Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Write Your Own Ticket to Success

Write Your Own Ticket to Success

by Peter Weddle

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Peter Weddle
Peter Weddle is a recruiter, HR consultant and business CEO turned author and commentator. Described by The Washington Post as '... a man filled with ingenious ideas,'...
More often than not, the first impression you make with a recruiter is in writing. So, if you want to stand out like a dream candidate, write like one.

Many job seekers invest considerable time and more than a little money in developing a well written resume. While such a document can establish your qualifications for an opening, however, it almost never differentiates you from the competition. Why? Because every other qualified applicant has also submitted a resume that is articulate and grammatically correct. You're just one of the herd.

While seemingly an obstacle to job search success, this situation also creates a window of opportunity. Written communications - in corporate memos, white papers, business plans, research reports and other documents - are the lingua franca of work. And all too often today, even those who excel on-the-job are unable to describe their thoughts, conclusions and results clearly and effectively in writing. There is a pandemic of poor composition in the American workplace, and those who can prove they are not afflicted will stand out from the herd.

How can job seekers demonstrate their ability to write well? Two ways:
  • First, always convey your resume with a cover letter that makes a compelling, error-free case for why you should be considered the perfect candidate for the recruiter's opening.
  • Second, treat every email message, Inmail and Facebook interaction with a recruiter - no matter how short or seemingly trivial - as a test of your written communications skills.
Knowing where to demonstrate good writing, of course, is only half the battle. The other half involves actually doing it.

What Are the Hallmarks of Good Writing?

Now, to be absolutely clear, one doesn't have to be a Shakespeare or Hemingway to compose a good piece of writing. All that's required is an adherence to clear, concise sentences that are structured according to the accepted rules of grammar and organized into logical paragraphs.

Sadly, however, many of us have been shortchanged by our schools. We've been allowed to graduate without a basic understanding of fundamental principles of written communication. So, one of the first steps for job seekers should be to upgrade their writing ability.

How can you do that? It's a simple, two-step process;
  • First, do your homework. Complete a community college or other course in basic writing skills or dedicate yourself to a self-paced instructional program where you learn on your own. There are many excellent texts for the latter, but one of the most engaging is Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynn Truss.
  • Second, practice, practice, practice. Think back to the work you did in your last position and write a month's worth of the kind of memos and other correspondence you would have authored there. Then, ask a friend to read the communications for clarity of thought and grammatical correctness. The exercise will improve both the level of your writing and your ability to describe your previous work effectively.
A well-crafted resume is only one part of the written communications that shape a person's perceived value as an employment candidate. Demonstrate the same degree of expertise in a cover letter and your online communications, and you'll write your own ticket to success in the job market.

Thanks for reading,
Visit me at Weddles.com

The Graduate Student as Entrepreneur


The Graduate Student as Entrepreneur

The market for academic teaching jobs in the humanities and social sciences is entirely different than it was 30 years ago, yet most graduate advisers and students still operate as if the path to the professoriate is the same as it was: You present at conferences, network with others in your field, be active in your department, work with someone of great renown, submit papers for publication, apply for fellowships, and then secure a tenure-track position.
Unfortunately, that approach is no longer enough to ensure a career in academe. My good friend "Ben," who did all of the above during his doctoral study in the French and Italian department at Princeton University, failed to secure a full-time position. Even as he excelled in his work, opportunities within his field were diminishing.
Some of my peers, however, have succeeded in securing tenure-track jobs in higher education. Yet they have only done so because of their willingness to step outside of the traditional boundaries of graduate-student work. "Lynn" is an assistant professor on the tenure track because of her years of experience in instructional technology. "Charles" is an assistant professor because of his invention of an online tool that visualizes knowledge networks between theorists in his field. "Frank" is an assistant professor because of his administrative experience in a writing-across-the-curriculum program. The list goes on.
I would like to suggest, then, the emergence of a new paradigm for succeeding on the academic job market: the graduate student as entrepreneur.
Graduate students can no longer lay the groundwork for their careers by following a mythical path set forth long ago that is fast disappearing. Increasingly, Ph.D.'s need to step slightly outside of their fields to define themselves, produce tools, appeal to wider audiences, attain rare skill sets, and forge partnerships beyond their disciplines and even beyond academe. In that spirit of self-reliance and innovation I'd like to present five ways in which graduate students in the humanities and social sciences can succeed by drawing outside of the lines.
Propose, and participate in, unorthodox partnerships. Erez Lieberman Aiden, a Ph.D. in the areas of applied math and health sciences and technology at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, approached an executive at Google and proposed the creation of a tool that could measure cultural trends by charting word frequency over hundreds of years in Google's corpus of 15 million books.
Google agreed to provide the digitized books, and Aiden gathered a team of programmers and researchers in a variety of disciplines. As a result, Google's Ngram Viewer and the interdisciplinary concept of "culturomics" were born. In our current climate, graduate students should likewise consider doing work and forging relationships beyond our disciplinary boundaries.
Seek more technical training. Deena Engel, a clinical associate professor of computer science at New York University has been teaching a graduate course this semester in the English department on how to curate and encode online literary texts using CSS, HTML, and XML. In a similar vein, we as graduate students should seek to acquire advanced technical skills outside of our department's traditional offerings.
Even students in the humanities should consider taking classes in statistical methods, sociological research models, computer programming, information technology, and other such topics. Mastering skills in such areas will not only help you stand out in the traditional academic job search but can also give you something to fall back on should you apply for alternative academic careers.
Look beyond the semester system. True growth doesn't happen in the semester system. Too often graduate students write a paper in the final week of the semester, the professor writes a few cursory comments, and then the paper gathers dust. Substantial projects cannot be completed in a semester's time or with a single reader. Graduate students need to seek out groups of readers who will seriously interrogate their work as it develops over a year or more.
For many years, I was the victim of the "easy A." Professors, even in graduate school, would give me A's on my research papers without taking time to actually interrogate my ideas. That changed last year when I was fortunate enough to take an independent study with a professor, Matthew K. Gold, who ruthlessly engaged with me and challenged my arguments over 14 months and seven drafts. Graduate students need to seek out those mentors who will truly scrutinize and advise our projects from beginning to end; otherwise, we will never grow into scholars.
Know how to appeal to different audiences. From the rise of private for-profit universities that offer a corporate-minded, part-time, and fast-track education to the adjunctification of the work force, the days of recondite scholars releasing their findings to 20 readers via a specialized print journal are disappearing. We only have to witness the decline in foreign-language programs to realize that academic professionals in our present cultural climate have to fight to prove their own "relevancy," a word that has increasingly become code for "economic worth."
If the humanities do not reach out and perform a species of cultural missionary service, they may well be swallowed up and transformed from the outside in. Graduate students, caught in a web of idealism and economic sparsity, are poised to be the conduits of that process. However, we need to understand how to engage with the broader public and how to use new media.
Be willing to enter into or create opportunities outside of academe. For many Ph.D.'s, the end result of the aforementioned "cultural missionary service" may well be a position outside of academe. With every crisis comes unique opportunities.
Ironically, many unemployed artists, writers, and graduate students could possibly make greater contributions outside of their desired fields than within them. Graduate students represent some of the most creative and socially aware minds of our time. It might be a hidden blessing if some of us are pushed into careers in government, finance, or civic service.
Sarah Ruth Jacobs is a doctoral candidate in English at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and a student in its interactive technology and pedagogy certificate program. She also works in instructional technology at the Schwartz Communication Institute at Baruch College.



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