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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


A recent survey took the emotional pulse of the American workforce, and the results are not encouraging. In fact, downright dismal would not be an overstatement. According to Gallup's 2013 State of the American Workplace Report, 70 percent of U.S. employees consider themselves either "not engaged" (52 percent) or "actively disengaged" (18 percent).

Gallup says its research shows a strong correlation between employee engagement and the key measures of business success, including productivity, profitability, and customer satisfaction. The price of disengagement is high—the company estimates that actively disengaged workers cost the U.S. economy a half trillion dollars a year.

Better communication alone can't cure structural employment problems or strategic blunders, but it can surely help in many ways. Consider just one example: According to the survey, "Only 41% of employees felt that they know what their company stands for and what makes its brand different from its competitors’ brands." Wow. Talk about an opportunity for internal communication to make a difference. (Of course, company leaders themselves need to know what their companies stand for and how their brands are differentiated, which isn't always the case.)

Of the six steps Gallup suggests for improving company performance (page 11 of the report), five of them are virtually all about communication, and the sixth (selecting the right managers) emphasizes the need for managers to be effective communicators.

Of course, managers don't need to take all the blame for this situation. Employees with better communication skills are likely to connect more successfully with their managers, their customers, and each other and therefore feel more engaged with their work.

On the plus side, these results confirm the importance of the work you're doing with students, helping them understand the value of effective communication and what it means to communicate in a professional context. More than ever, students who enter the workforce better informed and better prepared will be more likely to succeed in their own careers and to lead successful companies.

With that, we wish you a relaxing and productive summer, whatever your plans may be. We look forward to exchanging more ideas with you in the fall.

 

Image credit: hawk684


To students and professionals alike, the rules of business etiquette can seem both complicated and fussy. Unfortunately, important issues that hurt relationships and hobble careers can get lost in worries over making sure one's cravat is properly starched or whether one is using all seven dinner forks in the proper order.

With tongue planted only slightly in cheek here, it dawns on us that a vast swath of business etiquette can be covered by one simple rule: Stop being so annoying. Establishing this rule as a foundation for workplace behavior would help curtail a host of unwelcome habits. For example, you've probably been put off by companies or colleagues who exhibit these behaviors:

  • Maintaining zombie communication channels, including email and voicemail accounts that appear to be active and alive but are in fact ignored by their supposed owners. Individual messages sometimes fall through the cracks, of course. We're talking here of the people who fail to respond to one or more messages and eventually explain that "Oh, I never check voicemail" or "I don't use that email account anymore." Owners of these zombie channels could save colleagues and customers a lot of grief if they would simply delete the accounts or at the very least indicate via outgoing message or auto-response that the account is not monitored.
  • Using weak passwords that make email and Twitter accounts easy to hack, resulting in streams of spams and scams for everyone on the contact list—and as a lovely bonus, a fresh batch of verified active email addresses for spammers to reuse and resell.
  • Publishing individual or corporate Twitter and Facebook streams that are 90 percent ads and look-at-me posts, with very little value-added content. Of course, no one is forced to subscribe to any content stream, but annoyance sets in when a person or organization promises to have a social media dialogue and then acts like an infomercial.
  • Failing to exercise enough self-containment to keep personal problems, emotional meltdowns, schedule disasters, and other issues from spewing all over everyone within physical or digital range.
  • Not making the effort to write or speak clearly. Communication skills vary widely from person to person, to be sure, but there's a big difference between being lightly skilled and being careless or thoughtless.

Not to discount the niceties of etiquette, but removing the negatives seems more critical to healthy business relationships than adding the positives—worrying more about the "don'ts" than the "dos," in other words.

Would emphasizing this angle make etiquette a more relevant and reachable topic for your students? Please let us know what you think.

 

Image credit: MirellaST


Surviving Social Feedback

April 18, 2013

To do business in the social media era is to walk around with a giant "Kick me" sign taped to one's back. Evernote CEO Phil Libin put it perfectly in a recent Inc. article: "…the Internet is the most efficient invention in the history of the universe for concentrating dissatisfaction into its purest, darkest, and most bilious essence."

Every business from the corner coffee shop to the mightiest multinational is subject to public criticism that can be unfair, unkind, and at times deeply personal. Responding to legitimate criticism without letting the negativity corrode one's peace of mind can be a tricky balancing act. Here are some steps that anyone with an online presence can take to handle the onslaught:

  • Separate rants from legitimate complaints. Ranters have a remarkable ability to turn any situation into an opportunity to spew off about politics and a host of other unrelated topics, and it is far too easy to take the bait. Rants are emotional poison that have no place in business communication, and it's best to filter them (by moderating blog comments, for example) or removing them as quickly as possible. If they're left visible, they'll eat at team morale, even if no one responds to them.
  • Examine the complaints by first separating factual content from emotional content. A comment such as "Whoever designed this user interface doesn't know the first thing about ergonomics" offers the fact that someone is dissatisfied with the user interface. The comment might be spot on or misguided (perhaps the person is misusing the product or hasn't been trained), but the dissatisfaction is a data point that needs to be considered.
  • Analyze the emotional content for the audience needs it suggests. Remember that strong emotions usually mean the subject matter is important. Perhaps you're not performing the way every stakeholder would like, but at least you're striving toward a valued goal, which suggests that an opportunity exists. Then again, the anger in a comment may have nothing at all to do with the matter at hand; a commenter might just be having a rotten day, and it spilled onto Twitter or your blog.
  • Pay attention to team morale. Regularly remind everyone involved that negativity is an inescapable element of life online and that criticism shouldn't be taken personally. Gallows humor and a chance to blow off some steam from time to time can help people scrape off the emotional barnacles that tend to accumulate. Evernote's Libin emphasizes the importance of sharing good news, too. Doing so can soothe battered emotions and remind everyone that for every complainer, there might be dozens or hundreds or thousands of silently happy customers.

Ragers and trolls aren't going anywhere, so the ability to listen actively without sponging up all the negative emotions has become an important skill for business communicators at every level. Students who are active in social media may have experienced personal attacks, and discussing how they've reacted can be a good opportunity to advise them on how to handle public criticism on the job.

In addition to handling the emotional fallout from online criticism, of course, organizations need an overall communication strategy for responding to incoming complaints. These three articles offer good advice:

 

Image credit: Thoth, God of Knowledge


A recent opinion piece in the New York Times on new etiquette norms in the digital age caused a minor stir when the writer asserted that simple "thank you" messages are often rude because they waste the recipient's time. The writer's point was that there generally is no need to acknowledge receipt of information sent via email or other electronic channels—and doing so only contributes to the deluge of messages that many professionals are forced to wade through every day.

Wasting people's time by sending unnecessary messages is indeed thoughtless; we don't dispute that. However, a blanket condemnation of thank you messages betrays a misunderstanding of communication etiquette and communication in general.

First, thank you messages often serve as confirmation that information has been received, and this feedback is particularly important when the sender assumes that some follow-on action will be taken after the message is received. Between overstuffed in-boxes and overaggressive spam filters, email messages don't always reach intended recipients, and knowing information was delivered successfully removes one element of uncertainty from the process.

Second, relationship maintenance is often as important as information transfer, and even in this new age it seems safe to say that many people still appreciate being thanked for their efforts, no matter how minor. Moreover, not saying thank you would be awkward for many people as well. In other words, saying thanks can be emotionally significant for senders as well as receivers.

What do your students think? Do they tend to say thank you when they receive messages from you or each other? Do you expect them to say thanks?

 

Image credit: Jon Ashcroft


Gregg Fraley is a highly regarded expert in the field of creativity and business innovation, but because his services are intangible, potential clients can’t “test drive” those services before making a purchase decision. His website shows the care he takes to build credibility as part of his communication efforts.

Bovee and Thill blog – Hall of Fame – Gregg Fraley


The ability to explain complex topics in clear terms is one of the most important skills a business communicator can have. This example from the Creative Commons website, explaining three levels of content licensing, demonstrates the power of plain language.

Bovee and Thill blog – Hall of Fame – Creative Commons website


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

 


Within minutes of its release as part of an operating system upgrade on Apple mobile devices, the Apple Maps feature began to generate howls of protest. Compared to the Google mapping feature it replaced, Apple Maps had numerous problems, from egregious errors to missing functionality.

Users accustomed to finding just about anything through the Google app flooded the Internet with examples of mapping blunders. A railway station in Helsinki showed up as a park in Apple Maps. A farm in Ireland appeared as an airport. The Washington Monument was misplaced by several hundred yards. Driving directions steered one user down a railroad track. A search for the huge John Lewis department store in central London yielded nothing, even when the user was standing on the sidewalk outside the store. (This Tumblr blog offers dozens of examples—some amusing, some frightening.)

Beyond the errors and omissions, the removal of real-time mass transit schedules upset people who had been relying on this feature to plan journeys.

Two responses from Apple caught our eye during the aftermath. The first merits our Hall of Shame award, but the second gets into the Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Shame Example

An article on CNN.com highlighted the many problems Apple Maps was displaying soon after launch and quoted this response from Apple’s Trudy Muller:

Customers around the world are upgrading to iOS 6 with over 200 new features including Apple Maps, our first map service. We are excited to offer this service with innovative new features like Flyover and Siri integration, and free turn by turn navigation. We launched this new map service knowing that it is a major initiative and we are just getting started with it. We are continuously improving it, and as Maps is a cloud-based solution, the more people use it, the better it will get. We’re also working with developers to integrate some of the amazing transit apps in the App Store into iOS Maps. We appreciate all of the customer feedback and are working hard to make the customer experience even better.

There are five major problems with this response:

First, there is no acknowledgment of any problems, even though people all over the world were having problems and sharing them all over the Internet.

Second, there is no element of apology. Many users were furious, particularly given that they had no choice in the switch from Google to Apple Maps. (Of course, you can’t apologize if you don’t admit you even have a problem.)

Third, the upbeat tone adds insult to injury. Yes, companies need to put a positive spin on things whenever they can, but when customers are angry, they really don’t want to hear that you’re “excited to offer” the very service that is driving them nuts. Yes, Flyover and Siri are cool features to add to mapping, but if the map sends you astray, they aren’t all that helpful. And promising to make customer experience “even better” is tone deaf in this context. Something has to be perceived as “good” before it can get “better.”

Fourth, angry customers also don’t care that it’s a “major initiative” or that you’re “just getting started with it.” They care that a major feature on their expensive phones was suddenly replaced with one that was unreliable and in many instances simply unusable. Plus, this aspect of the message risks coming across as “give us a break; this is really hard and we aren’t finished yet.”

Fifth, with “the more people use it, the better it will get,” the message comes close to blaming users, or at least suggesting that they share the responsibility for fixing the problems. And what are people supposed to do the meantime, keep driving down railroad tracks or walking across lakes?

All in all, it’s a classic. But not the kind of classic any company wants to be known for.

The Hall of Fame Example

About a week later, Apple CEO Tim Cook responded with an open letter to Apple customers that acknowledged the extent of the problem, apologized for the frustration Apple created, and, most impressively, explained how to put alternative mapping capabilities—including Google—on affected Apple products. (Click here for an annotated slide.)

Cook’s letter does repeat the “the more people use it, the better it will get,” which we believe is an ill-advised message point. Mapping is an important feature on an expensive product, and it is Apple’s responsibility to fix the problem, not customers’, even if customer input can help. However, the letter has enough other helpful information conveyed in a respectful way that we still think it offers a worthy example.