Mar 252013
 American English, Article, Business Writing Comments Off on How to say “thank you”

An article in a job-seekers newsletter affirmed the value of the written thank-you note as a follow-up to an interview. “With so little coming into the office via mail v. email, it’s a pleasure for many business people to actually open an envelope and read a hand written note. It connects in much different way than a typed email.,” the article said.

True enough. But people who still believe the handwritten thank you is the only appropriate vehicle may be missing some realities of today’s job-hunting environment.

  1. Timing is everything. Even if you write the note in your car after the interview and drive it to the nearest post office, the note probably won’t arrive for 24 to 48 hours. If you interviewed by phone for a long-distance position, the timetable is even longer. The decision could be made before your note arrives.
  2. OOO? Uh-oh. Your handwritten note could languish in a mailbox while the intended recipient is traveling or working from home.
  3. Decisions are made by committee. If you are interviewed by more than one person, do you write more than one thank-you? An email allows for multiple recipients. It also allows one recipient to forward easily to others who might have an influence on the final decision.

None of these are reasons not to send a hand-written note. But they are good reasons to use email as well. My advice: Use the email to provide some added-value content. “One more thought regarding your question about…” Or “I enjoyed our discussion about X. Here is a link to the article I mentioned, which provides some really good solutions.”

The handwritten note can be a more formal thank you, ending with a subtle call to action, like “I look forward to further discussion about this position.”

In short, which vehicle is “better”? The correct answer, as always, is “It depends.”

Mar 132013
 Article, Uncategorized Comments Off on Showing Up

Over on LinkedIn, someone asked what advice she should give to the students at her Alma Mater in a commencement address. My response was to lead with Woody Allen’s quote, “Eighty percent of life is showing up.” (He may have said “90 percent,” or perhaps it was “success,” not “life,” but you get the idea.)

Over time, nothing beats reliability. Inspiration will certainly fail you. Your talent may not be up to any given task. You won’t be able to tackle every project with enthusiasm. But showing up is almost always within your control.

I’m not even talking about the perspiration that Edison said was 99 percent of genius. It isn’t about hard work and giving it your all. I’m just talking about returning emails, getting to the meeting on time, giving people the information they need from me to get on with whatever they need to do.

In his glory days, Woody Allen was famous for not attending the Oscars, because the broadcast used to be on Monday night, and he had a standing clarinet gig at some little club in Manhattan. Nobody could figure out how mediocre tootling could take precedence over the biggest night in show business. For Allen, the choice was clear: The group needed him, so he showed up.

When you truly understand the value of showing up, you can do it not just for others, but for yourself as well. That’s how you get through the days that drag and the mornings that are filled with dread.

For a writer—and at heart, that’s what Woody Allen is—showing up is vital because there are so many ways not to. You can sharpen pencils, clean closets, play around on Facebook. You can let one unsatisfactory day—or paragraph—persuade you to abandon the project. In that case, there is a 100 percent chance that the work will not get done.

Showing up is no guarantee that the work will be great, but 80 percent of something beats 100 percent of nothing every time.

Mar 012013
 Article, Uncategorized Comments Off on “Show, don’t tell”

The advice in the headline comes from the late, great Henry James. It is the secret of great fiction: Concrete versus abstract. In non-fiction, the same advice applies, but the reasons are different: The difference between argument and assertion is that the former provides support for a point of view. The latter doesn’t, and the reader is left to take the writer’s word for it. Or not.

One of the reasons we get so burned out by political advertising—beyond the sheer volume of it—is that it mostly consists of dueling assertions. That’s also the reason that the ads have so little persuasive value—we simply select the set of assertions that aligns with our existing beliefs. Assertions give us nothing to wrestle with or discuss. A good argument demands a thoughtful rebuttal, not a flippant rejection.

I was concerned, therefore, by a blog post I saw on LinkedIn that offered a “quick copywriting tip” designed to deliver “strategic subtlety.” The writer praised a brochure for a medical center that asserted, “More than a building, it will be a catalyst for our next wave of contributions to science and healing.”

According to the blogger, “This is more effective, not to mention easier to consume, than sharing a list of achievements that most readers will probably find boring.”
What he calls a boring list of achievements is what I call “facts.” And I still rely on facts to determine whether I can accept an assertion like “catalyst for contributions to science and healing.”

Certainly a list of achievements can fail to persuade if they don’t engage the target audience. But I, for one, have almost infinite patience when someone is talking about what’s in it for me.

It may be that argument is going the way of the dodo, but although I fancy myself progressive in most areas of life, this is a place where I will hold the line. “Show, don’t tell.”