Saturday, December 31, 2005

Resolve to Read WORDS ON THE LINE for Better Writing

The end of the WORDS ON THE LINE blog’s first year draws to a close with this seventy-first message of 2005. I hope you have learned something about writing from the commentary that has appeared here, and I thank you for taking the time and paying attention.

You are one of a thousand people reading this blog, but your thoughts on writing mean a lot to me. If you have resolved to be a better writer, then continue reading WORDS ON THE LINE. Also, feel free to e-mail me at if you want me to include a particular topic.

Here’s to your continued commitment to writing improvement. Have a successful 2006!

Happy writing!
Philip Vassallo, Ed.D.

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

Monday, December 26, 2005

Employment Application Process, Phase 5: Follow-up

The final phase of the employment application process is follow-up. During this phase, you prepare follow-up messages, maintain a filing system, and keep the faith. Seven tips on following-up appear in this installment of WORDS ON THE LINE.

Prepare Follow-up Messages

Follow-up messages fall into four categories:
  • a thank-you message, to express appreciation of the interviewer and interest in the position
  • a reminder message, to remind the reader of your interest and to update the reader on yourself
  • an acceptance message, to accept an offered position
  • a rejection message, to decline an offered position
Below are two suggestions for composing and sending these messages.

1. Keep the message brief. The purpose of these messages is nothing more than to keep yourself in the employer’s memory. Below are samples of each.


Dear Mr. Thomas,

Thank you for the informative and enjoyable interview in your office yesterday. Please extend my appreciation to Ms. Cassidy as well.

I came away from our meeting impressed with The Working Foundation’s philosophy and achievements in effecting public policy. I would be honored to be a part of your organization and welcome the opportunity to become a contributor to its success.

If you have further questions, please call me.

Anna Vassallo


Dear Mr. Thomas,

As promised, I am following up on our last conversation, when you suggested that I contact you to inquire about the planned expansion of your research staff. I remain interested in a position at the Foundation.

If any position opens for which you believe I am suitable, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you.

Anna Vassallo


Dear Mr. Thomas,

I am pleased to accept The Working Foundation’s offer of employment, as detailed in your March 12 letter.

As we agreed, I will begin my duties as an administrative assistant on April 3, after my two-week notification period with my present employer lapses. I look forward to meeting my new colleagues and working with a fine organization.

Anna Vassallo


Dear Mr. Thomas,

Thank you for your generous offer of employment with The Working Foundation. I have carefully considered your offer, and my decision was a difficult one. I have decided to accept a position with another agency.

I appreciate the professional courtesy that you extended to me throughout the selection process, and I extend my best wishes to you and The Working Foundation in your important work.

Anna Vassallo

2. Send the messages by the most suitable means. Traditionally, these messages were transmitted by postal mail, but today most of them take the form of e-mail. Use your best judgment in deciding which transmission best suits the situation.

Maintain a Filing System

3. Keep a record of all employment-related activities. This practice includes all received and ititiated letters, e-mails, and phone calls as well as interviews.

4. Keep notes of your daily reading of newspapers, magazines, books, and websites in your field of interest. In this way, you keep abreast of the breaking industry developments and transform into a subject-matter expert.

5. Update your résumé periodically. Continue tailoring it to your field of interest.

Keep the Faith

6. Believe in yourself. Enjoy and learn from the job-seeking process. Keep your eye on the prize of getting the job you want by making things happen, and reward yourself for your effort in any small but meaningful way you can.

7. Believe in others. Keep professional contacts, attend professional events and interviews, and get whatever training and management tools you can to enhance your employability.

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

Monday, December 19, 2005

Employment Application Process, Phase 4: Interview

The fourth phase of the employment application process—interview—is the most critical one. Your résumé and application letter have gotten you this far; now it’s time to show in person that you are as good as your writing claims. To help yourself before, during, and after this big event, read the 20 tips in this installment of WORDS ON THE LINE. They are presented from a multidimensional perspective (emotional, mental, and physical).

Before the Interview


1. Enjoy the process. Psyche up yourself by believing that you are interviewing the employer as much as he or she is interviewing you.

2. Get there early. Settle in and think of your achievements that have brought you to this moment.


3. Know the employer’s purpose for the interview. Review whatever available employer materials that are available. At the least, visit the employer’s website. Understand the qualifications of the position. Consider the entire interview process a learning experience.

4. Know the questions. Consider responses to possible interviewer’s questions and select questions of your own to the employer. (Note: Check out the endless lists of useful commonly asked interview questions on the Internet.)

5. Wait patiently once you get to the waiting room. Read or write interview prep notes.


6. Practice. Try out expressions and responses in front of the mirror and on tape.

7. Dress and groom conservatively. Select a business-appropriate outfit and hairstyle for the interview.

8. Eat safely. Avoid eating anything that may upset your stomach.

During the Interview


9. Treat the interview like a business meeting. Be sure to ask your questions and stick to your agenda.

10. Be positive. Greet the interviewer with a smile and break the ice with a pleasantry to jumpstart the communication process. Show a professional range of emotion and speak tactfully.


11. Listen. If you have prepared properly for this interview, then you do not need to worry about what to say next; let your responses come from what is said rather than what you’ve planned to say. You’ll have time to say your piece.

12. Let the interviewer know you. This includes discussing your strengths and turning your weaknesses into advantages.

13. Beware of leading questions (What is the right way to handle that?) or loaded questions (Don’t you think that’s unfair?). Politely ask the interviewer to rephrase such a question, or frame the question in such a way that it is answerable without being misinterpreted. Of course, avoid asking leading or loaded questions of your own.


14. Stay fresh. Accept water if offered and make yourself comfortable without making yourself at home.

15. Take notes. This practice helps overcome jitters and keeps you focused on the meeting.

16. Show interest. Be animated and maintain eye contact.

After the Interview


17. End on a positive note. Appear optimistic and express appreciation for the interviewer’s time and interest in the outcome (if you like what you’ve heard).


18. Make the interview a learning experience. Create a company rating system based on whatever you’ve gathered about the company’s culture (company philosophy, work environment, staff attitude), work (responsibilities, authority, horizontal and vertical interaction), support (training, compensation, benefits), and commitment (work hours, commute time, out-of-town travel time).

19. Decide whether this employer is for you. Answer whether working for the company will help you fulfill your mission, meet your career goals, sharpen your strengths, and conquer your challenges.


20. Be busy. This entire process is about getting and staying in shape—physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Move on to the next task keeping in mind that your full-time job is finding a job.

This final tip brings us to the fifth and final phase of the employment application process—follow-up—which I will cover in the next installment of WORDS ON THE LINE.

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

Monday, December 12, 2005

Employment Application Process, Phase 3: Write

In the third phase of the employment application process—write—you compose your résumé and application letter (also known as cover letter), as well as set the framework for reference letters written on your behalf. Many Internet and text resources are available on these subjects, so be sure to supplement what you read here with additional reading.

The Résumé

The two most common types of résumés are the chronological and functional:
  • Use the chronological résumé to focus on your work experience, which should indicate that you are qualified for the job and that your work experience is directly related to your career goal.
  • Use the functional résumé to focus on your skills and accomplishments, and when your work experience is not directly related to your career goal, you are entering the job market for the first time or after a hiatus, or you are making a career change.
Since the difference between the two types of résumés has less to do with content and more to do with structure, it’s easy enough—and a good idea—to have both for your records.

The chronological résumé focuses on work experience and generally follows the pattern listed below:
  • contact data (name, address, phone numbers, e-mail)
  • objective
  • employment (employer, title, responsibilities, accomplishments)
  • education (institutions, degrees, academic distinctions)
  • skills (professional licenses, technical skills, languages)
  • references
The functional résumé focuses on skills and accomplishments. It may list the applicant’s three key strengths (e.g., managerial, communication, technical) and reorganize the bullet points listed under the experience section of the chronological résumé around the headings of those three strengths. Of course, those three strengths should be highly valued by the prospective employer.

Regardless of the résumé type you choose, consider the following additional tips:
When planning ...
  • target your résumé to the prospective employer
  • create a one-page version of the résumé if your standard one is longer
  • update your information regularly
  • use a clear, concise objective that guides the reader through the résumé
  • express accomplishments honestly--do not exaggerate or understate them
When formatting ...
  • design the résumé for easy scanning
  • use conventional titles for headings
When articulating ...
  • use industry-specific language
  • use action verbs to describe responsibilities and accomplishments
  • avoid lengthy sentence-and-paragraph style
  • quantify your experience wherever possible.
When checking ...
  • make the résumé visually appealing (e.g., consistently headed, aligned, and spaced)
  • proofread carefully and have zero tolerance for the slightest flaw
When printing ...
  • use a white or light-colored 8½" X 11" paper stock
  • use laser-printed originals, not photocopies
When sending ...
  • use a neatly typed matching envelope
  • include the résumé, application letter, and letters of recommendation
The Application Letter
The application letter serves the following purposes:
  • introduces you to the prospective employer
  • illustrates your organization, creative, persuasive, and language skills
  • indicates how confident, positive, and self-directed you are
  • shows your enthusiasm about the company and familiarity with the position
  • explains how your unique skills and interests relate to the company’s goals
  • suggests a method for reading the résumé
Many employers believe that a main difference between the résumé and the application letter is that the application letter shows your writing skills better than a résumé. Résumé reviewers may believe that you have had professional help in designing your résumé, but they see the application letter as a demonstration of your creativity and audience awareness. Shrewd personnel associates will read your application letter asking the following questions:
  • Does the applicant possess a strong command of language?
  • Is the applicant informed about the standards of a letter?
  • Did the applicant tailor the letter with the company’s needs in mind?
  • Does the applicant have the strategic skills to explain how acquired skills and experiences would benefit the company?
The goal of the application letter should be to expand—not repeat—the information in your résumé; therefore, you should tailor it to the position you are seeking and the company to which you are applying.
The Recommendation Letter

On the surface, the recommendation letter may seem to be more the responsibility of the referrer than the applicant—but don’t fool yourself. The more guidance that you give the referrer in writing the letter, the better the recommendation will reflect what you want it to.

Start by requesting the recommendation letter of someone whose credentials, accomplishments, intelligence, and personality you highly regard. Be certain that the person holds a high opinion of you as well. Let the referrer know what you want included in the letter. While you’re at it, develop an outline for the recommendation.

The elements of a recommendation letter are as follows:
  • applicant’s full name and relationship to the writer
  • length of time applicant and writer were associated
  • applicant’s work ethic
  • applicant’s interpersonal skills
  • applicant’s accomplishments
  • applicant’s goals
  • applicant’s potential contributions to the employer
The next installment of WORDS ON THE LINE will cover Phase 4 of the employment application process: Interview.
To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here:

Monday, December 05, 2005

Employment Application Process, Phase 2: Research

In the research phase of the employment application process, you cover all bases to make sure that no appropriate job opporutunity goes unnoticed. Available job-research sources are so plentiful that you may have a harder time in selecting the best ones for you than you would in choosing the best job prospects. The three most widely used research sources, which this installment of WORDS ON THE LINE covers, are as follows:
  1. job placement offices
  2. print (paper and electronic) sources
  3. personal connections
1. Placement Offices

Job placement offices fall into two types: non-fee-based and fee-based. The non-fee-based offices are actually not free. For examples, university job placement offices offer their “free” service to tuition-paying students, and professional association job placement services limit their clientele to dues-paying members. But these sources are great starting points because many of these services make your résumé available to a wide range of business and government employers. They also provide many helpful tips on writing résumés and cover letters. On the other end of the recruitment business are fee-based organizations, which tend to have more established relationships with a broader range of industries, or more focused relationships with specialized industries. Since the nature of their business is driven by their ability to earn commissions based on the quality of prospective employers and candidates they generate, their industry insights might be more extensive. Their service is available for a fee—often up to 10% of first year’s salary—sometimes payable by the candidate and sometimes by the employer. Be sure to find out what your financial obligations before signing any agreement with such organizations.

Here’s a final tip about placement offices: None of them can possibly be better than You, Inc. You should consider yourself a virtual placement office by aggressively write or calling the companies in which you’re interested and communicating periodically with receptive parties.

2. Print Sources

Print sources include the more traditional paper category and the exponentially growing electronic category. Many of the electronic sources have made the paper sources seem redundant. Paper sources include three areas (reference guides, area newspapers, and specialized periodicals); electronic sources include two areas (Internet job postings and corporate websites).

Among paper sources, the most common reference guides, all available at most libraries, are Occupational Outlook Handbook, Guide for Occupational Exploration, F&S Index of Corporations, National Directory of Employment Services, Encyclopedia of Business Information Services, and College Placement Annual. Area newspapers are often indispensable in finding local jobs. Specialized periodicals, such as professional journals, industry or trade journals, and company newsletters, are of special use if your job interests are industry-specific.

The fastest, most comprehensive and current way of finding employment and getting help with your résumé is through the Internet. There you can find public and private sources—free or billable—offering career counseling, instructions for writing résumés and application letters, models of résumés and cover letters, articles on featured employers, data on industry trends and current salaries, and relocation guidance. Through the Internet you can post your résumé for free with many of these job boards or directly with potential employers. Below are some of these web sites:
Finally, many corporate web sites have an employment section providing information on applying for a position with them.

3. Personal Connections

Tap the resources of professors, employers, internship directors, alumni members, family, and friends. They can help you in the following ways:
  • letters of recommendation
  • referrals
  • industry information
  • company information
  • regional information
  • interview contacts
The next installment of WORDS ON THE LINE will cover Phase 3 of the employment application process: Write.

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