ivy League school with minimal elbow grease. Here are three tips on how to get started:

1. Connect with others in your area of interest. From professional associations to groups and alumni clubs for your alma mater, there are countless opportunities to make friends and widen your circle.

Not sure how to start? Read Keith Ferrazzi's books, "Who Knows You Back?" and "Never Eat Alone." 

2. Take advantage of public access to career advice and resources. My colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania Career Services provide best-in-class resources on their website--and they invite the public to browse the site--for free! The site includes lists of recommended career resources and program summaries from industry specific panels. While in-person services and employer programs are restricted to students and alumni, you can receive a wealth of information simply by visiting the Penn Career Services website--and others like it.

3. Learn from others. You can't audit or attend lectures at MIT, but did you know that they share course syllabi and resource lists through their Open Courseware project? Don't have time for a course? Hop on over to TED and watch a few ground-breaking videos. You can also read transcripts of speeches and watch videos of lectures from college and universities websites and search for them on YouTube.

It's not what you have, it's what you make of it...You can open doors from anywhere.

To your success,

How to Navigate a Career Fair

After attending several career fairs in Manhattan with only 14 employers, I'm starting to see small signs of a turn-around: longer (if not "2006 long") lists of employers attending career fairs. Nice. With that, and the impending arrival of fall career fairs come September, here are my suggestions for navigating a career fair.

1. Take it seriously. Unless you are a visual art major and it's a "casual career fair," dress well--no 479608_shaking_hands jeans, tight clothes or white sneakers. Think: Summer's over, even if it's still warm outside. Ties, jackets, dress pants, dark shoes and socks for men. Shirts that don't show the navel and skirts or pants that don't defy gravity for women. Err on the side of conservatism. "She wore WHAT?" is always a perennial discussion among recruiters.

(Also, breath mints are always in vogue. Chewing gum at the fair or smoking outside--bad idea.)

2. Bring copies of your resume, but don't be disappointed if the employer prefers not to take it. Companies have rules and internal procedures regarding applicants. Occasionally, these rules will dictate that they can't take resumes. (Did you know some employers are legally required to preseve any comments they write on your resume at a career fair?")

Most employers will require you to apply for positions online to be considered as an official applicant. So don't be turned off by the line, "To apply for a position, go to our website.

3. Know who you want to talk to in advance, and have something interesting to say. Chances are good that you've heard a lot about the elevator pitch, and for good reason: You'll have under 30 seconds to introduce yourself to employers.

Here's a cheat sheet to know what to say: Every good introductions should include two pieces of information:

  • A summary of who you are and what you are looking for, and
  • An ice breaker that shows you are familiar with the organization's project and services--and culture. (I often recommend searching Google News by organization name, reviewing websites, and reviewing employer profiles such as Hoover's, Vault, and WetFeet.) Many job seekers don't do this, and taking the time to read in advance can help you stand out.

Not sure what you want to say? Check out, and the site's pitch wizard. It will help you condense and revise your "stump speech."

4. Don't be afraid to spend time with the "lonely employer." Job fairs can feel like popularity contests with lots of candidates in one line, and other booths that are almost empty. Stop by and say hello to the quiet tables, too. You may be surprised at what they have to offer, and it can be a great time to get one-on-one advice from the employer's perspective.

5. Get to know other job seekers at the event--especially when you are in line. Your next lead could come from the person standing in front of you or behind you in line. Making friends with others interested in the same company may seem self-defeating, but it isn't--especially given that you may have different interests, skills, and experience in terms of job function. Remember the common job search rule of thumb that over 60% of job offers are the direct result of networking!

6. When you talk to employers, keep your conversation focused and brief. Introduce yourself with a small handshake. Job fairs often feature long lines of candidates, and can be daunting to employers. Keep your ears open as candidates before you talk to employers, and consider introducing the employer to the candidate behind you in line if the discussion veers along a path of mutual interest. You demonstrate you are a team player when you introduce your "competition" with ease and present their interests, "This is Ben and he's also interested in brand management." When you demonstrate a high level of cooperation and courtesy, you can make an employer more willing to share their own business card--which, in turn, gives you a great vehicle to follow-up after the event.
7. Come early or stay late--and help employers or event organizers out if they are interested. Career fairs can be an exhausting endeavor for employers and fair exhibitors: Volunteering to help someone out can be a very smart way to get your foot in the door later--and to stay top of the employer's mind later.

This is my career fair "short list." What is yours?

Are You Ready to Tell Your Story?

Tell me about yourself.

If you've ever attended an interviewing workshop, or found yourself head-to-head with this request in an actual interview--you may be well acquainted with the sweaty palms and heart palpitations that often accompany these four little words.

The natural inclination is to respond with the basics, "My name is ______________. I am interested in ___________. I majored in ___________." The same kind of information that you can find at the top of your resume; the same facts and "vital statistics" that your interviewer may have already received before you sat down for the interview.

But (and you likely know this already), you don't want to tell someone exactly what they already know. Instead, you need to engage your audience.

Answering this question well is a perpetual challenge: You need to engage the interest of your audience without going "off topic" (what brought you to the interview in the first place) or repeating the "known knowns."

Enter Narativ, a Manhattan-based company that focuses on the art of storytelling. Co-Founded by Academy Award nominated documentary filmmaker and cultural anthropologist, Murray Nossel and his childhood friend, Paul Browde, a psychiatrist and executive coach, Narativ offers a one day seminar designed to help you tell your story with ease.Narativ_logo

I recently participated in the one day workshop myself, and I don't know that I'll ever tell stories the same way again. It was--quite simply--a transformative experience, and I highly recommend their methodology if ever you've found yourself tongue-tied or wanting to improve your ability to connect with an audience.

While the workshop wasn't designed to help participants answer job interview questions, several of the strategies shared spoke directly to the job search process. Here are two tips you may find'll have to attend the workshop to learn more:

1. When you tell a story, be specific in the details. For example, if you want to do marketing and you need to speak about your long-term interests in the field, provide details.

"My first promotion was ___________. The challenge was ______________ for our client. I remember cutting and pasting physical mock-ups with an orange pair of scissors and a glue stick. The project involved over 20 drafts and revisions. The end result was ____________."

Concrete details will help engage your reader more than if you simply said, "I developed my first flyer for a program at school when I was 12."

2. It's okay to pause, and it can actually help engage your audience--provided you can "restart" without missing a beat.

Many candidates "derail" when faced with an interview question they did not expect. (One of my favorite questions, "What is your second biggest weakness?") If you find yourself with a stumper, take a deep breath--pause, and don't be afraid to clarify the question.

For example, if you were asked a question about managing a large project at work and you don't have any experience with that in your internship experience but do have student government experience, you might say, "I have not worked with large-scale projects in my formal work experience, but I have managed significant projects in student government." Which experience would you like me to discuss?

For more information about Narativ, see their website, consider signing up for a workshop, or get tickets to see Narativ's co-founders, Murray Nossel and Paul Browde in their Off-Broadway production, "Two Men Talking."

Lessons from Rocket Scientists

If you're like mRocket_sciencee, you'll end up working in jobs you never dreamed you'd have. I was an English major in college, but spent my first three years after graduation working with rocket scientists. I worked in membership development and communications for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (A-I-Double-A). Would you believe it was actually my job to help them communicate with one another?

As often happens, I learned a great deal from the aerospace engineers and volunteers with whom I worked. In honor of this week's anniversary of "man on the moon," here's a post of thanksgiving and gratitude in honor of my former employer who taught me the value of professional associations, and my aerospace friends who taught me that "no one person is smart enough to be an independent rocket scientist" but that a team of rocket scientists in Reno can help you improve your midnight bowling skills. 

You can read the full post on my other blog, Best Fit Forward.

In case you've long harbored an interest or curiosity for working in space, here's a video series featuring prominent and emerging professionals in aerospace answering the question, "When did you know you wanted to work in aerospace?" As you'll find, "For some it was a specific moment, for others it was a gradual realization that space and flight had captured their imagination and wouldn’t let go."

When did you first know what you wanted to do? And how can I help you get there?

Celebrating & Advising "SPAM"

Spam Did you know July 5 is not just "post-Independence day"? Today is the anniversary of another American icon—it’s the 72nd birthday of SPAM—otherwise known as pseudo-mystery meat in a can?

According to my friends at The Writer’s Almanac, the origins and meaning of the name SPAM are debated even at SPAM manufacturing headquarters. Does it matter? SPAM’s brand recognition is undeniable part of our culture. Are you familiar with the Monty Python skit about the diner which serves nothing without SPAM?

Waitress: Morning!

Man: Well, what've you got?

Waitress: Well, there's egg and bacon; egg sausage and bacon; egg and spam; egg bacon and spam; egg bacon sausage and spam; spam bacon sausage and spam; spam egg spam spam bacon and spam; spam sausage spam spam bacon spam tomato and spam…

Did you know the skit led to adoption of the “catch-all” term SPAM to cover everything from unsolicited e-mail and snail mail communications to naming the process whereby you send out your resume indiscriminately?

So Happy birthday, SPAM! Even if it’s clear we may all live longer, happier, and more productive lives without you—it’s still appropriate to recognize you for your origin and impact…

But as birthdays are a great time for reflection  and personal growth, I’d like to take the liberty to suggest a few ways that you can improve.  After all, you haven't won my favor. Like many, I strive to live a SPAM-free life. It’s nothing personal; I just have a preference for the uncanned.  Here are a few recommendations:

  1. Try a fresh approach and be more discriminating. Your current diversification into communication is getting old—and isn’t doing you many favors.

    Think I’m wrong? Check out my friend Rob Blatt’s collection of SPAM received in the job search:

    He put the collection together because he’s not a fan of SPAM, either—and doesn’t want job seekers to fall for your tricks.

  2. Rethink your marketing plan. I know a large part of your marketing strategy has been to focus on a broad audience for a long time, but that doesn’t always work—stop using bad pick-up lines that sound just like what you think your audience wants to hear. Be truthful, concise, and specific.

    Micro-target and customize. Write only when you have something real and valuable to offer: a majority of your end-users are highly educated and aren’t going to fall for your games.  See Rob’s smart suggestions on how to find SPAM between the lines of a purported job posting? We know how to avoid you…

    Do you really want your message to end up in a filter—or worse—in the “complaint pile”?

  3. Stop hoping to make a comeback via mass job search campaigns. Canned resumes and cover letters don’t sell well. In a tight market, job seekers need to distinguish themselves through customization: It may seem like applying to more opportunities increases the speed to a successful job offer, but a better approach is to customize and specify how the position fits pre-existing skills and experiences.

So, in closing, I applaud you on your milestone of longevity, SPAM, but I encourage you to refocus on what you do best of all—providing sustenance to those hungry and brave souls who need and appreciate your long shelf life! Keep it in the can…

Making the Most of a Social Media Resume

Recently, a CBS piece on innovative job hunting strategies caught my eye. I asked one of the segment's featured participants, Robert "Bobby" Hoppey, to share tips with us. A native of Setauket, NY, Bobby is a recent graduate of Elon University  in North Carolina. He is seeking full-time work in New York (leads are welcome). Here is his story--and his suggestions for how you can create your own social Bobby_hoppey resume.

I am one of the country’s many job hunting 22-year-olds and my background to date lies largely in public relations and social media.  I am an open book when approaching career prospects, but I ultimately want to do work that is creative, relevant and (with any luck) located in my favorite city in the world--Manhattan.

It recently occurred to me that the concept of a resume is deceptively simple. Don’t get me wrong: It is an essential document to market oneself and will never go out of style.
However, when looking over bullet points summarizing some of the accomplishments I am most passionate about, I felt there was a certain spark missing. 

I wanted to provide prospective employers with a window into who I am, as well as capture the elusive “way to stand out” in today’s undeniably competitive market. Like most of my peers, I am well versed in Facebook. I also worked as a social media communications intern for General Motors. So, making greater use of social media seemed a logical next step for my job search. I chose to create a social media resume on

The Visual CV site serves as a colorful and interactive supplement to my traditional materials.  Created fairly recently, my page has already opened doors for informational interviews with established professionals and was featured on a national segment for CBS Evening News.  This summer, I am on a 4,000 mile cross country cycling trip to raise money and awareness to help individuals with disabilities. I'm keeping a blog to document my trip, and am maintaining networking leads through my use of social media in preparation for my full-time job search. 

If you are a social media resume rookie, and would like to supplement your own job search with a Visual CV or other resume, here is some advice:

  • Think buffet style. When crafting a social media, don’t hold back in terms of diverse content.  If you have created multimedia assets in your professional or educational endeavors, show them off!  My VisualCV page includes videos, a podcast, writing samples, screenshots, a PowerPoint presentation and web site links that are easily aggregated together.  If you don’t have similar resources under your belt, or would prefer a more simple approach, you might consider alternative ways to make things pop and encourage a viewer to learn more--graphs, photos, etc.    
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. This is not to suggest a radical breakaway from professionalism, but rather a chance to have some fun and provide a broader look at who you are.  On my page, I have included a comedic (yet tasteful) YouTube video I created for a presentation, as well as photos of me "cheesing it up" at some of the places I have traveled abroad.  By including possible items as simple as a filmed introduction to the page or photos of you engaging in your favorite hobbies, you are presenting a well-rounded depiction of yourself and can stick out in the applicant pool. (As I see it, it is easier for people to relate to you when you've shared information about yourself.)
  • Shout from the rooftops. Once you have created a page to be proud of, don’t allow it to linger in "cyber" obscurity!  While your competitive side might be hesitant to let your personal network in on the still-emerging social media resume trend, these people may ultimately be the best place to start.  I opted to announce the creation of my page (and request feedback) on both Facebook and Twitter, while also incorporating it into my email signature and “link” section of online spaces such as LinkedIn.  By choosing to throw myself out there, I was able to establish relationships with new job search advocates and even receive news coverage.  There is no telling where your page could lead!
  • Make it a committed relationship. Once you have made the rounds with your eclectic, exciting page, there is no reason to let it fall to the wayside.  Whenever you have a new accomplishment or professional undertaking that enhances your credibility, pass ‘Go’ and report directly to your social media resume.  By consistently keeping your page fresh, you are maintaining an accurate living document online and advancing your personal marketability at the same time.

Hats off to Bobby for sharing his advice! If you have any additional suggestions or leads, please share 'em!

Kelly Giles: How I Tweeted My Way to a Full-time Job

The following is a guest blog post from Kelly Giles (@kellygiles), a recent college grad who I met via Twitter. I’ve been following Kelly’s job search since early this winter, and quickly identified her as a “walking example” of how you can conduct a job search while you are still in college even if you are still figuring out what you want. Here is her story:Me

I'm one of those Web 2.0 success stories you keep hearing about. I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill on May 10, and I started working full-time as a social media strategist for on May 26.

I tweet, blog and Facebook about job search strategies and help people make the most of Optimal Resume's software.

I’d be lucky to have this job in any economy, but especially in this one. It matches my interests and skills, the company and environment are great, and I'm able to contribute and learn a lot.

So where did the Web 2.0 come in (aside from the job title)? Here’s a hint: even though Optimal Resume is based in Durham, NC (where I’ve lived for the past two years), my connection to the company started in Maine.

Here's how I landed the job.

Sherry Mason, a career counselor at Bowdoin College, introduced me to @OptimalResume on Twitter, which was really Optimal Resume’s COO. From there, we exchanged Twitter messages and set up a meeting. Within a week, I had a job.

Now here’s the back-story of how I met Sherry and why she introduced me to Optimal Resume. (You could also see this as "best practices for using Twitter in your job search learned along the way...")

Be clear about your interests and skills in your bio.

When I joined Twitter in January, I was debating between going to law school and venturing into the real world, and my bio said so. It also said I was looking for a way to be strategic, creative and efficient.

Find people to follow.

Your job search probably won't work if you don't increase your network. You can use to find people in your industry, and to find people near your desired geographic location. Once you've found people tweeting about things that interest you, reach out and connect with them.

Be genuine in sharing your thoughts, interests, and goals. It will expand your community.

For a job seeker, it's important to strike a balance between providing value to your followers and demonstrating that you're up on industry news (most often done with links to articles) and showing that you're a real human. To do that, sprinkle your tweets with personal commentary.

I started tweeting what was on my mind, which included everything from law school essay topics to job-search strategies to how I thought UNC’s Career Services could improve.

That’s how Sherry at Bowdoin found me. One day I tweeted that I thought Career Services should teach personal branding, and she messaged me to ask what else I thought they should do.

Share what you learn, and ask for input and advice.

A few days after I joined Twitter, I started blogging about Web 2.0 job-search strategies for college students (thinking I should put all the research I was doing to good use), and I asked Sherry for her input about content.

As luck would have it, she not only helped with that, but as a former practicing lawyer, she talked with me about my law school decision. She’s one of the people who helped me decide it wasn’t for me.

Continue to engage your network.

Once that decision (not to attend law school) was made, I kept tweeting about articles that interested me, and that were relevant to my job search. Sherry and I also kept in touch, tweeting and e-mailing occasionally, and one of those tweets was the introduction that landed me this job.

My story is a lesson in how it pays to be authentic and active in your social media use. Yes, I joined Twitter and started blogging because all the job-search articles said those were two keys to jump-starting a job search, but I didn’t blog and tweet what I thought employers wanted to hear, or just advertise that I needed a job.

I also didn’t talk about how I was procrastinating on term papers or eating a ham and turkey sandwich.

I stayed “on brand,” while talking about things that interested me, things that were naturally on my mind, and I found a job (or a job found me, depending on which way you look at it) that matches.

Thanks, Kelly! Do you have any additional "optimal" tips for the Web 2.0 job search?

Why "Dear Mentor" Doesn't Work

I'm continuing the trend of sounding off on topics you hear from "practically everybody" for good career moves. This week's topic: The importance of developing relationships with accessible mentors.

There are many studies which sLifeline peak to the effectiveness of having a good mentor: find one at your work and the chance that you'll stick at your job will increase. Find one who can help you carve out your career path in your intended field, and you have a better chance of making a longer term impact with speed.

Today's topic focuses on how to find and keep a good mentor. This was inspired by an e-mail I received from a young professional in my field: a year ago, I met with this individual for an informational interview. We talked for 30 minutes, she let me know when she got a great job at a university career office, and that's the last I'd heard of her.

Until three weeks ago, when I received a form e-mail (sent to an anonymous audience) which began "Dear Mentor." The e-mail provided a brief update on the sender's year ("I survived"), then asked for suggestions on grad school ("should I pursue a second Master's degree?") and advice for keeping up with trends in the field.

Here was my response:

I'm delighted to hear from you, and pleased that to hear of your progress. That being said, I wasn't aware that you were interested in having me serve as one of your mentors as we'd only met once. If you are in search of closer personal relationships with potential mentors, here are a few strategies you might take into consideration:

1. Personalize your approach. Sending a mass e-mail that reads "Dear Mentor" does not inspire personal connections. While the sentiment is genuine, the approach doesn't convey interest in other people--I know that is not your intent, but people are a lot less inclined to respond to a mass e-mail.

In this market in particular, ask the question: What is your biggest need?

2. Share and be transparent. Any anecdotes from your first year? Things that surprised you? Trends you think we should know from your work with students? How's the health of recruiting at your school? All of these things might be of interest to your readers, stay away from having the sole focus on your career development--asking questions of others helps stimulate discussion and relationship building.

3. Provide insights into your own long-term goals: Where do you want to hope to be in five years? That will help others advise you on your own goals.

Bottomline: If you want a mentor for the long-term, it's important to be communicative. Stay in touch. Follow up in good times and bad. Be open to receiving genuine feedback, and ask how you can help.

Learning Professionalism in a Creative Workplace

Several weeks ago, a University of North Carolina senior asked me a question, "How can I find a job as a strategic creative?" My answer: She's already positioning herself to do just that with smart use of LinkedIn, Twitter, and careful social networking. I'm not worried about her job search; she's doing great already.Renniemapp

That being said, I think job search fever can sometimes lessen the attention given to an even more important part of the process--that of keeping and thriving in a job once it is yours! To that end, I asked my friend Rennie Mapp, a seasoned writer and veteran of creative workplaces to share her thoughts on learning professionalism. Here is Rennie's story--and advice:

My first job after college was as a jack-of-all-trades newspaper reporter for a small-town paper that came out twice a week. I loved my varied set of responsibilities, from covering hard local news to writing personality profiles to taking photographs. Some aspects of the job did surprise me, however, because unstructured but creative behaviors that had worked well for me in college simply didn’t fly in this creative but more structured environment.

Fortunately, I had a good boss who appreciated my writing skills and curious mind. He was quite patient in helping me develop the small habits that really add up as a foundation for any kind of creative, self-starting profession.

So here are four professional behaviors that I was surprised to learn when I started my first job:

  1. Look at your calendar the instant you sit down at your desk. Creative, motivated people often already know what interesting work they need to do on a given day, and they are excited to start it when they arrive at work. It’s often the annoying little responsibilities that slip their minds. If you look at your calendar before you start any project, you can plan to handle the little responsibilities in a way that doesn’t interfere with your enthusiasm for your more interesting labors.

  2. Hit your keyboard by nine am. Planning your responsibilities (see #1) is important, but thoughtful people can spend a lot of time planning their work. It really helps to have a hard-and-fast time when you actually start. My boss gave me this rule, and I can still see him “just happening” to walk by my desk at 9:03 to make sure he could hear me typing. (This rule is based on arriving at the office at 8:30—you can adjust it according to your own office arrival time.)

  3. Don’t use your computer at work for anything that you wouldn’t want your boss to see. This rule includes private email accounts as well as work accounts: many companies now have software that can snoop on any screen you have open, and they search for keywords that indicate improper use of company resources. But even in the days before sophisticated snooping, I managed to offend my copy editor by making fun of her in a private email to my boyfriend. He and I were rather full of ourselves as clever satirists, and my witty comments were about her pedestrian attitude and lack of insight. She just “happened” to find it (on MY computer) and then, once she had the evidence that I was using my computer for personal messages, my boss felt he had to support her. It was embarrassing but instructive. It’s easy to feel superior with talent and a fresh degree, but it was really inappropriate to crow about her failings, especially on my work computer.

  4. If you want to develop a professional relationship outside of the office, couch your overture in a professional way. Here’s another embarrassing story: I met a guy whose work interested me, and I asked him if he’d like to have lunch some time. He was married, and in our small-town atmosphere he got the idea that I was hitting on him. I had thrived in the relaxed intellectual atmosphere of a large public university, and in my dull little town I was craving interesting conversation. I would have been better served if I had been specific in my interest in his work when I asked him to meet with me, and had mentioned someone else whom I wanted to include as well. I’m not suggesting that you can’t make personal friends out of professional contacts, but that your initial interactions need to be clearly understood as happening within professional boundaries.

I loved that job. I still miss the heady days of dashing around from murder trials to interviews with scientists, firefighters or any odd little old lady that my editor thought might interest me. It was also an important step in the process of my professionalization as a creative, thoughtful writer and teacher. Most of my work experiences since then have been in environments with less top-down structure, such as in college classrooms and at my own desk as a scholar and free-lance writer. I am grateful that I worked in a creative but structured atmosphere in my first year out of college, because I was able to internalize structures and habits that have been as important to me since then as they were when I was 22.

Rennie Custis Mapp, PhD, has taught English literature at the University of Virginia, Princeton University, the University of South Carolina, and Dickinson College. She writes and blogs on taste, aesthetics, ethics, literature, and food. You can find her on Twitter (RennieM).

How Not To Tweet

Recently, I've been advocating the use of Twitter for your job search. March Career Madness (#mcm) m the virtual round-up of career advice in the Twitterverse continues to be active. Check it out at Twitter Search, search on #mcm. (Tip: You can also search on key words that are important to you.)

Today, I'm writing from a slightly different perspective: "how not to Tweet." Twitter

Within the last 24 hours, there's  been an incredible amount of buzz about a job seeker who received a job offer from Cisco then weighed options with his online community:

"Cisco just offered me a job!Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work."

A current Cisco employee responded with a snap that would make anyone's face red, "Who is the hiring manager. I'm sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web."

Ouch. ouch. ouch. As always, when in doubt--don't press send.

The Great Friend Debate

How many friends can you have? How many friends should you have?1093768_crowded_street

Users of Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo and other social networks often find themselves engaged in debate over a question that reminds me of my middle school days:

  • How many friends can you really know?
  • Should you connect with everyone who asks or should you only connect with those you know well?
  • What is the ideal number of connections?

From the perspective of the engineers who write the code for LinkedIn and Facebook, there is such a thing as too many friends. Too much traffic limits your bandwidth (capacity). Facebook limits you to 5,000 friends; LinkedIn recently capped limits for open networkers at 30,000.

Deciding how many friends or contacts you should have is a personal decision. I take LinkedIn's suggested guidelines to heart: I only connect with those people I know, and who I trust.

I know that statistics routinely show that networking is one of the most effective ways to find a position--and if you limit the number of connections you have, it theoretically limits the number of opportunities you have. But I don't think so. My philosophy of networking was inspired by the late Walter Annenberg, former U.S. Ambassador and TV Guide founder, who said, "It's not who you know, it's who knows you back."

How many of your friends and connections would "know you back" if presented with an opportunity that suits you perfectly? Are they aware of what you are looking for?

How do you define online friendship? And how many is enough? I look forward to hearing your take on this.

Send Part II: 3 Ways to Find Answers to Questions

It has often been said that interviewing is like speed dating with the intention of an arrangedIS289-089marriage: employers and candidates meet and talk for a short pre-defined period before making a long-term decision. When the stakes are high, a good strategy for decision making is to identify what you need to know before the interview. And on the career front, there are always many options of information pre-interview that you can use to your advantage. Here are three strategies that you can use:

1. Know what you need to ask. Conduct a pre-interview with an outside party.

One of the quickest ways to break into a new field or land a new job quickly is to identify the best questions to ask during the interview. Nothing turns a potential employer off more quickly than having an interviewee with no questions (they'll either think you know everything, are disinterested, or not generally engaged.)

A great way to explore opportunities and prepare for interviews is to ask people outside the organization who work in a similar capacity specific questions. Examples:

  • What is the biggest misunderstanding that candidates for this type of job have about the position?
  • What is your greatest need? Is this need unique to your organization or do others who work in similar areas often face this challenge?
  • What's the best way to research your field?

2. Know how to ask

It's easy to get lost in the e-mail queue. If you're asking a question via e-mail, make it easy to answer. Here are two great resources on how to make this happen:

  • Send

    Before you hit "send," you may want to check out this book which I reviewed last month. I've heard of more than one Manhattan firm at which this is REQUIRED reading.

3. Know Who to Ask

If you are interested in a specific opportunity, be very strategic about what you ask--even if you're asking friends who currently work in a similar capacity. Know the answers to your basic questions before you create a list of questions for decision makers.

Here's is a real-world example of how one college student landed her dream internship with a boutique, big-name film production company:

She rented every single movie the production company had made and spent a weekend taking notes. When she was asked to name her favorite scene in a movie and what she would change about it, she said, "Since I'm interviewing with you, I'm going to take a scene from one of your movies. I loved ___, and especially liked the camera angles on _____, but did you think about _____?"

By the time she finished the question, she essentially had landed the interview: she had already demonstrated that she was ready.

She told this story the next fall, while serving as a student panelist for a program  on "Careers in Entertainment." As she recounted her interview preparation, another student panelist had his mouth open. When it got to be his turn he said, "I just learned how I lost that internship."

Trying to figure out what to ask? A great starting point is the Question and Answer section on LinkedIn. Through this feature of LinkedIn, community members both ask and answer questions. You can search previous answers and--if you don't find one that suits--ask your own (this may also result in additional leads for your search).

I'd love to follow-up this post with one on "the best question I ever asked" and "how it helped." Send your success stories my way!

Predictions on Brand for 2009 (& How to Start Hooking Yourself Up)

Over at the Personal Branding Blog, social media guru Dan Schawbel has posted his list of personal branding predictions for 2009. Dan specializes in personal brand management for Gen Y and has a book coming out early next year which I plan to review soon.

Check out Dan's hot list of branding trends. Regardless of whether you believe that personal branding will be a "top of mind" catchphrase in 2009, I agree with Dan that managing your online presence is essential and his statement that,

One of the biggest challenges with building a personal brand, in bits and bytes, is managing it over your lifetime"

With that in mind, here are three very quick things you can do now--even if exams or holiday obligations are looming over your head--

1. If you don't have one already, set up a LinkedIn profile. You may find this advice from Chris Brogan on how to write your profile for your future to be helpful

You can mark it as private until you're ready to use it. In the interim, claim your public URL (i.e. address) through the "Edit Public Profile" settings.

One reason why this really works: When you want to be known, you'll come up quicker in searches.

2. Set up a Google News Alert on your name so that you can monitor information about yourself (this may or may not work with Facebook tagging of photos--but you should be monitoring these, anyway).

3. Consider following Dan Schawbel's advice and buying your own domain name with your name--if it is still available. This way, no one else can snag it, and you'll have the space to place your own online portfolio if you decide that is something you want to do. ( is one place to do this, but there are multiple vendors for domain names on the web, just search "domain names.")

In my opinion, branding alone won't get you hired--you need to be able to demonstrate your fit for a position and fit organizational needs--but it can speed up your search. And these three quick moves will help you lay a foundation for "being found" once you are ready to kick your search into high gear.

To your success,