Getting an A in Study Habits 101

It’s been years since I’ve needed to crack open a textbook, make notes, study and write a test. Not since completing my undergraduate degree and post-graduate certificate years ago have I needed to review, digest and apply a course-load of information and then demonstrate mastery of it during one written exam.

This is unfortunate, because right now, I’m preparing to study for and take an exam. Gulp.

Which exam? The Project Management Professional, or PMP certification exam. As a communications professional, this certification will complement and enhance the work I do. To make sure communications and PR campaigns are successful, managing the moving pieces and making sure everything is being done on-time, on-budget and high-quality is critical – this is where effective project management comes in. Plus, I’m a huge fan of professional development!

So, I’m first brushing up on my study skills. Here are some tips that I’m going to keep in mind as I embark on this exam preparation journey:

  • How I study matters as much as what I study. Science proves it! Edudemic.com reports that some study habits are proven by science, such as regularly exercising, not rushing through course material, switching up studying locations and topics, getting good rest, and taking a tech break.
    STUDY drinking-2293892_1920
  • Setting a studying schedule will help me to map out key milestones in my exam preparation. This is particularly important because I’m doing self-directed learning and there’s no one to make sure I’m on track. Using a critical path (there’s more about creating a critical path and other planning tools in an older post here), I’ll keep myself accountable and organized, ensuring that all important content is covered.
  • In my university days, mnemonic devices were helpful for remembering detailed information, like lists or theories, when cramming for a test. They’re great for everyday things too! But, sometimes I find that creating the mnemonic device seems like as much work as actually remembering the thing it stands for! A digital mnemonic generator will make life easier (I wish these were around when I was in school!). Since there are many lists of processes and components to remember, this tool will be helpful in my exam PMP prep.
  • Quiz yo’ self! Testing my knowledge before the exam can help me assess just how much I’ve retained from studying. I’ll try making flash cards, doing practice exams, or explaining key concepts to someone else to assess my understanding.

What are your favourite study tactics? Share your tips in the comments!

Nine tips for successful informational interviews

Have you ever been on an informational interview?

If you haven’t heard of them before, an informational interview is a meeting with someone who’s already in an organization, field or industry that you’d like to get into, which doesn’t relate directly to a job opening. It’s an opportunity for you to learn, grow your network and get your foot in the door.

Informational interviews can help improve your career prospects. They’re especially helpful when you graduate or if you’re starting out in a new field. In fact, the effectiveness of informational interviews has been described as “engineered nepotism”. Essentially, if you don’t have an existing strong personal connection, an informational interview can have the potential to result in one.

Informational interviews have benefited my career. My first job at a PR agency was the eventual result of an informational interview with a VP there. We were put in touch through connections in our networks, so I didn’t know her personally before the meeting. That said, I diligently prepared for the meeting and it was a success.

That’s why, when a role became available at my level at the agency a month after the informational interview, the person I met with contacted me. She thought I could be a good fit based on what she learned about me in the informational interview. As I had already dipped my toe by meeting with her and learning about the agency, I was immediately engaged. So, we met again to discuss the role and I was interviewed by other senior members of the organization. As a result, the role was a great fit for me, and I was a great fit for the team.

This experience has made me believe in the power of informational interviews. Since, I’ve continued to participate in them, both as interviewer and interviewee. Based on what I’ve learned, I have some tips for acing informational interviews as your start off in your career:

Tip 1: Prepare as you would for a job interview – Would you ever go to a job interview without Googling the company and person you’re meeting with? Informational interviews should be treated the same way. In addition to reviewing the company’s website, check out the social channels of and recent news articles about the company, its leaders, its brands and the person you’re meeting with. Review your contact’s LinkedIn profile and consider connecting with them before or after the meeting. Show you’re really on-the-ball by weaving-in what you learned in your research during your conversation, or even print out and bring an article or two.

informational interview JPEG 3
Tip 2: Determine an objective – Understand what you hope to get out of your informational interview. Keep your objective(s) top-of-mind, and even mention them to the interviewee either before or early in the interview. For example, if you’re emailing the contact in advance, you could say, “I look forward to meeting with you to learn about your career path and the trends and opportunities you see in the industry,” if that’s what your objectives are. This will help the interview subject prepare, and as a result, you’ll get more from the meeting.

Tip 3: Prepare a list of questions – Make a list of questions to address anything you’re curious about – the person’s career path, something you learned when researching their organization, industry trends, their organization’s culture or their organization’s open positions (if they’re not posted online). Write the questions down in your notebook (see point 5, below) or print the list. Refer to them during the interview to demonstrate your preparedness and engagement.

Tip 4: Get ready to share a bit about yourself – Ideally, the interview should focus on the person you’re meeting with. However, it would be helpful for the interviewee to know a bit about you so that they have context when sharing information or advice. Rehearse a summary, also called an “elevator pitch”, about yourself in advance. Make sure it’s short, concise and clear. Learn how to craft an elevator pitch here.

Tip 5: Make notes – Bring a notebook and pen and jot down important things that your interview subject says. Write down questions that arise when they’re speaking and ask them later to avoid interrupting them. Even if you’re a digital record-keeper, writing down notes demonstrates to the speaker that you’re fully engaged. Making notes on a smartphone, tablet or laptop can have the opposite effect. (Still not convinced to write in a notebook? Richard Branson has a compelling pitch for using them!)

apple-971148_1920 (1)

Tip 6: Dress to impress – First impressions count. But, before you put on a tailored suit for an informational interview, keep in mind that in recent years, attire for job interviews and other professional meetings has changed, just as how people dress in the workplace has evolved. A suit is great, but not always necessary (hello, suit separates!). As part of your research, learn about the culture and dress code of the organization and industry of the interview subject to ensure your attire is appropriate. However, even if the organization’s dress code is very causal on a day-to-day basis, you should dress more formally to convey your seriousness and professionalism. Learn more about dressing for a job interview here.

Tip 7: Find an appropriate venue and time – Allow the interview subject to share their preferences for when and where they’d like to meet. Encourage a venue that’s close to their workplace to minimize their time away from work. Your interview subject might suggest a meeting room at their office. Or, coffee shops or casual cafés are usually good bets, but make sure you can get a table at the meeting time; you might even want to arrive early to secure seats. Don’t order drinks or food in advance, and offer to pay if you’re the one who called the meeting (although if you’re a student or if it’s early in your career, the interview subject may politely decline your offer!).

Informational interviews JPEG

Tip 8: Be mindful of time – Try to arrive early, and ensure the meeting ends on time. This shows that you respect the interview subject’s time, that you’re able to manage time effectively, and that you understand they have other priorities in their schedule.

Tip 9: Send a thank-you note – An email or a card sent in the mail that expresses your appreciation is a thoughtful way to follow-up on the interview. Also, if someone introduced you, take the time to send them a short email to share that the interview occurred and to thank them for the connection.

I’ll finish up with a disclaimer. The result of my informational interview scenario, described above, was ideal for me at that time because I was starting out in my career and looking for a job at the same time a position became available. However, not every informational interview will result in a job offer. (And, sometimes, that’s not your objective!)

You might not be able to anticipate how participating in an informational interview now can benefit you down the road. Outcomes can include being approached regarding a job opportunity, increasing your technical knowledge, absorbing perspective based on the interview subject’s experience and gaining connections to the interviewee’s network.

What other tips do you have for making the most of an informational interview? Share in the comments below!

 

Video

Kick-off your long weekend with some inspiring videos

The next long weekend here in Ontario is just around the corner, and I can’t wait for time outside of the city, taking in some sun, fun and relaxation. What better way to start off the long weekend with some food for thought in the form of videos?

Below are three videos that have inspired me. The folks sharing information in them are brilliant, highly-motivated and successful. Check them and let me know what you think in the comments!

Entrepreneur and author Gary Vaynerchuk talks about making the most of your talent, working hard and getting advice.

Next, life and business strategist Tony Robbins weighs-in on why and how taking 10 minutes each morning can help you prime yourself for having an optimal day.

Lastly, organizational psychologist Adam Grant shares the habits of thinkers who dream up new ideas and take action to put them into the world.

Video

Stand out with these 3 traits

A resume can get your foot in the door when you’re looking for a job. But, oftentimes hiring managers want a new hire to fulfill criteria that can’t be expressed on paper. Why? These traits will help hiring managers ensure that the candidate will benefit the organization in ways that go beyond just fulfilling their role.

What are employers looking for when they hire someone new? Emily Heward, co-founder of branding agency Red Antler, explains the top things she looks for in the video from Inc.com, available here.

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 10.54.49 AM

Image via Inc.com.

What are the three traits she looks for?

  1. Enthusiasm about your industry, your work and the company
  2. The ability to ask thoughtful, challenging questions
  3. Kindness

You can demonstrate these traits to a potential employer in different ways. Try:

  • Before even applying for a job, consider scheduling an informational interview with someone at the organization
  • Carefully crafting a tailored cover letter (learn more about that here)
  • Mindfully conveying these traits in an interview
  • Sending a thank you email or hand-written note after an informational interview or formal interview

Do you agree with the top traits that Emily Heward suggests?

What other ways could you express these traits?

Quote

Can a strong personal brand help you land a job?

I’ve recently posted about the importance of cultivating your personal brand. ICYMI, your personal brand is the image or impression that you can establish about yourself in the minds of others so that they can easily identify what makes you unique, and what you’re considered the go-to expert or resource on. This group includes colleagues, contacts in your network, your employer or potential employers.

While I know that personal brands are important, I’m always on the lookout for new research and information. I recently came across a CBC Radio Spark episode that revealed that personal brands aren’t the ultimate predictor of career success.

The episode featured an interview with anthropologist Ilana Gershon of the University of Chicago. Gershon wrote a new book called Down and Out in the New Economy. In the interview, she explained that a shift in the relationship between employer and employee has resulted in the way that we present ourselves as “businesses” in the job search.

Brand 4 JPEG

Image via CBC.ca / Ilana Gershon

“We are imagining ourselves as a bundle of skills, of assets… that we’re constantly having to manage, and we’re also supposed to be continually enhancing them.”

Ilana Gershon

Gershon studied how people find work in today’s job market. I was surprised to hear that although job searchers are routinely told to work on their personal brands, Gershon found no evidence this was effective with hiring managers.

What made a difference? Sixty-one per cent of people got jobs through workplace ties and references.

Note that this study was conducted across many different industries. In certain industries (for example, PR and communications), personal brands may hold more clout and be a worthwhile investment of your time. Further, your personal brand may make an impact with others in an organization, beyond only the hiring manager.

What can we take away from this finding? Your personal brand is important. But it’s not necessarily going to be the deciding factor that gets you hired.

This confirms that there are other items to consider. For example, your connections, years of experience, skillset, understanding of the industry, education and designations play a role. Your portfolio, resume, references and interview skills are critical as well.

So, it’s beneficial to be well-balanced. Spend time thinking about and cultivating your personal brand in a way that works for you. But, also invest in the other elements of your professional and job search skills.

How do you stand out in the crowd of job seekers?

Aside

If you have nothing nice to say…

Have you ever been asked by a former co-worker to speak about them to a potential employer? I think it’s an honour to be asked to be a reference because I feel it demonstrates they think highly of me and our work together. In fact, I was recently asked by an old co-worker to be a reference, which makes this topic quite timely for me.

In the past, it was commonly thought that a reference can either say positive things about a co-worker, or speak in neutral terms and confirm the person worked at an organization, in a certain position and completed specific tasks. A reference wouldn’t speak negatively, even it if was the truth. This avoided the risk of the job applicant claiming the reference cut their chances of getting a job.

A recent court case turns that belief on its head.

The National Post reported on the verdict of Ontario defamation lawsuit in which a man accused his former boss of badmouthing him to a potential employer, costing the man the job. The candidate’s interpersonal skills were his downfall when the former boss was asked about them. The reference reported that the candidate insulted his team and acted like an “intellectual snob” in his former role. However, since the reference spoke truthfully and verified the report with other staff so that it was not grounded in opinion alone, the judge in this case found that the old boss was justified in his actions.

This finding brings a few things to light…

  • For job candidates: If you’re looking for a new job and thinking of who you will put forward as a reference, make sure you had a positive experience working with them. Ask their permission and take the time to share the attributes of the new job to prepare them for the call with the hiring manager. Glassdoor provides a good summary of all the tips to consider.
  • For references: It’s possible to speak negatively when asked about a potential candidate as long as you’re being honest. It’s important to be self-aware, objective and unbiased when giving a negative report. A hiring manager can most likely see through a biased report, tarnishing their opinion of your feedback.
  • For everyone: This is a keen reminder to always try your best. Treat others with respect, whether it’s your manager or anyone else you work with.

Thankfully, I’ve never been in the position of needing to give a negative report when a hiring manager has called regarding a reference. And, if you’re curious, the old co-worker who I recently provided a reference for landed the new job. (Congrats!)

What do you think? Could you give negative feedback if required when being a reference?

When searching for a job, what’s in a name?

I recently heard about a new process in Canada’s federal government that will help reduce bias around who is contacted following a job application in an interview on Toronto’s Metro Morning.

Six federal departments are piloting a blind recruitment strategy with the goal of increasing equity and diversity in its workforce. This process will remove any identifying information like names and educational institutions from resumes and job applications.

Research on bias in the hiring process reveals the reason behind this project. A research report compiled by Ryerson University and the University of Toronto,  by Dr. Rupa Banerjee, an associate professor at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management, uncovered the extent to which these biases impact hiring decisions.

Dr. Banerjee reported that the study found that people with Asian-sounding names (such as Lei Xi or Hina Chaudhry) and Canadian education and work experience receive 42 per cent less call backs than people with Anglo-sounding names (like Greg Johnson or Emily Brown) and the same Canadian education and work experience.

While I was listening to the interview, I was curious about if researchers had pinpointed why some of the reasons why such biases exist. Dr. Banerjee explained that implicit bias enables people to make quick decisions (it’s important to note that she mentioned that biases don’t necessarily make someone racist). For example, in the study, bias might have impacted hiring managers’ assumptions around a candidate with an Asian-sounding name’s mastery of the English language and ability to assimilate with a workplace’s culture. In reality, we know these things aren’t necessarily linked.

The results of the Government of Canada’s pilot project will provide a recent, Canadian case study on a blind hiring strategy works. Ideally, the makeup of the staff in the six departments will become more diverse as the project goes on. Roles will be filled with the best possible candidates, no matter their names or backgrounds.

If this pilot is successful, I would hope that the practice of blind hiring will spill over to other federal government departments, levels of government, and even the private sector. This would result in the job application process being more fair and equitable for everyone.

What are your thoughts on this blind hiring pilot project?