Author Archives: gopivajravelu

How to NOT pick your start date

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When I graduated from college, one of my classmates was starting a full time job at a Fortune 500 company . When I asked him what his start date was, he very proudly said that he could pick his start date so he picked the Monday before July 4, which fell on a Wednesday that year.

He specifically picked that date so he could get one extra paid vacation day rather than starting after August 1 like most of the new hires and foregoing that one extra paid vacation. He wanted to get as much money from the company while doing the least amount of work he could.

Well, it wasn’t much of a shock when he was laid off two years later.

An attitude that you want to extract as much compensation as possible while doing the least work possible isn’t a great way to advance your career.

Instead, add as much value as possible to your coworkers, boss, and company. In return, they will treat you well and compensate you well.

They asked me what salary I want in an interview. What should I say?

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You’re applying to a new job that seems like the perfect fit for you. You have the skills and you’d enjoy working at this company. But they asked you what salary you want! What do you say? So many thoughts go through your mind:

  • Should I just say my current salary?

  • Or how much higher than my current salary should I say?

  • What if I ask for too much money and they don’t hire me because of it?

These are all normal fears to have, and they are reasonable. You are applying for a job you don’t know much about. You aren’t sure if you can do the job, how the company’s management feels about paying employees, and you haven’t proven yourself as a valuable asset to them.

You feel powerless to negotiate your salary.

As a rule of thumb, you want to push off the salary discussion as long as possible. During the interview process, you will have chances to get your confidence and ease your worries. You can identify how successful you’ll be at this job and you can prove to the hiring manager that you will be a valuable team member. As you go through the interview, you will demonstrate that you are not just an average candidate; you are an extraordinary candidate. You will be an employee who is worth paying an extraordinary salary.

Pushing off the salary discussion isn’t important just for your compensation. It’s important for presenting yourself as a high caliber candidate and improving your odds of getting the job.

People with multiple job options are not in a hurry to make a decision because if one option falls through they have other ones waiting for them. And if you have options, you aren’t concerned to talk about salary right away. First you want to know if the job is a good fit for you and you want to know if you are a good fit for the company. You want to make sure both you and the company will succeed from working together.

Present yourself as a high caliber candidate. When you’re asked about what salary you want, you should say something that pushes that discussion off to a later interview:

“I’ll be happy to discuss salary. I’m sure we can come to a number that we both agree on, but I’d prefer to discuss it a little later. First I want to make sure that the open role is a good fit for me and that I’m a good fit for the company. I want to make sure both of us can succeed by working together.”

Even while pushing the salary discussion to a later time, you should know the typical range of the market salary. Check out my article about finding out if you’re getting paid what you’re worth to learn what the market range is: Use the techniques in that article to collect evidence of what salary you command on the job market. Come to the first interview with a salary range that you think is appropriate from what you know about the job. As you learn more about the position in each interview, go through the techniques again and update the salary range. By the time you get a job offer, you’ll have a lot of evidence for what salary you should get.

Ideally, you’ll get a job offer before you have to negotiate the salary they give you. But the world isn’t ideal and the hiring manager might say that you can’t move forward in the interview process without knowing your desired salary. In that case, say something in the top part of the market range you found with your research. But do your best to say that you need more information about the job, company, and work expectations before you give the hiring manager a number.

Once you do get to the salary discussion, say something that is based on the evidence you provided:

“As you can see from the market salaries I’ve collected, the market range for jobs of this type go from $A to $B. Based on my previous experiences and what you’ve learned in the interview process, you know that I’ll be a high achieving employee in the organization. Therefore, I believe a salary at the top end of that range is appropriate.”

Present your research to the hiring manager. If you have evidence that the market will pay someone of your skillset a certain salary, it becomes a discussion of logic rather than one of emotion. This is why waiting to discuss salary is so important. You want time to demonstrate that you will be a valuable employee to the company because you will then be paid at the top of the salary range.

If your current salary is in that range or above feel free to add that information. Your current salary is a good indicator to a hiring manager of how valuable you are at your current job. It adds more evidence to your case that hiring you is a good return on investment for the company.

If your current salary is below the range and the hiring manager knows that say, “My current job is a different role from this one. My current salary reflects the work expectations of that role, but I’m looking to take on more responsibility and add more value to your organization so I’d like my salary to reflect that level of value.” You want to let the hiring manager know that paying you will be a great investment for the company.

As with most things, practice will make you a much better salary negotiator. Find the best negotiator you know and practice with that person. You want to do three things when you practice your salary negotiation:

  • Push off the salary discussion until you demonstrate that you’re an extraordinary candidate for the job.
  • Know the market salary range for the job you want.
  • Negotiate to be at the top end of that market range because you are a high achieving employee. The extra investment in your salary will pay off for the company.

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Who are your customers?

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Not just your company’s customers.

Who are you doing the job for? It’s most likely your boss and your boss’s boss.

Probably also anyone who reports directly to you.

And definitely anyone who is affected by the reports, presentations, and decisions you make.

They all depend on you to do your job well so they can do their jobs well.

Understanding what their goals are, both in work and in life, and making it easier for them to achieve those goals will make your work relationships with them much better.

It’s also a pretty good way to be a team player.

How to build job security

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Jobs have changed a lot over the years. You used to show up to your job, do just as you’re instructed, and go home after working at your desk for 8 hours. If you do that for two weeks, you collect your paycheck. You and your company were all square and didn’t owe each other anything until your next paycheck. If you kept showing up to work and following instructions over the years, your company would promote you and you’d get a gold watch when you retired. You put in your time so now they were giving it back to you.

But the job market has changed. Attendance based compensation is over and you can’t show up to work looking to follow instructions. You’ll get automated out of your job by a robot.

Today, the people who get promoted go above and beyond their job description and use their own decision making to add value to the company. They don’t follow an instruction manual and an instruction manual can’t be written for they way they do their jobs.

Your job description should say “do whatever you need to do to help the company achieve its mission.” That doesn’t mean work 80 hours a week or never take a vacation day, but it does mean going beyond your written job description.


One great way to do more than your job description is to answer questions before they’re asked

If you’re the company’s accountant (or finance manager) your job description will have certain written tasks: handle payroll, create financial statements for management to review, work with the company’s auditors, etc. Those tasks are easy to write down, easy to describe, and easy to train someone to do. How could you go above and beyond to benefit the company more?

For creating financial statements, the most basic step is to create a balance sheet, income statement, and statements of cash flow. That’s just what the job description asks for and it’s easy to teach someone how to do that in school. But you can go above and beyond. You can study what other companies in your industry are spending and then provide an additional report to management, that breaks down your company’s spending in each category and compare it to the rest of the industry. You can predict the questions management will ask when they look at the financial statements, and you can provide the answers to those questions in the footnotes to those financial statements.

Yes it’s difficult to find that sort of information about other companies, but that is why it is so valuable. You went above and beyond the way another accountant might have which will give management confidence in your ability to do the job better than someone else could.

Pay attention to what’s important to the company

Another way to go above and beyond is to pay attention to what’s important for the company and to make it one of your priorities. In technology, keeping servers and software running is extremely important. If the servers aren’t running, customers can’t use the products and that will hurt the business.

As a software engineer, my job description doesn’t include making sure the servers are running properly. My job is to build software. But it’s extremely important to the company to keep our servers running 100% of the time so I help out the operations team. That is one of the best ways for me to add value to the company and it demonstrates that I’m a team player. Over the years, keeping the company’s goals in mind even when it’s not part of my job description has helped me get raises and promotions.

There are a few ways you can learn what’s important to the company and your coworkers. The first is to look at where your boss and your boss’s boss spend their time. Are they focused mostly on customer research? Then pleasing customers could be a priority. Are they focused on putting in a ton of hours at the office? Then they might equate lots of hours in the office with doing good work. Are they focused on leaving right at 5pm to get to their kids’ soccer games? Then they value work-life balance, and you should do what you can to help them get out of the office for family time.

Along a similar line of reasoning, look where management is spending their time and the company’s money. If the company is building out a new larger office anticipating new hires, then growth and expansion is important. You could try to recruit new employees from your network to help the growth effort or volunteer to interview candidates. If the company is outsourcing some departments, the company is likely focused on cutting costs. You could write down several ways you can help your department cut costs and then propose those ideas to your boss.

Also, look at press releases. Management’s public goals will come out in press releases and the company’s social media pages. Look for statements that describe the company’s goals and priorities. For instance, look at this blog post by Basecamp’s CTO David Heinemeier Hansson: Trickle-down workaholism in startups. It’s pretty clear from that article that Basecamp’s priorities are to give employee’s work-life balance, to differentiate Basecamp from its startup competitors, and to sell copies of their upcoming book RECONSIDER. Your company’s press releases won’t be as emotional, but you can still find company priorities and goals in them.

Doing more than what your job description says is one of the best ways to improve job security. If you have a job that can’t be written down in an instruction manual and you take on work outside of your job title, you won’t be replaceable. You will also get noticed for raises and promotions since your skillset will be one of a kind.

Write down your normal job tasks. Then write down a what priorities your boss, your boss’s boss, and the company executives have. Then you’ll know how to go above and beyond to benefit your company and coworkers even more.

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Difficulty vs Impact

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When I first started working, I had a project that was very difficult. It was technologically challenging and only small community of programmers knew how to implement something like it. That was the type of project you would tell a friend about and he would be impressed by how smart you are.

But that project wouldn’t really impact the company’s bottom line. And it was a big time commitment for not much reward. After a few months on the project, my manager decided to move me to a much easier project. This type of project wouldn’t really impress anyone, but it had a larger impact on the bottom line.

But it was the right move, both for the company and my career. It made me a valuable part of the company and helped the company fulfill its long term mission.
Many of us get caught up in working on difficult projects that will impress other people. But difficult isn’t the same as important and difficult won’t make you more valuable if it doesn’t help the company. More of us should focus on projects that will have the biggest impact on improving our companies, communities, and futures regardless of their difficulty.

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Networking: More Than LinkedIn

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In the digital age, we have networks larger than ever before. Just look at your LinkedIn and Facebook profiles where you get to keep in contact with people you haven’t seen in years. Social media is great for maintaining old relationships, but it isn’t as good for building new relationships. Think about all the messages you get on LinkedIn from people you’ve never met. Even in the digital age, there is no type of networking more powerful than meeting face to face and having a genuine conversation.

As an analyst, you will benefit from finding a mentor. As a partner, you need to find clients. As a VP, you need to meet others in your industry to recruit employees and learn about what other companies are doing in your industry. Networking is a skill that gets more important as you progress through your career. Fortunately it’s a skill that can be learned just like any other skill, and it’s one that will open up doors for you in your career.

My last semester of college, I made a goal to network with one person a week. I emailed 15 people and met with 9. Years later, some of those people are still mentors and friends. In fact, one of them was the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and I met with him again earlier this week, five years after we first talked! He’s been a valuable mentor throughout my career.

A good mentor can change everything about your career and help you climb up the ladder.

Most people go wrong with networking from the very beginning. They either go to some random industry event with business cards and never talk to anyone they don’t already know. Or they get connected to one of their parents friends and then ask for a job they probably don’t deserve.

There are only a few acceptable goals for networking. One is to help the person you are meeting. Perhaps you have some knowledge that might benefit someone you respect and admire. That is a great reason to contact him and share your knowledge without expecting anything else in return. Another reason is to learn from other people. Older people, even if they are just a few years older than you, are glad to share their wisdom and experiences with you. They will tell you the advice they wish they had known at your age.

Before we dive into the tactics, let’s get one thing out of the way: the first time you meet someone don’t ask for a job or a reference to another person. No one likes to be used, and the person you’re meeting is no exception.

Build professional relationships over time and provide value to the other person.

Take a much longer view. Treat them like you would treat someone who will be in your life for ten years or more. Over time, build a relationship with this person, provide them value, and build trust. Once you’ve proven yourself and you have a genuine two-way professional relationship with this person, then you can ask for reasonable favors. If they can help, they will let you know. If not, take it graciously and continue the relationship just because you value that person as a human being. Never network with an ulterior motive. You would never become best friends with someone because you expect he will be useful to you in the future. Don’t do that with your business relationships either.

The most effective way to reach out to someone you don’t know is through email. LinkedIn and other social media don’t work out well because it feels like spam. Phone calls from unknown numbers get screened in voicemail, and well, no one calls anymore. Emails can be answered on the recipient’s schedule and people tend to take time to read through emails.

Below is an email script you can use to meet with almost any person. Emails tend to get better responses when you have something in common with someone else. It can be something very direct like “Our mutual friend Jane Doe suggested that I reach out to you” or something less direct such as “I’m also an alum of State University”. When you have something in common and you are genuinely asking for advice, people tend to take the time to help you out.

Subject: Fellow State University alum would love your career advice [Say what you have in common and that you want advice.]

Hi [name],

My name is [full name], an Associate at XYZ Corporation. I came across your name from the State University’s alumni website. [Say who you are and how you found out who she is.]

I’d love to get your career advice for 15 minutes. I am considering switching companies, but before making the jump I’d like to talk to someone who has worked at many of the best firms in the industry. Your LinkedIn profile says that you have a lot of experience at these leading firms. [Let her know early on what you’d like, in this case a quick talk for advice. Then let her know why you specifically want her advice instead of someone else’s advice.]

Would it be possible for us to meet? You could provide a lot of insight about the firms in the industry and what to watch out for while switching companies. It would also be great to hear about your career path after State University. [Make a direct ask for a meeting. Then say something complimentary and remind her about your shared connection.]

I can meet you for coffee, call you on the phone, or come by your office. I can work around your schedule. Would it be possible for us to meet? [Work around her schedule and location. You are asking for her help so make it convenient for her. End with a yes or no question so it’s easy for her to reply with a yes response.]


[Your name]

Go out and talk to people

Now that you have the mindset and tools to network, I’m going to challenge you to try it. Email 5 people you want advice from and talk to them. At least one person will give you life changing advice that helps your career.


This article is part 3 in a series about building interpersonal skills for your career. Click on the links below to see the rest of the series:

Introduction: Feeling stuck on the corporate ladder? Maybe your interpersonal skills are holding you back?

Part 1: Body language – projecting confidence

Part 2: Leadership – inspire others

Part 3: Networking – more than LinkedIn

Thinking Long Term

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How would you act if you were going to see someone everyday for 10 years?

How would you treat the new hire who isn’t doing the job quite right? You’d probably invest more of your time in his professional development.

How would you treat your boss? You’d probably learn what her professional and personal goals are and help her reach them.

How would you treat the prospective customer who chose a competitor’s product over your own? You’d probably keep a friendly conversation with him, understand why he chose your competitor, and then make your product better over time.

When you shift your mindset to thinking long term, the challenges today become opportunities to build trusting relationships over time and improve everyone’s future.


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Welcome and thanks for listening to my interview with Nabill! As promised, get the guide for learning how to ask your boss for help by entering your email address below. Having these types of open conversations with your boss is the first step in getting a raise, promotion, and freedom in your career.

5 ways to earn a promotion, make more money, and love your career
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Leadership: Inspire Others

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Your boss is demanding your team finishes the project today, when there just isn’t enough time. The employee you supervise is asking you too many questions that you don’t have the answers to. Your client is demanding that your team reworks your project by tomorrow and it’s going to require working through the night to finish it.

All of these are stressful situations. Situations where there leadership isn’t taking action and no one is stepping up to take charge. If you step up, you’ll prove yourself as a leader who can handle difficult situations. And proving your leadership skills is a key to moving up to a leadership position in your career.

What elements make a great leader?

Professors Amy Cuddy and Dale Carney from Columbia Business School and Harvard Business School found that effective leaders tend to have a calm but assertive personality.

People look to the calmest person in the room to lead during a crisis.

Adopting confident body language is a great start to becoming calm as your body’s feedback loop will make you more confident and assertive.

Part of remaining calm is to stay in the moment. People who stress tend to think about what caused the situation in the past or how bad things will get in the future. Work on learning to focus on what’s both in your control and important.


In your control vs what is important


There are tasks that are in your control but not really all that important, such as what you eat for lunch and what color socks you’re wearing. Then there are things that are important but out of your control, like state of the economy. Finally there are things that are both in your control and are important. That is where you should focus your time, energy, and money. In stressful work situations these could be understanding what your boss wants from the project, getting your project done by the deadline, or training the new hire to succeed in the company.

We have limited willpower and cognition so focus on the tasks that will move your team closer to success.

Another strategy for staying calm is to practice staying in the moment:

Think about your toes. Wiggle your toes and feel them inside your shoes. Feel their weight. Where are they pointing. After that, your mind will have cleared a bit and you’ll be back in the moment.

Now you should be feeling calm, the first part of becoming an effective leader. But what about being assertive? You’ll need to make quick decisions with your team’s trust.

In the book The Charisma Myth, Olivia Fox Cabane breaks down the ins and outs of charisma. It’s something that can be learned with practice and you can become more or less charismatic as the situation calls for it. People who are charismatic can lead people and inspire others to accomplish more than they think is possible.

She explains that there are four charismatic styles:

  • Authority: based on perception of power through body language, titles, and status symbols
  • Focus: based on listening to and understanding people
  • Visionary: based on presenting confidence and belief in the cause
  • Kindness: based on making people feel welcomed and accepted

My primary style is visionary, but yours may be different. If you are someone who lives in the moment, you may want to lead with focus charisma. If you like to help people open up their emotions, you may want to lead with kindness. If you are the most senior person in the room, you may want to lead with authority. If you have a clear vision of what you want to achieve in the future, you may want to lead with visionary charisma.

Use your charisma style to lead others.

People who use authority charisma are often already the defined leader in the situation. In business they are often the most senior person on the team and need to step up when they sense the team is going off track. In a business situation, people respond to authority charisma because it’s the social order.

  • Getting the team focused: “Let’s get back to work.”
  • Motivating employees: “Our annual reviews will depend on this project.”
  • Delegating work efficiently: “Sharon, can you analyze the data and Jack, can you write the status report for the client?”

Leaders using focus charisma will keep the team focused on the task at hand. They may not be the designated leader by job title, but they will call the team’s attention to times when they go off track. They will also ask questions from team members like:

  • Getting the team focused: “What do you think we should work on next?”
  • Motivating employees: “The sooner we get this task done, the sooner we can go home.”
  • Delegating work efficiently: “It looks like we have too many cooks in the kitchen. How do you all want to divide the work?”

Visionary leaders drive with their confidence of the future and desire to reach a goal. Elon Musk is one of the most notable visionary leaders today because he sees a future where space travel and solar power will move humanity forward. You don’t need to believe in going to Mars, but you can adopt a visionary leadership style with belief in reaching the goal:

  • Getting the team focused: “We need to build and ship this product on time so it will make make our customers’ lives better.”
  • Motivating employees: “If we do this task to the client’s specification, we’ll get more interesting projects from her in the future.”
  • Delegating work efficiently: “Sarah, can you access and analyze the sales data to help the sales team understand the patterns. It will help them improve the sales pipeline.”

Kindness charisma makes employees feel good about their work. Many people like to work for leaders who use kindness because these leaders acknowledge emotions and make employees feel important. Leaders who use kindness will say the following:

  • Getting the team focused: “This team works so well together. I’m impressed by your work ethic and how you all get excellent work done.”
  • Motivating employees: “Working with you all is such a pleasure. If this project works out well, I’m sure we’ll get noticed for our excellent work.”
  • Delegating work efficiently: “John, you do a great job with PowerPoint. Can you polish the final pitch deck?”

Be genuine with the style you choose to use and what you say to your team. Don’t use a style because you can manipulate people to do what you want. Be genuine and keep everyone’s best interest in mind. As you practice being a leader, you will also learn to move from one style to another. You’ll respond to the style of leadership your team needs at that moment and what will work best.

Demonstrating leadership early in your career is a great way to stand out when the time comes for a promotion. Leadership can be learned and you should practice when you have the chance. Take on side projects at work, request to train the new hires, ask your boss if you can take on some of the work she doesn’t want to do herself, and take every chance you can to lead in those tasks.

And when you’re the leader, stay calm, be assertive, and your team will follow you to success.


This article is part 2 in a series about building interpersonal skills for your career. Click on the links below to see the rest of the series:

Introduction: Feeling stuck on the corporate ladder? Maybe your interpersonal skills are holding you back?

Part 1: Body language – projecting confidence

Part 2: Leadership – inspire others

Part 3: Networking – more than LinkedIn

Rubber Duck Debugging

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Software engineers have a term called Rubber Duck Debugging. It describes the phenomenon when you talk about your programming problem out loud and you solve the problem without input from anyone else.

A former coworker and I used to go to each other to help solve problems we were stuck on. As soon as we started explaining the problem to the other one, we found the solution without the other one saying a word. We might as well have been talking to rubber duck instead of each other.

This strategy works surprisingly well for non-programming problems too.

By talking about what the problem is, what feelings you have, and what the ideal outcome is, you’ll end up solving the problem.

Next time you feel like you have an unsolvable problem on a project, an annoying coworker, or a bad day, try finding a rubber duck.