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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Humble Brag (Just right for cover letters)

There are probably just as many interpretations of what this term means as there are people who are able to blow their own horns while sounding humble.  However you pull this off, you've got bragging rights.

And you've got power, for the humble brag is a sound and persuasive approach to writing cover letters that reinterpret the facts that tell the story of your professional life on the resume.

The humble brag can come to life in many forms and is different from the simple humble response of downplaying any reason for praise.

Scenario:  "You rescued that woman from a burning building!"

The humble response:  "I was in the right place at the time when she needed me. I was glad I could be useful."

Consider the same scenario, but no one knows you rescued a woman from a burning building.

The humble brag is uttered when no one asks the question:  "I'm sorry I am late to work this morning.  I happened to witness a house fire, and was able to pull a woman and her baby out, but that detour has made me late for work. It won't happen again."

You get the idea.  The brag is tucked inside other information that is also relevant.

Think about the dynamic called the humble brag the next time you need to write a fresh cover letter for a job application or when you send off your resume. Rather than begin each sentence in the letter with the word "I"--nothing humble about that repetition--look for ways to begin your sentences with some action, and then humbly include the news that you think is relevant to the job's criteria, and which you deftly claim you can handle.

For more about how to use a story inside a cover letter, see the following entry:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Does the tail wag the dog? Or, is it the Cookie Matchmaker?

After a recent sighting of a pop-up advertisement that does not reflect the ethical of intentions of this blog, I looked for a way to ban that advertisement from popping up again.

I suspect there is a way to do this, but I could not immediately find it out.

 Instead, the question that I typed in a variety of search strings ultimately led me to a video that I watched which showed me some of the ways connections are made between advertisers and a blog site.  While the retailers show up initially as a possible, natural alliance to the content of the blog, they soon begin to be matched to the reader's surfing trail, I think, as well as the blog or any other destination.

That idea almost caused me to have an identity crisis, for I quickly figured out that the troublesome advertiser I wanted to ban must have shown up in response to some trail that my curiosity has taken, and which has led the Cookie Matchmaker (the Big Brother that matches cookied information to surfers) to arrange it so that we keep bumping in to each other on this blog.


The problem didn't originate with someone else.  It happened, in part, because of something I have done.

This result has caused me to take a second look at myself in the mirror called pop-up advertisements, which pop up in response to how I am being profiled.

It has made me want to think about who I really am--and if the way the Cookie Matchmaker sees me--is more accurate than I was at first willing to believe.

I invite others to investigate this mystery, and post your own observations here so that we can learn more about this multi-dimensional dynamic together.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Three Reasons Why You are Not the Perfect Candidate for the Job

You are not the perfect candidate for the job.

Beware of claiming to be the perfect candidate for a job during the application process.

I understand the impulse to sound confident by writing, "I am the perfect person for the job!"

 Don't worry about not sounding confident. Your command of language inside your cover letter will establish your credibility gracefully.

Boasting that you are the perfect candidate will most likely have the opposite effect on you reader.

Here are three reasons not to introduce yourself as the perfect candidate for the job:

1.     Calling yourself perfect is illogical.  You are human, and so you are not perfect.
2.     You are not in the position yet, and so you cannot know firsthand all that is required in the position.  The boast that you're perfect for it implies a familiarity with the job's requirements that makes you sound naive, maybe even ignorant.
3.     Finally, you do not know who the other candidates are.  Without a reliable basis of comparison to the other candidates, you do not only not know if you are the best candidate for the position which in this context is what perfect implies. 

Consider wisdom, humility and a different word choice than perfect when you tender your application for a job.  Think of saying it differently and more truly with descriptions like viable candidate, competitive candidate, serious contender.  Use anything but perfect, because, you are not perfect.  When you use that word in this way, you prove it--and you usually prove it right at the top of the cover letter or resume.

Daphne Simpkins' most recent book is Christmas in Fountain City

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cold Calls Today Can Warm Up Sales in the Future

Cold calls are a type of sales approach that most salespeople dread and which they postpone doing until the boss says, "Where are the sales?"

When the regular sales contacts have all been approached, the list of long shots is brought out and called or dropped in on.  "I was just in the neighborhood...."

In person or on the phone, the cold call begins.

You have to introduce yourself.

The listener may immediately shut down.

You have to snag some buyer interest because at the heart of what makes a sales call cold is that the buyer does not have a ready or present interest in the product you are selling.

Quick gambits might work.  Emotional appeals might work.  There is one approach that works more often than any other:  straightforward presentation of why you are either calling on the phone or standing in front of a person who has a list of work to do as long as yours.

Years ago I witnessed a young man who sold an item more unpopular than prepackaged funerals.  He sold office forms.

Forms are not discussed much in the workplace, but they come from somewhere if they are not generated in-house.

This young man visited my boss once a month, month after month, for two years.  Each month I heard my boss say, "I don't need any forms."  After the polite young man left quite politely, taking the firm no for what it was, my boss would turn to me and say,  "We have a backlog of forms, but if I ever do need forms, I'll buy them from him."

Through the years I, too, would have my version of a form to pitch to people who didn't want what I was selling.

In an economy that has dried up in some quarters there isn't as much time to spend building a reputation for reliability that might ultimately convert a series of cold calls into, finally, a sale.

But the message of that memorable encounter remains:  polite persistence is a key to turning a cold call into a sale.

In person or on the phone, the cold call won't stay cold forever if the sales representative relays the benefits of the product being sold.  Some of those benefits can't be communicated quickly in a cold call that gets shut down fast.  But the professionalism of the salesperson can be communicated and will be communicated by the way you make your cold call.  You may not sell the product that day; but, you can sell the benefits of one day working with someone who has communicated powerfully that he/she doesn't give up and knows how to respond to the word "no."   With a smile and a nod and a gentle promise of "I'll be back."

Make a cold call truthful, fast and respectful of the other person's time.  You might not make the sale that day--but you will have increased your chances of succeeding in the future. 

We all resist doing work that doesn't hold the promise of succeeding.  You can change your attitude about cold calls by taking a fresh look at what they really are:  sowing seeds of preparation that can turn a future cold call into a sale.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Rethinking Conventional Wisdom

"One of the laws of our household growing up was to never eat fish and drink milk at the same time," my friend confessed, while eating fish and not drinking milk.  She shook her head as she puzzled over whethere there was any harm in that culinary combination.

 I knew what she was feeling:  we grow up with what we consider conventional wisdom, and then later in life, we wonder if it was ever true, or if its purpose was outgrown.

Most of us live with that tension daily and often in the workplace.

We have a set of ideas that we think are true: 

Don't make personal phone calls at work.

Don't surf the web on company time.

Don't discuss your personal life with coworkers.  While companies claim to be "like a family,"  unless you are in the Mafia, they aren't, really.

Don't put anything in an e-mail you don't want the boss to know because he/she has a right to read your emails.  (Yes, rumor has it that there are people at some companies whose job it is to run routine screens on search strings inside employee e-mails to find out who's up to no good.)

Those make a kind of head-nodding sense to us.

But other mandates passed along in the same way that we ask "Where's a good place to have lunch?" don't always mesh with our sense of conventional wisdom.

Sometimes I still think e-mails are too casual for certain types of tasks.

I don't think saying you're sorry means that you're weak.

And I don't think you can be too courteous in an age when speed drives us, and speed is often at war with the pace of courtesy.

One of the ways that many people underestimate why being polite matters is that they don't know how they sound on the telephone, one of the chief ways that we communicate at work.

Often people forget to identify themselves, mistakenly believing that their voice will be immediately recognized.

They call and don't ask if they are calling at a convenient time.

They speak too fast or too slowly, and sometimes sneeze into the receiver.

If you haven't heard how you sound on the telephone in a while, listen to your telephone message on your voice mail.  Has it been a while since you changed that message?

If you can't remember when, it's time to change it.   There's no conventional wisdom to back me up on this, but I know that other people have been calling you and leaving you messages. They may even parrot your message as they hear it, while yawning.  They are most likely tired of the same old message which imparts the idea that you are growing older and more tired too.  Doesn't it?

Sometimes the heart of courtesy is to rethink how you sound to others, and if the ways that you leave behind a message of yourself sound tired, it's time to change the message.

Courtesy existing in an age of speed isn't the same unappetizing combination as fish with a glass of milk, but it your first response to this unction was that you don't have time to change your phone message right now, then most likely, you really, really need to change it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Add Titles to Your Attachments

When you let the first word of your attached document also serve as the title of it (that's the default title when you don't add one), you signal to your reader that you don't pay attention to details.

If your job is to pay attention to details, this message of inattention costs you credibility.
If your job doesn't require that you pay attention to details, what kind of job is it?

In addition to telegraphing to your reader that you understand the power of adding a title to an attachment when you add one, you simplify the reader's task of managing files that often are linked to e-mails and e-documents.

File management, like information management, must become a habit--almost a reflex, or you can spend a good amount of your time playing find and seek and seek again.

Unlike your car keys, which we all expect to misplace, missing documents are more important because they affect more than just you--the driver of the car.

Information in e-files, e-mails and e-documents serve more than just you, most likely.

If you are in the business of sending files as attachments, give them a relevant title to make managing them as simple as a good habit that one not only starts but maintains, like reliable, accessible files.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cover Notes for Attachments Should Quicken Interest in Your Reader

One-line cover notes like "Here's my resume" or "Here's a photo I thought you might like" are lame cover notes at best. They have no more significance than a grocery list does after the items on it have been bought.  You throw it away.

The cover note has far more potential than a grocery list.

Your cover note has the power to intrigue the reader to open your document and interpret the message in the way you intend it.  
Cover notes with a sales hook--a reason to open the attachment--demonstrate the kind of energy that employers are looking for: active employees, not passive ones.  Passive cover notes tell readers that you will be a passive employee.
Finally, you can also leave a memorable idea behind that the reader now associates with your name.  The result is the difference between being memorable or forgettable. Which one do you need to be?

For example, when sending a resume, you could write:  Here's the resume you are expecting from me.  After serving in Afghanistan, I am eager to see how my leadership skills can help your company meet the challenges of these trying economic times.

If your work history is less dramatic, you can simply write:  Here's the resume you are expecting.  Thank you for reading it and for considering me as an applicant for the junior executive position.  I am eager to put my college-education to work for you. 

There are as many ways to write a memorable cover note as there are people to send them--people who need to be remembered in a positive way or find jobs.

If you are sending limp, lame, lazy-looking cover notes that have very little content, it's time to think:  what does a cover note have in common with a grocery list?

The answer:  not much.  Unless you are writing it as if what you write is an item on your to-do list and you--and next, your reader--will soon mark through it, or in the case of e-mail, simply hit the delete button.