• Bare Words: Pare Your Writing Down to the Essentials

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    Yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit I am a lover of words and writing. I try to be open-minded about the art, but this weekend I was struck by two less than artful abuses.

    The first was New York Governor, David A. Paterson’s ludicrous pronouncement, “I pledge I have not obfuscated.” Whatever happened to “lied”?

    The second occurred as my grandson and I drove to his 5th grade breakfast fundraiser.  As we were cruising along in the dawn’s early light, he proudly announced he was a PTP.  Science wizard that he is, I thought this must have something to do with the Periodic Table of the Elements. Not so, he smiled and said that’s “Pancake Transportation Personnel.” Are “waiters” no more?

    The late, E.B. White, master author and essayist, would have been horrified. White was adamant about clarity in writing.  One of his cardinal rules was:  “Avoid fancy words: Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute. Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able.”

    White and William Strunk, Jr., wrote The Elements of Style, a tiny but venerable guide which is just as valuable today as when it was when first published in 1919.  As we struggle with résumés, cover letters and all other communications related to capturing and positioning ourselves for our job searches, we need to keep this little gem of a book at out fingertips.

    The guide begins with sixty-three words that could change your world of writing: “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

    In this weekend’s NY Times excellent essay, Writing a Résumé That Shouts ‘Hire Me’, by Phyllis Korkki, the advice is “be concise, tight, lean and clean” – an echo of  the 1919 Elements of Style, credo: Make every word tell.

    Muriel Barbery in The Elegance of the Hedgehog has written a remarkable passage describing a Maori rugby player that is a perfect metaphor for telling words. He “was like a tree, a great indestructible oak with deep roots and a powerful radiance – everyone could feel it. And yet you also got the impression that the great oak could fly, that it would be a quick as the wind, despite, or perhaps because of its deep roots.”

    As you write, take care to choose words that are grounded, words that are clear and concise – telling words which ignite the imagination, radiate and resonate so everyone can hear you.

  • Take Back the Name: Stop Negative “Senior” Stereotyping!

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    Remember when we were in high school and achieving “Senior” status was the Holy Grail. It was the same in college. The senior class was highly revered; it was the font of wisdom and experience for the undergrads. No one was more “with it” than a senior. It was a powerful position oft lauded with reckless abandon – in fact, if memory serves, the more reckless abandon the more the senior was lauded.

    It wasn’t until we joined the work force that “Senior” became a pejorative epithet. Not an instant metamorphous, it accrued bit by bit as our seniors’ workplace tenure increased. Each year, each crop of new corporate mogul wannabes, ambitious, cutting-edge entrepreneurs and innovators slowly but surely pushed older employees into the “establishment.”  This was not a good establishment but, rather, one that connoted stodgy, unimaginative, over-the-hill and senior (bold is to emphasize the thud). We need to revamp the definition of senior to include such positives as:  dynamic, creative, energetic and treasure trove of experience and wisdom. In other words – very savvy!

    AARP did not help. Their market focus was so successful that 50 became synonymous with retirement. And their image of retirement was a good thing – like a lifetime achievement award. That was their pitch but the folks actually approaching 50 dreaded the AARP member invitation. It arrived in mailboxes like a death knell. We were crossing the Rubicon from living and working to retiring. On the other hand, the young, eager-beaver workers loved this blueprint because they needed room at the top to move up the ladder. You’d think we’d know better today. But AARP is still thriving; it is one of the most profitable nonprofits in the country, if not the world. And negative senior stereotypes remain rampant.

    We also need to stop saying, “sixty is the new fifty, seventy is the new sixty,” etc. That just pushes the problem down the road, and we all know what happened to Sisyphus. Remember that king in ancient Greek Mythology who was cursed to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this throughout eternity…

    It’s time to redefine seniors and retirement through new role models such as Robert Chambers, who at 60+ founded a nonprofit organization, Bonnie CLAC, in rural New Hampshire and, in less than 10 years, was invited to a White House press conference, where President Obama hailed him as one of the nation’s greatest social innovators.

    There are lots more seniors like Robert. It’s time to take back the name!

  • Social Media Works! The day I posted my profile on LinkedIn my Blog stats tripled and I received a job offer.

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    Speaking as a former technology Luddite (I did not lose my Web virginity until my 50th birthday had sailed by), I am thrilled to see how well the latest Social Media tools can work. I posted my LinkedIn profile, emailed 30 colleagues to cue them I had joined their virtual network and within hours the number of unique visitors to my blog had tripled and one contact wrote back to offer me a job. All of this happened – not on a “busy” weekday – but on a late, sleepy Sunday afternoon. Clearly, these online networks operate 24/7 and folks are not just surfing; they are working!

    Lest you think my virtual network success was a bolt from the blue, it was not. I have been developing networks the old fashioned way (phone, letter, email, and shockingly even face-to-face) for eons. I have tippy-toed into the virtual world with extreme care and much due diligence. I studied all the do’s and don’ts and scoured zillions of online tutorials before I so much as typed the big “T” for  Twitter!

    Five steps I learned the hard way which could be key to your success:

    1. Identify your audience. Is this about family and friends or professional colleagues and securing a job?

    2. Know what you want to say and, of course, have something to say that will be of interest or value to your audience. Nobody really cares if you’re having bananas or blueberries on your cereal each morning. But, if you had a flash of genius about how to secure the job of your dreams whilst munching, it might be okay to mention the fruit – just don’t overdo it. Your audience is interested in your epiphany not your edibles.

    3. Determine how you want to convey your message (humor, info, facts, data, personal experience, aggregated wisdom) and then assess which platform (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook etc) will work most effectively for you. Don’t jump in with both feet. Dip a toe in to test the water and make sure you can wriggle all ten comfortably before you dive in to another platform.

    4. Always remember that, like a traditional on-the-ground network, your virtual network needs nurturing and on-going maintenance. Keep it fresh and up-to-date. If you limit your postings to once a year or even once a month, it connotes a certain lack of interest and commitment or, even worse, that you really don’t know what you are doing!

    5. Be prepared to let go. Once you post what you consider a wise or erudite tidbit, be open to feedback – both positive and negative. That interchange or exchange of information and insights is the real value added – the way we learn.

  • Do you know WHO you are online? “An old wine in a new bottle???”

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    If you think you control your online fate by not participating in any Social Media Networking platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc, you must think again. Even better, try popping your name in Google’s search window.

    The results could be fascinating, riveting or downright appalling.

    I submitted my name with a little fear and trepidation and found references to speeches I had long forgotten about, a video of me created 4 years ago at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford England, books and a vast assortment essays I had published, reviews of those books and essays, and I found (in the prestigious de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection online) a letter which I had written to an author almost 20 years ago. After perusing 24 of my Google pages, I stopped in my tracks when I discovered a reference to me as “an old wine in a new bottle.” I can only hope they meant a vintage champagne. I did not have the courage to continue reading my Google dossier but I will and you must also.

    Today, at least 50% of employers will check your online presence and those same techies will eliminate more than 35% of all candidates because of their online persona.

    You may not control your Google profile but you absolutely need to be aware of what’s there. That way, if, per chance, you’re applying for a management position in a sausage factory, you can proactively explain just how you came to be photographed in that big Animal Rights rally.

    On the other – much more positive – hand, Social Media Networking offers a great opportunity to not only differentiate yourself from other candidates but also to bring your more traditional credentials to life. We’re all competing for visibility with employers and, ultimately, for that job offer. If your credentials look just as good as many others on paper, you have to find a way to make your less tangible attributes – your commitment, passion, personality and motivation – stand out. With all due respect to the mighty Groundhog of Punxsutawney, this is no time to bolt back into your den.

    Just look at this Social Media utilization chart. It indicates there were over 300 million unique participants in 2009, and we know that number is increasing exponentially. Today there are more than 65 million people registered on LinkedIn alone.

    Global Web Traffic to Social Networking Sites

    Soooo, gird your loins and take your first Social Media steps forward. The best way to learn how to use these tools and to see the ways in which they can be of help is to sign-up and give one or two a test drive. Believe me, if I can “tweet and blog” you can too.

    Once you begin to dip your toes in these virtual waters, keep the following in mind:

    • Make certain each Social Media profile (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Blogs etc) you create is professional.
    • Keep your direct and web contact information up-to-date.
    • Check to be sure your profile/personality is consistent from platform to platform. You cannot hide your wild side any place online.
    • Pay attention to your headline – just as a book’s title should make you want to read it, your headline should capture your reader’s attention, promote your skills and demonstrate how you can help.
    • Select a picture that conveys intelligence and enthusiasm. Ask yourself: is this someone with whom I would like to work?
    • Last, but FAR from least, never ever post anything on any platform that you would not want your mother or daughter to see!

    Happy Tweets!

  • Ten Tips to Beat the Waiting Game Doldrums

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    Boomer or budgie – the waiting game can be maddening: waiting to hear if they have received your resumé; waiting to hear if they have read your resumé; waiting to see if they will call you for an interview; waiting to see if they will call you back after your first interview; waiting to learn if you will or will not be offered the job. With the paucity of jobs open and the glut of qualified applicants today, all of this could take months. Even worse, if there’s no job offer and if you have done nothing but twitch and bite your nails whilst waiting, you have wasted precious time.

    The good news is that we do learn to be more patient as we grow older. The bad news is that we have less time to be patient as we grow older.  Soooo, it’s time to take back some control: time to use those days, weeks, months to gear up for the next opportunity.

    Tips:

    1. Eggs:  Never, ever put them all in one basket! Pursue several opportunities simultaneously. What you learn from one will build upon what you need to know for another. The efficacy of the way in which you present yourself for one will inform your next “self” sales pitch.

    2. Intelligence Gathering:  Network, network, network and then network some more. Find someone who works where you want to work or who knows someone in that organization. Use your friends, family, paper rolodex and online networks. You need to get the inside scoop: what works; what needs to be fixed; what’s the strategic vision and what’s the organizational culture – collaborative or stressed, competitive or satisfied? This info is crucial for you to be able to communicate the ways in which you are a good fit and articulate the value added you bring to help the organization meet its goals.

    3. Insights and Perspectives:  Scour industry specific publications, niche business journals and online blogs and pipelines to determine what’s happening in that industry, who are the thought leaders? Form your own opinions and do not be afraid to articulate them. Innovative leaders are looking for new, actionable ideas. They are not seeking clones nor are they satisfied with the status quo. They want fresh, independent insights and perspectives to help achieve their vision.

    Remember President Lincoln’s Cabinet? He deliberately appointed a contentious “Team of Rivals,” and that team became one of the most successful Cabinets in US History.

    4. Compelling Story:  Put your best foot forward. Metaphorically and realistically speaking – polish your boots. The competition is fierce and you need to be able to demonstrate you are the best of the best. Create a compelling story. Answers alone may be quickly forgotten but stories create an impact and are memorable. Focus on what you have to offer and why it will be of value – what’s in it for the organization. You know to compose your story with active verbs but do not forget the blockbuster nouns – key words – that capture you, your strengths and your industry savvy. If your key words’ vocabulary needs a boost, explore Google’s Key Word search tool.

    5. Qualify and Quantify:  Provide metrics to quantify your successes and specific examples to qualify your accomplishments. Create bullet points to remind you of each anecdote during the interview. If you have to flip through pages of notes, you defeat the purpose of the exercise; it will appear as forced documentation rather than spontaneous elaboration or sharing.  You want to engage the interviewer so he or she is genuinely interested in what you have accomplished and how you have done it. Caveat Emptor: be brief. The best storytellers leave their audience eager to hear more.

    6. Questions:  Formulate questions to ask the interviewer, such as: what do you see as the most critical elements of this job; what are you looking for in a candidate; why is the current job holder leaving; how would you prioritize the organization’s top goals; when and why did you join the organization and what continues to interest you most? Listen carefully and then use the information you have researched on the organization and this field to follow-up on the interviewer’s answers. Don’t merely match questions tit for tat; create a dialogue. You are interested in this position and are not just desperate for any job.

    7. Continually Update Your Resume:  Note everything you are learning as you move forward. For example, if you’re becoming more fluent in social networking, provide some data to let the interviewer know you understand what differentiates each of these online tools, how to use each to your best advantage and how you would use them to the organization’s advantage.

    8. Current Events:  Keep on top of what’s happening economically. Understand how the ways in which you want to work and the organizations with which you’d like to work relate to and affect what’s going on in the context of the community, state and global economy.

    9. Beyond the Economy:  Relate current political, cultural and social events to the broader context of history and literature. Check out “deep thinking on the web.” Nothing is happening now that has not happened before. Technology may change. Human nature does not. Competition in the workplace? Remember how Julius Caesar was stabbed by his fellow Senators in the Roman Forum? Are today’s hallowed halls of the US Congress equally welcoming to our leaders?

    10. Relax: Enjoy this opportunity to learn more about yourself. If you value yourself, others will too.

  • Phone Interviews – How Can You Make the Interviewer Hear Your Best Face?

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    Yes, you can “hear” a face.

    Shakespeare nailed it in his Pyramus and Thisbe play within his play, A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Shakespeare’s lovers cannot see each other through the wall that separates them, but Pyramus hears Thisbe’s voice and says, “I see a voice… an I can hear my Thisbe’s face.”

    The interviewer cannot see your smile but he or she will hear it in your voice. A genuine smile – not the Cheshire cat’s grimace – lifts the tone of the conversation and your enthusiasm. The interviewer can sense you are relaxed and enjoying the interview.

    The interview is a two-party dialog not an inquisition, and your questions are a key element.  Your questions will cue the interviewer that you are both interested and interesting. One of my most enjoyable phone interviews was with Dan Sherman, Founder and President of Explore Company, an international executive search firm specializing in recruitment for nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. Naturally, I researched Dan and his company before the interview to have a good sense of with whom I would be talking. I was impressed with the portion of Dan’s company website that was dedicated to his late father, Dr. Alan Sherman.

    Dan specifically cites two of his father’s papers which, as a tremendous testament to vitality in aging, are an inspiration to all of us now 60+

    Beyond Growing Old: Individual Empowerment as a Key to Personal Vitality

    T.I.B.E.T. and the Process for Effective Change

    I have taken many of Dan’s father’s words to heart, but the ones that struck deepest were: “As playing music has taught me, you must not let a misplayed note distract you from joy in the sound and the process of playing music. Some of us have been so well trained to get the notes right that we forget about the music and the joy.”

    I did not get the position for which I was interviewing; it was not a good fit but I learned more than I had ever anticipated from the interview.

    Now, lest you think – based on this experience – that the phone interview just a chatty conversation – it is not. You are relaxing and enjoying so you can truly engage in the process.

    Practical preparation includes:

    Eliminating all the distractions – no radio or TV in the background, dogs are outside roaming the back forty, call waiting has been turned off,  “Do Not Disturb” signs posted on the door etc.

    Confident that you and your interviewer are not going to be distracted, it’s time to focus on you. Self-branding isn’t all about selling yourself, it’s being intentional about the impression you make.

    Have your resume and your bullets addressing why you are the best candidate for the job and the one who can do the most to move the organization strategically forward at your fingertips for reference.

    We presume you’ve prepared what you want to say, but have you prepared how you’re going to say it?  We are not talking about an elaborate sound system but rather the energy of your delivery. Just as you know to have active, dynamic words in your written materials, you need to have them at the tip of your tongue. Speak with confidence and authority.

    Nick Corcodilos, on his blog, Ask the Hunter, has a great video by the poet, Peter Taylor, about how to speak with conviction.

    Now that you are ready: relax, engage and enjoy! And don’t forget, after the call send a thank you note! Further, if you think a follow-up, in-person interview will be forthcoming, revise your sales pitch with info you learned about the organization  and their strategic thinking in your call so you’ll be even better prepared for the next round.

  • How You Handle Rejections Could Mean the Difference Between Having a New Career and Wishing You Had One!

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    Every Job Rejection Presents a New Learning Opportunity

    If you’ve reached aged 60 and still live in fear of rejection, you haven’t really lived. Certainly in my 60+ years I have been rejected in every conceivable way, but I always pick myself up, assess the circumstances – sometimes more objectively than others – and then move my more informed self forward.

    Of course rejection devastation is appropriate at times – like kindergarten. Who could forget those Valentine’s Days when missives to your heart were scant and some of your classmates barely had time to open all of theirs? Then, too, high school could be particularly brutal when “popular” girls were admired for their cashmere twinsets and not their brains.  But life goes on and the longer you live the more context you have to put each of these peccadilloes in perspective.

    Rejection – whether it be personal or work related – often has little to do with who you are. I don’t know many people more vulnerable than authors. They pour their heart, soul and intellect into every page of their manuscripts. Their writing may be brilliant but publishers with seeming reckless abandon reject them (unless they are already on some prestigious best-selling list) out of hand with such excuses as “the market just isn’t there for your book.”

    Still, many authors who have been rejected zillions of times, pick themselves up from the floor, print out another copy (a publisher never returns the rejected copy) and send it out again. They persevere because they believe in themselves and their work. I recently learned that a current best-selling author (I won’t embarrass him by mentioning his name) with more than 10 million books in print and still selling experienced 85 rejections over 7 years before his first book was published.

    NBJust as you should never submit your resumé to an unknown entity at the employer of your dreams, never send your manuscript to a publishing house without having the name of an editor who has agreed to read it – or at least open the package.

    There could be many valid reasons why you do not get the job of your dreams. It may have nothing to do with the credibility of your skills and accomplishments but, rather, that your talents are not a good fit. How well did you research the organization’s needs?

    Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. Be open and prepared to hear the criticism. Do not be defensive! Your interest shows the hiring manager you care and he or she is more likely to remember you if another more appropriate position opens in their organization. Use what you learn to better market yourself for the next opportunity.  Last but far from least – be sure to thank them for taking the time to do this!

    Happy Valentine’s Day.

  • What Do Job Boards and Black Holes Have in Common?

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    Too much I fear. There’s a reason they have names like “Monster.”

    I cannot imagine any scenario where a Job Board would be of value today. If that’s the way you choose to search for a job, you might as well print out 1000 copies of a generic resumé, hire a helium balloon, drift out over Nebraska and pitch them over the side of the gondola.

    Finding a job should not be like playing “Wheel of Fortune,” where you let the fates take control of your spin. Finding a job is very much under your control. It is proactive and involves a lot of highly focused research and preparation. To be precise, you need to figure 95% of your time for research and prep and 5% for the actual interview where you secure the job.

    First, you need to decide (in your head and heart – not some job board) what you would like to do. Second, brand what you do so others will recognize it. Third,  identify those organizations where you’d like to work and why they need someone like you. Fourth, find the individual in that organization who will best understand the value you bring. Finally, write to that enlightened person to tell them what you can do to optimize their organization’s success.

    Make no mistake, we are talking about a sales pitch. Put yourself in the employer’s shoes. If you were an employer looking for an individual with an office cleaning service, for example, which of the following would grab your attention?

    1.  Owner of Acme Office Cleaners submits a traditional resumé:

    • Objective: We are looking for more offices to add to our portfolio of satisfied clients
    • Education: Certified in all Whamo products
    • Chronology: History of the business, beginning with first client’s one room office to current 10 clients with average of 2500 square feet each
    • References: Supplied upon request

    2.  Owner of Turbo Cleaners submits a sales pitch:

    Acme Cleaners has never had a dissatisfied customer. No space is too large or too small; no soil too tough for our team of crack professionals. We are speedy and extremely efficient. Call us today and we will have a team at your office within 24-hours. If you’re not satisfied with the results, we will come back at no additional charge. Acme is a certified and fully insured cleaning enterprise, and we guarantee to meet the quotes of any competitors delivering equal service.

    Turbo wins hands down in my book!

    You can create the same captivating sales pitch for any business or organization with whom you’d like to work. Today, especially, no one has the time to pore over traditional resumés to try to determine if that person does or does not have what it takes to move their company forward. After you’ve done your due diligence to learn what an organization needs, you can show them what and how you can deliver. It takes time and care but it does produce results. While those other resumés are still floating over Nebraska, you will be walking into an interview, where the employer is eager to convince you that this company and this job are the ones for which you’ve been waiting.

    Does this mean you do not need a resumé? Absolutely not. Think of the resumé as a blueprint for your sales pitch. You need to ground the pitch in real details and data to document who you are and what you have accomplished and to articulate that history and those credentials (all part of your brand) so your potential is clear – to you as well as others.

  • Mea Culpa!

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    One of my trusty readers took me to task today, thinking I had maligned seniors who might be “looking forward to the comforts of a rocking chair.”

    This was certainly not my intention and I do apologize. I personally adore rocking chairs. I think their appearance in airport lounges is the single best addition to air travel since Lindy landed in Paris. I have rocking chairs in my garden (above) and one in every room of my house except the bathrooms. That being said, I am sure that once some ingenious soul invents a rocking commode I will install it immediately.

    My intent was to tell those readers who were not contemplating creating their own business but rather were looking forward to the comforts of a rocking chair not to waste their time reading that particular “boomer enterprise” posting.

    Rest assured I would never demean anyone’s ambitions nor the rocker in which I do most all of my creating thinking.

  • Gray Hairs – the Secret to Successful Boomer Enterprises???

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    That’s right! Stop pulling or, even worse, dying that gray hair. It’s your badge of gravitas – a sign that you are wise and experienced and quite possibly your greatest asset in launching a new enterprise.

    Tired of doing the same old tedious job? Been pushed out of that boring position due to our bum economy? I was going to say it does not matter what your situation, but it does. If you’re bored and have no interest in changing the stagnant-quo or have been made redundant and look forward to the comforts of a rocking chair, this blog’s not for you.

    On the other hand, if you’d like to jump start your life again, it’s never too late. It just takes a big dollop of gumption and an abundance of passion. For heaven’s sake with today’s life span, we’re looking at another 30 years ahead of us. Let’s make the most of them. I’d passed the mid-term mark when I launched CyberSeniors with 12 brave, gray-haired students in Maine and in five years of blood, sweat, tears and little sleep grew it into more than 28,000 senior students nationwide. Further, I have developed more enterprises since then and have no intentions of stopping as long as the creative juices are flowing.

    Just look at the hundreds of Civic Ventures Fellows and Purpose Prize Winners who, after they had turned 60, embarked on a new careers to help solve some of the world’s most critical social problems. Their stories of passion, commitment, perseverance and success are inspiring. One example, Tim Will, a former telecom executive, had thought he was retiring to North Carolina. Once there, however, he was struck by the number of laid off factory workers in his region. Tim brought broadband and economic prosperity to Appalachia by training those laid off workers in sustainable farming and connecting them, via the internet, to gourmet chefs dedicated to supporting “locally grown” produce in nearby Charlotte, North Carolina. Today, Tim is creating jobs and protecting the environment.

    Then, too, if you need some practical tactics to move your inspiration forward, I’d recommend Will Keyser, a 71-year-old neighbor from Vermont. Will has a portfolio of fascinating businesses which he currently manages simultaneously with great aplomb. One of those enterprises is Work Savvy, LLC with a website rich in resources for Senior Start-ups.

    Before we know it some young whippersnapper is going to attempt to die his or her hair gray. We must warn them that no amount of white shoe polish will imbue them with the experience wrought from 60+ years of living and working. We’ve earned those stripes!

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