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Archive for the month “November, 2013”

The Etiquette of Thankfulness: What (Not) Sending a Thank You Note After a Job Interview Tells a Potential Employer

Jennifer Marciniak, Assistant Director of the Virtual Writing Center

JenniferMWhile Thanksgiving reminds us to show appreciation for those around us, it’s also a good time to consider how we communicate this appreciation. From my own experience, I can tell you that just saying Thank You means a lot. I have Thank You notes from students pinned up on my corkboard in my office. The colorful, handwritten cards are from students who I helped in the writing center when I worked as a face-to-face consultant as opposed to my now cyber existence in the Virtual Writing Center. One card, from a student I worked with on a few different projects all semester says, “You have really helped me write well and reduce stress. I appreciate your enthusiasm and enjoy working with you.” Another, from a student whom I helped with her personal statement for a graduate program, says: “You helped me rediscover my voice . . . for that I will be forever grateful.” The meaning behind these notes is personal. It tells me that what we have done together mattered, that I have affected their life somehow, and, in turn, theirs mine. Sometimes we need these little tokens to remind us of our value.

Thank you notes are nice to get, but they can also be essential to give. It is important to remember what saying Thank You can do for you professionally. In the fast-paced world of online job applications and telephone/Skype interviews, sometimes remembering to send that traditional note of appreciation after meeting the hiring manager and/or job committee gets lost in the shuffle. Thank You notes resonate with potential employers. And if there is any doubt about that statement, consider recent results from job search firm surveys. According to a CareerBuilder 2011 survey of hiring managers, about 22 percent are less likely to hire a candidate if a Thank You note is not sent, even if that candidate is one of their top contenders. The survey also found that 88 percent of hiring managers say that the lack of a Thank You note shows a “lack of follow through,” and 56 percent say that not sending a Thank You Note suggests the applicant is “not serious about the opportunity.”

Who would have thought those two words – Thank You – would pull so much weight in an already overly competitive job market? Apparently most employers, according to Amanda Augustine, a job search consultant for The Ladders, a job match service for career professionals. In an interview with Forbes Magazine about after-interview etiquette, Augustine maintains that it is a mistake to think the job interview is over once you step out the door: “Based on my decade-long experience in conducting interviews, I can attest first-hand that failure to follow-up can be the deciding factor in rejecting a candidate who is otherwise a great fit.”

With the knowledge that Thank You notes may make or break your chances for a job, there are many decisions to make about content, as well as whether to send them via email or through the mail. A survey of hiring managers by Accountemps, a staffing company for accounting and financial professionals, revealed that 87 percent believe an e-mailed Thank You note is considered appropriate. However, this also depends on the culture of the company, according to Forbes contributor and career coach Lisa Quast. If the company is a bit more traditional, a hand-written note, usually sent within 24 hours of the interview, is best. Heibling and Associates, an executive consultant staffing firm for engineering, real estate, and construction companies, says it is in the candidate’s best interest to send an email and a hand-written note. This is advised because a handwritten note “gets more attention” than an email note, but if the hiring process is moving quickly, “you will want to expedite your Thank You and send an email.”

Some more interpersonal forms of appreciation are warned against. A telephone call is an option, but not recommended. According to the Accountemps survey, only 10 percent of hiring managers find it suitable to send a text message as a Thank You note. Quast says that while texting is convenient, it is just not professional etiquette: “Thankfully, I’ve only had this happen once, when a candidate texted, ‘Thx for the intrvw!’”

In terms of content, most staffing firms agree on one major component — make it personal. Address the hiring manager by name. Also, if the hiring committee is more than one person, write a Thank You note to each individual member. Include in the note the position you interviewed for and the date you applied. Also, personalize the note to the position and the company. This jogs their memory, according to HCareers.com, a search firm for hospitality professionals, especially if the same committee is hiring for multiple positions. These tips are taken directly from HCareers.com:

Show Gratitude Basically, you want to thank the employer for his or her time at the job interview. This will grab the interviewer’s attention and make the person realize that you are a warm and considerate person—this goes a long way in the hospitality industry.

Confirm Your Interest Mention something specific that you are excited about (i.e. “I really love the idea of working at a four-star hotel and am confident my skill and expertise would help maintain the hotel’s excellent reputation.”).

Show You Were Listening You don’t want to recount the entire conversation, but it’s great to mention one or two specific things that came up in the interview, especially things that are relevant to the position for which you interviewed.

Point out Some of Your Strengths Don’t be afraid to add in a little self-promotion! Employers want their prospective hires to be confident and assertive. This is a great place to explain a few of your skills and share how your background and relevant experience will help you succeed in the job. You don’t want to go into too much detail here, but reminding the interviewer of why you are a strong and qualified candidate can go a long way.

Suggest a Follow Up End on a positive note by saying thank you again, and then, depending on how you left it in the interview, mention that you are available to talk again in person or over the phone in order to answer any questions the interviewer might have.

In addition to the many tips for what to write in Thank You notes, there are also many warnings against what not to write. Some of these may be common sense, but search firms feel they need to be asserted. Some of the most common “don’ts” for Thank You notes are mentioning salary or waiting too long to send the note. Some other big ones include:

Penmanship and Errors Typos and misspellings tell your potential employer that you wrote the note in haste, which may cause the manager to doubt your interest in the job, according to Miriam Salpeter, job search and social media consultant for USNews. Write out your note on a separate piece of paper first. If you are sending an email, write it out on a Word or Pages document first. Make sure to check for all spelling and grammar errors.

Don’t Be Generic “If you can’t sound invested in the position and take the time necessary to write an interesting note, you may be wasting your time,” says Salpeter. While you may think you are saving time and energy by sending the same Thank You note to 10 different employers, you aren’t. Employers can tell if you are being generic. Salpeter advises candidates to read their note before sending it and ask “Could someone who didn’t even participate in the interview have written this?” She says if the answer is yes, “it’s back to the drawing board, or you’ll risk leaving the interviewer unimpressed.”

Sending a Gift Sending flowers, food, or gift cards can be seen as a “desperate, inappropriate candidate,” and can possibly make the employer uncomfortable, says Salpeter. Diane Gottsman, founder of The Protocol School of Texas, says in an interview with Forbes that it can be seen as a bribe. “Sending, or receiving, a big box of steaks on ice is not the right way to secure a job position.”

Researching the etiquette of thankfulness for this blog reminded me of my past life as a job search consultant. Before my journey into academia I recruited, interviewed and hired (or not) for two different large companies. I can attest that the ones that actually took the time to send Thank You notes made an impression. To me, taking the time to hand-write a Thank You card showed thoughtfulness and practicality – two skills that most employers find very valuable. Thank You emails are also thoughtful, but hand-written cards, because of their personal nature (picking out the card, taking a pen to paper, sealing the envelope, stamping and sending), demonstrate that the candidate delegates time and energy to the little things. And a lot of the times those little things are the ones that really matter.

Below are links to templates and tips for writing solid post-interview Thank You notes:

Job Seekers: No, the Interview Thank You Note is Not Dead

Making Post-Interview Thank You Notes Worth Your Time

Write a Post-Interview Thank You that Actually Boosts Your Changes to Get the Job

How I Write: Jeffery L. Hieb — Engineering Professor

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers. The series will be featured every other Wednesday.

hiebOur featured writer this week is Professor Jeffery L. Hieb. Dr. Hieb teaches in the Engineering Fundamentals and Computer Engineering and Computer Science departments in the J. B. Speed School of Engineering at the University of Louisville. Although he has a range of research interests, one area of specialty for Dr. Hieb is information assurance and security.

How I Write: Jeffery L. Hieb

Location: In my office or my office at home

Current project: A technical report on the availability and effectiveness of currently available industrial control system cyber-security technology for the Dams Sector.

Currently reading: What the Best College Professors Do, Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

  1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

    a. Conference and journal papers
    b. Technical reports
    c. Letters of recommendation
    d. Grant and research proposals

  2. When/where/how do you write?

    a. In my office or in my office at home.
    b. Almost any chance I get

  3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

    a. I write on my notebook computer, and since I have it with me most of the time I can write almost anywhere.  I usually like to have a cup of coffee next to me when I write.

  4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

    a. When I have trouble getting started I like to stand up and talk about the subject matter to an imaginary audience.  Usually after 10 to 15 minutes I want to start writing down something I have said.

  5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

    a. The best advice I ever received was from Dr. David Shaner, my philosophy professor when I was an undergraduate.  He once told me: “Just throw up on the page, you can clean it up later”.  I have always found that helpful when starting to write something, it takes away the pressure of getting it right at the beginning, and acknowledges that rewriting/revising is part of the writing process, not what you do to fix or correct something you got wrong initially.

The Prats and Pitfalls of Defining “Academic Writing”

Rick Wysocki, Consultant

We often hear about “academic writing” in higher education.
In essays, we always cite our sources, professors say.
Avoid unclear and passive language.
Don’t use a million-dollar word when a nickel will do.
In my experience in college these maxims were typically presented as absolute truths. In this post I want to look the harmful effects of this tendency.
Don’t get me wrong–I think properly citing sources, emphasizing active voice, and focusing on clarity are all helpful strategies that students should learn. What’s dangerous, however, is presenting them as rules rather than as conventions or rhetorical choices, which can interfere with a student’s sense of agency and force their writing into a non-contextual “academic” mold. In extreme cases, taking conventions for absolutes can lead to bizarre acts of policing language.
A quintessential example of this is Denis Dutton’s “Bad Writing Contest.” Dutton, a professor of philosophy, solemnly swore to uphold the constitution of his self-importance, taking it upon himself to deem certain pieces of writing–by established academics, no less–as bad. Not ineffective. Just bad. One “winner” was Judith Butler, with the following sentence:
“The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate the renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.” (From Butler’s article “Further Reflections on the Conversations of our Time”)
I want to make it clear that unlike Dutton’s silly contest, I’m not trying to disparage Judith Butler’s writing. If I was, my credibility would and should go right into the toilet; Butler is one of today’s most widely read thinkers, while for some reason no one seems to be talking about the last article Rick Wysocki didn’t have published. This notion of ethos seems to be lost on Dutton, who has awarded “Bad Writing” prizes to Butler, Frederic Jameson, and Homi K. Bhaba–three critics whose main similarities are theories of hegemony and being more influential than Denis Dutton.

DSCN1627

What I do want to call attention to, however, is the fact that Butler’s sentence breaks every one of the maxims I presented above. First, Butler doesn’t cite Althusser. How can we know that Judith Butler is interpreting Althusser correctly without a proper citation in one of the accepted formats?! Next is the passivity of the sentence. “The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations”? Excuse me, Dr. Butler, but who or what is moving? Finally, if we should be avoiding flooding the market with “million-dollar words” then Butler is acting seriously irresponsibly with her capital. Has anyone found a connection between Judith and Lehman Brothers?

Jokes aside, what I want to show is the types of neuroses that occur when “academic writing” is presented to students as a fixed and objective system. The fact that Judith Butler is “breaking the rules” doesn’t mean that her writing isn’t academic (a fact that should be obvious by her status as being among the modern academics), but that there weren’t any hard and fast rules to begin with, only choices.
My problem with Dutton isn’t that he doesn’t like Judith Butler’s writing–plenty of people disagree with the way she chooses to employ language. What’s intolerable about Dutton’s criticism is that he carried out a “Bad Writing Contest,” not a “’Rhetorical Choices I Disagree with’ Tournament.” The presentation of writing as good, bad, right, or wrong only leads to confusion. Where we can point to citation, active voice, and clarity as conventions of college essays, attempting to define “academic writing” in general is a tricky and potentially dangerous affair. So when you’re thinking about a particular paper or context, keep in mind that notions of “academic writing” are always contingent upon audience, context, and intention. If you need help sorting through these questions, we’re always here to help you in the Writing Center.

The Thesaurus: Your Composition Companion

Carly Johnson, Consultant

carlyA thesaurus always struck me as nothing more than a large, impressive book to place on your shelf and never open…until I turned in my first paper in English Composition 101 my Freshman year of college. My work was riddled with comments written in bold, red pen that stated things like: “repetitive,” “word choice?” and “is this what you meant to say here?” As I examined my paper more closely, I began to realize that my professor was absolutely correct, I was being repetitive—in fact, in the span of four pages, I typed the word “said” roughly fifteen times. In addition, I used the adjectives “nice” and “very” to describe any and all nouns within my paper. “What other words could I have used other than ‘said,’ ‘nice,’ and ‘very’?” I thought to myself. Then, I glanced over at the book I had ignored for so long: the thesaurus.

Many clients come to the writing center with comments from their instructors that convey many of the same messages I mentioned above. Students often become discouraged after reading these critiques, but I’ll let you in on a secret- no one, no matter how talented of a writer they are, knows exactly the right word to use 100% of the time—honestly, probably not even 50% of the time. I urge every writer to use the thesaurus as part of their editing process, and I encourage them to begin by asking themselves questions such as, “Have I used this adjective already?” or  “Does this word convey my tone in the most effective way?” The thesaurus provides an opportunity for a writer to put their best vocabulary forward, and create the most polished final draft possible.

The only negative aspect of using a thesaurus is the sheer number of options it provides for you. I’ve seen students fall into the trap of selecting a word they are not familiar with in an effort to give their paper more variety. If you select a word from the thesaurus that is unfamiliar to you, you run the risk of placing that word in an incorrect context within your sentence. Make sure that, when you use a thesaurus, you are familiar with both the meaning of the word and its connotation. If you are unfamiliar with the word, but desperately wish to use it because it just sounds too perfect, like the word ‘bombastic,’ make sure that the word matches the tone of the rest of your essay. For example, I think the word ‘bombastic’ sounds like it should describe someone who has a loud voice and a charismatic personality, but it actually has a negative connotation and is used to describe someone who is ‘overbearing’ or ‘pompous.’ This is essential to know, especially if I am handing a paper into my professor where one of my sentences states, “I found my professor to be exceptionally bombastic.”

Using a thesaurus is a great way to strengthen your vocabulary, and take your writing to the next level. You don’t even have to open a large, impressive book anymore, either; you can simply right-click on a word within a word processing document and select the “synonyms” option, and within an instant a whole new world of distinct, delightful, and distinguished diction is available at your fingertips.

If, after reading this blog post, you still believe that a thesaurus is nothing but a large book that should never be opened, refer to Layne’s post regarding voice. Her advice regarding the thesaurus is especially useful for all the visual learners out there. However, if you are more inclined to listen to advice form non-writing center consultants, refer to my cool hand-drawn friend, The Saurus-

the saurus_carly

Next time you are swimming in a sea of ‘said’s, remember that the thesaurus, whether you wish to view it as a helpful tool or a dinosaur with a superior vocabulary, is an excellent composition companion.

How I Write: Judith Fischer — Legal Scholar

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers. The series will be featured every other Wednesday.

This week we hear from University of Louisville Law professor Judith Fischer. Professor Fischer teaches legal writing and women and the law, and her scholarship includes articles on legal writing, advocacy, women and the law, and law school teaching. Her book Pleasing the Court: Writing Ethical and Effective Briefs examines professionalism in legal writing through numerous examples of judges’ reactions to lawyers’ errors.fischer

How I Write: Judith Fischer

Location:     Law school

Current project: Article on brief writing

Currently reading:  Student papers!

  1.  What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?
    For work, I write scholarly writing for books or law review articles and less formal articles for newsletters or bar journals. I also do other miscellaneous kind of writing, such as commenting on student papers and writing emails and letters of recommendation.And of course I also do personal writing, such as emails and thank-you notes in hard copy.
  2. When/where/how do you write?
    For work, I often write during the standard work day, and sometimes I write well into the evening. I write with a computer at a table or desk.
  3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?
    Computer—pencils—pens—paper for printing numerous drafts—whatever sources I need for the project. For my last scholarly article, that included a stack of relevant books.
  4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?
    To start: Decide when you need to get started and then just start. For example, if I need to have a scholarly article finished by August 15, I know I need to start researching by May and start writing by the end of June.  So I do that.For revision: Read the document aloud while imagining an audience. For example, read the document to an imaginary critical colleague.
  5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?
    The way to write an article is to start by taking off your shoes. Get down underneath your desk and nail your shoes to the floor. Then get back in your chair, put your feet in your shoes, and write.

Alternatives to Procrastinating

Jessica Winck, Assistant Director

Approaching the end of the semester can be a stressful time, and those of us who are inclined to procrastinate might feel especially anxious. I tend to believe that procrastination involves more than just actively avoiding work. It often relates to a writer’s sincere challenges with any of the following: understanding an assignment; feeling overwhelmed by the workload in college; worrying about whether s/he “has what it takes.” None of these is easy to deal with, and we know that avoiding work doesn’t help us in the long run. If you’re worried about procrastination, try some of these strategies:

Contact your instructor about any questions you have. This might sound obvious, but not everyone feels comfortable with this approach. What if my instructor will think I’m stupid, or that I’m not trying hard enough, or that I’m not good enough to be in this class? Meanwhile, confusion about an assignment prevents us from working on it. Email your instructor or ask to visit her or his office hours, which are set aside specifically for helping students address questions and concerns.

If you have a large assignment on your hands, consider breaking it down into smaller, more manageable pieces. How we see the task plays a large part in our approach to it. “Write a research paper” sounds like a scary and overwhelming task. Try talking to your instructor about how you can approach the assignment in parts. You can also go to the writing center and work with a consultant on setting some manageable goals for completing the assignment. These should be goals that you can reasonably meet in the amount of time you give yourself. You will get more done, and you will likely feel more confident about finishing the assignment.

Try setting a timer when you write. This might sound like an odd piece of advice, but it’s one I always stand by. I often use the Pomodoro method: write for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. Write for another 25, then take another 5. Writers who struggle with procrastination might find this method especially helpful. Over time, you start to notice that some tasks don’t take as much time and energy as you imagined. Tasks become less intimidating and more manageable. Plus, you don’t have to focus on writing for an indeterminate amount of time. If you grow tired or you need a coffee break, you don’t have long to wait; but for the time being, you write. Also check out what Alex Clifton, a writing center consultant, wrote about some online resources that help you keep writing in pre-set blocks of time.

DSCN1660Write with a friend or a group. Working alongside others can be encouraging, and it also keeps you accountable. My colleague Meghan Hancock and I often meet for the specific purpose of writing and working. It’s a great arrangement because we have a shared understanding that we write when it’s time to write (and yes, we set a timer). Since your classmates are working on the same assignment, ask them to join you. Though the time you make is for writing and working, it also presents the opportunity to get to know more people and to feel supported at the same time. Contrary to some of the received wisdom out there that good writers work independently without any help, you actually don’t have to do all this alone.

On that note, make an appointment at the Writing Center. We will be happy to sit down and work with you wherever you are in the process of writing. Plus, having specific times set aside to talk with others about your writing helps you stay motivated.

There are many alternatives to procrastination, and I hope you try some of the ones here. Have a great rest of your semester!

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