Jan 042011

When you are communicating with someone you don’t know,   you lack the advantage of face to face understsanding. You’ve probably seen what happens on a discussion board or online forum, when someone responds innocently enough to a question, but the inferred tone relays hostility or rudeness. (Or Heavens forbid, it’s ALL CAPS AND YOU THINK HE”S SCREAMING AT YOU.)

That can happen in any short correspondence.  You think you are saying one thing and the guy at the other end of the postal route / electronic path gets a completely different impression. This happens a lot when applicants write something they’ve seen a lot and think sounds impressive, without stopping to think about it. Cliches are things that are said so often they  lose some meaning, or at least to some people. They are about as impressive as parsley and red cabbage garnish.  Worse than the garnish, some of them are actually rude or annoying to people who receive them.

Since it’s  your job to avoid this, not theirs to figure out what you really meant, you might want to stop and think about what you write really means or might mean to someone else. At least it is in your interest.

Let’s look at a couple of favorites:

You say: Please contact me at your earliest convenience. You mean: I’d really like an opportunity to speak with you. He thinks:” Who the Hell does this jerk think he is? He says jump, and I say, How High?”  You  just unsuccessfully ordered someone to call you at once.

You say: “I consider myself to be exceptional well qualified to perform effectively and efficiently”. You mean: I have a strong track record and have the self confidence that comes from years of success in the industry. “ He understands, “I have a possibly over inflated opinion of myself.”

You say, “I am a five star chef.” You mean, “The restaurant was awarded five stars, while I was working there,” Reader may think, “Red light! Red light! Ego on the move. Do I want to put up with it?”

You say, “I am a well known chef. Please Google me / you can view my resume here.” You  mean: I am a well known chef and I expect you to take the effort to find out everything for yourself. She thinks, “Oy, Veh! What an ass!” She’s probably right.

You say: “ Objective: A management position in a highly  professional company where I can put my talents to full use.”   thinks, “Who isn’t?”  if he reads it at all. Most people don’t. What you might have done: Objective” After researching Lem’s Crab Palace, I am very interested  in learning more about the opportunity of chef”, Or “Your application on John’s Job Board dot Com is very interesting. I would like to apply for it.” You can do better, but you get the idea.

You say: “I am passionate about food,”. You mean either you are passionate about food or you love doing what you do or you are very ambitious and want to get ahead as fast as possible. She thinks, “Everyone says that. So what?”

It’s easy enough to do better: Look for the cliches (“as soon as possible”, “I consider myself”, “five star chef”) and think what you really mean, then say it. People who don’t do a lot of business correspondence, think pat phrases sound good. People who do a lot don’ think so.

I don’t remember the poet/professor who advised his students something to the effect of:  “If it feels comfortable as if you’d read it before, discard it.” That’s pretty good advice to anyone reaching out to a stranger looking for a job, or, for that matter, anything else. If it sounds really cool and professional, mistrust it.

You don’t think you can do it?  Try this: Get a tape recorder or record into your computer. Tell it what you want. Who you are and what you did at your jobs before you write anything. Imagine you are talking to your mother or your boyfriend or whoever you speak to casually. Then write it down and shorten it as much as you can.