Friday, September 28, 2012

The 3, Uh 4, Big Recruiter Questions

When Forbes Magazine published the article "Top Executive Recruiters Agree There Are Only Three True Job Interview Questions", I had engaging dialogues with  colleagues and clients in the writing consulting industry about the topic. The first two questions (Can you do the job? Will you love the job?) relate to intrapersonal skills, how you deal with yourself; the third question (Can we tolerate working you?) relates to interpersonal skills, how you deal with others.

Since interviewees may answer preemptively yes, yes, and yes to these three terribly open-ended questions, recruiters have many indirect ways of asking them to yield specific responses and gain real insights into the job candidate. For the first they might ask, How long have you been in this industry? What projects have you completed? With whom have you collaborated? How did the project turn out? For the second they might ask, Have you done work at home? How do you describe your work to your friends and family? Has your formal education prepared you for this work? What connections do you see with your life and your work? And for the third they might ask, Why did you leave your last job? What were your teammates and managers like? Do you stay in touch with any of your former coworkers? What do you miss about your previous job?

Undoubtedly, these three questions are terrific for opening the door to real conversations and getting to the bottom of what makes a candidate tick. That's exactly why I believe a fourth question can reinforce the other three and effectively close the door to the interview. That fourth question is Can you live with yourself by working with us? 

I speak not only for myself but for hundreds of others who have talked to me about their work experiences. Many of them have said they want more from life. Sure, they can do the job. Sure, they love what they do. Sure, they love the people. But do they feel fulfilled on the job? Do they see themselves as contributors not only to the business but to the greater good? Do they go to bed at night saying, "What a great day of accomplishments! I love my life. I can't wait until tomorrow to do more of the same."

Now, some interviewers might say that answering the second question, Will you love the job?, is sufficient to gain insight into my proposed fourth question. I disagree. Many people have told me they love their job but long to do something more important, something that they have to find outside of work because it doesn't exist at their job. In other words, they would answer yes to all three questions but no to my fourth one. Those first three questions provide great insights into short-term matters; the fourth question lifts a window of understanding into long-term, career-related issues. Will you love the job? is a question of passion, but Can you live with yourself by working with us? is a question of commitment. Passion can be short-lived, but not commitment.

As I have helped many people with their resumes and cover letters throughout the past 35 years, I have insisted that they show more than accomplishment. They must show commitment. Employers are short-sighted if they aren't looking for the same.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Lipogram: What's Unusual About This Post?

A big plus of working on writing with adults is that I pick up as much wisdom as I impart. But kids can also pass on a thing or two to instructors. Ishika Jain, a primary school pupil, is a grand illustration of such a child. 

Ishika's mom, who was in my grammar class from this Monday to Thursday, said that Ishika was taught in school about lipograms and a book Gadsby by an author who did craft such an opus in lipogram fashion,  amazingly laying down 50,000 words without using a particular symbol. I will not say what that symbol is, as I am trying my hand at a lipogram in this post. Can you spot which symbol I am trying so hard not apply to all four paragraphs? 

You might rightly ask, "Why would a man or woman want to do such a thing?" I can think of two motivations: First, authors do such things simply for fun. Also, writing this post did assign many a difficulty, as I constantly had to twist my thinking and look up optional words just to avoid including that symbol. I gladly will try such a task as a way of boosting my productivity. This post is not as long as Gadsby, but a 250-word composition is not bad for a first (and last) try.

I did not know about lipograms or that book; thus, I can truly say that Ishika has taught yours truly. So a big thanks to you, Ishika!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A One-Syllable Story

In a Writing for the Web course that I teach for the American Management Association, participants learn a lot about writing by drafting a one-syllable story. The rules are simple. Write on any topic you like as long as each word, excluding proper nouns, is only one syllable. What they appreciate about the exercise is its reminder to keep things simple and clear. If you can't express it in a plain language, you can't express it. 

Below is an example of a single-syllable 400-word story. Have fun reading it, and write one of your own  just for the joy of it.

Two Dropped Dates
What a drag. Stuck in The Bronx with no date. I just woke up to find out that Jane won't be here as planned. I cleaned the house spic and span and cooked a great meal, hot dogs, pork and beans, and French fries, and I had a fine red wine good to go. I was so beat from all this prep time that I dozed off as soon as I sat on the couch. Then the phone rings and wakes me up. It was Jane. She says she hit a snag on her way up to my place, some tale of woe, her car broke down and she was stuck with it at the Czar Pop Car Shop and don't ask to pick her up since she needs the car as soon as she leaves, so how sad to say she won't make it. So she kills me four times: first with that shock out of my sleep, then with her no show, then that song and dance about the car, and to boot that lie about how sad she was.
Please. I don't buy her yarn for a beat. Give me a break. If she had her heart on me, she would have found a way to get here. But I'm not one to beg or twist your arm when you want to do your own thing. Go. See if I care. As if I don't know that she's got her eyes on Jim. I know when he moved back from Maine that's all that was on her mind. You go for that long hair, that bling in his ear and stud in his tongue, that tall, slim type. Who cares if he ain't got a job? What's it to you if he gets rough with his hands? So what if he'll slip out of your life the first time you're down on your luck?
Well, that's fine by me. Cause you know what, Jane? I know the boss at the Czar Pop Car Shop and he owes me one. So his tow truck guy found Jane's car in front of her house and tried to jack it all the way back to Maine, but oops, the car fell off the hook and slid down the Bronx Creek. Too bad. No way they'll hook up. I guess that's three of us with no date on this spring night. 

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Update: Websites for Writers

Here is a long awaited update of useful websites for writers:

If you don't find what you're looking for, you can always browse the writers' websites WORDS ON THE LINE has collected over the past eight years.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Zen in the Art of Writing

English poet Stephen Spender described the writing process of his fellow poets as of the Mozartian (planners) or Beethovian (discoverers) mode, meaning that Mozartians tend to create a path or structure for what they will draft, while Beethovians figure out the path during drafting, as they go along. Reading “Zen in the Art of Writing” reveals that Ray Bradbury possessed a healthy balance of both approaches. Like a Mozartian, he was constantly searching for connections between his experiences and writing; like a Beethovian, he drafted relentlessly as evidenced by his prolific output of short stories, novels, plays, screenplays, teleplays, and juvenilia over a career spanning more than seventy years.

Through anecdotes, quips, and aphorisms in 9 essays and 7 prose-poems over 158 highly readable pages, Bradbury proffers advice to novice writers to encourage them in their writing process and continued development. Here are some gems:

“The first thing a writer should be is—excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms.” (page 4)

“Read poetry every day of your life. Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough. Poetry expands the sense and keeps them in prime condition.” (page 39)

“Read those writers who write the way you hope to write, who think the way you would like to think. But also read those who do not think as you think or write as you want to write, and so be stimulated in directions you might not take for many years.” (page 41)  

“Quantity gives experience. From experience alone can quality come. All arts, big and small, are the elimination of waste motion in favor of concise declaration. The artist learns what to leave out.” (page 131)

“Imitation is natural and necessary to the beginning writer.” (page 136)

When one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century speaks about himself and his work, aspiring writers or curious readers should pay attention. If they do, they will be able to dip into Zen in the Art of Writing for many points of inspiration.