Professional Communication Pitfalls: Don’t Make These Mistakes

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Most companies require a level of professional training and development in a formalized setting that exist to groom employees with a proper level of etiquette. But, as with anything, there are gaps in the education. One area that is often overlooked is best practices around communication: in meetings, with superiors, with junior-level employees, and even surprise 1:1 meetings with executives.

Here are some tips that I have found useful and guidelines I try to live by in my professional interactions:

  1. Don’t start a question with “I have a question”: that’s pretty obvious, but it makes you seem as though you are stalling. In addition, don’t preface a comment by saying “this might be ignorant but…” or “you may have covered this already but…” You lose credibility by starting a sentence, question or comment in this manner; in fact, you have probably lost the audience and even the speaker’s attention. It’s a great habit to rid.
  2. Being engaged in a discussion doesn’t mean you have to add a comment or ask a question: People like to speak to hear the sound of their own voices, and that’s fine. But in a group discussion, if you don’t have anything new or insightful to add, it’s ok to be an active listener. In fact, repeating someone else’s point or commenting on something you know little about can backfire.
  3. Learn how to say no for the sake of prioritization: If someone asks for your help performing a task and you don’t have the bandwidth, be honest. Although your instinct probably tells you to be eager and say yes, you don’t have the time to do everything. I wrote a whole post about this here if you want to learn more. Being forthright about your time management and the reasons you are unable to help will resonate with the other person, and they will likely not exclude you from the next ask if you give them a sense of when you will be more able to help.
  4. Include the right channels on relevant communication, and be inclusive: If you are working on a project and forget to cc a key stakeholder on a meeting, that person will likely not be able to perform her job better and/or be insulted that she wasn’t included in the first place. It looks sloppy and breaks up the communication chain if you don’t take time and effort to ensure that communication is going to all of the correct parties. It is not safe to assume that because you forward an email to someone on the team, that the correct person will see the correspondence. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask if you’d like to be included in a dialogue.
  5. Know what you want in concrete terms before you ask for something: regardless of your level (from CEO down), if you want something and you need help, guidance, resources etc from a colleague, have a set of needs (in list form, if needed) and communicate them as such. The more specific you are, the more that other person can help.
  6. Have a purpose for every interaction: coffee conversations to formalized meetings should have some form of purpose or agenda. There are instances in which an agenda is expected and should be circulated. And of course there are more “informal” dialogues with acquaintances, potential mentors, etc. Even though a proper agenda isn’t necessary, go into the conversation with a specific set of ideal topics to cover or a reason for the meeting. If not, it’ll probably be a waste of time on both ends. And if the conversation becomes fruitful, don’t forget to follow up.

If there’s anything else I missed please feel free to tweet at me or comment below.

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Professional Communication Pitfalls: Don’t Make These Mistakes

Fragmentization of Consumer Tech

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In the heyday of Facebook (we can debate that later…), it served as a platform for everything: sharing photos, inviting friends to events, status updates, messages, etc. What started as a simple service began adding until it hugged every possible social function imaginable.

And then, things started to fragment. Entrepreneurs parsed out various aspects of Facebook and decided to take a siloed approached to each of the services Facebook did so well. Enter Instagram, Twitter, Eventbrite, contact applications like Brewster and others. And as time moves along, it seems that these services become derivatives of themselves (Snapchat, Jelly, Secret). Consumer technology seems to be moving only in the direction of even more fragmentation.

Consumer tech giants like Facebook and Google want to get ahead of this trend by fragmenting their own products before others are able to do so themselves. Their M&A and product goals seem to corroborate this hypothesis. Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp and attempted buyout of Snapchat is only the beginning. Google’s Hangouts app is a great example of the phenomenon. And as of this week, Facebook announced that the mobile app will no longer allow for messages in-app, but instead users must download a separate app to send Facebook messages to their friends. They also tried this strategy with specific apps that flopped, like Poke and Messenger v1.

As for the future? It seems these things go in cycles. I predict that after a poor user experience that fragmentation provides, these consumer products will consolidate once again to make a user experience easier. For the time being, products like IFTTT is a great example of how users will skirt some of the problems fragmentation poses.

Would be curious to hear people’s thoughts on standalone products from within large companies?

Fragmentization of Consumer Tech

My Favorite Interview Questions

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I should start by saying that I’m not taking a dose of my own medicine here, but I have been speaking to several friends over the last few weeks about best practices for finding a new job and interviewing at various companies. I wrote a blog post about a year ago that details my thoughts on making the transition from banking to tech, which I believe are mostly still applicable. So in this post, I will not focus so much on the job-finding but rather the second step of the process: interviewing.

Most companies begin with a phone screen: a conversation with a recruiter. But the hiring manager or members of the team will eventually sit on a panel to question the candidate. Interview questions are generally role-specific, but there are some questions that are generally applicable across most jobs. Here are some of my favorite interview questions that you should be sure to have answers to, beyond the standards “why do you want this job”-type questions:

1. (For early stage companies): What value do you derive from the product? What feedback do you have on the product? Alternate versions of this question include What are your favorite/least favorite aspects of the product? This one is a giveaway. If you’re interviewing at a company, you should be a user of the platform, a reader of the blog, a subscriber of the service, etc. If you can’t afford it, you should at least have gotten a demo or signed up so that you know what the system entails. If you can’t speak elegantly about the product and form your own opinion about what you like and what should change, you probably won’t be a valuable asset to the company. Pro-tip: for more established companies, questions about “the product”, be it a newspaper, a physical good or service, or a mobile app, you must be able to speak knowledgeably about what exists, and your opinion on it.

2. What do you think of the revenue model? How can our company catapult revenue?  You should be able to explain the revenue model swiftly and in a few concise sentences. Regardless of the position you are interviewing for, know how the company makes money (where applicable).

For the second segment of the question, the key is to think outside the box. I don’t want to hear about how we already make money or monetization channels that already exist. Instead, you should be extrapolating what you know about the industry, competitors or general macro factors to make a suggestion about additional sources of income.

3. What are your favorite companies in the space? What do you think about ___ trend? This is a test of how well you know the industry in which you claim to want a job. Especially if you’ve never had a job in the field in which you’re interviewing, know about the trends: what’s favorable, what’s not, and how that applies to the company and people with whom you’re speaking. Understand how the trends affect this particular idea or product, and definitely have an opinion on it. Learn about not only what the popular arguments are, but how they are being publicly countered or disagreed.

4. How can you add value immediately? This is a giveaway, but not irrelevant at a small or growing company. If the hiring manager is looking to grow a team quickly and needs people who can begin working and get things done, they need to see immediate value or the hire isn’t worth it. Whether you’re just graduating from school or a team manager, you should be able to demonstrate these principles. And in this answer: show, don’t tell. Examples are much more valuable than false promises.

5. Do you have any questions for me? This is critical and not to be overlooked. Questions for the interviewer are often an afterthought, but I very often judge a candidate based on his or her questions for me. Things like “walk me through your day-to-day” are fine, but somewhat uninspiring. I’d rather hear questions like “what are some of the hardest challenges you face?”

Generally speaking, if you’re an “athlete”, someone who is smart, scrappy and nimble, you are a valuable hire. “Studying to the test”, in other words, reading only what you think you should know and not being able to think outside the box, will likely hinder you more than not having previous experience in the field.

Any questions, comments or additions? Tweet me.

 

My Favorite Interview Questions