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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Resumes and Cover Letters Are Intrusive Forms of Advertising (at first, and then they become the other kind)

Before there were pop-up advertisements there were retail ads in newspapers.  Retail ads tried to snag the attention of people reading the news itself.  I used to work at newspapers where this sort of tension was discussed and it was argued straight-faced that advertisements were REAL NEWS.

As someone who wrote and sold advertisements, I tended to agree that the news stories were the fillers that we laid around the news of what was for sale that day.

I agreed with my boss, an old-fashioned newspaperman, who explained the difference between retail advertisements that competed with news for the attention of the reader and the kinds of classified advertisements which were grouped together and which readers went to and read with a keener, more focused appetite.

"Learn the difference between intrusive and non-intrusive advertisements," he advised.  "Learn that and you will understand a great deal about what persuasion really is."

He was right.  Knowing the kind of readership challenge your work product needs to meet is key to producing that document.  That is especially true when one is creating a resume/cover letter which shows up usually in a mound of other resumes/cover letters and competes for the attention of someone doing the screening and the hiring.  But it must also serve as that other tool--provide the kind of basic facts and dates that non-intrusive advertisements routinely provide. (Classified ads and yellow page ads are the non-intrusive kind of advertisements.)

Your resume and cover letter compete, and if they win the spot of being held for consideration to call in the candidate they become more. They move into the non-intrusive advertisement variety.

For that reason the document serves double-duty and must be crafted with the greatest care possible.  At the early stage of competing with other resumes, it must be flawless because in the early stages the screener of these documents is attempting to whittle down the number of candidates and simple style mistakes make that job of sorting with "yes" and "no" so much simpler.

Perfect style can get you to the yes stack.

The right information in your story will get you the interview.

That is all a resume and cover letter can really do.

You have to show up for the interview and tell the story of your career and your ambitions after that, but if you have that challenge then you have successfully created the kind of resume that can compete in both kinds of arenas:  intrusive and non-intrusive.

Monday, July 8, 2013

A of B? What motivates you to work harder--the accomplishment of climbing a mountain or the view once you arrive?

In different personnel assessment situations prospective candidates for jobs are often asked this or that questions.

These questions might sound like this:

Are you A. an introvert or B. an extrovert?  (Introvert--shy; extrovert--gregarious)

Are you A. a deductive thinker or B. and inductive thinker? (Deductive--Takes a big idea and backtracks it to its roots; Inductive--finds a clue and follows it to find the bigger principle)

Your answers to questions like these provide clues to the interviewer that you are a people person or not, a team player or a loner, and a rational thinker who either likes to start with a big theory and work your way down or a more creative thinker who finds a small clue and follows it to discover the broader concept that encompasses it.

Often overlooked--in fact, I have never heard it being asked--is the question that would reveal what most motivates you as a worker:

Are you by nature more of an A.  Stoic or an B.  Epicurean?

For the purposes of this discussion, a stoic person toughs out hard situations.  Stoics persevere without complaining--climb mountains as a daily task.  For the purpose of this discussion, an Epicurean identifies the possible rewards and works to gain that pleasure.

 Just as we are not exclusively one kind of thinker only or one kind of social person only, for we all move in and out of thinking deductively and inductively and can at times be gregarious in a certain kind of environment but not in another, we also have some ingrained behaviors of when we take a stoic response to a challenge or an epicurean one.

When you go to the dentist do you brace yourself for the pain--grin and bear it or do you think, "Ah, I love the way my mouth feels after a good cleaning?"  The simple answer to that question reveals that in this circumstance you are either stoic--grin and bear it--or schooled in offering yourself some kind of reward for going through something that is potentially unpleasant and, at times, painful.

After a dental visit, I go to Starbucks.   I reserve going to Starbucks for the times when I need a reward.  I have never made this decision consciously.  It is a habit that developed over time.  In my youth I went to the music store and bought new music after taking tests.  Later, I ate chocolate.  These days I take a walk as a reward for a long day of working at the computer.  More and more the variety of rewards for good behavior--the accomplishments of tasks--have expanded.  They are not big rewards. They are small ones--consistent ones.   I reward myself for working and think of myself as Epicurean because of that.

It matters to me that I know what kind of worker I am and what motivates me.  It should matter to personnel directors and bosses--not because we are responsible for others in this way really, but knowing what does motivate people--and it's not always the promise of money and can't be on a daily basis--does help us increase productivity and job satisfaction.  Knowing it about yourself can help you to work harder and more efficiently.

Do you know what motivates you?  Is it the feeling of accomplishment?  Do you climb those mountains because they are there.   On the great spectrum of what stoicism can mean, mark that as your answer.  Do you promise yourself a great view and lots of fresh air after you climb that work mountain?  Call yourself epicurean.  Then, watch yourself and see what happens when you consciously take control of the way you tell yourself what to do and what you say after you have done it.

When you know what motivates you, you can take charge of motivating yourself.

It's a very powerful choice to make for all kinds of workers.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

What Your Work Habits Tell Others About You

A long time ago I worked for a company where everyone everyday had to change their voice mail message to announce the date.

It was a tiresome task to perform each morning.

It was a powerful choice to make every day.

Every caller got the impression that the worker at the company took the time every day to know the date and stay current.  No voice mail message became excruciatingly boring with the same inflections and same old tired words that callers grow accustomed to and ignore--tune out.

Although that was a powerful lesson for me to learn I do not employ it now.  I am wrong not to do so because that habit communicates a great deal to others about how responsible and aware you are--how present you are to the moment of business.  Not doing it means I am lazy in this way.  Maybe one day I will change, perhaps when I receive enough calls every day to make that task mean more. I receive far more emails than phone calls, and I do pay attention to them, for like the way we handle our phone messages, the way we handle email tells others a great deal about who we are as professionals.

I know someone who answers all of her emails on Friday afternoon. I wake up to her answers on Saturday morning.  (She is not at work on Saturdays so one cannot reasonably expect a quick reply.)  She takes longer to answer my emails than I prefer, but she always answers them on a predictable schedule.  Over time I have gotten used to how she manages her time and the great number of emails she receives, and I respect her work pattern that manages me.  She is doing business her way.  I am fitting myself into her schedule because that's what it means to work with others in the workplace--virtual or otherwise.

Her work habits created mine.  I write her on Tuesdays now so that she has enough time to think about her answers.

Other people I answer daily, if I can, usually in the morning.

However, if the people I answer daily begin to pepper me with lots of emails making demands, I change my behavior and put some time and space between us.  For people who get an immediate response can be the kind of communicator who wants more and more.  They use the recipient of the emails to get answers and information that is their responsibility.  They can come to believe that asking someone else to do their work is how their work should get done.  You learn who those people are pretty quickly and it changes your response patterns.

These response patterns via email and the telephone create impressions on others of our work habits and our reliability.  Scientists would call it behavior modification.  Managers call it time management.  Professionals call it taking care of business.

We all do it differently and according to many different variables, but our choices and behaviors signal to others the kind of worker we are and the patterns of response we create build trust and establish our credibility in the workplace.

We need both trust and credibility in the workplace, and while we would like to have it bestowed upon us through rank and level of education, it more often gets built authentically through simple behaviors like how we manage our phone calls and correspondence.  That should be more of an encouragement than anything else because we all have different backgrounds, education and rank.  It is good to know that we can take more charge of building trust and credibility by simply become more consistent in how we manage communication through phone and emails.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Not Writing is Not Necessarily Writer's Block in the Workplace

Do you frequently claim to have writer’s block when you have a business document to write and can’t get started?

Most likely you don’t have the traditional case of writer’s block.

Your condition is actually worse.

You don’t know what you need to write and so you can’t write.   That explanation is different from the classic use of the term “writer’s block” which refers to artistic-driven writers who have a vision of truth and beauty to translate into a story or some other creative medium.

Business writers do not suffer from that kind of writer’s block.  They suffer from “I don’t know what to write so I can’t write.”

Knowing the difference matters. 

Knowing that you don’t have some kind of artistic excuse that lets you off the hook of creating a document means that you don’t have an excuse not to do your job.  Not liking to write is not an excuse either.

If you also mutter, “I’m not a good writer” that might well be the truth. However, humility and the excuse that you are not comfortable at writing in the workplace will not get you a raise or a promotion.  It means that you are pointing out a deficiency in yourself before others point it out to you.  That's fine as long as you are planning to fix the problem and you can. 

Unlike artistic endeavors that emerge from creative visions business writing is a skill that all thinking people in the workplace can learn.  The impediment to learning is a disbelief that it can be learned or that you must have some inherent talent for writing that makes business writing possible.  Not true. Like any skill, writing business communications can be developed and perfected if you are willing to make a commitment to it.  Making excuses is not the beginning of finding that solution.

Not being a good writer of business documents is a condition only you can change but you have to commit yourself to working hard to do that and you have to give up making excuses that are not the truth of why you can’t produce that document.

Giving up excuses is as difficult an activity as giving up worrying, which some people do when they think they are solving a problem. “I’ve been worrying about that for days” is another explanation people offer for not producing a business document.  That, too, is not the same activity as solving a problem.

How do you solve the problem immediately with an eye on the longer-term problem of becoming a more confident business writer?

In the short-term, ask the exact question that needs to be answered in the business document.
Then, using that question, restate it as a sentence and that becomes the beginning of your document.  Add the points of your reasoning after that.  Then, create a summary that synthesizes the main idea and why what you have offered as proof makes your argument authentic.  That is called your conclusion.

In the long-term, to become a stronger business writer listen to yourself when you talk about your productivity as a creator of workplace writing. What do you hear yourself saying?

Do you complain about it a great deal?  What is really behind that complaining?

Are you lazy, ignorant or psychologically bruised from English classes where a teacher hurt your self esteem by telling you that you can’t make your subjects and verbs match?

Do you suffer from low self esteem about writing and blame others for being unable to write?
Stop that.

If you are of an age to hold a job or have graduated from high school or college you are of an age to be accountable for what you think when you write those ideas down for others.
Often, being accountable for what you think is the real complaint behind complaining.
Not knowing the answer is the other reason.

Then, and finally, you are afraid to proofread your work and turn it in because of the number of errors that you will see that will cause you to be more fearful about how others will see your work.
Only you can solve those problems.  Only you can become accountable for your ideas on the page or screen. Only you can learn how to write complete sentences using precise language and adequate punctuation to make reading your work easy for the reader, which is one of the main goals of every writer whether of artistic temperament or in the workplace.

The next time you are asked to produce a workplace document and you offer writer’s block as an excuse, think again. Then, sit down and produce the document that answers the question the business document should exist to explain because writer’s block is not a valid excuse in the workplace.

Punctuation Marks are Like Sign Posts for a Traveling Reader

People who don’t know where to place a comma can figure it out pretty quickly if they will see their document as a roadway for others that requires sign posts planted in the document for the traveling reader instead of hard-to-figure-out punctuation marks.
Like a period, the question mark, and quote marks, a comma is just a sign post for a reader whose job it is to decode those words you have written.   Of all the punctuation marks, the comma gives creators of workplace documents the most trouble.
You can see the use of the comma this way.
Start seeing your words on the page as directions for a traveler who is moving through your document and  you will quickly realize that a comma is a corner where you make a turn.  Look at your sentences, where does the idea shift?  Add a comma if it is inside the sentence. Add a period at a dead end--a completed thought.  
A common problem these days is the use of a comma to connect two whole sentences instead of a period.  It is so common that people don’t see anything wrong with it. One day—maybe tomorrow—the comma splice (the name for this type of comma mistake) may no longer be considered wrong.  Presently, however, that connection of two whole sentences is still called a comma splice and it is still considered wrong.  (Note that I did not add the traditional comma before the word “and” inside that previous sentence because the comma before the conjunction has become obsolete. I agree with that shift in thought about the overuse of the comma.  One really doesn’t need two old-fashioned sign posts—a conjunction and a comma-- to make a shift there.)
When you have written a complete idea, use a period to mark the conclusion of that idea—the end of the road.  When you ask a question, use the question mark.  When you want to show excitement, use the exclamation point but restrain yourself.  Exclamation points cause the reader’s eyes to widen and to stop and take in all that excitement.  Do as little as possible to slow down your reader.  Any deviation from the normal pace of commas and periods can cause a slow-down or a stall.  Quote marks often do that because they are often used unnecessarily. When you are quoting someone, do use the quote marks but make sure the language inside the quote marks is exactly what the speaker said. You wouldn't want someone saying you said something a certain way if you didn't, so don't do that.  If you are not quoting exactly, you are summarizing or paraphrasing. If it is not an exact quote, you do not need the quote marks.
Do not use the quote marks to set off words that you consider special.  Many people do that.  Don’t do it.   Quote marks used that way slow down your traveling reader and cause your reader to try and translate what you mean by enclosing some words in quote marks.  Figure out the words you need to use there instead and use them precisely  Quote marks that are meant to set off words burden the reader unnecessarily.  Punctuation marks should free a reader to focus on the words and decipher their meaning.
That’s what punctuation marks really do. They don’t exist to torture you. They don’t exist as some private domain that only English teachers understand. They are sign posts for a reader who is moving quickly through your document and needs to know where to turn, stop or find out more by asking the question with you.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

5 Tips To Writing Your Professional Autobiography

Whether in a cover letter that accompanies your resume or on a linking website where you introduce yourself, you need a professional autobiography.  This brief word portrait of who you are in a professional context is different than the type of introduction most of us are accustomed to making when we meet new people in relaxed, social circumstances.  The word professional is the key, and the secret to producing a positive word portrait of yourself is to remember what that word here represents:  function.  Your professional autobiography has a job to do.  It showcases your skills, education and career objectives—but not your philosophies or theories.  It usually will not not include information about how much you love your family or your dog.

  1. Choose content that fits the function of the document.   Provide the information the reader needs and wants to know, not what you want to say or explain.  For instance, if you left a job because you hated your previous boss, leave that out.   Additionally, you might indeed like to knit but if that interest does not correlate in a meaningful way to the job you are seeking, then leave it out, too.  Do not add details just to fill up the space.  The content should be relevant to what a prospective boss or other professional needs and wants to know.    
  2. Use positive and strong language.  Avoid using words that have built-in excuses and criticisms of others.   Action verbs make you look like a leader.  Passive verbs make you look like a follower.  Which one are you?  Choose your words carefully.
  3. Maintain a friendly tone and avoid slang and overworked words like awesome.  Avoiding clich├ęs and buzz words will give you a distinctive voice on the page or screen.   If you are looking up synonyms for the words you ordinarily use, your voice will most likely have a stilted, jarring quality.  Don’t do that.  Use natural words but keep them fresh and the tone lively and hospitable.  Try to sound self confident without sounding arrogant.
  4. Reduce your use of “I” at the beginning of each sentence.  By using transitional phrases well, you can avoid this repeated use of a word “I” that can make you sound ego-centric.
  5. Use good style.  Proofread.   Mistakes matter because they stop a reader from reading. 

Note that an autobiography is written in the first-person but a biography is written in the third-person.

Example of a professional autobiography:  My name is Daphne Simpkins and I teach writing and I write.  Presently, in addition to writing this blog, I am producing the Adventures of Mildred Budge.  Originally a series of short stories published in Canada and the U.S., there are now two novels featuring retired educator +Mildred Budge, a Southern church lady. They are Cloverdale and Embankment (due out in April, 2013).  In addition to writing, I teach at a local university and I am on the speakers bureau of the Alabama Humanities Foundation.  Other books include The Long Good Night and +Nat King Cole:  An Unforgettable Life of Music.

Example of a professional  biography:  Described as being “of a seasoned age” Mildred Budge is an entirely fictional character featured in a series of books about this retired Alabama public school teacher who lives in the garden district of  Montgomery, Al.  She co-owns a booth that sells antique-type furnishings at The Emporium, and serves in various volunteer capacities at her local church, a non-denominational Christian fellowship.  She has been showcased in dozens of short stories and in two novels.  The next one will be released in April, 2013 and it is called Embankment.   The first novel Cloverdale is already available on Amazon and in other major book outlets both in hard copy and as an e-book.  The collection of short stories that introduced the character and her friends is called Miss Budge in Love.

Daphne Simpkins' most recent book is Christmas in Fountain City