Employers Value Good Writing, But Good Writers Are Hard to Find

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

Many years ago when I worked for a property manager, I frequently drafted the manager’s correspondence to customers and residents. One day as she prepared to head out of town for business meetings, I happily volunteered to write a speech and a magazine article that she was obligated to write for a local association she belonged to. When she returned, she had two rough drafts on her desk to review. Needless to say, she was impressed. Not only had I saved her valuable time, but I showed that I brought added value to her management team. In fact, she was so impressed by my writing, she gave me more opportunities for writing beyond drafting her usual correspondence to the residents.

That’s just one example of how valuable writing skills are in the workplace. Even with the added emphasis of visual content, websites, podcasts and social media in today’s business environment, good writing still counts – a lot. If you can come to the table with strong writing and communication skills – skills frequently requested by employers – you can increase your value to bosses exponentially.

Despite the demands for strong writing skills, however, employers reportedly are having a difficult time finding qualified candidates with those skills.

In a recent study by Burning Glass Technologies, which provides job analytics to employers, employers reported have difficulty finding candidates with basic soft skills, such as writing, communications, customer service and organizational skills. According to their 2015 study of employer job postings, one in every three skills requested by employers is a soft skill. Even in highly technical jobs, like engineering and information technology, 25 percent of skills requested in job ads are baseline skills.

In another survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, employers were asked to prioritize the skills they sought most from college graduates. Some 82 percent of employers cited written communication, which ranked third behind speaking skills (85 percent) and teamwork (83 percent). Also high on the list of priorities are critical thinking and analytical reasoning (81 percent) and innovation and creativity (65 percent).

Why is good writing important for business? Writing is the fundamental basis for communicating with employees, customers, vendors, colleagues, and fans of your product. It’s a way of expressing thoughts and transporting messages, writes Jeff Bradford, President and CEO of the Bradford Group in Forbes magazine. “Good writing is good thinking that follows a logical path and is easy for someone to follow. Writing out what you want to communicate forces you to organize your thoughts.”

This is good news for professional writers everywhere. There’s still a place for us in the business environment despite recent technologies and growing emphasis on visual communications that seem to undermine good writing. Before you develop your visual presentation, website or podcast, you need good writing first.

Whether you describe yourself as a good writer or aspire to be one, here’s what good writers bring to the business environment, according to Business World magazine.

1. Good writers can make a positive first impression. When readers receive messages that are well-organized, well-thought out and grammatically correct, they form a positive opinion of the writer, and by extension, the organization the writer represents. In contrast, a message that is poorly written with misspelled words and grammatical errors gives the impression that the writer is disorganized, unintelligent and unprofessional.

2. Good writers demonstrate courtesy. They keep the writer’s information needs in mind as they draft their message. By paying attention to the tone of the message, writers show respect for readers.

3. Good writers have more credibility. Employers and clients view good writers as being more reliable and trustworthy. A well-organized and researched message also shows that the writer is knowledgeable and takes the time to plan their message rather than rushing to send it out to readers.

4. Good writers are more influential. There can be a persuasive quality to their writing. They know how to present messages in a way that influences people to take action, whether it’s to donate to a cause, join a membership organization, elect a political candidate, or purchase a product.

5. Good writers are sought-out for their writing expertise. Once word gets around what a word hound they are, co-workers and colleagues may ask for their assistance in editing their pieces or helping them write it. Good writers can gain more responsibility and recognition for their achievements.

6. Good writers understand that an online presence starts with good writing. With so much information on the Internet, good writing is needed to tell clients and customers about business goals, the company’s brand and products. Presentation matters, and it begins with good writing.

7. Good writers make good team players. People with strong writing skills are able to share ideas, give clearer explanations, and coordinate projects easily. Work partners value the clarity of their ideas and explanations. It makes working with them more enjoyable.

8. Good writers gain professional confidence. With each successful writing project, whether it is the launch of a website or a business proposal that wins a new client, good writers gain confidence in their abilities and are inspired to pursue new writing opportunities.

Not every employee has good writing skills. That’s why they are so highly valued in the workplace. If your writing skills are lacking, there are several things you can do to improve them. Take a few classes at a community college or grab a book and read about writing techniques. Most important, practice, practice, practice.

If you are a business owner or manager who doesn’t have good writing skills and doesn’t have time to do some self-study, look for someone who can help you. Hire a freelance writer, an administrative assistant, or editor who can help you formulate your messages and make you look your best in writing.

No matter what field you work in, the ability to write simply, clearly and concisely will help you become a valued member of the team.

Should You Reveal Your Salary History to Employers?

equality-1245576_1280I’ve been completing a lot of job applications lately.  I am appalled whenever an employer asks for my salary history. I understand that the question is meant to weed out candidates who may be perceived as “too expensive” for the employer. But it seems that this outdated practice smacks of discrimination.

Attitudes appear to be changing, however. As many as eight states, jurisdictions and cities have banned questions about past salary from job applications, including the city of Chicago for its city employees, and more states and cities may follow suit. Many private-sector companies are doing it on their own without any legal mandate. The belief is that banning this question will help close the pay gap between men and women.

It’s a good move in a positive direction. Asking about salary history is meaningless in the current employment climate. There are too many career changers, too many stay-at-home moms trying to return to work, and too many professionals taking career breaks than ever before. How are these workers supposed to present their past salary when there are gaps in their work history? Does it really matter what a person earned in the past, and does that information have any bearing on their current or future employment? Maybe that worked in the past, but not anymore.

In a recent LA Times news article, employment attorney Jonathan Segal said older workers and those who have taken career breaks and are trying to re-enter the workforce at a lesser pay can benefit from the question’s ban because they are more likely to be subjected to bias. “Eliminating this question not only helps eliminate the pay gap for women but may help older employees who are being excluded because employers think they won’t be happy working for less,” he told the LA Times.

Other questions should also be eliminated from the hiring process, such as age, graduation dates, skills and experience. Hiring managers can still get a sense of candidates’ qualifications simply by asking performance-specific questions, says executive recruiter Lou Adler of The Adler Group. He says the banning the salary history question can open up the talent pool with candidates who would otherwise not have been considered for the job. Adler recommends that hiring managers ask candidates what they accomplished in their career that best matches the performance requirements of the job they are applying for. Their response often will reveal their level of experience, skill and knowledge without managers having to check off requirements from a skills list.

Think of this performance-based question as an essay question on an exam rather than multiple choice or true-false questions, which don’t always reveal how much a person knows about a subject. Adler adds that unqualified candidates will self-select out of the hiring process because they won’t be able to answer the performance-based question.

Age is another taboo question in the hiring process. I was surprised when a job application I completed recently did not ask my birth date. Only problem was they asked what year I graduated from college. It can be all too easy to calculate someone’s approximate age based on their graduation date.

So how should you handle these taboo questions during the hiring process? Employment experts suggest the following tactics:

1. On the application form, leave the salary history section blank or put in zeros.

2. Delay any discussions about salary until you’ve learned more about the job. Most likely that means waiting for the in-person interview. Example: “I prefer to table this discussion until I know more about this opportunity and determine if it’s right for me.”

3. Don’t ask about salary up front in initial conversations. Adler suggests candidates miss out on job prospects because they are so focused on salary that they disregard jobs that  don’t meet their own salary expectations. The best opportunity may offer less salary but also offer other perks such as education reimbursement, retirement savings plans or additional vacation time. When assessing a job opportunity, consider the entire package.

4. When asked about education, put only the school name and the degree received on your resume and application. Leave off the graduation date. If the online application form asks for a date, put in zeros. It’s far more important for employers to know that you did attend college and earn a degree, but they don’t need to know when you graduated.

Of course, there is always a chance that employers could disregard your application on the grounds that you are not revealing these details, but then you need to ask yourself if this is a company you’d want to work for anyway.

In today’s highly competitive job market, you want to create a level playing field. You don’t want to reveal more about yourself than employers need to know.

Workplace Trends for 2017

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As the world of work races toward the end of the first month, let’s take a look at some of the workplace trends that we may encounter in 2017, if they haven’t shown up already. Here’s a round up of these trends, as observed by three different sources: TINY Pulse, Greendoor and futurist Faith Popcorn. As the year continues to unfold, it will be interesting to see how many of these forecasts come to fruition.

From employee engagement consultants, TINY Pulse:

* Co-worker connectivity will remain a key focus for many companies. In a study with Microsoft, TINY pulse found that employees with the most and strongest connections among their peers are the most productive. With the goal of maximizing productivity, expect more companies to shift to collaborative work environments.

* Employees will receive real-time feedback rather than annual reviews. Companies will realize the advantages of routine one-on-one feedback from managers. Research finds that employees who receive regular feedback feel they are being heard, feel more valued and are happier.

* The role of middle manager will expand and be more visible. Middle managers will take the lead in employee engagement, according to TINY Pulse.

* More companies will implement leadership development programs. As baby boomers retire, younger peers will need to step in to take their place. More companies will provide leadership programs to ensure a smooth transition.

* A better job market threatens businesses. More employees will be tempted to look for new jobs as the job market improves, and that can put a strain on employers to fill vacancies and keep the employees they do have.

From career website, Glassdoor:

* Say good-bye to excessive benefits packages. Over-the-top perks like on-site spa treatments and ping pong tables are more style than substance, say business experts. Employees prefer bonuses, paid leave and health care coverage.

* More companies will attempt to close the gender pay gap, and be more transparent about what they pay their employees.

* The just-in-time gig economy will still be around, but won’t likely plateau beyond the current task-oriented phase.

From futurist Faith Popcorn:

* More robots will replace humans, especially among unskilled blue-collar workers. Popcorn cites an Oxford University study that reports 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk at being replaced by robots.

* More than one-third of the U.S. workforce work on a freelance basis, and that percentage is likely to increase in 2017. People are also taking on side gigs to offset income.

* The businesses will become more tolerant of emotional expression in the office. With more women in the workforce, they bring more emotional intelligence – and more emotion – to work with them. It will be more socially acceptable to cry, laugh and get angry.

* Some companies will add “stress rooms,” a private place where employees can get away from workplace tension temporarily and chill out.

* The boundary between work and play will begin to erode. Technology enables global constant communication, so while that helps improve real-time communication with clients and employees across the globe, it means employees have little free time to play and relax. Say good-bye to work-life balance.

What do you think are trends we might see in 2017? Share your thoughts below.

Spice Up Your Business with Laughter

“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

No matter how stressed or worried you may be about what is happening at your job or in your personal life, studies show laughter has been known to boost mood and release tension.

According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter has both short-term and long-term effects on the body. It increases the intake of oxygen, which stimulates the heart, lungs and muscles. It improves the immune system, relieves pain, improves mood while lessening anxiety, and makes it easier to cope with difficult moments in your life.

So why aren’t more people cultivating more humor and laughter in their lives, especially at work?

For starters, they may be perceived in the workplace as not being truly serious about their work, as being a goof-off, or not being promotable. So they keep their humor in check rather than risk reprisals at work.

But studies show that humor and laughter can boost work productivity. According to this Forbes article, humor can be key to business success in several ways:

* Humor, when used wisely, can help win friends and influence people. People enjoy working with people they like. But don’t be snarky, say experts, which is not good for team building, and don’t offend others.

* It boosts morale among team members. People who share a good laugh form a bond over a shared experience.

* Humor can make your company differentiate itself from competitors. If you can make customers laugh, it makes your company more memorable, and it can be part of your branding.

* Humor helps create an upbeat office environment that encourages interaction among team members and brainstorm new ideas, which lead to greater productivity and greater product innovation.

* Humor is a stress-buster, puts people at ease and builds trust.

Whether you work from home alone without co-workers or work in a not-so-fun office, there are ways to bring laughter into your work life. Here are a few ideas:

* Sign up to receive a joke of the day or cartoon of the day from any number of websites. My personal favorite is Savage Chickens by cartoonist Doug Savage. (www.savagechickens.com). Each morning during the week, I receive a cartoon in my email inbox, and I start my day with a smile with minimal interruption to my work day.

* Post a few funny cartoons at your desk so you have something to laugh at throughout the day.

* Recruit colleagues to participate in a skit that encourages them to express their humorous side.

* Set out games that team members can work on throughout the day, such as a crossword puzzle or chess board.

* Away from work or in off hours, indulge in a comedy-a-thon, playing back-to-back-to-back episodes of your favorite comedy or movie series.

* Visit a comedy club, or take an improvisational class.

* Spend a few minutes (and I do mean a few minutes, not hours) on YouTube videos. Just don’t spend so much time on the site that it interferes with your work.

* Enjoy a comedy festival, like the Cat Video Festival that tours the country each year.

Laughter is good for your heart, mind and soul. Take the time each day to put a little more laughter into your life, and share it with someone else. It just may improve your work life.

How Creative People Can Survive in Non-Creative Jobs

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When you think of a creative person, what images comes to mind? An improvisational comedian? A ballet dancer, an artist or songwriter?  Do you ever stop to consider that maybe business owners and company CEOs have a creative spirit too? It’s not always obvious to the rest of us. But I believe they could not have reached their level of success without having some creative juice coursing through their veins. The rest of us don’t always get to see it.

I believe we are all born with creative gifts. It doesn’t matter if you are the company CEO, the sales manager or the guy in the mailroom. We all have a creative source within us that begs to be exercised. It is no wonder I see so many people leave the rat race to write a novel, pursue a singing career or become a curator at an art museum.

Working in a dull 9-to-5 job can sometimes stifle that creativity – but it doesn’t have to. I worked for 10 years as an administrative assistant, which required little, if any creativity. Between making travel arrangements for VIPs, organizing files, updating monthly spreadsheets and making sure the supply room was well stocked, there wasn’t a lot of room for more imaginative endeavors. But I was also blessed to work with managers who understood my need to indulge my creative talents, even if it was only to design a flyer or write a customer service letter.

If you believe the corporate world has robbed you of your creative edge, don’t lose hope. Your creative spirit is alive and well. It just needs an environment in which to thrive.

But don’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. Be proactive. Look around the office for opportunities to express your creativity. Here are a few ideas:

* Be a problem solver. Solving problems is a valuable skill in the workplace, often requiring thinking outside the box. To solve problems, you have to tap into that creative reservoir within yourself. Whether it’s coming up with a complex solution to a long-standing customer relations issue or developing a new product that can change the way people work, creativity is at the heart of these innovations. And innovation is what drives businesses to grow and prosper.

* Learn new software programs. Teach yourself to do desktop publishing using Adobe InDesign or create Power Point presentations. As you gain more experience doing design work, you can add samples to your portfolio and become a valuable go-to design resource for your friends and colleagues, who may not have the design skills you just acquired.

* Plan events and parties. In a small office especially, you may have to wear many hats. Event planning may be one of them. Maybe you are assigned the task of planning a co-worker’s work anniversary celebration, a meeting of the board of directors, or the annual Christmas party for the office staff. Surprise parties are even better, because they challenge you to come up with creative ways to keep the party a secret. And decorating the office party room naturally lends itself to creative expression.

If meeting planning is not in your job description and it’s something you want to break into, ask your boss or the person in charge of planning meetings if you can help. You not only show your creative side and your initiative.

* Display your artwork. Are you an artist, painter or photographer? Ask your boss or manager if they are willing to display your artwork in your office. At a nearby yoga studio I regularly attend, one of the instructors recently displayed her artwork around the studio. It was a great opportunity to showcase her talents and sell her work to studio clients.

* Display your writing skills. Writing skills are highly valued and often overlooked in the workplace. If you like to write and have a talent for telling amusing stories, there may be opportunities for writing that can be an outlet for your creative genius. Offer to write customer service letters for your boss or the sales department. Ask the marketing director if you can contribute to the company blog or write articles for their newsletter.

I once worked as a temp at a Japanese-owned property management company that managed multiple hotels around the world. One day, the president of the company, who spoke very little English, asked me to write a thank-you letter to a friend who had taken he and his wife out to dinner. I quickly drafted a letter – only three sentences – and showed it to the president. From his wide smile and enthusiastic nod of his head, I knew I had hit the mark. No matter what type of company you work at, good writing skills will always be valued by higher-ups.

* Get a side gig. It seems many workers are doing side gigs these days. For many, it helps them bring in more money. For others, the side gig does what the day job cannot do – feed the creative soul.

These are just a few ideas to get you thinking about other ways to add a creative edge to your non-creative job. Brainstorm with co-workers and your boss, and see what you come up with. That alone is a creative challenge.

You can’t always change the circumstances of your job (unless you change jobs), but you can change the way you think about your job. Sometimes, by simply accepting the fact that you work in an unimaginative office environment allows you to see opportunities for contributing your creative skills that you may not have noticed before. And that can make the day job all the more tolerable.

When a Former Employer Comes Calling, Should You Answer?

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Have you ever worked for a former boss or employer? And if you did, was your partnership as successful the second time around? Or did you hit a dead end?

Twice in my career I’ve been approached by former employers to work for them. In one case, a former supervisor invited me to be her administrative assistant 18 months after joining a new company. All signs pointed to yes. I loved working for her the first time around, I was stuck in a dead end job, and the new job paid about $5,000 more than what I was making. So I said yes, though I left 18 months later to pursue another opportunity.

More recently, I was invited by a former employer to manage their bi-monthly magazine. While I was flattered that they thought of me for this role, I didn’t feel I was the right fit for the job. With a new CEO on board, the company was going through a transition and the culture of the organization had changed. I didn’t want to lock myself into a stressful, political situation, and I wanted to be free to pursue my own creative writing. So I told them no.

Looking back, I do not regret either decision. Both situations have worked out fine. In the first scenario, in the short time I was there, I gained valuable experience in a new work environment. In the second scenario, I realized I did not have a lot to gain personally or professionally from rejoining a former employer. The organization  eventually hired a new manager who brings a sorely-needed fresh perspective to their publication.

If a former boss comes calling, would you jump at the opportunity? Whether you accept or decline the offer depends on what your needs are. There are reasons to accept, and reasons to say “No, thank you.”

Reasons to accept an opportunity with a former employer: 

It helps build your resume. Additional or different responsibilities stretches your professional muscles. Perhaps you have an opportunity to manage a department, oversee a project, or supervise staff that you did not have previously. Even if you hold on to this situation for one year, that experience looks good on your resume.

It offers a higher salary. Financial stability is always a plus, but don’t accept a job only because of the salary. You need to weigh other factors too, such as compatibility with co-workers and the supervisor, and opportunities for career growth. Taking a job, or staying in one, just for the money and benefits can hurt your morale. In my experience, these types of work situations tend not to work out well for the long term. And you may find yourself hitting the pavement again in six months after realizing that the job wasn’t’ everything it was cracked up to be.

You like the person you’d be working for. All things considered, when you like your boss and you have a strong bond with them, it makes it possible to like the job, even if it isn’t exactly the type of job you wanted. Having a good relationship with your boss can help get you through difficult work projects. Just be aware that your relationship with a former boss in a different corporate culture can put pressure on your relationship, and working for this person my not be so enjoyable the second time around.

Reasons to decline an opportunity with a previous employer: 

The company does not have a good reputation. Do your homework about the company. Just because a former boss invites you to work for them doesn’t mean the new company is right for you. The culture of the organization may not be compatible with your personality. Use social media to find current and former employees. Did the company treat its employees well? Is the company experiencing layoffs or going through a difficult managerial transition? While some change in the corporate culture is necessary to weed out outdated systems and processes, you don’t want to work in hostile, unstable work environment.

The opportunity does not fit in with your long-term career goals. Or you want to do something completely different. Our career goals are constantly changing. What might have been an exciting opportunity five years ago may no longer thrill you because you’ve moved on to different career options. If you’ve had writing jobs most of your adult life and you find you’d rather teach children, then no lucrative job offer is going to make you happy.

The job is too much like what you’ve done before. The office space and co-workers may change, but the work does not. The new opportunity might pay well and offer great benefits and growth opportunities, but if you find yourself doing the same type of work that you did before, and there’s not room for career growth, it’s probably time for a career reassessment. There’s nothing more disheartening than being stuck in a job with little opportunity for advancement and smacks of the same-old, same old.

It can be flattering when a former boss comes calling, but keep in mind that any new opportunity that arises should be a win-win situation. You should benefit from this opportunity as much as your boss does.

Listen patiently to their proposal and ask a lot of questions. Don’t fall for any carrot-on-the-end-of-the-stick proposals that your former boss might present to you. Those proposals may never materialize or they may benefit your boss more than you.

Know yourself and always keep a clear vision of your career goals. As long as you keep those goals in sight, you will never be steered in the wrong career direction. If you feel the opportunity does not meet your professional goals, then it’s okay to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”