Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Top 18 tips (yes 18) on how to get and stay productive

Do you ever find that your day runs away from you? Here are some tips on getting and staying productive.

1. Start your day with at least 30 minutes of exercise.

2. Turn off all technology for 60 minutes a day and focus on doing your most important work.

3. Turn your Blackberry/Smartphone to silence. It steals your focus and creates unecessary interuptions.

4. Don't check your email first thing in the morning.

5. Turn all your electronic notifications off.

6. Take one day a week as a complete recovery day, to refuel and regenerate (that means no email, no phone calls and zero work). You need full recovery one day a week otherwise you'll start depleting your capabilities.

7. The data says workers are interrupted every 11 minutes. Distractions destroy productivity. Learn to protect your time and say no to interruptions.

8. Schedule every day of your week even Sunday morning. A plan relieves you of the torment of choice (said novelist Saul Bellow). It restores focus and provides energy. Organization is the key to productivity.

9. Work in blocks of time. Creative geniuses all had 2 things in common: when they worked they were fully engaged and when they worked, they worked with this deep concentration for long periods of time. Rare in this world of entrepreneurs who can't sit still.

10. Drink a liter of water early every morning. We wake up dehydrated. The most precious asset of an entrepreneur isn't time - it's energy. Water restores it.

11. Don't answer your phone every time it rings.

12. Invest in your professional development so you bring more value to the hours you work. Keep it fresh.

13. Avoid gossip and time thieves.

15. Keep a "Stop Doing List".

16. Get up early. 5 am....6 am... be productive before most people are out of bed.

17. Have in office days and out of office days. The inertia of the road is good but if you do it everyday it interrupts your opportunity to focus on in office activities.

18. Do the things you hate to do first thing in the morning. Just get them done and over with. Then they won't cloud your subconscious all day

It's challenging to be 100% productive every day but just like other commitments in life, you take your best run at it!

Monday, May 16, 2011

How not to use Twitter for Business

It is important to learn how to use Twitter to promote your business without annoying your followers with bad twitter etiquette.

Here are some of easiest ways to annoy your followers:

1. Post Spammy Tweets.
If you don’t know what spamming on Twitter is and don’t know a single spammer, then you are probably one of them. If you are, it is important that you change the way that you tweet. Do not post something that claims to be about a popular topic just to send them somewhere else. People will feel tricked and be annoyed at you.
Post relevant and helpful information that keeps followers coming back for more. Make your followers really want to read your next tweet.

2. Follow Anyone and Everyone
You should only be following those whose thoughts and tweets actually interest you, post good information and/or are relevant to your brand.
Do not use auto-follow programs. They are not considered ethical since you are really only using them to increase your number of followers. Take the time to look through those who follow you and those tweeting about topics in your niche to determine whether someone is worthy of your follow.

3. Post Tweets Which Have No Relevance to Those who Follow You
If you have a shoe company and generally post about the shoe business, brands and new products...don’t tweet about things like cookie recipes or Justin Bieber (unless, of course, he is actually wearing the shoes!)
If you represent an online business about safely products, don’t promote web hosting.

It is simply not relevant and annoys your followers! Keep every post relevant to the people who follow you. Learn how to use Twitter to pass along information that is important to them and they will pass it on to others.

4. Post Automated Tweets That Are Out of Date.
Do not post about summer sales in the fall. Do not talk about Christmas gift ideas in March. While there is a place for automatic posting, make sure each and every tweet is relevant and valuable to anyone who might read it. Otherwise, this is just another form of spamming.

5. Discuss What You Are Doing Every Minute.
Tweet 1: I just got out of my bed.

Tweet 2: Have to go brush my teeth.

Tweet 3: Need to take a shower.

Tweet 4: Out of the shower now. Time for breakfast.

Tweet 5: Cereal or bagel?

Tweet 6: Cream cheese or butter?

Tweet 7: Better hurry…still need to get dressed
Trust us...they Don’t Care! Don’t bore followers with your details!

6. Ignore Everyone Who Reaches Out to You.
If you’re not going to be social with anyone else on Twitter, then you might as well not use it at all. The whole point of social media is to be social!
It does not take that much time each day to check mentions that you have had (like @BizSocialNet in their tweet), retweets and direct messages from others. Thank people for mentions and retweets.
If someone tweets you in their #FollowFriday (or #FF) list, thank them for that too. You may want to even return the favor on the next Friday!

7. Sell, sell, sell.
If all your tweets lead to a sales pitch, people will get sick of them really fast. People want information...not a constant sales pitch.
Make almost all of your tweets helpful and informative without a hard-sell agenda. Then if you do happen to tweet a sale or offer once in a while...the followers will welcome the information instead of running the other way.

8. Rarely Tweet.
If you only update your profile and tweet once every six months, people will probably unfollow you. If you are not tweeting regularly, what’s the point?

Not sure if you are using twitter to it's full advantage? Best to read up and harness the power of Twitter before it causes harm to your brand.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

10 pitfalls of rookie management teams

This is an interesting article that has some merits. Where mistakes happen to every manager new or old dogs, the ability to learn, adapt and keep energy levels high are important factors. I hope you enjoy this article from Steve Tobak

Inexperienced execs may make mistakes — but the smart ones will learn from those mistakes and pick up sound strategies from seasoned leaders. Here’s some advice to get you on the right track.

I’ve worked with and consulted for hundreds of startups, entrepreneurs, and relatively inexperienced management teams. I also was an inexperienced executive myself, once upon a time. Lots of water under the bridge, I can tell you that.

Now, I wouldn’t begrudge anyone the unique growth experience of learning from his own mistakes, especially the wisdom and humility that only failure can impart on the executive ego.

That said, savvy managers listen to the voice of experience. They may choose to ignore the advice, but they still listen. Information is power, forewarned is forearmed, and all that.

When asked in a CNBC interview what keeps her up at night, Christine Day, CEO of fast-growing, high-flying athletic apparel maker Lululemon Athletica, said, “Scaling the growth. Our growth has been phenomenal, and that puts a lot of pressure on a young management team.”

Day, who spent 20 years at Starbucks, most recently as president of the Asia Pacific Group, knows her stuff. Scaling the business is on my list of novice management pitfalls, along with nine other rookie mistakes.

1: Thinking you’ve got it all figured out

Or thinking that the answers are self-contained within your four walls. One of the biggest differences between mature execs and novices is the understanding that the management team and the board do not have all the answers. Source far and wide, debate, then make decisions.

2: Failing to say no to opportunities

One of the biggest pitfalls is taking on too much, starting too many projects, spreading resources too thin, and failing to focus on what’s most important: execution and growing the core business.

3: Staying the course too long

Entrepreneurs often stay the course when there are clear signs that they’re pointed in the wrong direction — for instance, customers want B instead of A, customer traction isn’t happening as planned, or the market isn’t materializing.

4: Hiring other inexperienced executives

If you’re scratching your head and wondering how dumb is that?, you’re not alone. I can never figure out why entrepreneurs do this, but they do, and their boards, VCs and all, let them. It happens all the time. The result: the blind leading the blind.

5: Hiring executives just for their experience

All too often, entrepreneurs know they need to complement their relative inexperience with executives who’ve been around, so they hire people with big corporate backgrounds and overlook key qualities, like how well they’ll do in a fast-paced, collaborative, entrepreneurial environment.

6: Underscoping the challenges of scaling the business

This is huge for high-growth companies where it’s critical to scale the operation — human capital, IT infrastructure, processes, facilities, equipment — in sync with growing demand. It’s a real tightrope to simultaneously maintain growth, quality, and profits.

7: Failing to moderate risk-taking

In an effort to maintain the entrepreneurial spirit that got them where they are, inexperienced executives will oftentimes shy away from organizational processes and systems that are needed to facilitate growth. That often results in a shoot from the hip mentality or, even worse, a constantly shifting strategy du jour.

8: Suddenly becoming overly risk averse

Clamping down on calculated risk-taking based on sound risk-reward analysis is just as bad an idea as playing it fast and loose. In today’s highly competitive global market, playing it safe won’t help you maintain market share. Quite the opposite is true.

9: Lacking marketing competence

All too often, especially in the technology industry, marketing competence is an afterthought. Executing on the product or service and customer traction are the keys for startup success, no doubt, but marketing intelligence will improve the odds. Finding competent marketers seems to be the rub.

10: Going public too soon

There are benefits to an IPO — primarily as a source of capital and currency for acquisitions. But the downside — SEC and public scrutiny, Sarbanes Oxley, and most important, management team distraction — can negatively affect a company’s ability to execute when it needs to be firing on all cylinders.
The flip side

In light of all that, you’d almost be tempted to avoid inexperienced entrepreneurs and executives. But that, my friend, would be a mistake. Anecdotally speaking, those with experience don’t necessarily do any better than their novice counterparts. I guess experience has its own pitfalls. Hmm … sounds like a subject for another blog post.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The 100 Rules for Being an Entrepreneur

I was introduced to James Altuchers blog through Sprouter. Some super valuable tips and reminders about what is important. (oh, and to follow him on Twitter)  Enjoy!

If you Google “entrepreneur” you get a lot of mindless clich├ęs like “Think Big!” For me, being an “entrepreneur” doesn’t mean starting the next “Facebook”. Or even starting any business at all. It means finding the challenges you have in your life, and determining creative ways to overcome those challenges. However, in this post I focus mostly on the issues that come up when you first start your company. These rules also apply if you are taking an entrepreneurial stance within a much larger company (which all employees should do).

(this is BS)

For me, I’ve started several businesses. As I’ve described in the rest of this blog, some have succeeded, many have failed. I’m invested in about 13 private companies. I’ve advised probably another 50 private companies. Along the way I’ve compiled a list of rules that have helped me deal with every aspect of being an entrepreneur in business and some in life.

[Btw, Claudia thinks I shouldn’t put this post up. This is going to be a chapter in a book I am self-publishing in a week or so: “How to be the Luckiest Man Alive”. But I’m trying to price the book for free on Kindle so why not? Plus, once I write something, I can’t help myself. I have to put it up.]

Here’s the real rules:

A) It’s not fun. I’m not going to explain why it’s not fun. These are rules. Not theories. I don’t need to prove them. But there’s a strong chance you can hate yourself throughout the process of being an entrepreneur. Keep sharp objects and pills away during your worst moments. And you will have them. If you are an entrepreneur and agree with me, please note this in the comments below.

B) Try not to hire people. You’ll have to hire people to expand your business. But it’s a good discipline to really question if you need each and every hire.

C) Get a customer. This seems obvious. But it’s not. Get a customer before you start your business, if you can. (see, “the Easiest Way to Succeed as an Entrepreneur”)

CA) Follow me on Twitter.

D) If you are offering a service, call it a product. Oracle did it. They claimed they had a database. But if you “bought” their database they would send in a team of consultants to help you “install” the database to fit your needs. In other words, for the first several years of their existence, they claimed to have a product but they really were a consulting company. Don’t forget this story. Products are valued higher than services.

E) It’s OK to fail. Start over. Hopefully before you run out of money. Hopefully before you take in investor money. Or, don’t worry about it. Come up with new ideas. Start over.

F) Be profitable. Try to be profitable immediately. This seems obvious but it isn’t. Try not to raise money. That money is expensive.

G) When raising money: if it’s not easy then your idea is probably incapable of raising money. If it’s easy, then take as much as possible. If it’s TOO easy, then sell your company (unless you are Twitter, etc).

                                                    (if it’s too easy, sell your company)

H) The same goes for selling your company. If it’s not easy, then you need to build more. Then sell. To sell your company, start getting in front of your acquirers a year in advance. Send them monthly updates describing your progress. Then, when they need a company like yours, your company is the first one that comes to mind.

I) Competition is good. It turns you into a killer. It helps you judge progress. It shows that other people value the space you are in. Your competitors are also your potential acquirers.

J) Don’t use a PR firm. Except maybe as a secretary. You are the PR for your company. You are your company’s brand. You personally.

K) Communicate with everyone. Employees. Customers. Investors. All the time. Every day.

L) Do everything for your customers. This is very important. Get them girlfriends or boyfriends. Speak at their charities. Visit their parents for Thanksgiving. Help them find other firms to meet their needs. Even introduce them to your competitors if you think a competitor can help them or if you think you are about to be fired. Always think first, “What’s going to make my customer happy?”

M) Your customer is not a company. There’s a human there. What will make my human customer happy? Make him laugh. You want your customer to be happy.

N) Show up. Go to breakfast/lunch/dinner with customers. Treat.

O) History. Know the history of your customers in every way. Company history, personal history, marketing history, investing history, etc.

P) Micro-manage software development. Nobody knows your product better than you do. If you aren’t a technical person, learn how to be very specific in your product specification so that your programmers can’t say: “well you didn’t say that!”

Q) Hire local. You need to be able to see and talk to your programmers. Don’t outsource to India. I love India. But I won’t hire programmers from there while I’m living in the US.

R) Sleep. Don’t buy into the 20 hours a day entrepreneur myth. You need to sleep 8 hours a day to have a focused mind.

S) Exercise. Same as above. If you are unhealthy, your product will be unhealthy.

T) Emotionally Fit. DON’T have dating problems and software development problems at the same time. VCs will smell this all over you.

U) Pray. You need to. Be grateful where you are. And pray for success. You deserve it. Pray for the success of your customers. Heck, pray for the success of your competitors. The better they do, it means the market is getting bigger. And if one of them breaks out, they can buy you.

V) Buy your employees gifts. Massages. Tickets. Whatever. I always imagined that at the end of each day my young, lesbian employees (for some reason, most employees at my first company were lesbian) would be calling their parents and their mom and dad would ask them: “Hi honey! How was your day today?” And I wanted them to be able to say: “It was the best!” Invite customers to masseuse day.

W) Treat your employees like they are your children. They need boundaries. They need to be told “no!” sometimes. And sometimes you need to hit them in the face (ha ha, just kidding). But within boundaries, let them play.

X) Don’t be greedy pricing your product. If your product is good and you price it cheap, people will buy. Then you can price upgrades, future products, and future services more expensive. Which goes along with the next rule.

Y) Distribution is everything. Branding is everything. Get your name out there, whatever it takes. The best distribution is of course word of mouth, which is why your initial pricing doesn’t matter.

YA) Follow me on Twitter.

Z) Don’t kill yourself. It’s not worth it. Your employees need you. Your children or future children need you. It seems odd to include this in a post about entrepreneurship but we’re also taking about keeping it real. Most books or “rules” for entrepreneurs talk about things like “think big”, “go after your dreams”. But often dreams turn into nightmares. I’ll repeat it again. Don’t kill yourself. Call me if things get too stressful. Or more importantly, make sure you take proper medication

AA) Give employees’ structure. Let each employee know how his or her path to success can be achieved. All of them will either leave you or replace you eventually. That’s OK. Give them the guidelines how that might happen. Tell them how they can get rich by working for you.

BB) Fire employees immediately. If an employee gets “the disease” he needs to be fired. If they ask for more money all the time. If they bad mouth you to other employees. If you even think they are talking behind your back, fire them. The disease has no cure. And it’s very contagious. Show no mercy. Show the employee the door. There are no second chances because the disease is incurable.

CC) Make friends with your landlord. If you ever have to sell your company, believe it or not, you are going to need his signature (because there’s going to be a new lease owner)

DD) Only move offices if you are so packed in that employees are sharing desks and there’s no room for people to walk.

EE) Have killer parties. But use your personal money. Not company money. Invite employees, customers, and investors. It’s not the worst thing in the world to also invite off duty prostitutes or models.

FF) If an employee comes to you crying, close the door or take him or her out of the building. Sit with him until it stops. Listen to what he has to say. If someone is crying then there’s been a major communication breakdown somewhere in the company. Listen to what it is and fix it. Don’t get angry at the culprit’s. Just fix the problem.

                                                 (you don't want your employees to be sad.)

GG) At Christmas, donate money to every customer’s favorite charity. But not for investors or employees.

HH) Have lunch with your competitors. Listen and try not to talk. One competitor (Bill Markel from Interactive once told me a story about how the CEO of Toys R Us returned his call. He was telling me this because I never returned Bill’s calls. Ok, Bill, lesson noted.

II) Ask advice a lot. Ask your customers advice on how you can be introduced into other parts of their company. Then they will help you. Because of the next rule…

JJ) Hire your customers. Or not. But always leave open the possibility. Let it always dangle in the air between you and them. They can get rich with you. Maybe. Possibly. If they play along. So play.

KK) On any demo or delivery, do one extra surprise thing that was not expected. Always add bells and whistles that the customer didn’t pay for.

LL) Understand the demographic changes that are changing the world. Where are marketing dollars flowing and can you be in the middle. What services do aging baby boomers need? Is the world running out of clean water? Are newspapers going to survive? Etc. Etc. Read every day to understand what is going on.

LLa) Don’t go to a lot of parties or “meetups” with other entrepreneurs. Work instead while they are partying.

MM) But, going along with the above rule, don’t listen to the doom and gloomers that are hogging the TV screen trying to tell you the world is over. They just want you to be scared so they can scoop up all the money.

NN) You have no more free time. In your free time you are thinking of new ideas for customers, new ideas for services to offer, new products.

OO) You have no more free time, part 2. In your free time, think of ideas for potential customers. Then send them emails: “I have 10 ideas for you. Would really like to show them to you. I think you will be blown away. Here’s five of them right now.”

OOa) Depressions, recessions, don’t matter. There’s $15 trillion in the economy. You’re allowed a piece of it:

PP) Talk. Tell everyone you ever knew what your company does. Your friends will help you find clients.

QQ) Always take someone with you to a meeting. You’re bad at following up. Because you have no free time. So, if you have another employee. Let them follow up. Plus, they will like to spend time with the boss. You’re going to be a mentor.

RR) If you are consumer focused: your advertisers are your customers. But always be thinking of new services for your consumers. Each new service has to make their life better. People’s lives are better if: they become healthier, richer, or have more sex. “Health” can be broadly defined.

SS) If your customers are advertisers: find sponsorship opportunities for them that drive customers straight into their arms. These are the most lucrative ad deals (see rule above). Ad inventory is a horrible business model. Sponsorships are better. Then you are talking to your customer.

TT) No friction. The harder it is for a consumer to sign up, the less consumers you will have. No confirmation emails, sign up forms, etc. The easier the better.

TTA) No fiction, part 2. If you are making a website, have as much content as you can on the front page. You don’t want people to have to click to a second or third page if you can avoid it. Stuff that first page with content. You aren’t Google. (And, 10 Unusual Things You Didn’t Know About Google)

UU) No friction, part 3. Say “yes” to any opportunity that gets you in a room with a big decision maker. Doesn’t matter if it costs you money.

VV) Sell your company two years before you sell it. Get in the offices of the potential buyers of your company and start updating them on your progress every month. Ask their advice on a regular basis in the guise of just an “industry catch-up”

WW) If you sell your company for stock, sell the stock as soon as you can. If you are selling your company for stock it means:

• a. The market is such that lots of companies are being sold for stock.

• b. AND, companies are using stock to buy other companies because they value their stock less than they value cash.

• c. WHICH MEANS, that when everyone’s lockup period ends, EVERYONE will be selling stock across the country. So sell yours first.

XX) Ideas are worthless. If you have an idea worth pursuing, then just make it. You can build any website for cheap. Hire a programmer and make a demo. Get at least one person to sign up and use your service. If you want to make Facebook pages for plumbers, find one plumber who will give you $10 to make his Facebook page. Just do it.

YY) Don’t use a PR firm, part II. Set up a blog. Tell your personal stories (see “33 tips to being a better writer” ). Let the customer know you are human, approachable, and have a real vision as to why they need to use you. Become the voice for your industry, the advocate for your products. If you make skin care products, tell your customers every day how they can be even more beautiful than they currently are and have more sex than they are currently getting. Blog your way to PR success. Be honest and bloody.

ZZ) Don’t save the world. If your product sounds too good to be true, then you are a liar.

ZZa) Your company is always for sale.

AAA) Frame the first check. I’m staring at mine right now.

BBB) No free time, part 3. Pick a random customer. Find five ideas for them that have nothing to do with your business. Call them and say, “I’ve been thinking about you. Have you tried this?”

CCC) No resale deals. Nobody cares about reselling your service. Those are always bad deals.

DDD) Your lawyer or accountant is not going to introduce you to any of their other clients. Those meetings are always a waste of time.

EEE) Celebrate every success. Your employees need it. They need a massage also. Get a professional masseuse in every Friday afternoon. Nobody leaves a job where there is a masseuse.

FFF) Sell your first company. Don’t take any chances. You don’t need to be Mark Zuckerberg. Sell your first company as quick as you can. You now have money in the bank and a notch on your belt. Make a billion on your next company.

GGG) Pay your employees before you pay yourself.

HHH) Give equity to get the first customer. If you have no product yet and no money, then give equity to a good partner in exchange for them being a paying customer. Note: don’t blindly give equity. If you develop a product that someone asked for, don’t give them equity. Sell it to them. But if you want to get a big distribution partner whose funds can keep you going forever, then give equity to nail the deal.

III) Don’t worry about anyone stealing your ideas. Ideas are worthless anyway. It’s OK to steal something that’s worthless.

IIIA) Follow me on twitter.

Questions from Readers

Question: You say no free time but you also say keep emotionally fit, physically fit, etc. How do I do this if I’m constantly thinking of ideas for old and potential customers?

Answer: It’s not easy or everyone would be rich.

Question: if I get really stressed about clients paying, how do I get sleep at night?

Answer: medication

Question: how do I cold-call clients?

Answer: email them. Email 40 of them. It’s OK if only 1 answers. Email 40 a day but make sure you have something of value to offer.

Question: how can I find cheap programmers or designers?

Answer: if you don’t know any and you want to be cheap: use scriptlance.com, elance.com, or craigslist. But don’t hire them if they are from another country. You need to communicate with them even if it costs more money.

Question: should I hire programmers?

Answer: first…freelance. Then hire.

Question: what if I build my product but I’m not getting customers?

Answer: develop a service loosely based on your product and offer that to customers. But I hope you didn’t make a product without talking to customers to begin with?

Question: I have the best idea in the world, but for it to work it requires a lot of people to already be using it. Like Twitter.

Answer: if you’re not baked into the Silicon Valley ecosystem, then find distribution and offer equity if you have to. Zuckerberg had Harvard. MySpace had the fans of all the local bands they set up with MySpace pages. I (in my own small way) had Thestreet.com when I set up Stockpickr.com. I also had 10 paying clients when I did my first successful business fulltime.

Question: I just lost my biggest customer and now I have to fire people. I’ve never done this before. How do I do it?

Answer: one on meetings. Be Kind. State the facts. Say you have to let people go and that everyone is hurting but you want to keep in touch because they are a great employee. It was an honor to work with them and when business comes back you hope you can convince them come back. Then ask them if they have any questions. Your reputation and the reputation of your company are on the line here. You want to be a good guy. But you want them out of your office within 15 minutes. It’s a termination, not a negotiation. This is one reason why it’s good to start with freelancers.

Question: I have a great idea. How do I attract VCs?

Answer: build the product. Get a customer. Get money from customer. Get more customers. Build more services in the product. Get VC. Chances are by this point, the VCs are calling you.

Question: I want to build a business day trading.

Answer: bad idea

Question: I want to start a business but don’t know what my passion is:

Answer: skip to the post: “How to be the luckiest person alive”. Do the Daily Practice. Within six months your life will be completely different.

Question: I want to leave my job but I’m scared.

Answer: same as above question. The Daily Practice turns you into a healthy Idea Machine. Plus luck will flow in from every direction.

Final rule: Things change. Every day. The title of this post, for instance, says “100 Rules”. But I gave about 70 rules (including the Q&A). Things change midway through. Be ready for it every day. In fact, every day figure out what you can change just slightly to shake things up and improve your product and company.

Throughout the rest of this blog I have examples, ideas, rules, etc. In fact, it adds up to a lot more than 100 rules. Many of the rules above are repeated in other posts ahead but use this post as a cheat sheet. If you can think of more rules for me, add them to the comments. I’ll try and put them in the upcoming book.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Cool ideas for your Face Book Page

Now how ingenious is this! Great ideas for spicing up your Face Book page...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Top 10 myths about job interviews

Here is Ask Annies list of the top 10 job interview myths, and how to deal with them:

Myth #10: The interviewer is prepared.

"The person you're meeting with is probably overworked and stressed about having to hire someone," Couper says. "So make it easy for him or her. Answer that catchall request, 'Tell me about yourself", by talking about why you're a great fit for this job. If it's obvious they haven't read your resume, recap it briefly, and then tie it to the job you want." Tell them what they really need to know, so they don't have to come up with more questions.

Myth #9: Most interviewers have been trained to conduct thorough job interviews.

While human resources professionals do get extensive training in job interviewing techniques, the average line manager is winging it. "To make up for vague questions, be specific even if they don't ask," Couper suggests. "Be ready with two or three examples of particular skills and experiences that highlight why they should hire you."

Myth #8: It's only polite to accept an interviewer's offer of refreshment.

"They usually try to be courteous and offer you a drink, but they don't really want to bother with it," says Couper. "Unless the beverage in question is right there and won't take more than a second to get, just say, no, thank you."

Couper once interviewed a job candidate who said she would love a cup of tea, which, he recalls, "meant I spent half the allotted interview time looking for a tea bag, heating water, and so on. It was irritating."
Another good reason, Couper says, to decline caffeine is that "if the interview is a lengthy one, you don't want to need a restroom halfway through the conversation."

Myth #7: Interviewers expect you to hand over references' contact information right away.

Hold off until you're specifically asked, Couper advises, and even then, you can delay a bit by offering to send the information in an email in a day or two. There are at least two good reasons for not rushing it, Couper says. First, "you sometimes don't know until the end of the interview who would be the best references for this particular job," he notes. "If you get a sense that the interviewer cares most about, for instance, teamwork, you want to choose someone who can attest to your skills in that area. A reference who can only talk about some other aspect of your work is not going to help."

Second, and no less important, "you want a little time to prep your references, by gently coaching them on what you'd like them to say, before the employer calls them."

Myth #6: There's a right answer to every question an interviewer asks

"Sometimes how you approach your answer is far more important than the answer itself," Couper says. If you're presented with a hypothetical problem and asked how you would resolve it, try to think of a comparable situation from the past and tell what you did about it.

Myth #5: You should always keep your answers short.

Here's where doing lots of research before an interview really pays off. "The more you've learned about the company and the job beforehand, the better able you are to tell why you are the right hire," Couper says.

Don't be afraid to talk at length about it, partly because it will spare the interviewer having to come up with another question for you (see Myth #1 above) and partly because "in a good interview, you should be talking about two-thirds of the time."

Myth #4: If you've got great qualifications, your appearance doesn't matter.

Reams of research on this topic have proven that physical attractiveness plays a big part in hiring decisions. "Anyone who says otherwise is lying," Couper says. "People care about your looks, so make the absolute most of what you've got." Even if you're not drop-dead gorgeous, it's impossible to overestimate the importance of looking "healthy, energetic, and confident."

Myth #3: When asked where you see yourself in five years, you should show tremendous ambition.

The five-year question is a common one, and it's uncommonly tricky. "Interviewers want you to be a go-getter, but they also worry that you'll get restless if you don't move up fast enough. So you want to say something that covers all bases, like, 'I'd be happy to stay in this job as long as I'm still learning things and making a valuable contribution,'" says Couper.
You might also consider turning the question around and asking, "Where do you see me in five years?" Says Couper, "Sometimes the answer to that -- like, 'Well, we'd expect you to keep doing the same thing we hired you to do' -- is a good way to spot a dead-end job."

Myth #2: If the company invites you to an interview, that means the job is still open.

Alas, no. In fact, the job may never have existed in the first place: "Some companies use 'interviews' to do market research on the cheap. They ask you about your current or recent duties, your pay scale, and so on, to get information for comparison purposes." Another possibility, Couper says, is that "they may already have a strong internal candidate in mind for the job but just want to see if they come across someone better."

If you get an interview through a networking contact, he adds, "an employer may interview you simply as a courtesy to the person who referred you, if that is someone they don't want to disappoint."
Even if the job opening is phony, it's still worth going, he says: "Sometimes they discover you're a good fit for a different opening that really does exist. You never know where an interview might lead."

And the #1 myth about job interviewing: The most qualified person gets the job.

In at least one crucial respect, a job interview is like a date: Chemistry counts

"A candidate who is less qualified, but has the right personality for the organization and hits it off with the interviewer, will almost always get hired over a candidate who merely looks good on paper," Couper says.
What can you do if you suspect you're not knocking an interviewer's socks off?

"At the end of the discussion, you'll probably be asked if you have any questions," Couper says. "If you sense the person has reservations about your style, ask what the ideal candidate for this job would be like."

Then think fast. Can you talk a bit about how you fit that profile? "Addressing any concerns the interviewer might have, beyond your formal qualifications, is your chance to seal the deal," Couper says.