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Work emails: Judgement required

From a formal “Dear” line and asking about your weekend, to one-word messages and emojis, to swear words and jokes that toe the line into being NSFW. There are many different approaches to how people write emails at work.

A friend and former colleague, Amanda, recently sent me a hilarious video from CBC’s TV show, Baroness von Sketch, on the topic of work emails. In addition to being just plain funny, she thought the video, which you can view here or by clicking on the screen cap below, was particularly relevant to me given the theme of Pencil Skirts & Punctuation.

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The manager in this video is at one end of the spectrum when it comes to email etiquette. She is informal and unprofessional in emails, and expects staff to act similarly. Although her unprofessionalism is taken to the extreme because it’s *~hilarious~* in the sketch, it’s also relevant for work emails in the real world.

“There’s nothing wrong with throwing in an ‘exclamaysh’… It lets people know that you’re not gonna skin us alive.”

Let’s think about what a real professional work email looks like. In my opinion, it includes a clear subject line, a greeting (such as “Hi Mary,”), short sentences and concise writing, one exclamation mark at the most if required, a clear request or action item, finished with your name and email signature. Don’t forget to proofread. Pretty simple!

As a general rule-of-thumb, being professional (or “profesh”) in emails is important. Why?

  • You may know the person you’re sending an email to, but others CC’d on an email thread – either immediately or in the future – may not know you as well and may not interpret an unprofessional tone in a favourable manner.
  • An attempt to be informal or to make a joke could be risky, because emails lack the nonverbal cues that often make jokes land as intended.
  • An email may be filed for future reference. It would be unfortunate to have an unprofessional email as part of a thread that’s in an official record.
  • Whether you’re starting out in your career or are a seasoned veteran in an industry, email is a tool that helps communicate the type of person you are and your work style. Using a professional tone communicates that you’re polished, dedicated to quality and serious about your career.

That said, know your audience. If you’re emailing a close contact at work, it could be appropriate to include something lighthearted and funny in your email – just make sure it’s suitable for work, and that you think the recipient will be okay seeing it. Showing your personality is an important part of fostering positive interpersonal relationships with colleagues.

What guidelines or rules of thumb do you use for writing work emails? Please share in the comments.

Thanks again to Amanda for inspiring this post!

 

 

 

 

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Stand out with these 3 traits

A resume can get your foot in the door when you’re looking for a job. But, oftentimes hiring managers want a new hire to fulfill criteria that can’t be expressed on paper. Why? These traits will help hiring managers ensure that the candidate will benefit the organization in ways that go beyond just fulfilling their role.

What are employers looking for when they hire someone new? Emily Heward, co-founder of branding agency Red Antler, explains the top things she looks for in the video from Inc.com, available here.

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Image via Inc.com.

What are the three traits she looks for?

  1. Enthusiasm about your industry, your work and the company
  2. The ability to ask thoughtful, challenging questions
  3. Kindness

You can demonstrate these traits to a potential employer in different ways. Try:

  • Before even applying for a job, consider scheduling an informational interview with someone at the organization
  • Carefully crafting a tailored cover letter (learn more about that here)
  • Mindfully conveying these traits in an interview
  • Sending a thank you email or hand-written note after an informational interview or formal interview

Do you agree with the top traits that Emily Heward suggests?

What other ways could you express these traits?

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Can a strong personal brand help you land a job?

I’ve recently posted about the importance of cultivating your personal brand. ICYMI, your personal brand is the image or impression that you can establish about yourself in the minds of others so that they can easily identify what makes you unique, and what you’re considered the go-to expert or resource on. This group includes colleagues, contacts in your network, your employer or potential employers.

While I know that personal brands are important, I’m always on the lookout for new research and information. I recently came across a CBC Radio Spark episode that revealed that personal brands aren’t the ultimate predictor of career success.

The episode featured an interview with anthropologist Ilana Gershon of the University of Chicago. Gershon wrote a new book called Down and Out in the New Economy. In the interview, she explained that a shift in the relationship between employer and employee has resulted in the way that we present ourselves as “businesses” in the job search.

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Image via CBC.ca / Ilana Gershon

“We are imagining ourselves as a bundle of skills, of assets… that we’re constantly having to manage, and we’re also supposed to be continually enhancing them.”

Ilana Gershon

Gershon studied how people find work in today’s job market. I was surprised to hear that although job searchers are routinely told to work on their personal brands, Gershon found no evidence this was effective with hiring managers.

What made a difference? Sixty-one per cent of people got jobs through workplace ties and references.

Note that this study was conducted across many different industries. In certain industries (for example, PR and communications), personal brands may hold more clout and be a worthwhile investment of your time. Further, your personal brand may make an impact with others in an organization, beyond only the hiring manager.

What can we take away from this finding? Your personal brand is important. But it’s not necessarily going to be the deciding factor that gets you hired.

This confirms that there are other items to consider. For example, your connections, years of experience, skillset, understanding of the industry, education and designations play a role. Your portfolio, resume, references and interview skills are critical as well.

So, it’s beneficial to be well-balanced. Spend time thinking about and cultivating your personal brand in a way that works for you. But, also invest in the other elements of your professional and job search skills.

How do you stand out in the crowd of job seekers?

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If you have nothing nice to say…

Have you ever been asked by a former co-worker to speak about them to a potential employer? I think it’s an honour to be asked to be a reference because I feel it demonstrates they think highly of me and our work together. In fact, I was recently asked by an old co-worker to be a reference, which makes this topic quite timely for me.

In the past, it was commonly thought that a reference can either say positive things about a co-worker, or speak in neutral terms and confirm the person worked at an organization, in a certain position and completed specific tasks. A reference wouldn’t speak negatively, even it if was the truth. This avoided the risk of the job applicant claiming the reference cut their chances of getting a job.

A recent court case turns that belief on its head.

The National Post reported on the verdict of Ontario defamation lawsuit in which a man accused his former boss of badmouthing him to a potential employer, costing the man the job. The candidate’s interpersonal skills were his downfall when the former boss was asked about them. The reference reported that the candidate insulted his team and acted like an “intellectual snob” in his former role. However, since the reference spoke truthfully and verified the report with other staff so that it was not grounded in opinion alone, the judge in this case found that the old boss was justified in his actions.

This finding brings a few things to light…

  • For job candidates: If you’re looking for a new job and thinking of who you will put forward as a reference, make sure you had a positive experience working with them. Ask their permission and take the time to share the attributes of the new job to prepare them for the call with the hiring manager. Glassdoor provides a good summary of all the tips to consider.
  • For references: It’s possible to speak negatively when asked about a potential candidate as long as you’re being honest. It’s important to be self-aware, objective and unbiased when giving a negative report. A hiring manager can most likely see through a biased report, tarnishing their opinion of your feedback.
  • For everyone: This is a keen reminder to always try your best. Treat others with respect, whether it’s your manager or anyone else you work with.

Thankfully, I’ve never been in the position of needing to give a negative report when a hiring manager has called regarding a reference. And, if you’re curious, the old co-worker who I recently provided a reference for landed the new job. (Congrats!)

What do you think? Could you give negative feedback if required when being a reference?

Managing career challenges: Lessons from Sheryl Sandberg

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Photo via CBC.ca (Matt Albiani/Penguin Random House)

I was inspired by an interview on CBC Radio’s The Current with Sheryl Sandberg, author of the bestselling book Lean In. As a seasoned strategic business person, Sandberg is well-suited to provide career advice, so I was interested to hear her professional advice.

But this interview addressed a different issue. Sandberg talked about her new book, Option B, which discusses how she dealt with the death of her husband, Dave Goldberg. She talked about how she and her children faced the loss and how she learned to turn grief into joy. She was candid and provided personal anecdotes.

I thought about how the lessons she shared can apply when facing professional challenges. The research and advice that went into her book has far-reaching applications, beyond the type of personal loss that Sandberg faced.

You might find that you’re faced with a professional “option B” if a project has failed, you’ve been laid off or lost your job, or you’re struggling to adjust to a new job. Since work is the biggest stressor for Canadians, it’s likely that any of these work-related situations were to occur, the effects would be far-reaching into one’s life.

The three take-aways that apply to these types of professional situations include:

  1. Build your resilience – The ability to endure tough times is an attribute that can help one both professionally and personally, as with Sandberg’s experience. Sandberg describes a key step in building her resilience as when she and her children set out to play and enjoy a favourite board game, despite their feelings of grief four months after he passed away. Continuing to perform and be productive when faced with a professional challenge, no matter how small, is important for building your ability to be resilient. Making a resiliency a habit will be beneficial in case you face adversity in your career.
  2. Your feelings are impacted by your actions – By changing your actions and your circumstances, your feelings often follow suit. For Sandberg, her feelings of grief changed over time after actively learning how to manage her grief. Facing a professional challenge may evoke feelings of anger, frustration, stress or anxiety. However, taking actions to find solutions can alleviate these feelings. Seeking advice from a mentor, dedicating your time to managing a poorly-performing project, or making (and abiding by) a job search action plan are all positive actions to take.
  3. Rebuild your confidence – After facing a challenge, you might lose confidence in doing things that you once excelled at. For example, after returning to work after bereavement leave, Sandberg lost confidence in her work. She confided in her boss, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook’s founder), that she felt she wasn’t performing as she once did in meetings. She reported that told her, “you said two really important things today and here’s what they were. He built me up.” This example demonstrates how small steps (such as speaking up in meetings), getting feedback, and engaging a trusted support network are important for building confidence.

Have you read Option B?

Are there any other lessons from this book that apply to a professional setting?

 

 

Cultivating your personal brand

Have you ever thought about creating a personal brand for yourself? If not, you’re in the right place! I’m going to explore what a personal brand is, and provide some tools and tips to get you started on building yours.

Taking a step back, the concept of a brand is something that you’re probably familiar with. The shoes you’re wearing, the store that you bought your latte from this morning, and the smartphone or computer that you’re reading this post on probably all have brands associated with them.

Some examples of products with well-known brands.

Although brands themselves are unique, the overarching concept of a brand means they all have something in common. A brand makes a product greater than its tangible attributes. Brands stand for something. By standing for different things, brands differentiate one product from another in the minds of consumers.

So, what is a personal brand? Your personal brand is the image or impression that you can establish about yourself in the minds of others. Usually, in the professional domain, this includes colleagues, contacts in your network, your employer or potential employers.

By positioning your work or career as a brand, you can help others to easily identify what makes you stand out, and what you are considered the go-to expert or resource on.

How do you determine your personal brand? Is this all new to you? If so, I got you fam. I’ve found a few tools and tips to get you started.

  • PwC has a built robust workbook that you can use to determine your strengths, understand your values, highlight your passions and define what drives you. Doing this legwork will ensure that your personal brand will reflect who you truly are – both inside and outside of the workplace. Think of the time spent on this as an investment in your future self!
  • Entrepreneur provides some timely tips on personal branding as well. They suggest that being authentic and visible, knowing your industry and giving back are among the essentials for sustaining a healthy personal brand.

Live your brand. Once you define and refine your brand, bring your vision to reality. Fast Company provides some tips for walking the walk (rather than just talking the talk) so that you can leverage the power of “word of mouth marketing”. Increasing the visibility of your brand can boost its validity, making you more marketable as a professional.

The article suggests trying the following activities to increase your expertise and thought leadership:

  • Teach a course at a community college
  • Join a panel discussion or conduct a presentation at a conference
  • Highlight your expertise using a consistent voice through your social media profiles, like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn

What tips to you have for building your personal brand?