Job Interview Advice: Get to the Point

An hourglass, symbolizing how the time is always passing, especially when you've got a lot of shit to do, so it's good to get to the point in your job interview and then be like that all the time.My two all-time favorite job interviews are my favorites because of their brevity. The first one was scheduled for an hour, and we got through all the questions with over fifteen minutes to spare. I’ll never forget how pleased they were that they had time on their hands.

Now I understand why–wrapping something up early is a great gift to give someone in a workday. Most of the time I really appreciate a postponed meeting or one with a light agenda.

It was the first interview I’d done since entering the workforce where I didn’t approach it like a kid out of college who needed to go on and on to make himself sound good. I just answered the questions directly–I had done this job where I did this and this, and this is how I did it.

What made the difference that time was that I was told by a co-worker shortly before the interview that they had another person in mind for the position and I basically had no shot. So I mostly just wanted to get the hell out of there. I didn’t have anything to lose, I figured.

That was the interview where I first really learned how to do an interview. I put those principles into practice over the next few years, and I’ve had more successes than failures.

My most recent favorite didn’t even take fifteen minutes. And that’s what our meetings are like now. That’s the kind of employee-manager relationship I like–to the point.

The higher up the ladder you go, the more precious time becomes. Be brief and on-point in an interview, show that you can be succinct, and then keep doing it. All the way up.

How to get good customer service at fast food restaurants

Visiting Tim Horton’s on a Sunday often reminds me of a goal I have set for myself in life. I don’t want to become one of those old people who doesn’t know what the new normal is. Who gets bitter at the world for changing because the way things are done now don’t match their outdated expectations. I want to think that I’ll be able to stay sharp enough and “with it” enough to be able to conduct myself in public places with competence and confidence, no matter my age.

It’s one of those sad things to which I’m sympathetic but numb — older customers whose naiveté causes difficulties when trying to patronize a place like Tim Horton’s. Most people don’t think too deeply into things like fast food restaurant chains, so they often take for granted that each establishment has their own set of procedures, and it’s a challenge to bridge the gap between those procedures and the populace’s expectations for how a restaurant should work.

Good service involves a mutual responsibility–good customer service skills and good customer skills. (“The Customer is Always Right” is a destructive idea.) It takes a mutual understanding to communicate.

Tim Horton's drive through menu

Here’s how you be a good customer when you order from a fast food place–watch how the order comes up on the screen as your order gets taken. Each chain has their own system for entering orders. They have to translate your words into the system’s language. If you learn their language, you can always get what you want.

Burger King has an ordering language. Whopper with cheese meal, no onion, heavy pickle, fries, root beer to drink. Mix up the order you say it, and it gets complicated. Tim Horton’s: plain bagel, toasted, with plain cream cheese; medium tea, bag in, two milk, one sugar. If you say it like that, it’s easy for them to punch in. Watch how the order comes up on the screen, or, instead of throwing out your receipt, take a look at the print-out and see how they structure their orders. Order it in those words, you get what you want. Easy.

This morning, an old woman loudly berated the staff at my local Tim Horton’s, who were working hard to serve a line of customers out the door and a drive-through line equally long, for getting her husband’s order wrong three weekends in a row, forcing her to drive there in her pajamas to get it fixed. She was upset that they wouldn’t give her husband the time to check the order before driving away from the window. I commented aloud that I just pull into a parking space to check it if I have doubts–so I don’t have to drive all the way back from home. Then I thanked the staff for working so hard at a job that’s largely thankless.

I don’t want to be one of those customers who can’t see things from the store’s point of view as well as my own. The customers who understand that yes, it’s going to be busy and a bit nuts on a weekend morning at Tim Horton’s, and so were waiting patiently in line. We all understood that the staff doesn’t want her husband holding up the dozen cars in line behind him. For them, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

If I cared more than to write a blog post about it, I would have loved to ask that woman what she ordered, and what was wrong with it, and if she knew how her husband was asking for it. Because I would bet money that he was asking for the wrong thing three weeks in a row.

I had this elderly customer at Black’s Photography about seven years ago who was having problems with her burned photo discs. She had no way of knowing which pictures were on which disc, and she demanded that we fix how we did things. She wanted a “reliable system”. I explained that we have one–every time we burned someone’s photos to a DVD, we printed up 4×6’s with an index of thumbnails of every image on the disc. She was skeptical–it wasn’t working for her.

Fair enough–I took her order. When she picked it up later, she was ready–she was going to show me how the system didn’t work. There were four or five DVDs. Turns out the first thing she did when after she took them was to open each one and remove the index cards, and put them in a separate pile.

I stopped her before she took the thumbnails out of the second disc. I took the index cards from her hands and put them back in the first case. I explained to her–just leave them in the case. It took a good minute to bust through her skepticism, and had to close by telling her to just trust me, and try the system for a while.

I mean no disrespect for the elderly. It’s really hard to keep up. I can’t imagine how confusing the world now must seem to someone who’s old enough to remember World War II.

All I know is this: the only alternative to growing old is dying young. I want to grow old gracefully. Each year that passes is an opportunity to build on what we’ve done before, to enrich our lives in a new way. Another year to experience, reflect, learn, and grow.

Strong competition in marketing for charitable donations

This one is kind of fascinating to me. I was logging into my Yahoo! account the other day and this ad came up:

New Jersey Stronger

Boston Strong? New Jersey Stronger!

Stronger than the storm of course! Not implying that New Jersey is stronger than Boston, which is merely “strong”. It clearly evokes the Boston slogan, and makes a pretty bold stab at grabbing “share of heart”.

I enjoy seeing this kind of co-opting of another recently popular public awareness campaign for a really worthy cause. You really do have to compete for donations. Hey Boston, you’re not the only tragedy in town.

Could be a lot worse. Here’s how someone co-opted “Boston Strong” in Toronto:

Toronto Stronger

It came down to the third period of game seven, but it turns out Boston was stronger after all.


Why some writing is compelling and some isn’t

I love finding websites where I can regularly turn for a good read. I say this after taking two months off from writing on here. I got to the point where I started to bore myself, so I stopped. I’m not the kind of person who can maintain consistent creative energy, I’ve learned. It ebbs and flows. I committed a cardinal sin of blogging, I must confess. But sure, I’ll own that.

Lesson learned: I’m not going to beat myself up for not doing the ideal thing. I’ve lived long enough to learn that it’s better to be true to yourself than to an ideal. If this kills my chances of being a famous, widely-read blogger, so be it. I’m not going to write about marketing, culture & technology if I can’t be myself when I do it. (For those of you looking for SEO advice, there’s an example of slipping in keywords.)

A hammock.

This is where my creativity has been.


The odds are you won’t become a “content rockstar”, even if you really, really want to be. I’m pretty sure that when it comes to blogging and all the other kinds of content creation out there, there’s the stuff that really works, and then there’s a big wide gulf, and then there’s everyone else.

I think about how I read online–I skim the titles of lots of articles, and most of them aren’t going to make me click on them. I’m not going to read just anything. And that’s just at the few sites I usually visit. When I think about all the sites out there I have no chance of ever even coming across, it’s like looking into the night sky and thinking about how many planets are actually out there. (Though the internet is truly much smaller. Don’t want to forget my size in the grand scheme of things.)

Most creative endeavors, for me anyway, have an appeal/talent/quality distribution like in stand-up comedy. In terms of how funny they are, there are the guys who are good enough to do it on television and even in movies, and then there’s a huge gulf, and there’s everyone else. I’m not going to spend my time at open mic nights if I don’t have to. Breaking through and getting huge primarily online is a possibility now, but you’ve still got to be talented enough to appeal to more than just your friends. You’ve got to have the “it” factor.

So if you’re doing marketing for your business, don’t worry if your pieces don’t go viral. This blog, technically, is marketing for myself as an employable professional, and I have to accept that this piece probably won’t be read by more than a few people I know.

But I’m going to keep writing. I’m going to do it because I want to, audience or not. And I’ve learned that the only way I can do it is if I don’t bore myself. I may be marketing myself, but if you don’t want to hire me because you read this, then you probably just don’t want to hire me. Let’s save everyone the time and energy, shall we?

It’s perfectly okay to make achieving your personal goals the measure of your success.

What is ungoogleable?

Came across a pair of articles from BBC News that involve things being “ungoogleable”. As someone who works to make websites more visible on Google most of the time, it’s amusing to me to think about the things that search engines can’t find.

The first article I read, “Who, What, Why: What is ‘ungoogleable’?“, was inspired by a legal debate between Google and the Language Council of Sweden. The Swedes wanted to define “ungoogleable” as not returnable by any search engine, while Google wanted it to officially refer to just their product. I understand their position, but they should accept that it’s a cultural compliment for your brand to transcend your product and become associated with the general category, like Kleenex, Xerox, Hoover, or Coke.

Needle in a haystack.

Ungoogleability: Don’t be the needle!

The article mentions examples of how you can achieve this state of invisibility. They use the hypothetical case of a firm calling itself 367 but getting lost amid results for bus routes. This is great for any marketer to consider when developing a brand name. It’s also an SEO factor when you choose search keywords to target. Do you want to try rank for medical scrubs only to be made invisible by the sitcom Scrubs?

Personal branding becomes an issue when you have a common name. For example, a lot of searches for Daniel Butterfield turn up the Civil War general who composed “Taps” (a distant relative of mine). It’ll be a while before I can top that.

The second article is “Can pub quizzes survive in the smartphone era?” Pub quizmasters after being forced to get creative in order to thwart Google-happy bar patrons. Quiz questions will have to demand more of contestants than to simply identify bits of information. I love the final comment, which opines that people who need so badly to win that they’ll cheat have self esteem problems.

There’s a good lesson here for webmasters and business owners — don’t assume that Google or the people that use it can find anything and everything. Especially you.

Realistically, being ungoogleable is the natural initial state for any website. It’s making yourself googleable that’s the challenge!

The right attitudes for learning SEO

I had some experience in website strategy and design before I started working in SEO. I had been creating websites of my own since the nineties, and I knew some HTML. But learning SEO was a whole new ballgame.

Whether you’re starting out as a dedicated SEO professional, or if you’re learning the basics to give your website the edge it needs to compete, you need to have an open mind and the right attitude.

The right attitude for learning SEO.

Want to learn SEO? Get ready to do your homework!

Be a sponge

You’re going to need to soak up knowledge. You need to read. When you start, get the most popular books on SEO and read them. Don’t know where to start? Go to Google or Bing or Yahoo! and search for “best books for learning SEO”. Look up “SEO”, and you’ll find a plethora of websites devoted to the topic. Join forums and participate. Be a sponge and absorb as much as you can.

You need to do this at the start because you know nothing. And you need to do this once you keep going, because the world of SEO is constantly changing. Hell, the world is constantly changing, and things happen online every day. To compete, you’ve got to know what’s going on now.

Make friends, use mentors

The best way to learn the craft of SEO is to have someone walk you through it. When you have so many variables to consider about what makes a website rank higher in the SERPs (search engine results pages), it really helps to have someone who’s been around the block a few times walking you through the process. It’s also good to learn the lingo from an insider so can learn how to talk about the craft of SEO like you know what you’re doing.

There may be a lot of math and logic involved, but It’s not a science. You can’t just develop one formula for ranking success; every keyword is a unique situation. There’s an art to doing it well, and as with any art, you need to learn tricks of the trade by apprenticing with the masters who came before you.

Sharing what you’re doing lets you get feedback for your work, and every mistake you make is a learning opportunity. Always ask questions if you’ve got them, especially if you’re working with a team of SEO colleagues.

Stay humble

Google’s algorithms that determine their search results are a heavily guarded secret, and they are subject to change at any time. It’s impossible to know everything. There are few certainties, and even the official things they communicate are subject to interpretation and debate among the many voices in the SEO community.

Over-confidence can lead to bad decisions that cost you clients and your reputation. There’s no substitute for the years of experience it takes to master a craft. There are so many aspects to setting up and configuring a website, and so many different niches and markets out there that confidence needs to be earned by building wisdom over the years.

I’m speaking as someone who’s been doing this for less than two years. That’s why you don’t see me trying to write for insiders. I know I have no business doing that.

Work hard

Finally, get ready for long hours at the computer. If you’re a business owner, that means you’ll need to make time to learn and study, and that will be on top of your existing workload. You’ll need to have the discipline to keep your social media activity going consistently. Relationships need to be maintained, and your customers/audience need to have a reason to come back.

If you’re a full-time SEO, you’re going to need to be able to put in a full day at a computer. You need to be able to resist the temptation to watch that latest YouTube video and stay on task. Online marketing is the kind of activity that rewards more engagement over less, and that means more work.

You reap what you sow

Yes, there’s a lot of hard work involved, but that’s life. Learning takes commitment. Half-ass effort yields half-ass results. Good things are worth the effort.

Fortunately, if you aren’t able to make the commitment, you can always hire someone who is!

Questionable message, good marketing

I came across recently while looking up something else, and I was pretty shocked that they had the nerve to position chocolate milk as something appropriate for young athletes to drink. Then the marketer in me noticed what a good job they were doing in reaching out to their target market with content that spoke to their audience’s aspirations.

Marketing chocolate as the nutritious choice of athletes.

Be healthy, fit, and active with CHOCOLATE! (If it seems too good to be true, you’re probably right.)

The Bad

I’m hardly a nutritionist, but I knew a personal trainer who taught me about proper nutrition, especially as it related to keeping your body in optimal shape. So I can say with some confidence that chocolate milk is junk. I checked out their “Get the Facts” page, but these facts make the whole concept of “fact” itself implode.

Yes, you need to recharge after physical activity. Yes, chocolate milk has 55 grams of carbohydrates. But it’s all sugar. Sugar is bad carbs. I did The Zone for a while, and do you know how much you need to eat in carbohydrates in an entire meal? About 36 grams or so, and you’re better off getting that from real food like vegetables, fruit and whole grains.

Yes, milk helps you rehydrate because it’s 87% water. I remember when I played sports; we drank water to rehydrate. Why? Because it’s 100% water. And water doesn’t come loaded with sugar.

This campaign reminds me of the recent issue Ferraro had with Nutella, which had been marketed as nutritious for a while, and earned them some unwanted legal attention for putting out misleading advertising.

This is a very carefully selected set of facts they present. I know what’s missing, but if you didn’t, you’d be hard-pressed to think that chocolate milk is anything but awesome, given what they’ve tied it to with this campaign.

The Good's event sponsorships.

Great examples of a brand getting involved with a community.

I looked at the content on the page. First up was a profile of a top high school athlete. Next–the “Accomplishment Series”, featuring the stories of three impressive Canadian athletes, including the same top athlete featured in the most recent article. (Good lesson to learn–if you can recycle the same content in a different context–DO IT.) Next is an announcement that they’re sponsoring a half-marathon. At the bottom are two articles about nutrition and working out, including one on super foods like kale, quinoa and acai berries. (Of course, now you can mentally lump chocolate milk in there, too!)

Then I checked out the events they sponsor. They’ve got a Toronto high-school all-star basketball game. The Ontario University basketball final four. The Prince Edward Island high school basketball championships. The Ontario high school basketball championship, too. If you’re looking to build your website’s authority, getting a sponsorship link from a site like the Ontario University Athletics website is a pretty major coup.

Remember too that the market here isn’t high school athletes or teenagers. They don’t buy groceries–their parents do. Probably their moms, as mothers are more often than not the primary grocery shopper in the household. The players at these events are too busy focusing on the game to be looking around (at least, they should be), but the parents in the stands are ripe for advertising messages suggesting that they need to buy their kids milk.

It’s those unconscious associations that marketers look to exploit. As much as I doubt the validity of this association, I’ve got to hand it to Ontario’s dairy farmers for getting involved with something as positive as youth athletics.

As Voltaire said, “To forgive our enemies their virtues; that is the greater miracle.” You may be dressing up junk food as health food,, but you’re doing it very well.

An inspiring song for new bloggers

When you start out blogging, it’s tough to stay motivated to keep it up knowing that very, very few people are reading your creations. The internet is littered with blogs that petered out after a few months or even a few posts.

For me, this tune is a great inspiration–“Make Your Own Kind of Music” by Cass Elliott.

The late, great Cass Elliott made her own kind of music!

Nobody can tell you
There’s only one song worth singing
They may try and sell you
‘Cause it hangs them up to see someone like you

But you’ve gotta make your own kind of music
Sing your own special song
Make your own kind of music
Even if nobody else sings along

You’re gonna be nowhere
The loneliest kind of lonely
It may be rough going
Just to do your thing’s the hardest thing to do

But you’ve gotta make your own kind of music
Sing your own special song
Make your own kind of music
Even if nobody else sings along

There’s a bridge, but it doesn’t quite fit the point I’m trying to make, which is that you’ve got to contribute your own voice to the global conversation, and stick to it through those lonely first days (or months or years).

Music and words, courtesy of YouTube. Pretty sure that word is “nowhere” and not “knowing”:

And yes, I first learned of this song from the season two premiere of Lost.

The first step after installing Google Analytics: Exclude your visits!

If you’re about to start your own blog or website, and you learned why you need analytics to track your website’s performance straight away–there’s one more thing you should do as soon as possible, preferably before you write your first post. You need to make sure you filter out your own pageviews from the numbers.

Viewing your own blog shouldn't count.

Nope. This doesn’t count.

As tempting as it is to pump up your numbers by opening your creation again and again–you really don’t want to do that. You’re only fooling yourself! And it will just look like lots and lots of people are visiting your site and not converting.

You want accurate numbers. It’s hard enough to actually do that, given that not all information is obtainable. What matters is how many other people visit your website. So here’s how you filter out your own traffic.

The gist of it, as suggested by Google themselves–you create a custom filter that excludes the IP address of your computer. I did one for my mobile phone as well. I decided that I didn’t want to exclude visits from my work IP address because I’d like to be able to tell if my colleagues read my stuff during the day, so I developed a two-pronged workaround: if I want to look at my blog, I use my phone; or, even better, I just wait until I get home and get back to work like I’m supposed to.

Eventually, I’m sure I’ll get around to writing out my own instructions, but in the meantime, here are some links explaining this well-documented procedure:

From Google Forums: Is there a way for google analytics NOT to track my own page views from my computer?

From Google Analytics Help: Exclude internal traffic

Here’s another method, courtesy of Hubpages, that doesn’t require you to look up your IP address: The Simplest Filtering Method to Exclude Traffic from Your Internal Computers in Google Analytics, No IP Address Lookup!

Another non-IP method, courtesy of YouTube, “Exclude your own visits from Google Analytics”. This one uses cookies:

Sadly, I didn’t do this step on this blog until three days into it, so my stats show a sharp traffic dropoff after that first weekend. I had to look up how many new visitors were from my hometown for those days and figure out how many of those visits were mine. I look forward to the day when those days don’t read as my best traffic numbers!

24 hours of internet vulnerability around the world in 8 seconds

This one went around the web this week: “Watch 24 hours of internet activity around the world in 8 seconds“. An anonymous programmer created a botnet that crawled 420,000 computers around the world and planted a tracker on the machines to record their activity over a 24-hour period, and then represented the geographically in a time-lapse animated GIF image.

24 hours of internet activity on vulnerable computers around the world in 8 seconds.

24 hours of internet activity on vulnerable computers around the world in 8 seconds.

And this is just a map of the vulnerable computers. It’s a great reminder of how important it is to make yourself or your business available online if your aim is to make something happen in the world. It’s nice to think about how, if you’re so motivated, you can reach out and do some good for people anywhere on the planet.

It’s also a great reminder of how important it is to not be one of these computers that can get broken into by a botnet like this one. This wasn’t even a malicious attack, but I can tell you first-hand (i.e. anecdotally) that malicious activity is occurring more frequently these days. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a side-effect of the crackdown on SEO web spam–those motivated to cheat have had to evolve their methods. This is why it’s absolutely worth the few seconds it takes to change the default passwords on all your accounts. I’ve seen multiple cases where websites get knocked out of the Google index completely because of hacking. That means your site disappears to new potential customers for the weeks it takes for the problem to be resolved.

Don’t do the hackers’ jobs for them. Make up a password that people can’t guess. Something you can remember, but doesn’t have any meaning to anyone but you. Use numbers, symbols, lower and upper case letters. There’s no reason not to take such a simple precaution.

The internet is a neighbourhood where you can’t leave your doors unlocked.