Monday, November 28, 2005

Employment Application Process, Phase 1: Self-Assess

In the self-assessing phase of the employment application process, you decide what type of career and job best suits your interests and ability. Being honest with yourself by not inflating your talents and accomplishments will be useful here. You need to be able to look at yourself as others see you. Doing so will go a long way in helping you throughout the employment application process. You will:

  • have a better idea of what skills, experience, accomplishments, and interests your résumé should highlight
  • decide on which skills you want to develop
  • be able to narrow your job search more effectively
  • be clearer in reevaluating your job prospects based on what’s best for you
  • know better what to listen for, how to respond to questions, and what questions to ask during the interview process

Self-assessing requires a job candidate to complete four important tasks:

  1. Discover Personal Values
  2. Identify Career Goals
  3. Determine Personal Strengths and Challenges
  4. Develop a Career Plan

Let’s look at these four points one at a time.

1. Discover Personal Values

Answering key questions about yourself not only helps you narrow the focus of your job hunt, but also jumpstarts your thinking about queries during the inevitable interview. Discover what matters most to you by answering these questions:

  • Which of my qualities do I value most?
  • Which qualities do I most want to develop?
  • What challenge have I met that gave me a deep sense of satisfaction?
  • In what situation have I shown a great sense of responsibility?
  • In what situation have I initiated collaboration to solve a problem?
  • In what situation have I contributed toward improving a policy or a process?
  • What kind of professional work do I most enjoy?
  • In what kind of professional work am I most accomplished?

2. Identify Career Goals

Identifying your interests and goals is valuable for at least two reasons:

  • It helps you create a fresh, realistic, and clear statement for the job objective section of your résumé.
  • It addresses the reality that most people value job satisfaction more than any other aspect of their employment—even salary.

Evaluating your qualifications is not as simple as answering questions about your skills. How, for instance, can you be sure that you are being realistic in your self-assessment? Have you been too generous or too negative in your appraisal? Are you evaluating yourself based on the job requirements needed or the skills in greatest demand?

With your values and mission in mind, answer the questions below to determine your career goals:

  • In what field do I want to work?
  • For what organization do I want to work?
  • With what kind of people (e.g., positions, personalities) do I want to work?
  • In what position do I want to work?
  • What work-related skills (e.g., research, information management, people management, communication, creative, technical, interpersonal) do I most want to use?
  • Where (geographically) would I like to work?
  • Am I willing to travel?
  • What are my baseline salary requirements (amount, terms)?

3. Determine Personal Strengths and Challenges

Many interest and personality inventories used routinely by corporations are available to help you look at yourself with an unbiased eye and within a structured framework. (Search the Internet to learn more about them.) Many of these instruments have received short shrift or a bum rap from human resources directors; however, no can deny that the pervasiveness of these personality measurement tools have dramatically influenced how interviewers approach their job of posing questions and listening to candidates’ responses to them.

Get started here by listing ten adjectives that best describe your strengths (e.g., focused, artistic, logical), and ten that describe your challenges (e.g., discreet, patient, collaborative)—and then go to work on using your strengths in correcting those challenges.

4. Develop a Career Plan

Developing a career plan starts with a simple statement: “I am a professional.” Professionals live professional lives by:

  • joining at least one professional association
  • reading industry-related books and periodicals
  • attending industry-wide conferences, seminars, panels, lectures, and discussions
  • visiting industry-related web sites
  • learning about the major players and issues in their field
  • tracking industry trends

You may consider sharpening your strengths and conquering your challenges by offering your talents to nonprofit and corporate voluntary programs, choosing projects suited to your areas of strength, and seeking mentors to get their feedback on your progress. Such work will make you feel useful and cultivate your contacts list.

The next installment of WORDS ON THE LINE will cover Phase 2 of the employment application process: Research.

To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here:

Monday, November 21, 2005

Get a Job! Tips for the Job Seeker

I recently received an e-mail from a student and now a friend, Marco D. DeSena, formerly a member of the prestigious New York City Urban Fellows program. Having just completed his Master of Science in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics, Mr. DeSena was eager to reshape his résumé for his return to the United States and entry into the job market. He politely asked about this blog, “Where’s the résumé section?”

I knew someone would ask sooner or later, but thanks to Mr. DeSena’s gentle nudging, I will devote this installment and the next five of WORDS ON THE LINE to what I consider the five phases of the entire employment application process: self-assessing, researching, writing, interviewing, and following-up.

I have had the pleasure of helping many people create and fine tune their job application materials as well as grooming job seekers for key interviews. With the experience of listening to their concerns in preparing for their dates with destiny—and sharing their joy upon receiving favorable news from prospective employers—I will look at the tasks of the employment application process from the perspective of the candidate.

A fully focused and engaged job seeker should be adept in the following five phases, in chronological order:
  1. Self-assess, to identify your career goals, preferred job and organization, and strengths and weaknesses as a job candidate
  2. Research, to learn about the job market and available positions in your field of interest
  3. Write, to craft the résumé that best tells your qualifications as they relate to your prospective employer’s needs
  4. Interview, to express your key qualifications and to listen for your interviewer’s cues about the prospective employer's integrity, culture, and direction.
  5. Follow-up, to maintain a positive focus, keep tabs on prospective employers, and adjust your approach to the employment application process as needed.
In the next installment of WORDS ON THE LINE, I will focus on the first phase of the employment application process: self-assessment.

To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here:

Monday, November 14, 2005

A Tip for Writing Minutes

In my 2001 article, “Meeting of the Minutes: Writing Meeting Minutes,” I mentioned a major obstacle to writing effective meeting summaries: The writer ranks among the lowest of those attending. Often the staff members assigned to writing the meeting summaries do so because no one else wants to write them; therefore, if they see the meeting straying from the agenda item, their deference to the speakers would preclude them from insisting that the speakers stick to the topic. On the other hand, if the highest ranking person were to take notes for the minutes, he or she would likely keep discussions as focused and brief as possible—thereby making the composing job as easy as possible.

I can vouch for the reality of either situation, having sat in both seats. I remember as a junior manager having to write minutes for an executive meeting that I had thought would cover three agenda items and run one-half hour. It ended after three hours, covering only one of the three items at a level far too technical and politically charged for me to fully comprehend. I spent hours on the phone and in executives’ offices the next day deciding how to best write the minutes. But I also remember taking great pleasure as a marketing director leading a meeting of staff who reported to me, and as a trustee in which the executive director served at my pleasure. In both of these cases, I never hesitated to say, “Since that’s not an agenda item, let’s talk about it after the meeting.” The result: short meetings and brief minutes.

So why not have the meeting leader write the minutes? What a sure way to protect people’s time and ensure a smooth composing process. This is the standard practice at Carlisle Syntec, a leading manufacturer of roofing systems and products in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, according to Brandon Fuller, a Technical Specialist for the company. As a participant in a three-day technical writing class I delivered in Washington, D.C., last week, Mr. Fuller discussed the procedure: “The meeting leader is responsible for writing both the meeting agenda and the summary.” When asked how well the leader runs the meetings he has attended, Mr. Fuller replied, “They’re pretty efficient.”

If you’re thinking, “I wish more meetings ran like that at my job,” then consider the best practice employed at Carlisle Syntec!

To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here:

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Reducing Tension

My daughter Helen, who is in the third year of her studies as a music education major at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, recently told me about three challenges she had confronted when singing. First, her voice was not spinning sufficiently, meaning that she needed more vibrato in her notes. Second, her voice occasionally lacked an adequate level of intonation; in other words, she wasn’t entirely in tune on the flat and sharp notes. Finally, she needed better breath management to control her phrasing.

I asked, “How did you solve all three of those problems?”

“I reduced my neck tension,” she answered. “They all had to do with that one thing.”

Her succinct response immediately captured my imagination as a writing consultant. We often solve three problems at once by first discovering and then eliminating their cause. Reducing tension in writing is a great example. It would solve numerous problems, such as procrastination, writer’s block, and stress—all of which in their turn may lead to a lack of confidence, trouble with organizing ideas, and failure to submit reports on time.

So how can we eliminate tension? Chapter 2 (Planning) and Chapter 3 (Drafting) of The Art of On-the-Job Writing cover some of them in detail. First, we should look for the cause of the tension, which may be physical, psychological, environmental, or procedural. Physical sources include exhaustion from working long hours or from performing exceedingly difficult tasks. More obvious ones are incapacitation by an illness or from intoxication. Some psychological sources would be insecurity about one’s writing ability, distractions by pressing personal crises, or discontentment over the performance or attitudes of teammates, managers, clients, or vendors. Alternatively, when discomforted by intolerable room temperatures, poor lighting, or noise levels, or by ergonomic issues such as uncomfortable seating, we are contending with environmental sources. Even if we may not always be able to control these problems, we may have some success in dealing with them.

The procedural sources of tension, on the other hand, are well within our power to manage. If we do not employ the complete writing process—planning, drafting, and quality controlling—then we be unnecessarily contributing to our tension. Here are two quick tips, which are explained in greater depth in The Art of On-the-Job Writing:

  1. Plan before drafting. Tension may be the result of not knowing what to say. Planning by creating an outline, sketching out ideas, or simply listing ideas may synchronize the hands with the brain to make those fingers fly across the keyboard.
  2. Draft before quality controlling. Write a first draft without looking for perfection. Just write with your heart, not with your head. You can always go back and remedy those awkward phrases and imperfect word choices when quality controlling.

To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here:

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

B-ME: A Helpful Mnemonic

Last week I had the good fortune of teaching a Business Writing for Results course for a bright and energetic group of branch managers and associates of Investors Savings Bank. One of the course participants, Kisha Rose, Special Projects Assistant, said that she enrolled to work on the “beginning, middle, and end” of her written messages. When I abbreviated her objective on the flipchart as “B – M – E,” Ms. Rose quipped, “That’s right: I want to be me!”

Ms. Rose invented an apt mnemonic—B-ME—for focusing on the three parts of a message:
  • the beginning, which sets up the reader with the purpose of the document
  • the middle, which states the details that support the purpose
  • the end, which transitions the reader from the details to the next steps
During the course, we covered key points to consider about each part of the message; however, it’s one thing to know the elements of a message, and another thing to include them.

Whatever works for you, Ms. Rose, to remember the structure of letters, memos, and even e-mails. The next time you write a message, just say “I’ve got to B-ME!”

To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here: