How to Nail An Interview When You Lack Relevant Experience

How to Nail An Interview When You Lack Relevant Experience

Being on the Praxis admissions team, I get to interview so many cool young people who are eager to jumpstart their careers. They come from many different backgrounds and all have different levels of professional experience under their belt.

A common issue with a lot of qualified applicants is not their lack of work experience, work ethic, or ambition, but their lack of confidence in selling themselves. They often don’t think their past experience is relevant or respectable enough, and they don’t realize that 9 times out of 10, their soft skills (attitude, mindset, work ethic, etc.) compensate for their lack of hard skills.

There is no such thing as irrelevant work experience. Your experiences are far more transferable than you think.

Isaac recently wrote more on this topic, explaining that learning to get good at something — anything — is far more transferable than spending all your time studying one thing you never actually start doing. Once you can apply grit, determination, and self-mastery to one job, you can apply it another.

For example,

James Walpole was 18 years old working on his family’s farm before he joined Praxis. He’s now 21 years old working as the Marketing & Communications Manager at Bitpay in Atlanta.

Jackie Blum built a career for herself as a teacher for many years and she is now apprenticing full-time at a successful tech startup doing customer service and sales.

Luke Ruffing was working seasonally at Barnes & Noble before joining Praxis. He’s now working full-time in sales at PandaDoc.

Brian Nuckols used to do manual labor on boats in the Carribean and now he’s doing marketing full-time on the Praxis staff.

The job postings for these types of roles usually say things like “college degree required” or “3+ years of relevant experience preferred,” but these young people got hired anyway.


Because they did something more interesting than simply check off boxes and meet boring basic criteria. In addition to creating value propositions rather than blasting out their resumes to hundreds of companies, they used their “irrelevant” past experience as an intriguing selling point, not a shameful secret that they should avoid talking about.

In an interview, don’t feel pressured to hide your previous employment as a retail associate or pizza delivery driver or substitute teacher. Make it obvious and undeniable that even though you don’t meet the company’s traditional criteria, you are still a phenomenal asset who can out-work any other applicant.

Stop Worrying About Whether Your Job is “Respectable” Enough

A common assumption I run into when interviewing Praxis applicants is their belief that their previous “menial” jobs in food service, retail, customer service, etc. are unimpressive and not worth talking about.

It’s a huge missed opportunity. You should be selling the crap out of those jobs that other people view as monotonous and pointless.

When I applied for Praxis in 2014, my only work experience was a year and a half at a fast food chain and some occasional gigs doing balloon animals and face painting at kids’ parties.

I didn’t think any of this was impressive or relevant. I was probably even a little ashamed of these jobs for not being “revered” or “professional” enough.

During my Praxis interview, I chose to talk much more about my leadership position as a club president at my high school, my involvement with student government, the college classes I was dual-enrolled in, my community service, and my meaningless 3-month stint as a marketing volunteer at a technical school where I did nothing but sit in a swivel chair for a few hours per month.

I thought these activities were a fancier signal of my maturity and professionalism than my fast food job where I stood by a window at 11pm wearing a visor and an apron taking drive-thru orders.

In retrospect, I now realize why my Praxis interviewer kept steering the conversation away from my extra-curricular activities to talk more about my fast food job. My 1.5 years working that job completely out-shined my resume-padding internships, clubs, and college classes.


That fast food job transplanted me from a cushy, schooled environment to a bustling business where I had to think fast and learn quickly. I learned how to work full-time hours, start conversations with strangers, multitask, solve customers’ problems, build social capital with my managers, and make delicious milkshakes. Oh, and disinfect urinals. If nothing else, food service jobs build character and humility.

Let’s put this mindset into a hypothetical interview context:

Q: “What’s been a challenge you have overcome at Chick-fil-A?”

Answer 1: “I mean, there’s nothing very challenging about it. I haven’t had too much work experience yet. At Chick-fil-A, I mostly just take customers’ orders, answer questions about the menu, and help out the kitchen staff from time to time. It has helped me come out of my shell a little to help customers when they have problems.”

This is not a horrible answer, but it’s very common and generic, plus it undermines the work you do. It’s not overtly negative, but it doesn’t show me you’re an optimist. On the surface, it tells me that this person doesn’t completely hate their job, that they have benefitted from it in some way, but they don’t really go out of their way to use their time there as a learning experience.

Answer 2: “I’ve been working at Chick-fil-A for over a year and it’s been a great opportunity to get my feet wet in a professional working environment while I’m still in high school. I’ve gotten to see firsthand how a business operates. When I started, I was pretty shy, but I quickly learned how to interact with customers in a personable way.

For example, one time our kitchen was backed up and there was one customer who had to wait over 25 minutes to get her meal. All of my coworkers were so busy and stressed out that they ignored her. I decided to walk up to her, apologize for the wait, and give her a coupon for a free meal for her next visit. Then, since there were no customers left in line to place orders, I ran back to the kitchen to help them with the rest of the rush.

There have been many situations like that where I had to think fast and solve problems under pressure while maintaining professionalism with guests. I have a sense of urgency, pride, and a problem-solving mentality in everything that I do.”

Answers like this tell the interviewer so much more about what type of worker you are. It’s positive, energetic, and highly specific. This answer shows that you care about your job and your reputation. You have a growth mentality, you like to learn, and you enjoy creating value for someone. It signals you are someone who sees a problem that needs solving and immediately solves it.

Your “Irrelevant” Experiences Make You Multi-Dimensional and Interesting

Your “irrelevant” experience can and should be used as a selling point, not as something that would deter an employer from hiring you.

Companies are not looking for people who can only do one thing. They don’t want to talk to a bland cardboard cutout who isn’t willing to take risks and do something a little unconventional. The unique value of your previous odd jobs can make you stand out amongst all the other applicants who played it safe.

Your previous jobs as a part-time dental assistant or a construction worker or a traveling circus performer are only as useless as you allow them to be. Each of your experiences have molded you into the type of worker you are. When approaching a job interview, talk about your jobs, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem, as if they’re something you’re proud of.

Let’s say I’m talking to a 19-year-old college student who works as a surf instructor during the summer. Here’s a hypothetical interview question:

Q: “Why do you think your one part-time seasonal job as a surf instructor is transferable to a sales role at our company?”

Answer 1: “I’m really personable and people are drawn to me. I like hard work and I’m a quick learner. I had to learn quickly to become a certified instructor at such a young age, which taught me to be disciplined and hardworking. I’m a really dedicated employee and I like seeing students succeed in my classes. I’m interested in sales work, and although I don’t have much experience with it, I’m eager to learn and work hard.”

This is an okay answer, but it’s not going to blow an interviewer away. It’s a good start, but it’s vague and only scratches the surface as to why someone should hire this guy.

Answer 2: “It would be a challenge, but I love to be challenged. I’m no stranger to hard work and I’ve been able to use that in situations where I’ve needed to adapt and learn things quickly. I was the youngest person at my job to become a certified instructor and I finished the training in half the amount of time as my coworkers. When I wasn’t getting up at 5am every morning to practice, I was studying the certification and teaching materials to past the tests.

When I did become an instructor, I wasn’t used to talking to people all day, but I quickly fell in love with socializing and building relationships with my students. Most of my first-time students continuously come back and request to have me as an instructor again because of the rapport I build with them. I’m constantly challenging myself to be the most-booked instructor.

I love my job, but I’m eager to expand my skills, learn a lot more, and sink my teeth into something more long-term. I’m really interested in sales, and my communication and relationship-building skills as an instructor could be very transferable to a sales role. I have a competitive edge that I think would fit really well in a sales role.”

This answer is highly specific and enthusiastic. He didn’t speak negatively about his current job. He didn’t speak in platitudes or put the responsibility on the interviewer to interpret vague, roundabout answers into an actual pitch for him. He didn’t beat around the bush.

His answer gives the interviewer multiple concrete examples of his best qualities: he’s dedicated, reliable, and personable. He learns quickly, he’s good at building relationships, he’s competitive with himself, and he’s hungry to learn and be challenged, which are all qualities an employer would be excited by during the hiring process.

Identifying and Selling Your Strengths In An Interview

If you’re struggling to brainstorm your top strengths and skills in the workplace, here are some questions to consider the next time you’re at work:

  • What am I better at than everyone else at this job?
  • When do I feel most in my element?
  • What am I doing every day to help the business?
  • What am I most likely to be praised for?
  • What have I learned while working here?

Don’t assume you have too little to offer to land an opportunity. Don’t spend time looking at all the ways in which your previous jobs are too different or irrelevant. Look for the similarities that make you hirable. Write down as many as you can and think about how you can use them as selling points.

Working in retail teaches you patience. Becoming a freelancer requires time management. Repairing computers requires problem-solving. Design demands creativity. Being a factory worker helps you conquer monotonous, repetitive tasks. Door-to-door sales builds a thick skin. Being a writer requires discipline and attention to detail. Digging ditches requires mental strength and resilience.

Career pivoting or breaking into the professional world for the first time can be a much less painful process with the right attitude. If you can show an interviewer that you’re a creative force in your professional life and you don’t view your jobs as limitations, but as learning opportunities and tools for self-expression, they’ll be much more interested in working with you.

Originally published at on December 14, 2017.

The Time I Got a Job Offer From My Airbnb Host

The Time I Got a Job Offer From My Airbnb Host

This past summer I took a month-long trip to a few major U.S. cities. New York City, Austin, Atlanta, Portland, and Seattle. I was still working full-time while I was traveling and a large percentage of my job at Praxis is customer service calls, emails, and live chat on our website.

At this point, I feel very accustomed to handling uncomfortable, weird, and challenging social interactions. Beyond my current job, I’ve worked at several restaurants and spent endless late night hours taking drive-thru orders from stoned teenagers.

One of my favorite orders I ever received:

Me: “Hi, thank you for choosing Culver’s! I’d be happy to take your order.”
Guy: “Mint.”
Me: “I’m sorry, what? Mint?”
Guy: “Mint.”
Me: “A mint milkshake? A mint sundae?”
Guy: “Mint.”

But my threshold was tested in a new way when I was in Seattle a few months ago.

Where I was staying in Seattle was one of those hotel-style Airbnbs where this guy named Eric owns a 4-story building in Capitol Hill and rents out all of the rooms on Airbnb.

When I got there, I couldn’t find my room and had to ask one of the very friendly and accommodating house-keepers to point me in the right direction. He walked me downstairs to the basement and unlocked the door to room 110 — an 80-square-foot room that used to be a utility closet. No window. Concrete floors. A thin cot on a metal bed frame. A toilet right next to the bed. A showerhead drilled into one of the walls. Basically a jail cell with a mini fridge and some clean towels.

I can’t complain, though. I was warned. This was the description of the room on Airbnb:

“Very, very small, 80sf, single bed. 8feetx11feet. it is in the basement and has a small, window. It can be cramped. This place is meant for someone who values quiet, privacy and efficiency.”

It was cheap, in a great location, and I was only there for two nights. I settled into my room after a long day of travel, checked my email, opened a bag of chips, and started watching an episode of Planet of the Apps in my underwear.

Then my doorknob turned and the door swung open. A young Korean girl was standing there with her iPhone in one hand and the handle of her rolling suitcase in the other. She quietly gasped and jumped backward.

She said nothing, clearly still stunned at the sight of me sitting there with no pants on and a hand full of Doritos.

To break the silence I said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I just checked into this room today. What room are you?” I asked.

She confirmed she booked room 110 and we exchanged a few more sentences, while I still sat there pantsless and politely explained to her that this was my room and she must have made a mistake. She nervously nodded and left.

Then I was filled with guilt and realized that if she had the code to unlock the room, then clearly she booked this room as well and our Airbnb host messed up. I put on some pants and opened my door – she was still standing outside my room scrolling through the Airbnb app on her phone.

Her English wasn’t very good. Everything on her phone was written in Korean. I pulled up the Airbnb app on my phone as well and showed her that I was also booked for room 110. I texted the Airbnb host, Eric, and told him what was going on. I had to wait long periods of time in-between texts until I heard back from him.

We stood in the hallway for at least 45 minutes while I texted back and forth with Eric, and she asked me where I was from. We made small talk. It was her first time in the U.S. She was here for a tech conference.

I finally got on the phone with Eric and put him on speaker. He explained to us that she had accidentally booked two reservations in his building and the second reservation overrode the first one, so room 110 was double-booked.

The girl didn’t understand everything Eric was saying so I did my best to explain. At this point, nearly an hour had gone by of us standing in this hallway. Eric got her a new room on the same floor and I helped her unlock it with her new key code.

When I was still on the phone with Eric he said to me, “You’re awesome. Thank you for the help. Seriously, can I hire you? Like, for real.”

I appreciated the nice ego boost. I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t abandon my customer service persona until everyone was happy. Some people may have been annoyed by the situation or shrugged it off and said “Not my problem,” but from my personal experience, I knew this situation would have been a mess and taken a lot longer to resolve without my help.

Despite my shitty room and awkward series of events, it was an awesome Airbnb. Every housekeeper said hello to me. There were fresh muffins and cucumber water in the lobby every morning. And someone offered me a job to work for his weird but pleasant prison hotel.

My Favorite Things About Indianapolis

My Favorite Things About Indianapolis

Indiana is home to great American entertainers like David Letterman and Tom Petty, who can be credited with most girls’ Facebook status at one point or another… 🎵 “She grew up small and she grew up right, with them Indiana boys, on them Indiana nights.” 🎵

I’ve only lived in Indianapolis for 4 months, but once again I’m packing up all my belongings and moving across the country to a new city. On Saturday I’m driving 2,260 miles to San Francisco, and I’m unexpectedly a little disappointed to be leaving the Midwest. After previously living exclusively in the south and the northeast, I’m glad I got to spend a brief amount of time living like a true Midwestern American.

I’ve put on my tour guide hat and compiled a list of a few of my favorite things about Indianapolis, and I suspect a few of these apply to the Midwest in general.

1. People talk to each other

It’s not that people on the coasts aren’t nice or friendly or polite, it’s just that somehow people are even nicer here. Instead of letting my eyes glaze over while in line at the grocery store, I had to actually engage in conversation with the clerk. When strangers asked me friendly questions, I had to train myself not to retreat like a suspicious turtle pulling back into its shell.

2. Wonderful nature and state parks 

There are amazing state parks all around Indianapolis that you can take a day trip to or plan a weekend camping trip. And they are seriously beautiful year-round.

This was my first time experiencing a real autumn season, AKA the season before winter when everyone drives around to stare at leaves. There are no shortages of beautiful trails and hikes to stare at the fall colors, always less than a 5-minute drive from my house.

3. The Cake Bake Shop

Think you can’t find any trendy, bougie, or instagrammable spots in the Midwest? There are a few hipster juice bars, but Indianapolis is significantly lower on the trendy scale than other places I’ve lived. Midwesterners like their diners and large casual dining chains.

But if you’re looking for some food and atmospheres that are a bit more photo-worthy, The Cake Bake Shop really makes up for it. There is no place more glittery, luxurious, or stunning. Every single pastry, cookie, piece of pie or cake is sprinkled with gold glitter. There’s so much pink, lace, and sparkles, it’s basically like something pulled straight out of Dolores Umbridge’s wildest dreams.

4. The Monon Trail

The ten-mile stretch of the Monon trail from north to south offers a chance to escape to the mean streets of suburban Broad Ripple and retreat outdoors. There are families pulling kids in wagons, walking their dogs, biking, and roller-blading on the Monan Trail all days of the week. It’s a lovely scenic way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

5. Dedication to the fine arts

Indianapolis takes the fine arts seriously. Everyone should visit the Indianapolis Museum of Art (recently renamed Newfields) at some point.

Along with all the incredible art, there are acres upon acres of beautiful gardens surrounding the Lilly House, a gorgeous early 20th-century American house once owned by an Indianapolis businessman and philanthropist. Indianapolis’s history as a free state allowed me to wander this house without feeling all the rich white guilt I experienced exploring massive slave plantations in Charleston, SC.

Indianapolis has tons of theatres, venues, museums, antiquing, and art shows and events to ensure that there’s no lack of culture here in Circle City.

2 Playlists to Survive a Breakup

2 Playlists to Survive a Breakup

A friend of mine was recently broken up with, so, naturally, I had to do what I do best: make him a breakup playlist.

When you go through a breakup, you need only two types of songs depending on the stage of the breakup you’re in: 1) crying-on-the-bathroom-floor-in-a-puddle-of-your-own-tears songs or 2) obnoxiously confident and sassy “I’m better off without you” songs.

Usually in that order.

Disclaimer: We’re pop music fans. Both categories include a lot of Taylor Swift. No Adele. She just doesn’t move me.

When you need a good cry:

Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler
The Night We Met by Lord Huron
All Too Well by Taylor Swift
From the Dining Table by Harry Styles
Love Is a Losing Game by Amy Winehouse
Liability by Lorde
Stone Cold by Demi Lovato
Every Time We Say Goodbye by Ray Charles
I Have Questions by Camila Cabello
How by Regina Spektor
Praying by Kesha
Supercut by Lorde
Hard Feelings by Lorde
Sandcastles by Beyonce
Just Call by Prince Fox feat. Bella Thorne
Stay by Rihanna
Sad Dream by Sky Ferreira

When you want to dance around and rip up old pictures:

Shout Out to My Ex by Little Mix
New Rules by Dua Lipa
Sorry Not Sorry by Demi Lovato
Love Myself by Hailee Steinfeld
Should’ve Said No by Taylor Swift
Don’t Hurt Yourself by Beyonce
I Don’t Fuck With You by Big Sean
Bad Blood by Taylor Swift
Before He Cheats by Carrie Underwood
Woman by Kesha
You Oughta Know by Alanis Morrisette 
Sorry by Beyonce
This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things by Taylor Swift
Miss Independent by Kelly Clarkson
Green Light by Lorde
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together by Taylor Swift
Love Someone by Miley Cyrus
Me and My Girls by Selena Gomez
Picture to Burn by Taylor Swift

The Best Customer Service I Ever Received

The Best Customer Service I Ever Received

Sometimes you experience customer service that is so ridiculously good it’s still in your brain 4 months later and you have to write about it. This is an appreciation post for the hostess at Serious Pie in Seattle, Washington.

We had a party of three and a fourth friend who was a maybe, who turned into a no, who turned into a yes. By the time her situation was figured out, the seat she was originally going to occupy had been filled (cafeteria-style seating).

We understood. We were being pretty flaky. When our friend showed up, we scarfed down our delicious pizza, paid the bill, and walked a couple blocks over to another restaurant to eat with her.

When we finished up our second meal at this restaurant, our waitress came over and asked us if we all just ate at Serious Pie. We said yes, and she said, “This is for you,” motioning to a plated up chocolate dessert that she placed on our table. She said the hostess at Serious Pie called her up and asked her to give us free dessert.

The hostess who seated us apparently felt so terrible about what happened, that she somehow tracked us down and figured out what restaurant we were at so she could buy us dessert.

The level of creepy detective work went into her scheme is really impressive. Plus, we already paid our bill and the $15 minimum wage in Seattle prohibited us from tipping her, so she was literally getting nothing out of it.

We left a glowing review online and if I’m ever back in Seattle I’ll definitely return to Serious Pie. Everyone working in a customer-facing role should aspire to this hostess’s level of stalkerish customer service.

2 Months of Being Vegan

2 Months of Being Vegan

I decided to go vegan nearly 2 months ago. Despite repetitive questioning and the need to justify my decision, I’m loving it. I know becoming a vegan seems like a trendy choice to be more like socially conscious celebrities, but I swear I’m doing it for reasons other than my life goal to be as much like Miley Cyrus as possible.

I’m more energized, I don’t feel like shit after eating a meal, my skin has improved, and I have less muscle pain because of eating unprocessed foods and healthy carbohydrates like sourdough bread, quinoa and whole, and oats. I feel lighter, more agile, and less stressed about my diet.

The switch was surprisingly really, really easy. I expected it to be a difficult transition that would cause me some initial deficiencies or intense cravings, but that didn’t happen. It was easy to find meat and cheese alternatives and plant-based proteins at most grocery stores. It didn’t require hours of cooking complicated meals. I didn’t find myself reaching for my housemates’ pizza or smuggling fried chicken into my room. My meals were better than any non-vegan meals I had made in the past (I made bomb vegan Thanksgiving food). I didn’t crave meat, despite previously visiting Wingstop multiple times a week (seriously, ask my lifelong friends who have seen me eat so many buffalo wings that they have a chicken wing emoji next to my name in their phones).

I think people who sometimes take offense when they find out I went vegan see it as an attack against their own meat-eating and feel the need to question me to see if I’m going to subtly judge them or speak down to them. There’s a stereotype that vegans do nothing but talk about being vegan, so I’m trying to avoid that.

For me, although I’ve enjoyed the experience so far and would recommend veganism to those who asked, I am not eager to convert anyone and I don’t necessarily get very excited to talk about it too heavily. In general, I’ve never enjoyed feeling like I’m forcing any of my lifestyle choices on others, but especially when it comes to food. I’ve always gotten physically frustrated when I see others preaching about why their way is the best way.

If you ask me, I’m happy to tell you. But beyond that, my decision to go vegan and make Miley Cyrus proud of me has nothing to do with you.

Stop Making Excuses

Stop Making Excuses

I’ve always hated complainers. I’m definitely not the most bubbly person alive, but I can only be around positive people. I hate complaining, I feel like one of my strengths is maintaining a certain level of optimism during debates, and I genuinely enjoy the musical stylings of Ariana Grande.

However, when I was younger I still internally whined to myself about why my life wasn’t perfect.

Why aren’t my parents like my friends’ parents? Why can’t I have a better paying job? Why isn’t college teaching me anything relevant? Why can’t I live in a more exciting city? Why am I not as talented or as smart or as rich or as ambitious as that person? Why am I not filled with all the charisma, charm, and musical talent of Bruno Mars?

That bullshit got me nowhere.

I remember when I was really little, I started implementing a tactic every time my parents didn’t give me what I wanted: I would cry. I wasn’t a baby, it wasn’t an instinctual reaction, it was a rehearsed plan. Despite how young I was, I still remember the light bulb that went off in my head when my plan worked: I could do this every time! The second or third time I did it, my sister called me out on it: “You’re way too old for that. Shut up.” Plan backfired.

At some point, like my sister once did, I called myself out on my bullshit. I realized how useless my mindset was. I owned up to my behavior and I stopped making excuses for myself. I accepted and adapted.

You can sit back behind your computer debating the low plausibility or unlikelihood of this scenario or that scenario. You can stomp your feet because you have a brilliant business idea but lack the resources to make it happen. You can complain that the government is getting in your way. You can resent your family for not supporting you. You can give yourself every reason to believe that the universe is fighting against you.

There’s nothing wrong with engaging in debates in pursuit of understanding the ways in which the world works and what societal barriers may prevent certain groups of people from achieving the same level of opportunity as others. Discussing and questioning things can be powerful and enlightening when done effectively.

You can deliberate and ponder about all the people who are granted more opportunities, advantages, or privileges than you. You could be justified in doing so. But the market doesn’t care. Contemplating, dwelling, and placing blame on external forces does not get you any closer to achieving what you want.

The time you spend retweeting smug condemnations, or engaging with a Facebook comment with 100+ replies, or defending your lack of privilege to people who may never understand, is time that could be better spent ignoring your limitations and your inadequacies, and instead searching for and channeling your strengths.

“Don’t argue for your limitations. Fight for your possibilities.” – T.K. Coleman

It’s definitely easier said than done. Making excuses convinces you that regardless of how hard you work, you may never be rewarded, so why even try?

Funny enough, as easy as it is to fight for your limitations, it’s just as easy to justify others’ seemingly obvious successes.

Oprah was born with natural talent, so of course she became an icon. Gary Vaynerchuk’s dad gave him a $3 million company, so of course he’s a successful businessman. Mark Zuckerberg is a genius who had rich parents who loved him, so of course he built an empire. Kylie Jenner was born into a famous family, so of course she has a multi-million dollar cosmetics company.

Okay, well, that last one can’t really be refuted.

But why can’t we justify our own advantages as effortlessly as we identify others’? Similarly, if you delve into any successful person’s past you will indisputably find a thousand reasons why they shouldn’t have become successful if you dig deep enough. There’s always evidence of setbacks that could have defeated them if they spent all their time complaining. With the probable exception of Kylie Jenner, nearly every successful entrepreneur got nowhere without working his/her fucking face off. It’s so easy to idealize others while discrediting ourselves.

We’re all byproducts of our upbringing and our circumstances, but we don’t have to be controlled by them. There are simply not enough days in one human life to spend them making excuses. Ignore your weaknesses and limitations. Accept, adapt, and get to work.

“Luck is preparation meeting opportunity.” – Oprah

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