Everyone has experienced train wreck first dates, first days of school, and first job interviews. For some reason, sometimes time slows down and all you can do is watch as everything goes completely wrong. You say the wrong thing, you do the wrong thing, and the stars simply do not align. However, there is hope to salvage a lost interview when things don’t go quite right.

Sometimes managers sabotage an interview with vague or unclear questions that leave you in a panic about what to say. Instead of responding with an equally vague answer, ask questions for clarification until you know what the interviewer wants to hear. If you only reply with loose jargon, you’ll lose valuable time to impress the interviewer and likely bore them in the process.

If things just don’t feel right, resist the urge to become overcome by negativity. Stay positive. An interviewer isn’t just looking for perfect verbal answers, they’re also looking for signs of your personality and energy. Sometimes interviewers will deliberately make things difficult just to see how you deal with being thrown off your game. Maintain your sense of balance, expect the unexpected, and keep calm.

After an interview, don’t miss the chance to follow up. No matter how poorly you feel things went, you should still thank the manager for their time and use a brief, well crafted letter to outline anything you missed during your interview time. The thank you note is polite, but it’s also a last chance to impress your interviewer and show them what you’re made of. More often than you might think, a thank you note can be the difference between an offer and an unreturned call.

For a complete list of the top egregious interview mistakes, check out this catalog from Forbes.

For some people, the worst fear is a layoff. For others, it’s a demotion. But if you’re given the chance to choose between the two, how do you decide?

Whatever you decide to do, it’s important to take a little time to make that call and not become wrapped up in the emotion of the moment. You may be tempted to voice your true feelings on the matter to management, which could burn bridges in both the short and long term. Take a breather and try to see things objectively so you can make the best decision for you.

A layoff can leave you feeling high and dry, but it may represent the chance for a fresh start. Maybe you’ve been meaning to take a few weeks off, or maybe a total career change is in the cards. This could be a great time to go back to school, spend time with family, or consider whether you’re really happy with what you’re doing.

On the other hand, taking a demotion means you can keep some stability in your life. While a demotion equals backtracking in your career to a degree, it also means that you can keep your job and maintain a similar status quo. However, “reclassification” can be a major ego bruiser that not everyone recovers from quickly.

Choosing between a layoff and demotion isn’t easy. Take your time to think things all the way through and imagine the direction your life will take with each scenario. Which choice meshes best with your goals? Which one gives you a better gut feeling? Whether you choose the relative safety of a demotion or the chance for a fresh start that comes with a layoff, you have to do what feels best to you based on your situation.

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To blog or not to blog… Sometimes, work can be tough and all you want to do is vent your frustration. Or maybe you’re interested in blogging because a friend of a friend leveraged their career blog to land a brand new job. If you’ve got something to say, what better place to say it than an internationally accessible public forum like a blog?

Blogging about work can be tempting, even if it’s for all the right reasons. Maybe you want to chart your time traveling across the country on sales calls or build credibility by sounding off on top industry topics. Then again, maybe you just want to let off steam about what a jerk your boss can be sometimes.

Blogs can be a great way to build an online portfolio of your professional thoughts, but even then, there are risks involved. So many companies are savvy about blogging because they want to protect their reputation at all costs. Some businesses even have official policies against employee blogging, so before you pick out your site design, double check the rules. If you break them and get caught, it could cost you your job and your reputation.

That’s not to say that some people don’t still roll the dice in the name of cataloguing their experiences online for the world to find. Living Dilbert is one great example, where an anonymous admin goes off the tracks to detail her onerous life at work in stories that alternate between hysterical and tragic.

If you must blog, be careful about how you use your identity; once you say who you are, there’s no going back. Never use company technology to blog on the job, or it will be easy to figure out what you’re doing.

You could also consider asking human resources for permission to spearhead a company blog, which they may be happy to have you work on.

Recently, life has been good. You love your job and are ready to take the next step in your career, you’re buddies with your coworkers, and a new promotion just opened up that you know you’re qualified for.

So how do you handle it when your friend gets the promotion instead?

Having a friend enter management before you can be awkward. The friend in you wants to congratulate them, but your ambitious side may wish they had never applied. Whatever mixed feelings you have, the most important thing to do is congratulate them as soon as possible. As in, right now. Showing sincere support will make you feel better, and it will also take lots of stress off your friend-turned-boss, who probably feels just as awkward as you do about the situation.

With congratulations out of the way and your friendship still intact, you can move on to the task of dealing with having a buddy as a boss. Your friend probably feels just as funny about the move as you do, if not more so. Try to make it easy for them by never expecting special favors or being too casual at work when they’re trying to be professional. Work just as hard as you always did, and don’t slack off just because you know the person in charge.

A helpful rule is to keep friendship outside of the four walls of work. Avoid going over weekend plans at the office, where your friend may be trying to avoid letting other employees think you have a major advantage over them because of your relationship. When hanging out after work, try not to let your jobs monopolize the conversation so you can focus on just being friends without the pressure of work.

Thought it may sting to get passed over for a promotion, remember that in the long run, it pays to know the person in charge. As your friend builds relationships in management, you’re likely to benefit as well. Preserving the friendship means you can climb the ranks together, not against one another.

Love can be complicated. But when spring hits, the flowers start to bloom, and amour is in the air at work, there’s extra drama in the theater of love. With people logging more hours than ever at the office, workplace relationships are becoming more common. When overtime kicks in, sparks can fly between cubicles.

But when your career is at stake, how do you make sure the sparks don’t burn you?

First, don’t assume that you can keep things quiet. You may think that you’re as sneaky as can be, but people smell romance from a mile away. Your coworkers are always on the hunt for something to gossip about, and chances are that they know who you’re in love with before even you do. Do be discreet, but don’t make the mistake of trying to cover the relationship up.

Even if you’re not ready to high step it to the chapel, being in a workplace relationship may mean that it’s time for a contract. While spelling out the ins and outs of your love life to human resources may seem uncomfortable, it’s a move that could save your career. Cupid contracts make it crystal clear that a relationship is consensual, which protects both parties involved as well as the company from costly and painful sexual harassment lawsuits.

These contracts basically work like a prenuptial for office relationships, stating the ground rules and making the process clear if things should end. It’s a valuable safety net to have, especially if one of the people in the relationship is a manager.

If talk of contracts makes you squeamish, put the brakes on and consider whether an office romance is worth the work and the risk. If one of you is in management or if you work in the same department or close to one another, things could get awkward quickly. Think about how it would feel if one of you ended up leaving the company; that’s often how workplace romances gone wrong will end.

Finally, whatever you do, don’t use your work email or instant messenger accounts to get personal. Do we really need to spell out why?

Have you ever been in a team brainstorming meeting, and another co-worker has used your idea to present to the manager? As frustrating as this can be, it is an unfortunate team dynamic that happens. One article that I read illustrates how you can turn a situation like this around to you advantage.

If this does happen to you, try not to get angry. Approach the perpetrator in a manner that does not accuse them specifically. Say something like, “Let’s talk after the meeting about the details, I have plenty of ideas to compliment this one since we previously discussed this matter brainstorming.”

Be subtle about how you approach a colleague, but let them know that you remember the idea they gave was yours. These days, workers are concerned about showing value to their employer, and are willing to do anything to show it.

Try not to think about it as stealing ideas. Some experts believe that ideas are meant to be shared for the brain trust of the team to explore and expand upon. This is for the betterment of the team and ultimately the bottom line of the company.

If it truly bothers you to have someone stealing your ideas and using them as their own, then hold back some of the big details to share with the team when the manager is around. That way, you can share your idea, and provide some of the “wow” details.

To blog or not to blog….a commonly pondered thought with today’s increasingly online world. But just like everything else, there is a right way and a wrong way to get attention from a potential employer in cyberspace.

Many young professionals, especially those who have recently graduated, believe that having their own blog may boost their resume profile and help separate them from the crowd. But as one article points out, there is a fine line between being showing true experience as a blogger and just having a rambling forum with no strategic plan or goal behind it.

True, social networks and online communities are becoming more and more mainstream parts of the everyday business world. But just like establishing a blog on Facebook page for a company, personal blogs must be intelligent with a specific goal in mind. Remember that blogs are a great way to make connections, and to add experience to your resume, but only if the blog is a valid “conversation” maker.

Does this mean that it had to be business-oriented? Not necessarily. But you have to think about whether or not the content is thoughtful and solicits the appropriate attention. A good friend mine has a college football blog about her favorite team. It is well-read and receives a significant amount of traffic. Although it has nothing to do with her profession (a technical writer), it is still valid forum that shows her as an experienced blogger.

Also, blogs that are thought-provoking and have a good following, as well as follow online best practices, could potentially get you noticed by a perspective employer. So if you do plan on creating your own blog, remember these easy rules to start:

  • carefully plan out the goal or topic
  • keep it updated regularly
  • follow the best practice rules for blogging

Good cyber-seekers!

So many people think about what their clothes says about them, but what about their work space? Everyone works differently, and oftentimes a desk can reveal more about you than you think. 

Take a moment and look at your desk. What’s on it? Is it littered with papers and files, or is it neat and tidy? Are the walls as plastered with photos as a street corner is with concert advertisements, or are they bare?

No matter what type of worker you are, your desk says as much about you as your clothes and personal style. If your space looks like a paper swamp, coworkers will assume you’re sloppy and disorganized. If it’s tidy or has more of a controlled chaos feel, you’re more likely to be trusted with important assignments. 

Personal objects within a space also say a lot. While it’s good to have some photos and perhaps a funny toy or two, don’t go overboard. You want to project an image of someone who is at work, not at play. Take time to choose just the right things to put at your desk, ones that will give you an emotional boost whenever you see them. Don’t let your space feel too cluttered with personality or it may appear as if you are not focused enough on the job.

On the other hand, having no personal items may work against you. If your desk is indistinguishable from the empty one beside you, people may have trouble locating your space. If you never “move in,” it may seem like you’re transitional and don’t plan on staying with the company. If you’re not into decoration, throw in a photo or two and call it a day, or install a white board to write work notes on.

Another fun way to add personality without going overboard is with a cool lamp. Lamps can be cheap to pick up, make a space feel more comfortable, and add extra light. It can make you feel more at home without over personalizing.

If you want to take a fun quiz to test your desk personality and see what your space may say about you, check out this link from TestQ.

Group work can be challenging. You never know what sort of leader you might have, whether your colleagues will pull their weight, and you want to be noticed without being labeled as a bad team player. Team dynamics can be foggy to navigate, but there are ways to stand out without making colleagues feel put out.

Don’t be negative. When it comes to attitude, positive is the only way to go. If you’re feeling down or doubtful, keep it to yourself. You don’t want to drag the group down, and having an upbeat attitude can change the whole group’s dynamic for the better. You may not be the leader, but your attitude can change the course of the project.

Be reliable. When working with any group, you want to be the person that everyone can count on to keep your promises. Be consistent and dependable. If something goes wrong, don’t try to blame someone or something else; take responsibility. You’ll become a team member that everyone respects.

Listen, listen, listen. Lots of people think that good communication is about how well you can speak. But the best communicators are actually outstanding listeners. Before you try to communicate your own ideas, listen to your leader and team members. They’ll value this quality, and it will make you that much more credible when you do speak up.

Pitch in. If you’re eager to get ahead, chances are that you’re good at what you do. If you finish your project assignments early, offer to help your colleagues. Ask your leader where help is most needed, then get set to lend a hand. Your colleagues in need will appreciate your help, and so will the project leader.

Most of all, think about what you most value in a team member. Then do your best to be the kind of person you would love to work with.

Kermit the frog likes to sing that “it’s not that easy being green,” and the same goes for being the leader of a group. When you’re the person in charge, you have a lot to manage. There are deadlines, group dynamics, and a variety of ideas to handle. How do you stay on top and keep the respect of your peers?

Be open to new ideas. Every group project should begin with a brainstorm. No matter how streamlined your processes may seem, there is always room for improvement. A good brainstorm where every idea is written on a board is a great way to begin your project.

Value the ideas of the group. Not every idea is going to be perfect, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good ones rolling around in the room. Let the group know that their thoughts are important, and you might be surprised what people share.

Be flexible. Almost every great idea is difficult to accept in the beginning. After all, change is difficult, whereas sticking to conventions is simple. Have the courage to think outside the box, and you might just discover a better way of doing things.

Allocate tasks and manage timelines. As a leader, it’s your job to make sure deadlines are met and that everyone pulls their weight. Set up a task like so that every group member’s role is defined, then create an illustrated timeline that will help everyone stay on track.

Be disciplined, but have fun. You want to project an attitude of authority, but you don’t want to be a dictator. Be the kind of leader you would want to work with, and let yourself have a little fun as you meet goals alongside your colleagues. Being relaxed and enjoying the work will make you much more fun to work with, and it will also help people respect you.

When your project goes smoothly and deadlines are met, organize everyone for a special lunch or drink after work. You deserve it, and everyone will appreciate the celebration.