Three Common Job Interview Mistakes To Avoid

Three Common Job Interview Mistakes To Avoid

Are you preparing for an interview? Following the advice in this post can be the difference between landing your dream opportunity or walking away empty-handed.

Over the last four years, I have filled over 30 entry-level through senior management positions and I have watched qualified person after qualified person bomb their interview. As an interviewer, it is so frustrating to watch top candidates be their own worst enemy. It is even more frustrating to be in the “hot seat” and struggle to communicate why you’re the right person for the job.

Regardless of skill, intelligence, education or experience, we’re all susceptible to the pitfalls of nerves and lack of proper preparation. (Trust me—despite knowing all the right things to do, I am still prone to terrible interviews from time to time.) Do yourself a favor. Learn from the mistakes of others and avoid these three common job interview mistakes:

Interview Mistake 1—Not using your resume to communicate how great you are.
Not only is your resume your ticket to the job interview, it is also the first impression you give the selection panel. Captivate them by giving detailed descriptions of how past jobs have prepared you for this one and support each with facts and figures. For example, last year I submitted more than 40 permit applications, allowing 12 public infrastructure projects to begin construction on schedule. Doesn’t that approach communicate my value as a prospective employee better than just saying I prepare permit applications?

Interview Mistake 2—Giving vague or unnecessarily long answers.
Nothing is more frustrating to an interviewer than hearing the same generic response over and over and over (and over and over and over) again. Not only do specific answers set you apart from other candidates, but they’re also the best way for the panel to get to know you. Where applicable, use stories to support your answer, but keep them concise and to the point. You don’t want to eat up your entire interview time on one question.

Bonus tip: If you notice yourself rambling, close out your thought immediately and allow the interview to move on to the next question. Don’t try to fix your answer. I can tell you from experience on both sides of the table that it usually makes things worse.

Interview Mistake 3—Not preparing for those tricky questions.
“Where do you see yourself in five years?” “Describe a time you had a conflict with a supervisor and how you resolved it.” Tricky questions like these are a fact of interviews so come prepared to answer them. If a question catches you off-guard, like several did in my most recent interview, try pretending like you’re having a conversation with a friend and answer accordingly (albeit professionally). It helps calm the nerves and drive out solid, truthful answers. Just be careful not to overshare.

Interviewing is an iterative process that only gets better the more you do it. Over time, you learn to describe yourself and your talents more eloquently, as well as expand your inventory of potential questions to anticipate. Still, there will be good interview days and bad interview days. (You need only look at my very sweaty, very ramble-y Miami Fellows interview from last month for evidence.) Hopefully recognizing these typical job interview blunders and how you can avoid them improves your odds of achieving your professional dreams.

Have you ever made any of these job interview mistakes? Have you borne witness to others that we can learn from? Please share your stories and advice below!

Shake Up Your Reading List, Join Our Book Club

Shake Up Your Reading List, Join Our Book Club

Are you looking to shake up your reading list? It’s your lucky day! My friend Diana and I are launching a book club and we want you to join us.

Over the last year, you have been an amazing reading buddy. You’ve graciously accepted my reading recommendations, shared some of your own, and engaged with me in light yet educated discussion on the themes covered therein. Diana and I want to start a book club with you to build on our current momentum and give it a more formal structure.

The idea is simple. We will be releasing a new reading list once a quarter focused on professional, personal, and/or spiritual development. These are the themes we have already been covering in my seasonal reading lists. In fact, some of your favorites from past lists span the full range of topics: Who Moved My Cheese covers professional development, Option B covers personal development, and Why Buddhism Is True covers spiritual development.


We want this book club to transcend borders, both literary and geographic. Diana and I are based in Miami but we want you to participate no matter where you are located. For that reason, we will be creating an online group, called “Crossing Borders Book Club,” where we will be releasing the quarterly reading list and moderating discussions. (We need your help figuring out which platform works best. Is it a Facebook group? Is it a WhatsApp group? Is it something we haven’t considered yet? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.)

We also want to see you in person! We are planning to organize one quarterly in-person meeting at a local coffee shop or bookstore so we can talk books over drinks and nibbles. Think quaint spots with yummy food like the Bookstore in the Grove and Books & Books. We promise to vary the meeting location throughout the Miami area to give everyone a chance to join us.

For our very first quarterly reading list (“The Summer Edition” if you will), Diana and I joined forces to bring you the following three selections:

  1. The Power of the Other by Dr. Henry Cloud
  2. Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us by Seth Godin
  3. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

We will be reading them in the order in which they are listed at a rate of one book per month through the first day of Fall (September 22) when we will release a new list. Feel free to skip around and to read them at your own pace. We purposefully picked books with minimal spoiler potential and in the online group, we’ll be working to separate discussions by title.

Please reach out to us—personally or in the comments below—if you are interested in joining. We’re excited to have you and to build future reading lists on your suggestions! Don’t forget to start compiling a list of books on your wish list. At our in-person meeting, each member will be putting a suggestion into a hat from which we will be drawing the titles for our next reading list. Until then, happy reading!


Four Insightful Articles That Changed My Perspective (Updated)

Four Insightful Articles That Changed My Perspective (Updated)

In December I underwent a professional transition—one which I will share in the future, along with my long overdue spring reading list—and I have been busy recalibrating ever since. Part of finding my bearings amidst the changes has involved a lot of soul searching and a lot of reading. While the soul searching process is still in progress, it has benefitted greatly from all of the reading.

I have poured over every topic, ranging from how to become more assertive and more focused to key life lessons. Each article offers a new perspective to help define my new path. There are four articles in particular that have been impactful in changing my personal outlook. As I tend to do with insightful articles, I have shared them separately on my Twitter account over the last few days but they are so valuable that I am consolidating them here for your reading pleasure.

  1. “Tell Me What You Say ‘Yes’ To, And I’ll Tell You Who You Are” — A solid argument about why we need to say “no” more often.
  2. “How To Be More Assertive At Work When That’s Just Not Your Personality” — Valuable tips on how to be more comfortable getting what you want.
  3. “How To Stay Motivated in Life and Work Using the Goldilocks Rule” — An interesting read on how we are most motivated when we face tasks of “just manageable difficulty.”
  4. “You’re Too Busy. You Need A ‘Shultz Hour.'” — An opinion piece that argues for disconnecting to allow for creativity and bigger picture insight on our day-to-day tasks.

Do you agree or disagree with their points of view? What other impactful articles have you read recently?

Update (4/13/2018, 1:30 p.m.): It is a great week for insightful reads. After posting this morning, I came across two other relevant articles that I just HAD to add to this list. They are too good not to share immediately. Alas, I give you not four, but six insightful articles that changed my perspective:

5. “Three Power Moves That Are Better Than A Shrug” — A discussion on how shrugging your shoulders communicates uncertainty, with three alternatives to improve your body language.

6. “How To Pick A Career (That Actually Fits You)” — A satirical piece that discusses the importance of stopping to reflect on your career path and provides a framework for helping you evaluate its fit.

Four Newsletters You Need In Your Inbox

Four Newsletters You Need In Your Inbox

My e-mail inbox is an absolute disaster. Between my personal e-mail accounts and the e-mail accounts for my three blogs, I average around 300 e-mails per day. I try to keep it organized, but the volume is difficult to manage and gives me so much anxiety. Over the years the unmanageable amount of communications that bombard me on a daily basis not only fail to get my attention, but also have fostered an antagonistic relationship between me and e-communication.

There are a handful of exceptions to this rule. More specifically, there are four newsletters that brighten my day when they pop up amongst the chaos even if I can’t read them right away. For these select few, I make a “inbox zero” exception, leaving them unread until I find a few rare minutes of spare time to savor them. These are the five newsletters I can’t live without and that you desperately need in your inbox:

1. Harvey McKay’s Weekly Tips and Inspiration

Parent e-mail spam is the worst. My mom is guilty, like many moms, of forwarding those pesky chain e-mails about scams at the gas pump and Nigerian princes wanting to send us money. On the other hand, my dad forwards professional development gold. The newsletter that I love getting from him (although I could subscribe on my own like an adult) is Harvey MacKay’s weekly newsletter with tips and inspiration. If you follow me on twitter, you’ve seen me quote him like a madwoman because he gives seriously sage advice about business and life.

2. The “Wait But Why” Newsletter

“Wait But Why” was the first newsletter I ever subscribed to. (The stick figures that accompany each post caught my eye.) The messages are serious but, between the stick figures and heavy sarcasm, approachable. Take these spot on posts about how we approach marriage as a society or how life is fleeting. The writer is making some very intelligent, albeit depressing observations about the human experience but the way he delivers them is not overwhelming. Instead, I listen and apply his good advice toward improving my outlook. My only complaint? His posts are infrequent and sporadically scheduled.

3. The Daily “PRSUIT” Newsletter

I recently discovered PRSUIT’s daily e-mail “dedicated to helping you become the badass human you really are.” I can’t remember where I found it—it was a day where I was sucked deeply into the black hole that is the internets—but I am forever grateful to whoever/whatever introduced me to it. I’m drawn to its tongue-in-cheek tone and its solid life advice, like today’s article on how to deal with embarrassment. You can catch me on twitter, frequently reposting their opening blurbs which are intended to summarize the day’s theme but often carry nuggets of wisdom in and of themselves.

4. Ryan Holiday’s “The Reading List” Newsletter

It’s no mystery I love to read, which is probably why my friend Matt recommended I sign up for author Ryan Holiday’s “The Reading List”. It arrives once a month and includes a hodgepodge of fiction and non-fiction suggestions across a wide variety of topics. I don’t read them all—Heck! Sometimes none of the books he recommends interest me whatsoever—but it is a good way for me to keep up with what’s out there and he sneaks updates on his writing in there. If you haven’t heard of Ryan Holiday, start by watching his December 2017 interview with behavioral investigator Vanessa Van Edwards.

What are some of your favorite newsletters? Leave them in the comments below or send me a tweet @margaritakwells because what’s a few more e-mails in my overcrowded inbox…

Three Books You Need To Read This Winter

Three Books You Need To Read This Winter

Welcome to the first day of winter. As with past seasons, it is time for your friendly reminder to freshen up your personal library. (Here are my book suggestions from this past summer and fall, in case you missed them.)

This series of posts is my favorite to write because I love reading/sharing quality books. I also love that you’ve responded so positively to my suggestions and that a lot of you take this opportunity to give me your own. Some of you have gone so far as to send me books. Apparently you’ve realized sending me books is the quickest way to get me to like you. Kudos.

Unfortunately, it seems my library is expanding at a quicker rate than I can find time to read. The last time I counted, I was actively reading four books at once: 1. The Comic Toolbox, 2. Los Presidenciables, 3. The Ecstatic, and 4. What The Dog Saw. So in this season’s list, rather than include books I have read or am reading, I have decided to include the books I will be reading next. Proceed with caution.

Here are the three books you need to read this winter:

1. What The Dog Saw

I know I said this list includes only books I haven’t read and that I said I am actively reading this. The reason it qualifies as both is because I haven’t even finished the first chapter. I picked it up at a friend’s house a few weeks ago when I was waiting for him to finish a phone call. (Malcolm Gladwell’s name called to me amidst the hundreds of books in his library. It’s a compilation of 19 articles Gladwell published in The New Yorker focused on psychological and sociological topics.) I had just enough time to read the first few pages and am excited to keep going once I have the chance to order myself a copy.

2. The Swamp

As a Floridian and environmental professional, I am shocked I haven’t yet read this book. According to David Lawrence Jr., a former Miami Herald editor that sent me a copy after I joined him on a tour of the Everglades, it is the best book he knows for basic Everglades understanding. I consider it my right of passage into full Miamihood and also a critical part of my preparation into becoming a South Florida National Parks Trust ambassador in 2018. (I received word last week that I was selected into their inaugural class! I’ll share more about what it means in a future post.)

3. Why Buddhism Is True

The moment my friend Victor realized I am more high strung than he initially anticipated, he sent me this book about the transformative practice of meditation. He hasn’t read it but he has read other works by Robert Wright and was impressed by his intellect. Both Victor and I are huge fans of analyzing the human experience—he’s a philosophy major, I’m an aspiring psychology major—so there is no question that Wright’s New York Times Best Selling assessment of the “human predicament” is going to be right up our alley.

And now, for your quote of the day:

“If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what book he reads.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Three Books You Need To Read This Fall

Three Books You Need To Read This Fall

I’ve gone book crazy. It’s been building since the summer (see my summer reading list), but it has recently reached a fever pitch. It hasn’t helped that in the last few weeks I have found myself in actual brick-and-mortar bookstores—yea, they still exist—starting with the West Kendall Barnes and Nobles last month and ending with the Books and Books in Coral Gables last weekend. To add fuel to the fire, I took an incredible storytelling workshop with Miami writer Anjanette “Anja” Delgado which resulted in no less than 10 book recommendations curated just for me. Alas, all of my money has been invested in knowledge, imagination, and stacks of paper of varying heights neatly glued together.

My library has tripled in a few short weeks. When I moved in April, I kept a paltry 15 books including a 200-page manual for using my Canon. Today I am the proud owner of 45 books, with a couple more on their way. My apartment looks like a bomb went off with half-started books on every surface: the two nightstands, the coffee table, the dining table, even the floor is not safe. I couldn’t wait to get to them so I started and am reading several at the same time.

Here are the three you need to read this Fall:

1. The Comic Toolbox
This is the last book I started and my favorite one on my fall reading list by far. It arrived on my doorstep yesterday so I’ve only made it through the introduction and it has made me laugh nonstop. Plus, the concepts that the writer discusses made me think completely differently about writing. I am a person that loves rules. In only four pages this book has convinced me to toss them out the window when it comes to writing. Read the passive voice excerpt on pages xiii and xiv and see if you don’t feel the exact same way.

2. How To Read Literature Like A Professor
While I love literature, I have had a hard time since middle school getting all heady about the deeper literary meaning of a text. In fact, as recently as my storytelling class this past weekend, that type of banter makes me roll my eyes so hard they hurt. I am hoping that this book, which on its back cover claims to be “lively and entertaining”, will open my eyes to what other people see or experience when they are engaging in those types of discussions. I’ve got nothing to lose.

3. Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe
Poetry is another subject popular with literary types with which I have never connected. During elementary school, I participated annually in poetry reading contests and I only remember Margarita, está linda la mar by Rubén Darío, most likely because it includes my name. Then, Anja read us The Book of Genesis According to St. Miguelito on pages 349 through 351 of this collection of poems. It was so powerful, so captivating, so approachable, so memorable that it completely changed my opinion of what poetry can be. I’m excited to see what else is hidden between its covers.

P.S. If you don’t feel like committing to a book but you want to exercise your brain, I occasionally take breaks from reading to do the daily workout on the brain training app, Peak. It probably comes as no surprise given how much I love writing that my favorite game is called “Word Fresh”. And now, for your quote of the day:

“You’ll only get out of this book what you put in. Or to put it another way, the more you pay, the more it’s worth.” —John Vorhaus on The Comic Toolbox

So You’re Looking For Career Advice…

So You’re Looking For Career Advice…

It’s your lucky day! Today I launched a new career consulting page through which you can hire me to help you reach your career goals. On the page, you will find a list of some of the ways we can work together one-on-one but—let’s be honest—the possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

For years I have been the go-to resource for people in my network who are new to the workforce or are looking to make a career change. For example, I recently helped a friend strengthen her cover letter and resume before she applied for her dream job. (She landed the highly coveted interview.) I also worked with another friend in cohesively branding his thirty-year career history and developed a strategy to improve his online presence.

I have experience in personal branding, in recruiting personnel, in managing staff, and in evaluating employee performance, skills that I have acquired and honed firsthand as a job candidate and as a recruiter-slash-manager. I build upon this solid foundation through continuing education (like the Dale Carnegie course I took earlier this year) and regularly referencing related resources and research (like these articles on achieving success). With these skills, I can help you reach your untapped potential. Let’s put them to work!

Three Podcasts I Can’t Live Without

Three Podcasts I Can’t Live Without

The moment I discovered podcasts is the moment I started wishing I had a longer commute to work. Turns out, there are too many great topics to cover in my five minute drive. Nevertheless, I savor every second and anxiously await an excuse for a longer trip (i.e., when I visit my parents in Boca) to get caught up on everything I want to hear.

There are three podcasts I listen to religiously that were all recommendations from friends. I figured I would pay it forward by sharing them with you in order of their importance in my life. As a disclaimer to my more conservative friends, they are presented from a liberal standpoint but I still think you will enjoy them. In fact, part of why I like them is that they expose me to different perspectives and, because I am consciously aware of how the information is being framed, their viewpoints are all the more thought-provoking.

1. The Daily

If there is one podcast you need to stay on top of current events, it’s The Daily. My friend Betsy introduced me to this approximately 20-minute segment by The New York Times and it has become part of my Monday through Friday routine. I like it because it concisely breaks down the top news story of the day, making a concerted effort to present the issue in a balanced manner. For example, they interviewed a coal miner for a story on climate change.

2. This American Life

This American Life is the podcast I have been listening to the longest. Betsy played it on the 8-hour car ride from Sosúa to Punta Cana during our 2015 trip through the Dominican Republic. (Remember the one where I nearly died of a stomach virus?) The show covers a wide range of topics in an effort to understand the human experience in America, my favorite of which have been episodes #423: The Invention of Money and #400: Stories Pitched by Our Parents.

3. Freakonomics Radio

This podcast expands upon the work Steven Levitt undertook in his 2005 book by the same name: to study a wide range of subjects using economic theory. He covers random topics from politics to suspense to food. Ironically, the episodes I like best center around finance and economics, such as the last two episodes on money.

Looking for more podcasts? Here’s a list of honorable mentions in which I also dabble:

  • Why Oh Why — a deeply honest show on dating and relationships in the modern era hosted by the witty and relatable Andrea Silenzi. If you love her as much as I do, make sure to follow her on Twitter for more hilarity.
  • Revisionist History — Malcolm Gladwell graces us with his genius in a podcast that reexamines the overlooked and the misunderstood from humanity’s past. My favorite episode of its second season is “A Good Walk Spoiled” where he vents about the rich’s obsession with golf and how golf courses consume valuable real estate for a one-dimensional use.
  • WSJ’s The Future of Everything — I balance the news I get from the New York Times by also reading the Wall Street Journal. This series from the journalists behind their Future of Everything magazine delves into how our world will work in the future through intriguing interviews with the scientists, coders, engineers, and entrepreneurs that are helping to shape it. It makes me feel excited about the work I do in Miami Beach by giving it a broader, more long-term context.

What podcasts do you recommend? Leave them in the comments below or send me a tweet @margaritakwells! And now, for your quote of the day:

“The best ideas emerge when very different perspectives meet.” —Frans Johansson

How 5 Shapes Can Help You Make Friends

How 5 Shapes Can Help You Make Friends

Making friends is easy for some people—not for me. I may be an extrovert but there are many people with whom I struggle to make conversation. I’m talking about interactions that, no matter how much the other person and I share in common, feel forced, are punctuated by awkward silences, or are just plain uncomfortable. Sound familiar?

Turns out our inability to jive with certain people may be out of our control, a function of incongruent personalities, attitudes, education, and/or past experiences. After all, it is the unique combination of these factors that make us who we are and that determine our biases. Each person can bring you a new perspective. You can improve your chances of getting along with them by understanding where it comes from and learning how they think.

The first step is understanding a person’s personality type, the most popular method of which is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. While it is appropriate and commonplace to use the Myers-Briggs in a work setting, it’s too expensive, too lengthy and overall impractical for making friends in a social setting. (Can you imagine pulling it out at happy hour? I didn’t think so.) Enter psycho-geometrics.

Psycho-geometrics is another—a quicker, simpler—analytical approach to narrowing down people’s decision-making, communication styles, and other traits based on their selection of one of five geometric shapes. My mentor Eric introduced me to the concept a few weeks ago and I can’t stop using it. (Ask anyone who’s met me recently. It’s become my most precious, potentially overused, “party trick”.)

Think fast! Do you prefer a box, a circle, a rectangle, a triangle or a squiggle? Write the first one that came to mind in the comments below. Once you’ve done that, check out this cheat sheet to each of the five shapes and what they represent. Did the characteristics listed for your shape hit home? What about the positive traits? The negative traits?

I picked the circle and, except for the claim that I am indecisive, its description was spot on. It has also been pretty accurate in categorizing my friends and colleagues. Most surprisingly, 100-percent of the engineers I know have picked the box (because “it’s so perfect,” claims my mechanical engineer sister Lucy).

It is important to remember that psycho-geometrics doesn’t paint a full picture of a person. I have my new friend Daniel and his skepticism about labels to thank for that reminder. He’s right—if you read through all the shapes, you’re bound to find traits in the ones you didn’t pick with which you can also identify. You should therefore only rely on psycho-geometrics loosely when making assumptions about others.

That said, asking a stranger to pick a shape is an excellent ice breaker. For me, it has opened the door to in-depth conversations at networking events, happy hours, and parties that I could only dream of having before. Most of these conversations have led to newfound friendships, proving no matter how you use it, psycho-geometrics is a great tool for making friends.

And now, for your quote of the day:

“You have to get along with people, but you also have to recognize that the strength of a team is different people with different perspectives and different personalities.” —Steve Case

Three Books You Need To Read This Summer

Three Books You Need To Read This Summer

As evidenced by my current commitment to read and apply the principles in Dale Carnegie’s How To Make Friends & Influence PeopleI’m really into books about human psychology and (*cringe*) self-help. It’s ironic because since I was a teenager, my mom has been trying to get me to read books in this genre. She probably gave me every version of Chicken Soup for the Soul, including Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul which is not only a “thing” but also comes in four volumes. I was (and, as far as the Chicken Soup series, still am) completely uninterested in reading the books she gave me. They gathered dust for years before I moved out of my college dorm and donated them all to my local library.

I am unashamed at my newfound appreciation for this often dismissed category because there are hidden gems that are worthwhile and I’ve figured out how to mine them out. There are more than I could have ever imagined. In fact, my Amazon Prime account has been doing some heavy lifting the past few weeks, pleasantly surprising me with a new delivery at my door almost daily.

I started this post with the intention of sharing all of the books I’m currently excited about with you, but I feel overwhelmed with my too-long reading list and I want this to be fun, not give us anxiety. For that reason, I have narrowed down my book recommendations to my top three selections. I’m talking about the three books you need to read this summer, whether you’re tanning at the beach, lounging by the pool, or sipping your pre-work coffee.

I hope that you enjoy them as much as I think I am going to and that you’ll share your thoughts with me in the comments below or by engaging with me on Twitter. Please also share your must-read books of summer! Here are mine, in order of how excited I am about them:

  1. Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson. When I told my mentor Eric that I was reading Dale Carnegie, his eyes lit up for five seconds before he asked, “Have you read Who Moved My Cheese?” I can see why he recommended it. The book provides insight on dealing with change in your professional and personal life, teaching you how to reduce stress and find success despite circumstances you can’t control. This advice is key even if you don’t work in a politically-driven climate like me.
  2. How Risky Is It, Really? by David Ropeik. Surprisingly, my work in the environmental field is centered on the concept of risk. Take climate change, for example—addressing it is essentially an exercise in risk reduction whether you’re talking about mitigation or adaptation. I therefore want to understand how the human psyche perceives risk and why our fears don’t always match the facts. Beyond my job, it will help me understand why I freak out on airplanes, but have no hesitation about getting behind the wheel in the crash capital of the world.
  3. Option B by Sheryl Sandberg. This pick was courtesy of my mom and I am just as shocked as you are that it made it onto this list. That said, its focus is very apropos for where I am in life. As I catapult into my 30s this September, I am undergoing paradigm shifts in personality and what I want out of life that are rocking me to my core. I am looking forward to Sheryl’s personal insight on recovering and rebounding in the face of hardships, big or small.

And now, for your quote of the day:

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” —Joseph Addison