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Taking Notes is Important, Especially in Job Interviews

Taking Notes is Important, Especially in Job Interviews

Are you an avid note-taker? Taking notes comes in handy in countless situations. Training, webinars, conference calls, planning sessions, progress meetings, job interviews, sales calls… the list goes on. Essentially, if you’re having a conversation and there’s any chance you’re going to need to prepare beforehand or recall what’s being said afterwards, it’s wise to take organized notes.

Writing notes is more than being able to recall a conversation. Ask anybody who takes a lot of notes, including Eagle’s founder, Kevin Dee. He’s blogged about the benefits of note-taking on multiple occasions, including this post which highlights the top 10 reasons he takes notes regularly.

Keeping records of your meetings doesn’t mean you need to be a courtroom stenographer, jotting down every single word that each individual says. You’d miss the entire meeting and won’t get to contribute! This post on Meister’s Creativity & Productivity Blog prioritizes the types of points you should write down:

  • Facts (names, titles, roles)
  • Issues (problems that need to be solved)
  • Decisions (what has everyone agreed will happen)
  • Action Plans (who’s responsible for doing specific tasks)
  • Questions and Answers (what was asked and what responses were given throughout the meeting)

This framework is valuable because it catches all of the points you may need to reference, without missing out on discussions and debates that bring the team to these final points.

Taking Notes in a Job Interview

Some of the more important meetings you have as an IT contractor are job interviews, both with recruiters and clients. These are what will secure your work for the next period of time and you need to come across as prepared and professional.

Job interviews are one-on-one and the main goal is to have a discussion. That means that as important as it is, your note-taking cannot take priority. Continuous writing or, worse, having your head behind a laptop (please don’t bring a laptop to take notes), would destroy the personal connection you depend on for a successful interview. Instead, experts in this field recommend you jot down quick notes during the interview, but then schedule a few minutes immediately after your interview to go to a coffee shop and write everything down in more detail.

The notes you do take can follow Meister’s recommendations that are listed above.

  • Facts – The people you’re meeting with, their titles, specific details about the job would all be helpful later on.
  • Issues – This could be the client’s issues that you’re being interviewed to solve, but might also be issues for you to solve later such as errors or additions required in your resume or lack of qualifications that were identified.
  • Decisions – Not many decisions happen within the interview, but if you discuss next steps, which jobs the recruiter will submit you to, or who you should be dealing with moving forward, these are important notes to remember.
  • Action Plans – Possibly the most important note to take because you must do what you say you will. Whether it’s follow-up on a certain date, send an updated resume, or refer a colleague — if you said you’ll do it, then do it. You should also write down any actions the interviewer committed to doing.
  • Questions and Answers – Of course, you want to record the answers to the questions you asked the interviewer. You can also use this section to record the challenging questions you were asked so you can be better prepared next time.

Speaking of questions, prepare some notes ahead of time and write down questions you’ll want to ask the interviewer. You might go one step further and write down speaking points and quick notes to ensure you hit everything properly during the conversation; however, some experts warn against that type of preparation. They argue that answering questions from notes makes you appear less confident with the subject matter for which you’re interviewing and, therefore, less qualified for the role.

The majority of us write notes in some sort of way, but the detail and style of notes we write differentiate person-to-person. What kind of note-taking practices work best for you?

How to Organize Your Business Accounting

Everybody organizes themselves differently based on how their mind works, their own routines and what will ensure their productivity is maximized. For IT contractors, those skills come in handy in a number of places — project work, job applications, past projects and reference information, and the dreadful accounting.

Many people we speak with admit that organizing accounting is not a strength compared to their other skills that make them in high-demand with clients. Very often, that’s only because they are not sure where to start. If that sounds like the situation you find yourself in, and especially if you’re a visual kind of person, then we strongly recommend watching this video by Alicia Butler Pierre. She is a small business owner who has perfected her own organization of accounting records. While you may not be able to copy her exactly, you are sure to get a few great tips from her.

AI Assistants for the Independent Contractor

AI Assistants for the Independent ContractorIt’s no surprise to any IT professional that Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology is growing at a crazy pace. Companies are investing heavily in it and creating more and more job opportunities for those who specialize in it. But new jobs are not the only way AI can benefit you, as an IT contractor. There are a number of tools out there that you may not be taking advantage of to help you navigate your job search and manage your business. Some are common and right in front of you (ex. Siri, Alexa, Google, Cortana) and you may need to dig a bit more for others. Here are just a few ways your AI Assistant can help you today:

General Organization

Knowing what’s in your calendar, and more importantly making sure everything is actually in that calendar, is one of the most valuable things your personal assistant can do for you. With the proper settings, Google or Siri will even add information into your calendar for you based on emails. All you need to do is ask your assistant at the start of the day what’s happening when and where, or what tasks are due soon.

Job Hunting and other Research

It’s also common to use the big-name personal assistants for research. You can win an argument with a group of friends or seek directions, but on a professional level, you can also research jobs. With the Canadian launch of Google for Jobs, their assistant is a sure bet to find what you need. In addition, there are AI assistants designed specifically for your job hunt. For example, tools like Mosaic and LinkedIn’s MS Word tool can help you build resumes, and newer AI assistants like Wade, Newton and Woo are helping job seekers find new opportunities every day (Canadian content is minimal at this point, but the technology is out there).

Collaboration

AI assistants are also willing and ready to help you collaborate and work with team members. Tools like x.ai provide assistants who just need to be copied on emails and given an order like “schedule an update meeting with Bob”. With access to your calendar, they will continue talking with Bob to finalize the plans.  And that’s just one example. Howdy, Yva.ai and Collaboration.ai all provide similar but varying collaboration abilities like tracking skills and performance, organizing tasks and sending reminders, and working in Slack.

Working with Job Boards and other Online Tools

Being aware of AI assistants is another important step to using them to your advantage. There are many job boards and other online tools who use chatbots to qualify sales leads or candidates and decide how to proceed. Their technology is advanced with the ability to recognize phrases and patterns, but they do not read minds or always understand nuances as a human does. That means you could be talking yourself out of a job if you’re short with the chatbot or forget to mention certain keywords.

There are so many AI tools helpful for IT contractors and their clients in all specialty areas — just check out this article from Nudge and this older one from Medium. Both demonstrate how whether you’re working in Data, Finance, Development, Cybersecurity or nearly any industry, AI is coming into your life, if it isn’t already. You just need to be prepared.

An Independent Contractor’s Guide to Organizing Email

An Independent Contractor's Guide to Organizing EmailIndependent technology contractors have email coming in from all angles — clients (past and present) asking for updates on projects, colleagues asking for referrals or to catch up, recruiters of all sorts sending job opportunities, invoices and communications from suppliers, and of course friends and family looking to connect for unlimited reasons. Failure to keep up with these emails can damage relationships, result in lost opportunities, or give you a reputation for being disorganize and unhelpful. Here are a few simple ways you can get your email under control so you can excel at serving your clients and reducing stress in your life.

Split Your Emails into Separate Inboxes

When all of your emails go to one place, you’re asking for a disorganized mess of clutter. You’re also sentencing yourself to distractions, mixed priorities and brutal time management. We suggest independent contractors have 3+ inboxes:

  1. A personal inbox: This is where emails from family, friends, volunteer groups, and home-related bills should go. Any email that comes here should either require a response or an action of some sort.
  2. Your contracting business’s inbox: Give this email address to recruiters, colleagues, past and potential clients, suppliers — anybody relating to your business. To maintain a professional image, you may want to purchase a domain name related to your business and use this for your email address.
  3. The bulk mail inbox: We don’t want to say “SPAM”, because this inbox may contain information you like receiving, but nothing that’s priority or requires an action. For example, this is a great email address to use for social media notifications and newsletter subscriptions.

+     Client inboxes: When you start a project, clients often provide you with an inbox for their organization. This this for everything related to the specific project, but avoid using it for anything else. Continue emailing recruiters from your business inbox and don’t give your client’s address away for personal emails.

Schedule Time to Check Each Inbox

Each inbox will have different priorities and should be checked at different times to ensure you’re managing your time well. For example, your bulk mail inbox may be checked only on Sunday morning, your personal inbox in the evenings, business inbox a few more scheduled times per day, and the client inbox only while you’re on the clock.

Work towards Inbox Zero (or some form of it) By the End of Each Day

We recently shared a post with the concept of Inbox Zero, which is the theory that your stress will be significantly reduced if you’re not always staring at a full inbox. Set a goal to empty your inbox (or set a number of 10 or 50, depending on your personal volume) by the end of each day. Inbox Zero can be achieved with a few simple tricks:

  • Unsubscribe to everything you do not read.
  • If the email does not require further action, archive it.
  • If the email is just sitting as a reminder, add a task or calendar reminder somewhere else, and archive it.
  • If the email does not need to be replied to immediately, move it to a “Respond next week” folder, and archive it (just remember to set time to review that folder, and respond to the sender letting them know when you will review their email).

Take Advantage of Labelling and Searching

Finding email is as important to organizing as responding to it. With advanced search tools available in email, it is no longer necessary to create a complex folder system, which often makes it more difficult to retrieve an email. Instead, popular online email services like Gmail and Outlook let you add labels before archiving an email. When you also use as many keywords in subject lines as possible, you can find an email using a search based on labels, keywords, recipients, and date.

Review the Email Tools Available to You

In addition to various plug-ins and extensions that can make emailing easier, check out what’s already available to you. Canned responses and email templates are great to quickly respond to emails you always get (ex. The “Thanks, but no thanks” email you send to recruiters), and automated rules will help you quickly label or archive emails as they come in.

Stop Emailing So Much

Sometimes we email much more frequently than necessary. Back-and-forth strings trying to tie down a time to meet or arguing over a solution are settled better over the phone or in-person. These long strings are only cluttering your inbox and causing you to miss important emails.

Every IT professional has to use email in their life and independent contractors must be organized to be productive and better serve clients. How can you improve your email habits? Is there anything you can add to the suggestions above?