MICHAELA FENGSTAD

Writing about life as it happens, trends in career development and new inspiration

Tag: English

English for Personal Branding

2011-trends-4There was a time, not too long ago, when men and women were putting a lot more effort in the way they looked. Men used to wear suits and ties almost everywhere and women preferred skirts and beautiful dresses. Times have changed, and we are way more laid back and casual in the way we present ourselves. Formal appearance is not that much of a concern and I have witnessed teachers wearing yoga and track suit pants, clients that think there is nothing wrong with wearing jeans to interviews and colleagues that wear flip flops and shorts to meetings. There is nothing wrong with this casual approach to clothes other than the fact that not much has changed in the way people judge and form a first opinion when meeting new people.

Image consultants and career experts agree that it takes an interviewer about 30 seconds to make a first impression about a candidate. Dressing appropriately and wearing the outfit with confidence increase your chances of getting hired. The most controversial piece of clothing for men tends to be the mighty tie. Steve Jobs never wore one and Sir Richard Branson thinks that ties kill creativity while the editors of GQ magazine, stated “when you’re sporting a tie, you can pretty much stroll in anywhere you want; it’s like an Admirals Club card that you wear on the outside. Whether you’re suiting up for the office or laying out a look for the evening, a tie allows you to pull together the disparate elements of your wardrobe with a touch of texture or complementary color.”

At this point you are wondering what would appearance have to do with English and personal branding? Proper English with correct grammar and punctuation is the outfit for your “on paper” persona. The recruiters, the hiring managers will make that 30 seconds judgment based on your resume and LinkedIn profile. The best way to get noticed, or for your name to be kept in the potential winning candidates bag is to wrap your profile in the best outfit possible. The Internet abounds with articles on the most common grammar mistakes and typos that you need to avoid at all costs. I will not dwell on them. I will touch only on the TIE you might want to pay extra attention to when writing your profile.

Tautology is a figure of speech and the way of expressing the same thing using two or more different words with the same or almost same meaning. It can be used to emphasize a concept but more often than not it is used in the wrong way and becomes a needless and annoying repetition of the same fact or thing. Very close to pleonasms, tautologies are a real turn off for any hiring manager. Before even getting to your skills and experience, their first impression is that you lack the basic ability to write and edit your work. In a global workplace, where business is often conducted through emails, having strong English skills has become a basic requirement for any job. The examples below were gathered from LinkedIn profiles:

  • Internal Intranet (Intranet is an internal network)
  • I saved $10,000 dollars on the project
  • A brief summary of achievements
  • A necessary requirement of the job
  • Drafted wills and testaments
  • Absolutely necessary
  • And etc.
  • CAD design (Computer-Aided Design design)
  • Helped the parties enter into a contract
  • Sills previously listed above

Have you ever heard of the term illeism?  Do you remember The Jimmy episode of Seinfeld? “Hands off Jimmy!” “Don’t touch Jimmy!”, says Jimmy. “Illeism is another figure of speech, and it denotes the habit of referring to oneself in the third person. In an interview with The Guardian, Pelé, the famous soccer player said: “I think of Pelé as a gift of God. We have billions of billions of people in the world, and we have one Beethoven, one Bach, one Michelangelo, one Pelé. That is the gift of God.” You get the idea now! We all, at times, have fallen in the habit of using it: “Give mommy a good night kiss!” or  “Daddy’s busy now, go play with your brothers!”   I would like to think we all grew out of it. I think that once you move on from watching Elmo, you should stop talking about yourself in the 3rd person. In psychology, illeism has been linked to narcissistic behaviours and in a business environment narcissists don’t make good team players.  Psychology aside, let’s just say it rubs people the wrong way. My first question when I read a resume or a LinkedIn profile written in the 3rd person is who actually wrote this document? Was it the owner or a third party? It confuses me in regards to whom I should address my questions to and it creates an unnecessary barrier in the communication flow.  One of the important objectives when writing a resume or a LinkedIn profile is a direct, honest approach that attracts recruiters and hiring managers.

The use of ellipsis on resumes baffles me. I am killing it today with all these smug words! Ellipsis is nothing else but the nerdy word for those three dots that we use but not sure where and why. It is very simple: they can be used in two instances. First and most common use is to replace text in a quote. Let’s consider this full quote from Arthur Miller Biography by Rachel Galvin:  “In his writing and in his role in public life, Miller articulates his profound political and moral convictions.”  I find the sentence a bit too long and having too many distractions from the simple idea I need to convey. I will use the ellipsis to simplify it and yet keep the integrity of the quote. “In his writing … Miller articulates his … convictions.” The second use of these three dots is in creative writing to express hesitation, a long pause, uncertainty or even a change of moods. (See also The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation by Jane Straus) For example: I… don’t know… I think… I … must have… turned off the stove. A resume is or should be unique presenting your skills, your experience, and your knowledge.  Unless you are quoting from your work, you should never use an ellipsis. As for the second use, I don’t need to explain anything anymore! Managers need employees that can take decisions in a timely manner, with little to no hesitation and pretty stable from an emotional point of view.

The devil is in the details! The same way a tie can ruin or enhance a perfectly tailored suit, paying attention to the proper use of grammar concepts like T(tautology), I(lleism) and E(llipsis) can ruin your chances to an interview or advance your career with little effort. There are no short cuts or easy ways in writing for career advancement. The better you become, the closer you get to your dreams!

 

Photo courtesy of MyInfoToGo Magazine  http://www.myinfotogo.com

One More Time: Target and Customize Your Job Search

Looking for a job is hard work and writing or updating the resume for most of us is a daunting task that overwhelms and frustrates even the best writers at times.

I believe in targeted resumes, and although you can find more comprehensive and complicated explanations of this term on the net, I always tell my clients that a resume is nothing else than a reply, an answer to a question or even better an offer to a demand. Let’s see the following example: it is winter time and it is not too late to go for your flu shot. You assume the pharmacy or the doctor’s office would have a stock of flu vaccines around this time of the year for obvious reasons. To your surprise, they don’t have the flu shots but they offer you a quite impressive assortment of vaccines for tropical diseases. Hmmm… You are impressed, all right, but they did not address or solve your issue in any way. This is when you go to the next pharmacy that will hopefully answer your demand. Now, replace your person with the business in need of a particular qualification and the pharmacies with the job seekers. The ones that will address the requirements in the particular job posting will get the recruiter’s attention while the others will definitely land into the “NO” pile.

It is easier to preach “targeting” than to put it in practice, especially when using popular sites like LinkedIn. I use LinkedIn and I think it adds value to other aspects of our professional life and even to some parts of a job search. Unfortunately it works against the concept of “targeted” anything. Let me explain. As you all know, on LinkedIn there is only one profile that you can show the world and attract potential employers with. The problem here is that even when you target one specific job with one specific job title, the job descriptions coming from different companies are extremely diverse. Each company has their unique needs, their own organization chart and their own interpretation of a position.
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Speech or Toast?

Earlier in the week I read a blog about a Maid of Honour’s duties and of course, one of these would be giving a speech. All through the article, the author interchanged “speech” with “toast” without even blinking. It reminded me of several functions and events where I had the same issue: people don’t realize that these words have different meanings and different roles during an event.

What does the dictionary say? Speech: a formal address or discourse delivered to an audience. Toast can be used as follows: “propose a toast”: ask a group of people at a social occasion to drink to the health and happiness of a specified person or “drink to”: celebrate or wish for the good fortune of someone or something by raising one’s glass and drinking a small amount….

A bit cumbersome, right? Not really. The main difference between the 2 words is that the speech is usually a longer, more elaborate discourse that can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes or more while the toast is a short phrase at the end of the speech, raising the glass and taking a sip. A toast should look like this:

 

And the speech:

 

Well, don’t beat yourselves too hard if you didn’t know the difference! President Obama learned it the hard way this year when visiting with the Queen. As the Protocol dictates, President Obama proposed a toast to honour the Queen. Everybody was standing, he toasted the Queen, which prompted the orchestra to start playing God Save the Queen, but instead of taking the hint and stopping right there, Mr Obama thought the Oscar Ceremony followed him to Britain and continued to talk… over the National Anthem… Thankfully the Queen graciously overlooked the incident.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNRXGRFJdDY

 

 

Naked Manners

Back in my early 20’s I used to spend every summer at the Black Sea. I loved the sun, the fun and the somehow care-free way of living. As anywhere else, there was the family sun-bathing areas where the bikinis were mandatory, and then the less formal areas, where naked was the norm. These were the places where you could always find all the black market goods – an industry that during the communism was flourishing. This is where we would always buy the Marlborough, Kent or Viceroy cigarettes, the contraceptive pills, different brands of luxurious soaps and shampoos, and other import goods prohibited during the communist years. You can easily imagine that the naked beaches were quite crowded with people from all walks of life, looking for a bargain.

One summer, I was enjoying a beautiful vacation with my friend and her brother and sister in law. He was a doctor at one of the best hospitals in the area while his wife was a high school teacher. One day we decide to go shopping for some cigarettes. There was a particular naked beach where we could get Salem, a menthol light brand of cigarettes, meant for ladies. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I come from a very formal culture. We take pride in our manners, and make a point in showing them off. Smoking the white slim cigarettes as opposed to the stinky local brand was another way of showing our class.

You can only imagine the scene that followed shortly after getting to the place. First, as you can easily guess we were all naked, walking around the beach when my friend’s brother hears somebody calling out his name: Dr B! Surprise! And what a surprise this was! He ran into one of his former patients. Obviously, as the formal code of manners dictated, our (naked) Dr B introduced his (naked) wife to his former (naked) patient who had to respectfully bend and kiss her hand. Fortunately enough, my friend and I were a few steps behind so we watched from the distance the awkwardness of the meeting and had enough time to wipe our smiles from our faces before joining them again.

I guess, what I am trying to get out of this story is that what seems to be perfectly normal and appropriate in one instance, will be awkward and embarrassing in a different one. Learning and adapting constantly to the changes in our lives should always include our manners and the approach to a new culture, a new environment and new people.

But what do you do when you run into a client, or an acquaintance at Wreck Beach for example? Do you look the other way? Do you  nod and move on? Do you stop, shake hands and have a quick conversation? Do you introduce your naked partner?

Whatever you decide, this is what you will not do:

  • Check the other one out! Yes, I know, you are both naked, but this is not an invitation to check the other person; for men, the same rules as in the washroom apply when meeting another man.
  • Introduce your family or friends; why subject them  to some embarrassing moments? It is very easy to feel comfortable when you are among strangers, people that you do not know; as soon as we start knowing names and details about each other things change.
  • I would not recommend a hand shake either; but this is my personal preference. Not to mention hugging or kissing a lady’s hand (europeans!)

These days I am not spending any time in places like these but what would I do? I would simply wear my very dark sun glasses and pretend I haven’t seen you. Nothing personal but some things are better to be ignored than dealt with and this would make it in the top of my list!

 

 

Culture and Business Etiquette

There are manners and there is the Business Etiquette concept. You might think they are the same and what our parents taught us should serve us well in any situation. The general misconception is that knowing what fork to use and how to keep our elbows at the dinner table should be enough to prevent anybody from being embarrassed or from making a fool of themselves during a business dinner. The truth is that there is more to it than simply knowing how to use the cutlery.

Let’s think for a moment: one of the most important notions to master is networking. It is never too early to start networking; in fact, the earlier you start, the better for you. Knowing the right person weighs more than the best written and presented resume or a lifetime of achievements. Networking is basically making and keeping alliances. And being friendly, courteous, respectful, diplomatic and knowing how to manage conflict in a positive way is only the beginning of how to build them. But there is a lot to learn and every time we meet another human being, there is a 50/50 chance to make a gaffe, to step on a toe or simply to blow it. The tragedy is that real life does not provide us with too many second chances to reset and start all over again. Therefore, the more you know and practice etiquette, the better equipped you are to manage that situation in your advantage.

Cultural differences are usually at the base of most misunderstandings or miscommunications. I am under a lot of stress every time I need to host or participate to any social gathering (other than with my close friends). I come from a culture that takes its time to build relationships, and until that time when we feel comfortable enough around another person, we are very formal. We take as much time as we need to know the other person and we can not be rushed into liking somebody or pretending to. Moving to Canada, I think I have missed a million of opportunities to network by not knowing how to come out of my shell and being too stuck on titles and formality. I am still a work in progress, as knowing what to do does not necessarily translates into practising in real time.

And this is only one small example where one’s culture will definitely act against that person in a Canadian business environment. My advice for everybody: if you want  to advance, on top of your competent self, master business etiquette and the language. Having an accent will always bring an exotic charm to your persona, but there are no excuses for not speaking a grammatically correct English. As Sir Francis Bacon once said: “knowledge is power”. Before anything, take some time to study the customs, culture, and language of the place where you intend to do business, regardless if you are a fluent English speaker or economically independent.

 

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