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Learning From Rejection: The Questions to Ask When You Don’t Get The Job

When you got cut from your high school chess team, you asked your mom if you could transfer schools.

When you thought that you and that awesome guy were more than just friends — and thought wrong, you spent the next three days in your pajamas.

When you went on an awesome interview, but the job went to another candidate, you vowed to learn the pots and pans and spend the rest of your life as a street performer.

We’ve all been there.

Rejection is just one of those things that, no matter how many times it happens in life, it never gets any easier. However, it doesn’t always have to result in self-loathing and days spent moping around in your pjs. In fact, John Kador, author of “301 Best Questions to Ask on Your Interview,” dedicates an entire chapter of his book to  rejection, and how it can actually have a positive effect on your job search — if you take advantage of it by finding out why you didn’t get the job.

True, it may seem like adding salt to your wound to reach out to the refusing employer and ask “What’s so wrong with me?” However, doing so can also be one of the most rewarding ways to handle a rejection, since any constructive feedback you receive can be applied to your future job search.

Also true, is that positively handling rejection is a lot easier said than done, so below are the top tips for following up with a company that has turned you down, adapted from Kador’s “301 Best Questions to Ask On Your Interview.”

1. Figure out where the recruiter was coming from

Sometimes, you will have a hunch as to why you were rejected. Maybe you were under- qualified, or maybe you set your salary expectations too high. But on those occasions where you were completely blindsided by the rejection, understanding it will take some further investigation.

Usually, this involves contacting the recruiter. Start by sending a simple note. Something like:

“Thank you again for interviewing me. I understand your decision to go with another candidate and I accept your decision. I’d appreciate any feedback you can give me.” 

Sometimes, this will be enough to get you a constructive dose of honesty. However, HR departments are often apprehensive to give straightforward feedback these days, due to a fear of lawsuits. But, that doesn’t mean you should just accept their generic response saying “You were great, but the other candidate was better.”

2. Cut to the point

To increase your odds of getting true, useful criticism, take your query one step further, by following up with something along the lines of:

“I need to improve my interviewing skills and I’m asking for your help. I am asking you to be honest about my performance and what I could have done better. If you do, I will make you three promises. First, I promise I will not interrupt you. Second, I promise I will not defend myself. Third, I promise I will not contact you or your company for a year. Will you help me?”

This approach lets the HR rep know that you have no interest in hounding them or pleading your case, and are genuinely interested in honest feedback.  It should also help ease the recruiter’s fear of getting in trouble.

When using this approach, though, be ready to keep your promises or risk putting your reputation with the company — and possibly the industry — on the line.

3. Be gracious

If directly asking the recruiter for interview feedback still seems too intimidating, at least send a thank-you note. Many interviewees discontinue professional niceties when they don’t get the job, but genuinely thanking the interviewer for their time makes a good final impression. If possible, prove your gratitude by:

  • Recommending another good candidate for the position
  • Offering a sales lead
  • Including a link to an article, website or job-board you think the recruiter would find useful
  • Asking if there is anything else you can do for the recruiter or the company

Simple gestures like the ones above will make you stand out to the recruiter, who will be more apt to keep you in mind for future jobs at the company.

Hopefully, you won’t face too much (if any) rejection during your job search, but if you do, the above guidelines will help turn a negative response into a learning experience. Be sure to personalize these steps based on your individual interview situation and what you feel comfortable with.  If you don’t think you can handle hearing a less-than-glowing review from a recruiter without interrupting, you may want to skip step No. 2. For more suggestions on what to ask before, during and after an interview, check out “301 Best Questions to Ask on Your Interview.”

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This Year, Workers Need a Break

Memorial Day is probably my favorite holiday of the year. Not only does the holiday honors our fallen men and women of the military, it marks the start of summer for many people. After Monday, May 31st, it’ll officially be time for barbecues, white pants and summer vacations.

In recent years, though, many of us have foregone that last part — summer vacations — in favor of “stay-cations” or no vacation at all.  But this year, with some light at the end of the (annoyingly persistent) recessionary tunnel, more workers are planning vacation time in coming months than in years past, according to a recent CareerBuilder survey.

According to survey respondents, the increase in planned vacation time can be attributed to two main factors. First, more than half (56 percent) of workers say that they are in greater need of a vacation this year than in years past . And 36 percent of workers say they feel more comfortable taking time off in 2010 than in 2009 due to an improving economy.

“It is good news that workers’ anxiety around taking vacation time appears to be lessening this year compared to last,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder. “Now workers need to follow through and actually utilize their full vacation benefits; 15 percent reported that they didn’t use all of their allotted time last year. Utilizing time off to recharge batteries is even more important today as staffs have shrunk over the last 18 months and workers are dealing with added responsibilities and pressure.”

Just because employees will be on vacation, though, doesn’t mean employers aren’t expecting them to check in with the office.  Forty-nine percent of employers say they expect workers to check in while they’re away.  However, only 25 percent of employees say they plan to do so.

Haefner attributes this discrepancy to employers anxiety level about lost productivity while workers are out, especially during a still-rocky economy.  To ease your employers’ concerns, Haefner offers the following advice:

1. Schedule your time off well in advance – Since many companies are operating with smaller staffs these days, having more than one person out of the office can put a strain on office efficiency.  Be flexible and work with your co-workers to schedule vacation time so that there will always be enough staff in the office to handle all the work.  

2. Train a coworker – Before you leave, write down any important information, key contacts and any deadlines that will come up while you are gone and give it to a coworker who can fill in for you while you’re out. Remember to return the favor when they take vacation.

3. Schedule a set work time while on vacation – If you must do work while on vacation, set limits and boundaries for yourself and your co-workers. Don’t let activities on vacation be interrupted by work.  Your office can survive without you for a few days.

4. Lead by example – If you are a supervisor, make sure to go through all the steps of planning and executing a successful vacation away from the office — meaning you don’t have to check in every day. That way, your workers will be more comfortable doing the same.

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Companies Hiring: The Midwestern Edition

Last month we began a weekly series that spotlights different regions and the companies hiring in each. We made it through all four regions and are back at the start. So, here you go, job seekers. Click below for some open positions in the Midwest.

Good luck!

North Dakota
Home Delivery & Assembly Technician – Select Comfort
Visual Merchandiser – AAFES

South Dakota
Climatologist/Ecologist – ASRC Research and Technology Solutions
Network Administrator – OEM Worldwide

Network Administrator – Boys Town National Research Hospital
Client Service Coordinator- Banfield, The Pet Hospital

McKesson HealthQuest Business Analyst- Morgan Hunter Healthcare
Float Registered Nurse-PRN – The University of Kansas Hospital

Supervisor of Retail Sales – Verizon Wireless
IT Quality Analyst- UnitedHealth Group

Occupational Therapist – McCall & Lee
Health Center Supervisor – Take Care Health System, LLC

Executive Assistant – Morgan Hunter
Store Manager – Family Dollar

Payroll Assistant – Epic
Residential Sales Representative – ADT Security Services Inc.

Sr Analyst Implementation Manager- Caremark
Director of Finance and Administration – Northwestern University

Kellogg Companyproduction workers and machine operators
Morgan Stanley Smithfinancial adviser

Test Engineer – MSX International
Senior Program Account Manager – Technology – Staples

Branch Manager – PNC
Broadcast Operation Controller – WCMH – NBC

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Can a Bridge Built in Days, Not Months, Survive a Major Earthquake?

The major earthquake that "struck" a 70-ton, 60-foot-long concrete bridge today in the University at Buffalo's Structural Engineering and Earthquake Simulation Laboratory will help engineers evaluate if a fast, new construction method results in bridges strong enough to withstand seismic activity.


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If Lady Gaga Can Do It …

Lady Gaga pretty much has it all: an unstoppable music career, a fashion sense that consistently makes headlines and a killer body to boot.  Apparently, though, there’s one thing the Lady is missing in her life … an internship.

That’s right; at the top of the reining-music-queen’s wish-list is an internship with London milliner Philip Treacy.  The hat maker — known for his exotic, wild designs that Gaga often rocks on the red carpet — confirmed that he recently received the superstar’s résumé and application for his internship program. (No word on whether or not she’s gotten the job!)

Lady Gaga isn’t the first celebrity to take on an internship role despite already being wildly successful. Kanye West did an unpaid stint at the Gap last year and hockey player Sean Avery interned at Vogue in 2008.  So forget what you know about internships being for college students; these celebrities confirm that it’s never too late – and you’re never too successful — to be an intern.  

If you’ve found yourself stuck in a career rut or you’ve always wondered what it’s like to work in a particular profession, there’s no time like the present. Check out our below tips for intern-hopefuls of any age.  

1. Use your connections:  When applying for an internship, ask family and friends if they know anyone who works in the field you’re interested in.  Like in any job search, an “in” at a company will help you land a job — especially if the company doesn’t have an established internship program.

2. Start your search early: If you think you’ll have time to do an internship in the fall, start looking now.  Companies with established internship programs often hire months in advance. Visit sites like for internship listings.

3. Check out non-profits:  Non-profits often have limited budgets, making them especially receptive to the extra help an intern provides.  Non-profit companies require the same functions as for-profit corporations, so expect to find opportunities in human resources, research, communications and accounting.  

4. Find a mentor: Once you land an internship, find a mentor in the company — someone whose job you’d love to do or who knows the industry well.  Ask to shadow this person for a day or set up an informational interview so you can ask questions about the job.

5. Maximize the opportunity: Even if you spend a lot of time at the photocopier or getting coffee, make the most out of your time as an intern. Check out your surroundings. What is the atmosphere like? Do people in the industry seem happy? What are the hours? Also, don’t be afraid to ask for more responsibility. Say something like “I’ve always wanted to try event planning. Do you need any extra help setting up the event tonight?” It never hurts to ask, and you’ll demonstrate your interest in the job.

For more information on internships for older workers, check out CareerBuilder’s article: “Older Workers Taking on Interships.”

New grads and college students: take a look at “Why Are Interships so Important”  or visit

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Social media guidelines in your job search and workplace

social media agreementLast week I was in a café when I overheard a conversation next to me. At a nearby table a supervisor from a child care agency was interviewing a young job seeker. The interviewer asked the young college student a series of questions about her experience, education goals and schedule. From what I gathered, she had already gone through a phone interview and this was the first in-person meeting between the two women.

The interviewer then handed the applicant a stack of papers and explained, “These are forms we require for new employees. That way, if you get the job, you can start immediately and we don’t have to waste time going through all of this later.”

She explained that one page was about references. Another was about experience. Then she got to the last page.

“We need you to sign this. You just promise not to write our name on Facebook or Twitter or anything like that.”

That statement caught me off guard. Perhaps it shouldn’t have, but I regularly write and read about social media in the workplace because of my job and I’ve never heard about this happening during an interview. I wanted to find out more about the agency’s policy, but I didn’t want to interrupt the interview. So I left wondering a few things:

  • Is that kind of agreement a standard practice in businesses today?
  • Is that agreement legally binding?
  • Does the agreement prohibit any mention of the company or mentions that are disparaging or divulge confidential information?
  • What about professionals who use social media sites as their online résumé and portfolio? Do they have to leave that experience off of their online work history?

So I decided to ask around.

One job seeker, Bob Johnson from New York City, says he hasn’t yet encountered any of these nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) in his hunt. He, like many job seekers, wonders whether or not such an agreement is an infringement on your freedom of speech.

Erin T. Welsh, an associate with Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus, P.A., explains why some companies are persnickety about their employees and social media.

“According to newly revised FTC Guidelines which took effect Dec. 1, 2009, employers may face liability for comments posted by employees on blogs or social networking websites,” Welsh explains. “If an employee comments about his or her employer’s products or services on such social networking websites and the employment relationship is not disclosed, potential liability may exist for the employer under the FTC guidelines — even if the comments were not sponsored or authorized by the employer.”

For this reason, Welsh explains, explicit guidelines about social media practices behoove employers. Clear guidelines can prevent negative attention from a wayward comment that calls into question the company’s ethics.

Joy Butler is an attorney and author of “The Cyber Citizen’s Guide Through the Legal Jungle: Internet Law for Your Professional Online Presence.” She has seen social media policies and agreements become commonplace in workplaces.

“A social media policy cannot prevent employees from exercising the right to talk about improving work conditions, or organizing a union as such restrictions would violate federal laws,” Butler says.

In her experience, these policies typically address the following issues: ”

  • The employee’s postings must not disclose any of the employer’s confidential or proprietary information.
  • If the employee comments on an aspect of the employer’s business in which the employee has responsibility, the employee must identify himself as an employee of the company and make it clear that he is speaking on behalf of himself and not the company.
  • If the employee identifies himself as an employee of the company, refers to the company’s work or provides a link to the company, the employee must include a disclaimer such as the following: “The views expressed on this post are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of [XYZ Company].” 
  •  The employee must not include the employer’s logos or trademarks in the employees’ internet postings.”

Amid this head scratching, Becky Blanton, a professional ghostwriter, points out that NDAs are not uncommon in many industries — especially hers. They’re also obstacles for her to overcome when piecing together her portfolio.

“When your [job depends] on showcasing work — like a brochure or website — and the owner insists that you not use it in your portfolio, you’re often faced with having to show some less impressive or distinctive work simply because it’s all you can show,” Blanton says. “I’ve worked with Hollywood celebrities and two or three people within the gravitational pull of the Oprah-sphere that would have been nice pieces in a portfolio. But the NDA prohibits naming names or using the final product in any public way, so I can’t use those examples.”

Blanton’s experience and with the rising issue of social media raises more questions that for job seekers. Will you willingly sign one of these agreements? Will an NDA stop you from using your social media profiles to find jobs and present your portfolio? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Weight Gain at Work

I know a thing or two about work-related weight gain. I once gained five pounds while interning at an investor relations firm because I couldn’t stay away from the meeting leftovers. And while I was a freelance writer I purposely kept my cupboards bare so I couldn’t take a Cheetos break every five minutes. In fact, I’m actually writing this article to try and distract myself from the muffins in the kitchen. (But how does writing about muffins keep you from thinking about them, you ask? It doesn’t. My plan has failed.) 

However, I find some solace in the fact that I am not alone in my work-induced gluttony. A recent CareerBuilder survey found that, overall, 44 percent of workers reported weight gain at their current jobs, up slightly from 43 percent in 2009. Out of those that confessed to on-the-job weight gain, 28 percent reported an increase of more than 10 pounds and 12 percent said they gained more than 20 pounds. 

So why does going to work make us fat?

The survey responses pointed to a variety of factors:

  • Work-related stress – 32 percent 
  • Sitting at a desk most of the day – 49 percent
  • Eating out regularly – 25 percent
  • Workplace celebrations (potlucks, birthdays, etc) – 16 percent
  • Skipping meals because of time constraints – 14 percent

“Especially in this economy, it is easier to pick up unhealthy eating habits in the office as workers spend more time on heavier workloads and less time on themselves,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder.

There are ways you can combat work-related weight gain, though. Haefner offers the following tips to help reduce your chance of packing on the pounds at work:

Set an eating schedule for your workday – Planning out your meals and snacks will help control your hunger. Set aside allotted time throughout your day for eating or have your work calendar send you alerts when it is time for you to eat something. Most importantly, make sure you actually eat.

Pack a lunch and snacks – Bring lower calorie foods such as canned soups, lean lunch meats, baked chips, celery, carrots, grapes or low-fat yogurt, and help yourself to these snacks when you get hungry. Packing food from home will help prevent a mid-day vending machine binge and reduce temptation to indulge in the cookie tray at your afternoon meeting. Plus, you’ll save money.

Find a weight loss buddy in the office – Your company is made up of different teams that work together toward one goal – success. Apply the same principle to your weight loss by recruiting co-workers looking to shed a few pounds. You can even make a competition out of it: Pair off into teams and see who can lose the most weight by the end of the summer.

Go the extra mile – Every little bit of activity helps when it comes to preventing weight gain. Sneak in a few minutes of extra exercise by taking the stairs to your floor, walking over to co-workers instead of emailing them, parking a little farther from your office or taking a walk during your lunch break.

So, on that note, I’m heading to the kitchen to grab a muffin — but tomorrow, I’m bringing my lunch.

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How Can You Become a Better Negotiator?

In case you haven’t been watching the news, here’s a brief rundown of what’s been going on in Rhode Island:

In February, the entire staff was fired from Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, as part of a plan to reform the under-performing school. After months of negotiations, the Central Falls Teachers Union reached an agreement with the local school board on Monday. All 90 teachers were rehired under the additional terms and conditions that they will work longer hours, provide additional tutoring to students and complete 10 professional development days every summer. In the end, the teachers kept their jobs, and the requisite tutoring sessions and longer school days will hopefully lead to better academic performance at the school.

The road to cooperation wasn’t exactly easy, though — The New York Times reported that, since February, the union spent close to 50 hours in talks with the school board.

This led us to start thinking about the art of compromise. Unfortunately, negotiation is rarely a walk in the park, but since it’s a fact of working life, it’s good to know the basics. The following are expert tips on negotiation, whether you’re vying for a higher salary, a longer maternity leave or the right to wear flip-flops to the office this summer.

1. Do your research

First things first, says Steve Gavatorta, author of “The Reach Out Approach” and a speaker on negotiation methods. “Be prepared and do your homework up front. It is imperative that you gain clarity on your needs as well as those of the other person,” he says. “It is often difficult to gather insights from the ‘other side’ but the more you can glean and clarify what a ‘win’ means for the both of you the more you can understand where there is alignment and difference, which will help you plan and succeed in the negotiation.”

Gavatorta also suggests defining what constitutes a win-win situation before entering negotiation, “so you are viewed as taking the initiative of working towards a common goal.”

2. Listen to the other side

“The best way to make your side heard is to focus on the organization’s priorities FIRST,” says Renessa Boley, a success coach in Washington, D.C. “It’s crucial to hear the other side so that you can (1) demonstrate how the change you seek benefits the organization and aligns with their priorities and (2) so that you can proactively address any concerns your boss may have before he or she raises them. It is always better to preempt an objection than to respond to one,” Boley says.

3. Explain yourself

When entering an actual negotiation, make your goals clear. “Ask for what you want,” says Elene Cafasso, president and head coach at Enerpase Executive Coaching. “You won’t get it if you don’t ask.”

If you’re negotiating a salary or challenging a current workplace rule or contract, chances are that simply asking for what you want won’t be enough. You’ll have to back up your position with facts and reasons why you should get what you want, and how it will benefit the company or organization.

“I like to look at the negotiation as an opportunity to persuade another person to ultimately accept your points,” Gavatorta says. “If you’ve done your homework and clearly know where the alignment is [in your viewpoints] you can work towards the overarching objective of a win for both sides.”

4. Aim high

“Remember this is a negotiation and you will have ‘give and take,’ so start at an aggressive point so you have plenty of room to maneuver,” Gavatorta says. “You can be assured that the other person will be aiming high too.”

5. Know when enough is enough

Sometimes, Gavatorta says, both sides may just need to walk away for a while and think about the points that have been raised, but this doesn’t mean the conversation is finished. “If you’ve done your homework up front and negotiated in good faith during the process, then it is not yet over,” he says.

Also, remember that a good deal can be made for everyone involved, without each side getting exactly what they want. “At some point, we need to be happy with what’s fair and accept a deal that we can live with and feel good about,” Cafasso says. “Especially when negotiating a salary, I always ask my clients if they want to work [for a certain employer] for reasons beyond the money. Will it advance their overall career goals?  What will they learn?  What contacts will they make?”

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Hydrological lessons from the Mayans

In 1999, archaeologists found a puzzling water feature while working at Palenque, the much studied Mayan city-state in the southern Mexico state of Chiapis.


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How to Get Those Personal Referrals

Personal referrals are important in the hiring process for the same reason customer reviews are important when making a big purchase. Before entering into an expensive or long-term commitment, people want reassurance that they’re making a good choice — for a hiring manager that means personal referrals act as a testimony of sorts for a candidate’s professional abilities.

“A referral conveys a level of reference and trust, just like having a stamp on your resume from working at a name brand company,” says Kathy Ullrich, president of Kathryn Ullrich and Associates, an executive recruiting firm. “When I moderated a panel of executive recruiters at Stanford Graduate School of Business, all of the recruiters said that the chance that they would look at an unsolicited resume was slim. However,” she continues, “if the sender mentioned in the e-mail that they were a referral of someone trusted by the recruiter, then not only did the likelihood of the recruiter looking at the resume increase dramatically, but also the possibility that the recruiter would speak with the person directly as a courtesy.”

To be clear, personal referrals can either be recommendations in letter form — or just the simple blessing from someone in your network to reach out to one of their contacts, i.e. “John Doe suggested I contact you about the open position.”  Here’s what you need to know about securing either type of testament to your hard work.

Who to ask

“Recommendations should come from respected peers within your industry,” says  Brad Ellis, a partner at Kaye/Bassman, an international recruiting firm. “The best letters come from people you have reported to, preferably your previous boss.”

Susan Howington, president and CEO of Power Connections, a professional networking firm, says that getting recommendations from people you’ve worked with in a variety of capacities, however, will give the best overview of your skill set. “Recommendations should come from bosses, peers, subordinates, fellow board members AND let’s not forget customers — this gives a full 360-degree perspective that can be very impressive,” she says.

How to ask

When asking favors of your contacts, it’s important to be targeted and specific in your request.

If you’re asking someone you know for a contact at a company you may be interested in, Ullrich suggests something to the effect of: “As you know, I’ve been a product manager most recently at a mobile applications company and worked on X, an application that you may have used on your iPhone. I’m looking for product management roles at larger companies with mobile applications groups, companies like Apple, Google or Microsoft. Do you know anyone you can refer me to at these companies?”  By stating your goal and your understanding of how your skills fit with the company you’re interested in, your referrer will feel more confident in providing you a contact, she says. 

Explaining why you need a referral can also be helpful, Ellis says. “For example, say: ‘I am competing for a director level position and I am in the running with five other candidates … a reference from you (considering you had such an influential impact to me in the business as my mentor) would help solidify my ability to attain the job and demonstrate similar results in this new career change,’” he says.

Howington also suggests making the process simple for those you are calling upon for the favor. “I always tell my clients to actually provide some sample verbiage or content to those they are requesting the recommendation from. I think that people are appreciative of the gesture and most will approve the suggested content. If nothing else, it gets the ideas flowing and they might even embellish your original thoughts so you will end up with an even better recommendation than you had anticipated,” she says.

What to ask for

If you’re asking someone for an actual recommendation letter, “it should focus on cost saving initiatives, money brought in, turnaround situations where you helped improve your previous department, stability of your work history and of course how well they rate your performance,” Ellis advises.

Ellis says the best referral letters convey the following:

  • The candidate has done the job before
  • The candidate is self-motivated and coachable
  • The candidate has brought in — or saved — money for his or her previous employer
  • The candidate is stable and not a job hopper
  • The candidate’s proficiencies

Ellis also advises that referral letters be geared toward specific positions whenever possible. “[Candidates should] match themselves to the hiring authority’s ‘hot buttons,’ or their motivating factors for hiring. Specific letters showing a correlation to the job you are applying to are the best.”

Do LinkedIn referrals count?

“Yes, LinkedIn referrals do count,” Howington says. “But don’t be fooled, good recruiters will check and track the referrals through LinkedIn. If the referrals look contrived or superfluous — like a situation where you tell someone, ‘If you write me a recommendation, then I’ll write you a recommendation’ or if it appears that you are going for quantity versus quality of recommendations — their impact can be diminished in the eyes of the reader,” she says.

In terms of finding people in your network that might refer you to a company you are interested in, Ullrich says LinkedIn is a good tool, but should not be the end all be all in your networking and referral efforts. “The recruiters on the panel [at Stamford] all wanted communications via e-mail rather than LinkedIn,” she says.

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