We ve all been privy to it: that ubiquitous office situation where a poor choice of words sends a nearly closed business deal down the tubes, or automatically disqualifies a job applicant from the next round of interviews.
It s what everyone at the office knows but often struggles to implement: It s both what and how you say it.
Alan Axelrod, author of Getting Your Way Everyday: Mastering the Lost Art of Pure Persuasion (American Management Association, 2006), says the key thing to remember when it comes to workplace communication is that negative language has no place at the office.
Words such as annoying and depressing just shouldn t be used, he says.
Axelrod suggests that people frame their communication as positively as possible. Something, he says, that is very different than hiding things that go wrong or sugar coating disasters.
You want to think about presenting yourself as a problem solver. That is an asset, rather than a liability.
So instead of telling your boss that there is no way to squeeze in that important meeting, try framing it like this: I am really booked that day, but here are three options for how we could make it happen.
When it comes to presenting yourself on paper, r sum doctor Scott Bennet, author of The Elements of R sum Style: Essential Rules And Eye-opening Advice For Writing R sum s and Cover Letters That Work (American Management Association, 2005), says to focus on your career narrative.
In other words, you are a unique candidate with a story that can be told in a single, bullet-pointed page.
Where job applicants on all rungs of the ladder falter, Bennet says, is that they deviate from their story.
There is an enormous temptation to make stuff up. It s driven by a lack of confidence, and the belief that their real path isn t adequate.
But however large the temptation is to embellish, beef-up, or tweak, the cardinal r sum rule is: Just don t do it.
Bennet, who has seen his fair share of r sum s, says this is something that employers see right through.
As for other turn-offs to employers, Bennet says there is nothing worse than having a job description in your r sum . I once saw a r sum that read, duties include but not limited to.
Another all too common r sum faux pas might sound like a vestige from your high school English class: Show, don t tell.
It s a lot more powerful to show how you are detailed-oriented, by providing examples of the spreadsheets and databases you came up with, than to just simply say great attention to detail. That just sounds like self-puffery, Bennet says.
What s not self-puffery, however, is highlighting transferable skills those highly sought after qualities that employers drool over.
To give potential employers the most flattering overview of your skills, Bennet recommends providing examples of the following: your ability to think beyond your job title, working in an interdisciplinary way and your communication skills.
Axelrod also advises that your written and verbal communications reflect the language of business. Try to formulate your writing by saying, If we do A, we will save X number of dollars.
On a r sum , emphasize how your contribution to a project had a bottom-line effect.
In addition to illustrating that you can talk the talk, Bennet says to underscore that you walk the walk, when it comes to technology.
This doesn t mean you have to be fluent in C++ programming; it s just a baseline that you won t, as Bennet puts it, break into a cold sweat if you are asked to make a PowerPoint presentation or an Excel spreadsheet.
Bennet suggests having a software skill set section that lists the applications you are proficient in. It just shows that there isn t that hurdle there, which is really an absolute requirement in this day and age.
Now that you ve figured out your career narrative, told your story persuasively and played up your transferable skills, it would be a shame to be overlooked because of poor presentation.
The hard copy r sum is slowly becoming an anachronism of the 1980s (most are sent by e-mail). Bennet recommends that if you do go the hard copy route, and have some money to spare, go with a 24-pound paper. Some other rules of presentation:
Bright white stands out.
Use a simple font, such as Times New Roman.
Italics should only be used for a name of a publication or a phrase that isn t English.
The only thing in bold should be your name.
But even with a great r sum , you still have to ace the interview another potential area for communication snags.
Axelrod says that most job applicants misunderstand what a job interview is about.
It s not about getting a job; it s about showing that you can solve a problem. The most persuasive approach is to come in and show that you can offer something. Beyond that, an appalling number of job interviewees focus their attention on why they hated their old job. That s a big no-no.
Bennet s take is slightly different. He believes interviews go awry not because of what people say necessarily but because people are in the wrong room interviewing for a job that is destined to be a mismatch.
A lot of people scatter their r sum and end up interviewing for positions that they are horribly mismatched for. Enthusiasm is something that employers can smell. Think of it this way: You don t have to crank out your enthusiasm if you are genuinely enthusiastic about the job. Employers want people who are pumped to work there.
It s why Bennet believes the critical step to getting those offer letters to roll in is to find a job where you don t have to feign enthusiasm at the job interview.
Enthusiasm for a job might just be the most important communication skill.
Hannah Seligson is a writer based in New York currently working on her first book, New Girl on the Job: How Not to Cry at Work to be published by Kensington Books in the spring of 2007.
Copyright CTW Features
By Hannah Seligson