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!

Advertisements

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!

 

How I planned my wedding: Tools and tips

Weddings are a magical and exciting time. You get to mark a significant milestone with your partner, and celebrate your relationship with your friends and family. I got married to my husband Chris on a beautiful day in June 2016 at a restaurant in downtown Toronto. Our ceremony and the reception were quite informal, and it was more of a cocktail party than a traditional wedding.

It all worked out perfectly, but not without some serious preparations in advance.

Working in PR has allowed me to hone my event planning and project management skills over the years. I planned my wedding myself given my background of planning and executing events, and the knowledge that came from working with amazing team members who mentored me as I learned the ropes.

Although doing the planning myself was time consuming (which I mentioned in a previous post), I enjoyed the process overall and it made my wedding even more special.

So, if you’re recently engaged, congratulations! I encourage you to think about planning your wedding yourself. But don’t be discouraged by the claims that you should worry about your sanity while doing it. If don’t have a background in planning events or managing projects, I wanted to share the tools that came in handy as I planned my wedding. They included:

A detailed budget – The first thing I did was start a budget. The budget broke down the total amount we wanted to spend into every different category and item we’d need to spend on. This included our stationary, stamps, venue (which included food and drinks), flowers, the officiant, décor… it seemed endless. However, the result of this exercise was eye-opening because it made me understand how much everything would cost altogether, and it allowed us to direct our planning to things that fit within the total amount. Without doing the budget first, I could have wasted time and energy considering things that eventually wouldn’t fit into it.

I treated the budget spreadsheet as a living document throughout the planning process. I updated my estimates with the actual amounts I spent on everything on a regular basis. It was tedious, but extremely helpful because I always had a clear picture of how much was spent as compared to my original forecast.

Critical path – A critical path lists the key milestones and dates in the planning process, and outlines the steps to get there. There are many things to do in advance of a wedding so this tool was very important.

We got married in the summer in Toronto. Venues and vendors book very early due to high demand. Also, working with some vendors is very involved (such as an officiant or venue), and some require some paperwork or meetings (such as a florist or DJ), which takes time. Therefore, I started engaging the venue and vendors in the fall of the previous year to book them and then fully understood the steps required to work with them. I also wanted to plan and complete DIY projects far in advance of the wedding. So, I built the critical path to with these timelines in mind, and laid out the requirements, steps and payments and when I needed to have them done. I used an Excel spreadsheet, but a Word document also works.

The completed critical path allowed me to see everything we needed to do in one glance. The anxiety of missing a deadline was pretty much erased. Like the budget, I updated the critical path regularly, marking off when things are complete, changing deadlines, or adding in new steps as I learned them.

As a result, in the two weeks before the wedding, all the major things were done. I was almost stress-free (I said almost!) knowing everything important had already been taken care of.

Weekly action items – The critical path provides all of the actions and deadlines, which is a lot of information. So, each weekend I reviewed the critical path and then jotted down the things I needed to do during the week in note in my phone. This provided an easy-access to-do list. I found that doing short tasks on a weekly basis was easier than overwhelming myself with a lot of tasks all at once to meet a deadline.

Run of show document – This explained the who, what, where and when of the entire wedding day. It was in the form of a spreadsheet that listed times in half-hour increments along the left side of the page. Separate columns were dedicated to the important players. They included, me, my husband, our dog, the photographer, the DJ and the venue. Each column was colour-coded and blocked off the times for different activities throughout the day, as well as where they took place – kind of like a timetable in high school.

For example, it listed when family photos would take place and where, when the dog walker would take our dog home, when the food would be served, when the speeches would start, and when the dessert buffet would be set up. I also included contact information, so for example, the venue could contact the florist or DJ to see if there was a problem if they didn’t arrive when they were supposed to.

I shared this one-page spreadsheet with everyone – including the venue, vendors, family and friends –  to cut down on potential questions or confusion in both before and on the day of the wedding.

Lastly, a clear vision of what you want – Trust me, you want to avoid the falling into the wedding wormhole when researching online, shopping, or talking to your friends, family and others about your upcoming nuptials. My husband and I aligned on having a simple, non-traditional wedding that focused on food, drinks and having a good time. Without this clear vision in mind, it could have been tempting to incorporate other things, distorting what we both wanted.

In summary, remember that your wedding day is about the marriage of you and your partner, so your opinions and happiness are what matters – both on the big day and once it passes!

I hope my tools and tips are helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments!

Also, you may have noticed that it’s a year since we got married. I’m fully aware that post is a dorky way to celebrate our anniversary month!

Video

Why should employers let their staff work from home?

When you’re interested in a new position, there are many things that can be selling features for you.  Not only does the work itself matter, but the office culture and its relation to how you work is important too.  Workplaces that let their employees work from home (WFH) provide many advantages for staff and employers alike, which I understand first-hand as I’m someone who’s lucky enough to WFH every once and while.

This white board video from Minute MBA highlights the many benefits of telecommuting.

Minute MBA developed this video in light of Yahoo’s ban on telecommuting in 2013, which received a lot of media coverage and spurred career experts to comment on the pros and cons of letting employees WFH.

Do you agree with the benefits of telecommuting outlined by Minute MBA?