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Archive for the 'Employment Communication' Category

Infographic resumeInfographic résumés are getting a lot of buzz these days. We cover them in all three of our business communication textbooks and provide a variety of examples via our Real-Time Updates and Business Communication Headline News services. In certain situations, a well-designed infographic résumé used at the right point in the job application process can be a great tool. On the other hand, an infographic résumé that is poorly designed, poorly produced, or used inappropriately can torpedo an applicant's chances. Understanding why infographic résumés can help or hurt can be a great lesson in effective business communication—for any type of document or message.

Here are some helpful teaching points for using infographic résumés as examples of effective or ineffective communication:

  • Understanding audience needs. The single biggest problem with infographic résumés is incompatibility with established résumé-handling processes, particularly automated applicant tracking systems and the manual methods recruiters are accustomed to using. Computerized systems are likely to just reject them, and with only a few seconds to spend on each résumé during the screening stage, human recruiters are ill-inclined to spend the time it can take to decode an infographic résumé. With dozens or hundreds of applicants pouring in for every opening in many cases, recruiters need to make rapid-fire decisions about whether each candidate is a potential fit for the job and therefore worth spending more time on. If a résumé doesn't communicate that within a matter of seconds, it has failed at its primary purpose.
  • Focusing on the receiver, not the sender. Some infographic résumés suffer from "Look at me! Aren't I fabulous?" syndrome. Yes, you need to stand out from the crowd, but you need to do so in a way that meets the audience's needs, not yours. A résumé needs to say, "Here's how I can help you," not "Here's how great I am."
  • Playing against expectations. The knock on conventional résumé formats is that they are boring and predictable. Yes, but so are stop signs. However, they also communicate well because all audience members know what to expect and where to find the information they need. That said, in the right circumstances, an infographic résumé can be effective way to catch a reader's attention by delivering information in an unexpected way. (Having said that, however, it's likely that infographic résumés are becoming so common in some professions that they won't jump out the way they used to.)
  • Demonstrating creativity—in the right way. Certain jobs have high expectations for visual creativity and creative thinking in general, and infographic résumés can be a great job-application tool for these opportunities. Someone applying for a graphic designer in an ad agency, for example, would be expected to have some visual promotion in the mix. This points back to knowing your audience, of course. The accounting manager in a construction firm is less likely to be impressed by an infographic résumé than the creative director in an ad agency would be.
  • The legal side of communication. Photos are a common element in infographic résumés, but including a photo on any document too early in the job search process can be a mistake. Some employment-law experts advise companies against reviewing any photos or videos of candidates during the screening phase to minimize the risk of discrimination lawsuits.
  • Readability and design considerations. As with infographics in general, infographic résumés run the gamut from effective to awful. Designing and producing successful infographics are two skills that many business professionals simply don't have. Even when an infographic is the right tool at the right time, nobody wants to waste time following a convoluted treasure map in search of essential information. 

For most job seekers, the best use of an infographic résumé is as a support document to use in selected circumstances or as part of an online presence (social media résumé, e-portfolio, etc.). As with everything else in communication, it all starts with knowing your audience.

We’re pleased to be joining you for another year of sharing business communication tips and techniques.

With many students looking ahead to the job-search process, this is a great time to discuss professional networking.

Networking is a multi-purpose learning tool because it combines so many important business communication skills, from conducting research and adopting the “you” attitude to writing concise messages and engaging in one-on-one conversations both in person and online. Here are some quick tips for helping your students hone their networking skills:

  • Remind them that networking is the process of making informal connections with mutually beneficial business contacts. With employers relying so heavily on referrals as a major recruiting source, fostering network connections has become an essential career skill.
  • The concept of mutual benefits is key: would-be networkers who race around looking for people to help them without offering anything in return won’t build much of a network.
  • Networking takes place wherever and whenever people communicate: at industry functions, social gatherings, alumni reunions—and all over the Internet, from LinkedIn to Facebook to Twitter.
  • Students should start building their networks now, before they need them. Classmates could end up being some of their most valuable contacts over the long haul.
  • Branch out by identifying people with similar interests in target professions, industries, and companies. Read news sites, blogs, and other online sources. Follow industry leaders on Twitter and individual executives at target companies to learn about their interests and concerns. Be on the lookout for career-oriented Tweetups. Connect with people on LinkedIn and Facebook, particularly in groups dedicated to particular career interests.
  • Depending on the system and the settings on individual users’ accounts, students may be able to introduce themselves via public or private messages. Of course, it’s vital to be respectful of people and not take up much of their time.
  • Student business organizations, especially those with ties to professional organizations, are a great networking opportunity. Students can also visit local trade shows to learn about various industries and rub shoulders with people who work in those industries.
  • By volunteering, students can meet people in business and demonstrate the ability to communicate and collaborate on various projects.

Remind students to pay close attention to networking etiquette:

  • Learn something about the people with whom they want to connect.
  • Don’t overwhelm others with too many messages or requests.
  • Be succinct in all communication efforts.
  • Don’t give out other people’s names and contact information without their permission to do so.
  • Never email a résumé to complete strangers.
  • Remember to say thanks every time someone offers help.

To become a valued network member, students need to be able to help others in some way. They may not have any influential contacts yet, but because they’re actively researching a number of industries and trends in their own job searches, they probably have valuable information they can share via their social networks, blog, or Twitter account. Or they might simply be able to connect one person with another who can help.

Finally and most emphatically, remind students that employers judge them by their social networks, so they must use discretion in making online connections. Also, students should be aware that some employers contact people in a candidate’s social networks for background information, even if the candidate doesn’t list those people as references.

If you have any thoughts on using networking as a teaching tool, please share them in the comments.

Best wishes for a successful year!


Image credit: Dell

The sluggish job market isn't going to reignite overnight, but we have recently noticed a few positive communication developments that could eventually help more qualified candidates land the jobs they want.

1. The growing realization that auto-screening applicants is not automatically a good idea

When companies complain they can't find qualified applicants for unfilled openings and qualified applicants complain they can't get any interviews, something is clearly wrong with the system. Wharton's Peter Cappelli identified the overuse and misuse of automated screening software as one of the causes of this perplexing stalemate. As this article in Workforce explains, resource-strapped HR departments too often rely on screening software that is either poorly tuned to specific jobs or mindlessly automating a process that doesn't work well in the first place. As a result, screening criteria are sometimes set absurdly high or include irrelevant checks that needlessly filter out promising candidates.

Fixing this problem will require fine-tuning processes and software, but at least more companies should be now aware of the problem and recognize the upside of using these software tools more effectively.

2. The decline of brainteaser questions

We have long been skeptical of the value of interview questions such as "How much would you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?" or the classic "Why are manhole covers round?" Unless the job involves answering bizarre questions in a pressure-packed setting, it's hard to see how these questions lend much insight into a candidate's ability to perform. William Poundstone, author of numerous interviewing books, is quoted in this article in Time as saying "there’s very little solid evidence that tricky interview questions work." And not only are these questions of questionable value, they can turn off good candidates who don't respond positively to being put on the spot in this artificial way.

The article suggests there is conflicting evidence about how extensively these puzzle questions are still being used, but any evidence of their decline is good news.

3. The increasing scrutiny of social media profiles
The fact that more employers are reviewing the online media presence of job candidates is usually—and rightly—presented as a cautionary message. Clean up your social media profile or risk getting booted out of the selection process. Why then do we consider it a positive development for job hunters that more employers are doing these background checks? Because a person's online presence is one of the very few aspects of the job search process in which the candidate has total or near-total control. It's an opportunity to creatively present your value package outside the narrow constraints of a résumé, an applicant tracking system, or the interview structure. Every job seeker at every level can take advantage of this revolution in the hiring process.


Image credit: Newtown grafitti


Employment references have been one of the more volatile areas of business communication in recent years, and the situation is often frustrating for everyone involved. With the threat of lawsuits over negative references, many employers now offer nothing more than confirmation of dates of employment. On the other side of the equation, recruiters are frustrated by the time and work it can take to track down anyone willing to provide balanced feedback on candidates, and candidates are sometimes frustrated by their inability to provide meaningful references.

In response to the challenges faced by prospective employers, a new class of software is helping recruiters get the information they need to make informed hiring choices—and the implications for job seekers are huge. These systems essentially automate a confidential online survey of a candidate's references. The candidate provides names and email addresses of a specified number of references, and the references then respond to a standardized questionnaire. As this article in Workforce Management explains, employers who use the systems report dramatic increases in the quantity and quality of information they're able to get on candidates. Given an opportunity to provide confidential feedback, past employers and other references are much more willing to offer candid assessments.

Now for the implications for job seekers, particularly less-experienced workers who might not appreciate just how long a bad reputation can follow one throughout a career. Employers who use these systems require candidates to provide references, and those references are protected by anonymity (and liability waivers, in at least one of the systems we looked at). The chances of botching up a job and moving on with no damage to one's career are going to shrink as more employers adopt these tools. Students should be aware that even those part-time and entry-level jobs they can't wait to escape from could come back to haunt them if they leave behind a negative reputation.

On the plus side, these systems should benefit employees who exhibit professionalism and dedication to the job, because their former managers will be free to provide in-depth information to future employers.

Identifying the key words and hot-button issues in a profession or an industry can be a challenge for students working on employment-related communication, particularly for younger students with limited work experience.

Glassdoor is a free community-participation website that encourages employees and job seekers to post salary information, reviews of their jobs and employers, and information about their interviewing experiences, including the specific questions they were asked. The interview information a valuable resource on its own, of course, but it also gives students an inside view of the language used in a particular company, profession, or industry. Students can search through this information for key words to use in their résumés, application letters, and other employment communications. Plus, these reports can reveal the issues that are on the minds of company recruiters—insights that students can use to make their communication efforts more audience focused.

Many people find it difficult to write about themselves when preparing a resume, and the importance of having a compelling resume in today’s tough employment market isn’t making the task any easier.

Teaming up with a partner to work on each other’s resume can help, particularly on the qualifications summary or other introductory statement, which is often the most challenging part of a resume. To help students get over this hurdle, have them pair off and start by providing each other with the basic facts about qualifications, work histories, education, and career objectives. Then have them meet in person or online for an informal interview, in which they ask each other questions to flesh out the data they have on each other.

With that information in hand, each student then writes a qualifications summary for his or her partner. (The qualifications summary is usually the best type of introductory statement for student resumes. The classic career objective is falling out of fashion, and most students don’t have a long enough professional history to write a meaningful career summary.)

Students then review what their partners have written about them, asking themselves whether it feels true to what they believe about themselves and their career aspirations, whether it introduces them effectively to potential employers, and how it might be improved.

In addition to making progress toward a completed resume, this activity gives students the opportunity to practice a number of vital skills, including active listening, constructive feedback, and self-awareness (comparing one’s self image with another person’s perspective).

If you use this exercise or a similar partner-writing exercise, we invite you to share your experiences and insights.

If you teach employment communication and job search strategies as part of the business communication course, personal branding can be a great way to help students understand what they have to offer future employers and how to focus their communication efforts.

Even though personal branding is a hot topic these days, more than a few professionals have probably expressed the sentiment of “I don’t want to be a brand; I just want to be a good employee.” However, like it or not, personal branding affects everyone, in every profession.

The Automobile Analogy

Automobiles offer a great analogy to help students understand the importance and meaning of brand. Volvos, BMWs, and Cadillacs can all get you from Point A to Point B in safety, comfort, and style—but each brand emphasizes some attributes more than others to create a specific image in the minds of potential buyers. Common mental associations for these brands, for instance, are the safety emphasis of Volvo cars, the performance emphasis of BMW, and the luxury emphasis of Cadillac.

Employers think about potential employees in much the same way. Three candidates for a particular job might have all the basic skills required—they can all get an employer from Point A to Point B—but the first might come across as a highly focused technical whiz, the second as a potential business leader, and the third as competent but unmotivated and uninspiring. The impressions an employer forms can help or hurt the job seeker, and they can range from spot-on to wildly inaccurate, so it’s vital for candidates to take control of their brand images.

If You Don’t Brand Yourself, I’ll Do It for You

Even though some people are reluctant to brand themselves or even disdainful of the whole idea, personal branding always takes place. The only question is who is in control. BMW could leave its brand image entirely up to others, letting drivers, mechanics, and journalists decide what “BMW” means. All these parties decide for themselves what “BMW” ultimately means to them, of course, but the company works constantly to shape that mental picture, through everything from its product advertising to the architectural nuances in its dealerships.

Similarly, if job seekers don’t establish a clear brand image for themselves, interviewers and hiring managers will do it for them. A good place for students to start grasping this concept is to realize they have already established a personal brand with their professors, classmates, teammates, and others, based on how they’ve behaved and performed in the past. Now is the time to become more conscious of that brand and to consciously shape it for long-term professional success.

Helping Students Identify and Promote Their Personal Brands

To help students craft their personal brands during the job search, guide them through these four steps:

First, figure out the “story of you.” Simply put, where have you been in life, and where are you going? Every good story has dramatic tension that pulls readers in and makes them wonder what will happen next. Where is your story going next?

Second, clarify your professional “theme.” You want to be seen as something more than just an accountant, a supervisor, a salesperson. What will your brand theme be? Brilliant strategist? Hard-nosed, get-it-done tactician? Technical guru? Problem solver? Creative genius? Inspirational leader?

Third, reach out and connect. Major corporations spread the word about their brands with multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns. You can promote your brand for free or close to it. You can spread your brand message by networking—connecting with like-minded people, sharing information, demonstrating skills and knowledge, and helping others succeed.

Fourth, deliver on your brand’s promise—every time, all the time. When you promote a brand, you make a promise, a promise that whoever buys that brand (as in, hires that employee) will get the benefits you are promoting. All of your planning and communication is of little value if you fail to deliver on the promises that your branding efforts make. Conversely, when you deliver quality results time after time, your talents and your professionalism will speak for you.

Personal Branding Resources

Here are some great resources on personal branding to share with students:

Do you teach personal branding as part of employment communication? If so, what advice to you have to share with other instructors?