How to Write a Bio – 8 – Financial Planner

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How to Write a Bio that Sells -8- Financial Planner

A well-written, personable, and engaging bio can go a long way to differentiating you from other professional service providers. You’ve got to write a bio that builds trust and rapport, answers the reader’s core question, and gives a compelling reason for further contact.

If you’re trying to write a bio that sells your professional services, this before-after comparison will help, regardless of your industry.
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Sustainable Enterprise Certificate – Systems Thinking

Just how do ‘they’ calculate the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

The mind boggles at all the contributing factors multiplied by the margin for human error. Although “How Bad are Bananas?” takes a stab at some well-informed answers, the author admits that his conclusions are barely more than rational guesses.

For the final two days of the Sustainable Enterprise Certificate’s first session, we received a quick tour of one process with great potential for defining answers. Systems Dynamics focuses on the underlying patterns and structures that informs everything from our bank accounts to the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. For now, I’ll just introduce SD with a brief example.

A simple analogy: you’re drawing a bath. You stop the drain so the water doesn’t flow out again, and you open the faucet to fill the tub. In SD lingo, the tub is known as a ‘stock’, and the water is called a ‘flow.’ The water influences the contents of the bathtub; the flow affects the volume of the stock.

Now, an absurdly simple question: When the water reaches the level you desire, do you close the faucet completely, or just reduce the water’s flow? You close the faucet, of course. Simply reducing the flow won’t prevent the stock from continuing to rise. Eventually, the water will overflow.

Seems abundantly obvious? Then let the real fun begin.

The graph below shows the number of people entering and leaving a department store over a 30-minute period.

Great example of the fundamentals of systems dynamics, stocks and flows.

Classic Department Store Systems Dynamics Problem

(If you don’t think the question can be determined from the information provided, mark that as your answer.)

  1. During which minute did the most people enter the store?
  2. During which minute did the most people leave the store?
  3. During which minute were the most people in the store?
  4. During which minute were the fewest people in the store?

You’ll find the correct answers at the bottom of the post. Go take a look.

Surprised? I was.

Remember, the graph doesn’t show the number of people in the store (the stock), but the number of people ‘flowing’ in and out of the store. Until minute 14, more people are entering the store than exiting. After minute 14, that rate of flow reverses; more people are leaving than entering.

“Of course! Such a simple oversight!”

Well, not so simple after all. In his article “Risk Communication on Climate” Professor John Sterman relates how 84% of his MIT students made the same ‘simple oversight’ in a similar activity. Instead of water in a bathtub, or people in a department store, these students were given the context of greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere. (You’ll find Professor Sterman’s comments on this confusion here.)

Is it any wonder that we’re having such a hard time establishing our relationship to carbon emissions, let alone curbing them? If you’re ready for a paradigm shift and want to learn more about Systems Thinking, you’ll do well to start with Donella Meadows’s “Thinking in Systems: A Primer”

My emphatic thanks to Professor Sterman for permission to reproduce the department store activity, and to Bill Harris for patiently explaining the basics of SD over two intensive days.

Exercise Answers:

  1. Approximately minute 4
  2. Approximately minute 21
  3. Approximately minute 13
  4. Approximately minute 30

Nature: inspiration for us all

I was raised in a society that regarded Nature as a resource, a refuge, an externality apart from everyday life. Our buildings, social norms, and lifestyles perpetuate the myth that we exist outside of the natural order. In this reality, it’s no surprise that we would come to see Nature only as a source of raw material and supplies for our inventions, not a model of innovation and inspiration for our most sophisticated challenges.

For example, what could Nature teach us about bonding plywood, maintaining the temperature in an apartment building, or improving the performance of olympic athletes?

Quite a lot, apparently.

On the first day of the Sustainable Enterprise Certificate’s first session, Mary Hansel –treasurer of the Biomimicry Guild– introduced us to the burgeoning practice that has attracted the attention of designers and innovators around the world.

When plywood manufacturers wanted a formaldehyde-free adhesive, Biomimicry found inspiration in mussels. When architects wanted to create a passive air-conditioning system, Biomimicry explored how termite mounds maintain a consistent temperature. When Nike wanted to create a hydrodynamic swimsuit, Biomimicry examined the way shark skin directs the flow of water around the animal.

While Biomimicry promises some enchanting design and organizational solutions, the skeptical side of me immediately drifts to the tension between Nature’s tendency to balance, and our tendency to desire more: more food, more space, more comfort, etc.

That’s a wide discrepancy for any philosophy to bridge.

My hope: as Biomimicry helps us achieve innovation in design and organizational challenges, we’ll look to Nature as a model of how to structure other parts of our lifestyles. We’re already seeing this manifest itself in the local food movement, the imperative to reduce our consumption habits, and the drive to curtail population growth.

If you have a moment, watch this TED talk about Biomimicry from Janine Benyus, the movement’s champion.

Envisioning a Sustainable Enterprise

The S-word gets a lot of use around Portland. Every business seems to have a ‘sustainability initiative’. The question of telling a company’s ‘sustainability story’ holds prime real estate in the minds of many a marketer. Heck, you have several sustainability networking events to choose from every month.

With the S-word in such common use, I’d be curious to know how we each envision a sustainable enterprise. Before I share my brief answer, I’ll highlight a comment that catalyzed the question.

Recently, Brian Setzler, owner of Trilibrium a progressive and conscientious CPA firm, denied his company had the right to claim the highly coveted title ‘sustainable business’:

“As a stickler for precise language when it matters, I’ve had to correct well-meaning introductions [at speaking events] claiming Trilibrium’s sustainability. Our company is sustainably-driven and eco-conscious with triple bottom line values, but I have no idea whether we are sustainable.

I’ve heard people refer to certain farming practices as sustainable. Really, over what time frame and under what circumstances? Will these “sustainable” farms hold up over 5 generations? What about 500 or 1000? If not, are they really ‘sustainable?'”

Brian’s prompt coincided neatly with a program I’d just enrolled in: Willamette University’s Sustainable Enterprise Certificate (SEC). Before the program’s first session, SEC participants were challenged with this pre-class homework assignment; ‘How do you envision a sustainable enterprise?’

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such an entity, nor heard of one. Stretching my mind back across time to when the only human enterprise was the tribe, I doubt I’d find an appropriate example.

It’s tempting to focus on hunter-gatherer tribes as icons of pure sustainability. Such groups would be too small to make a lasting impact on the environment. But countless tribes –and civilizations- have collapsed over the eons (see Jared Diamond’s Collapse), so they can’t provide a satisfactory example. We must stretch farther into the realm of ideal and theory.

What would a sustainable enterprise look like today?

The triple bottom line exhorts balance between economic viability, social conscience and environmental responsibility. Ideally, an enterprise that assigned equal importance to these three priorities would have a neutral impact on the environment (atoning for each pound of waste generated, kilowatt-hour of electricity expended, liter of water consumed, etc.), it would improve the lives of every person whom interacted with it (paying fair compensation to employees, supporting their families, and making a positive contribution to the immediate community), and it would make a responsible profit (no smoke-and-mirrors accounting tricks, no tax avoidance mechanisms, and no leveraging the future to pay the present).

That model seems as unlikely to occur as a societal reversion to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

In which case, the sustainable enterprise serves as a hypothetical counterpoint to the utopian legend of the hunter-gatherer existence. Although neither may be feasible today, each occupies a distant point on the far reaches of the spectrum of possibility. They’re a long way off, yet each provides a starting point for a discussion of our vision, without which, we’re just adding to the lip-service heaped on the weary S-word.

Your thoughts?
What’s your vision of a sustainable enterprise?
What would you add or subtract from the vision I’ve shared?

Well-written advice helps more.

Just found this advice on time management. How would you improve it?

“If you’re easily distracted and nothing seems to be working to stop that, try removing the distractions totally. If you keep playing video games, go somewhere without internet access or a TV. If you keep getting distracted by the kids, work while they’re at school or when someone else is there to take care of them. The whole point is that not having distractions is much easier than ignoring them.”

Sigh. Good ideas. Poor writing.

Pivotal Writing Tips:
Each of these sentences has extra words that weigh down the reader’s experience. Trimming excess words will keep your reader focused and engaged.

Let’s look at each sentence individually. Which words can go without altering the sentence’s message?

Before: “If you’re easily distracted and nothing seems to be working to stop that, try removing the distractions totally.”
After: If you can’t seem to ignore your distractions, remove them completely.

Before: “If you keep playing video games, go somewhere without internet access or a TV.”
After: Addicted to video games? Avoid the internet and the TV.

Before: “If you keep getting distracted by the kids, work while they’re at school or when someone else is there to take care of them.
After: Can’t work with the kids around? Wait ’til they’re at school or under someone else’s care.

Before: “The whole point is that not having distractions is much easier than ignoring them.”
After: My main point: eliminating distractions is easier than ignoring them.

The phrase “not having distractions” makes that last sentence especially cumbersome. Instead of ‘not having’, let’s smooth out the sentence by using a single verb.

Now, let’s put it all back together…
“If you can’t seem to ignore your distractions, remove them completely. Addicted to video games? Avoid the internet and the TV. Can’t work with the kids around? Wait ’til they’re at school or under someone else’s care. My main point: eliminating distractions is easier than ignoring them.”

Mmm… Good advice…
Well, it’s time for me to get back to my Tetris-Thursday marathon!

In praise of good writing.

Usually, I direct your attention to a snippet of weak writing. It’s useful to see mistakes in context.
However, today I thought you’d enjoy a brief look at a piece of strong writing. Hopefully this introductory paragraph will give you some ideas…

“Sustainability is a loaded term. I’m confused, bemused and amused by vernacular at times. I hope you’ll allow me to discover what I mean by sustainability as I write this article. Webster defines “sustain” as to maintain, prolong, endure, withstand, or “to suffer”. Okay, the “suffering” aside, I’m all over prolonging anything I perceive as positive and ending anything I perceive as negative.”

Lets break this down part by part:

“Sustainability is a loaded term.”
Are we reaching the saturation point with the ‘S’ word? I fear its increasing popularity (overuse?) may be diluting its imperative. In short order, this inaugural sentence connects with our growing exhaustion and promises a fresh perspective. Starting with a provocative, contentious idea is a great way to attract attention and compel the reader to continue.

“I’m confused, bemused and amused by vernacular at times. I hope you’ll allow me to discover what I mean by sustainability as I write this article.”
That nice use of rhyme sets a lighter tone for the piece and complements the first person “I”. Together, these choices say “no stuffy discourse here. I’m talking to you as if we were sitting at a table.” ‘I hope you’ll allow me’ even acknowledges the reader’s power over participating (‘to read or not to read’) and seeks to establish some sense of equality.

“Webster defines “sustain” as to maintain, prolong, endure, withstand, or “to suffer”. Okay, the “suffering” aside, I’m all over prolonging anything I perceive as positive and ending anything I perceive as negative.”
‘Okay’ and ‘I’m all over’ affirm that this will be a light, conversational read. The writer promises to keep the topic interesting and the pace moving along.

…I perceive as…
This is a little distracting and repetitive. Would something like “I’m all over prolonging the positive and ending the negative.” do the job just as well?

As a whole, these elements ease the natural flow of the piece, bringing the author’s voice out from behind the words. The style invites the reader to stick around and see what’s coming next. If only we saw more writing in this format.

Fun Writing Reminders

“Don’t use no double negatives.”

Yeah, that’s right.  What better way to remember  good writing advice, than to see the mistake in action?

A few more for you…

  1. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
  2. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
  3. Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!
  4. Check to see if you any words out.
  5. About repetition, the repetition of a word might be real effective repetition – take, for instance the repetition of Abraham Lincoln.
  6. It behooves us all to avoid archaic expressions.
  7. In my opinion, I think that an author when he is writing should definitely not get into the habit of making use of too many unnecessary words that he does not really need in order to put his message across.
  8. To ignorantly split an infinitive is a practice to religiously avoid.
  9. Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; seek viable alternatives.

I wish I could take credit for these beauties, but the longer, original lists have been published over at this site.

Some are self-evident.  Others make you think.  All of them will improve your writing.

Go take a look, and enjoy.

‘Me-centered’ writing: A big no-no.

How long can you listen to someone talk about himself before you get bored?

Sure, you’ll be polite and continue listening, but at some point you’ll start to think “Gosh, this person is taking up a lot of air time!” (Excepting, of course, the occasion when that’s the point; an autobiography, reading from a memoir, or explaining some personal triumph.)

The same is true when a company writes about itself, except that the potential consequences are more severe. Online readers’ primary question is almost always ‘What’s in it for me?’

How well do these two sentences present their answer?

“Acme Company is a research and consulting firm that helps companies measure, manage and market their social and environmental performance. Our research can help you identify the relevant channels and relationships you need to start or grow your market.”

Oi.
Aside from being ‘acme-centric’ this copy is dull and dreary.

First, let’s invigorate the message with some color.
Second, let’s re-arrange the promise to answer the reader’s basic question as quickly as possible. Once we’ve hooked ’em, we can go into why we can satisfy our promise.

“Do your clients know how socially and environmentally responsible your company is?
To tell them you’ve got to measure, manage and market your performance.
Spur growth through the right channels and relationships with research-based consultation.
Get started now with Acme Company.”

Notice we’re using plain language. The technical credentials can wait until after site visitors are interested.
Also, there’s no mention of Acme until the very end. We want to focus the reader’s attention on his top priority; his company.
Last, the final sentence provides a direct call to action; very important on website copy.

Short, sweet, and reader-centered.
What do *you* think?

Share in the comment space below. Please.

Tips for writing a tip sheet.

Grabbing attention is tricky, especially for a 10-item tip sheet written for an upcoming green sale. One reader in Portland asked for some advice on writing quick, concise tips. Take a quick look at what she had, then we’ll discuss some ideas to tighten it up.

“Reduce Super Market Packaging—It’s Super Easy!
Buy bulk to reduce packaging waste and to ensure that you only buy what you need. Fill up your own reusable containers at the store to eliminate the need for plastic bags. You can even bring your own measuring cup or scoop so you don’t have to eyeball the quantity. Buy less, spend less, waste less.

Storables Solution: Snapware Bulk Food Totes with handles.”

Nice.
It’s concise, it reinforces the message of the sale, and it offers a useful tip.

A few basic observations:

  • Avoid repeating ‘buy’ and ‘need’ in the first and second sentences (respectively) by using synonyms or rearranging the words.
  • Let’s assume that grocery stores prefer customers use the individual scoops they provide for each item.

Now, Portland has many eco-minded inhabitants, but we can’t assume that everyone is on the bandwagon of reducing waste. Let’s broaden the appeal of the message by speaking first to the immediate benefits of buying bulk:

  1. It saves money. Packaged goods include the cost of designing, printing and assembly.
  2. It makes for a tidier, less cluttered kitchen. How? No more identical, half-full jars of spices, two or three opened packages of pasta, or other duplicate ingredients. It inherently forces organization on the kitchen.

Here’s what comes to mind first:

Reduce Super Market Packaging for Super Savings!*
Buying in bulk saves you money, tidies your kitchen and eliminates packaging waste. Bring your own reusable containers to the store and say ‘good-bye’ to accidentally buying what you already have at home. This small choice has a big impact as you’ll also reduce your need for plastic bags. Grab a Snapware Bulk Food Tote with handles to buy less, spend less, and waste less.

*What can I say? I’m a sucker for playful language. In all seriousness, a jovial even jocular tone with a little tongue-in-cheek lends itself to the friendly, inviting tone needed to attract customers to the sale. We are more receptive to ideas when we’re relaxed, so the light tone may even make the conservation message more palatable to skeptics.


***Do you have a question about writing? Would you like a fresh set of eyes on what you’ve got so far? Send it my way for some friendly, anonymous discussion on the Pivotal Writing Blog.***

A simple writing mistake and solution.

This colorful sentence illustrates a very common and correctable problem in writing.

Imagine asking a surgeon about the process they follow during an operation, and hearing them reply, “I don’t know, I just start cutting and hope it all works out.”

Let’s strip away everything but the ‘people’ words: ‘a surgeon’, ‘they’, ‘them’, and ‘I’. With this view, it’s hard to know whether the sentence refers to a single surgeon, or a group. (Either way, let’s hope you have some good insurance…)

‘They’ and ‘them’ -the plural pronouns- have been used instead of their singular counterparts: ‘he’ and ‘him’.

‘a surgeon’ establishes the ‘number’ which the rest of the sentence must obey. Thus, Imagine asking a surgeon about the process he follows during an operation, and hearing him reply, “I don’t know, I just start cutting and hope it all works out.”

Since we don’t know the surgeon’s gender, we could just as easily write ‘she’ and ‘her’ instead. Or, even ‘she or he’ and ‘her or him’. What’s important is that the number be consistent.

This is a fairly simple error; one that we all commit from time to time. At first, it may take an extra moment to remind yourself when writing and editing, but eventually it will become second nature. Soon, your effort will produce first-class writing.

— Questions or concerns about your writing?  Email me for some free writing advice! —

The Process of Writing Without Ambiguity.

Even the newspapers have their awkward word choice from time to time.

Read the very end of this article about a retired gentleman who studied for, and participated in, a history class just for the pleasure of learning.

“As for his future, “Jack” has no plans to go full time and, say, join a fraternity. But, come January, he will be back in the classroom. To study the Great Depression. And to inspire those who meet him in the process.”

You may immediately criticize the use of ‘but’ and ‘and’ to begin sentences. Traditionalists may stick to the rules, even though this use is commonly accepted in everyday speech.
Let’s leave that debate in the style wars for another post.

What does the final phrase ‘in the process’ mean to you?

One option is that Jack’s return to the classroom in itself is inspirational.
Alternately, Jack’s dedication to studying could be what’s inspiring.

Moving “in the process” and rewriting the sentence solves the ambiguity and addresses the (potentially) problematic use of ‘but’ and ‘and’.

To preserve the article’s conversational style, I’ll keep the sentences short.
“In January, he will return to the classroom. To study the Great Depression. And, in the process, inspire others who meet him.”

For more formal writing, I would combine the sentences:
“In January, he will return to the classroom to study the Great Depression and, in the process, inspire others who meet him.”

Depending on your goals, a conversational style and bending the rules of grammar, may be appropriate. Just make sure that your message is clear, otherwise your reader may become mired in ambiguity and get frustrated.

Should you need writing advice…

Ever hear the saying “Don’t should on yourself”?

Within that cute pun lies a kernel of truth, best paraphrased by Jedi Master Yoda: “Do or do not. There is no try.” There’s nothing to be gained from telling oneself “I should do X, Y and Z today.” when instead thinking “Today I’ll do X, Y and Z.” sets an affirmative, productive tone.

What does this have to do with a blog on writing advice? Check out this sample below:

“If you’ve never written an e-newsletter, what you should do first is take a deep breath and relax. Then, you should decide how long you want your newsletter to be…”

Eliminating the use of ‘should’ not only tightens the copy, but also subtly refines the message:

“If you’ve never written an e-newsletter, take a deep breath and relax. Then, decide how long you want your newsletter to be…”

First, the phrase ‘what you should do first’ is filler. The same idea can be expressed as a shorter, simpler declaration, leaving the reader to decide for her/himself.

Second, no one likes to be told what s/he ‘should’ do. Removing ‘should’ changes the tone from finger-wagging command to offering a suggestion.

Experiment with the difference.
Then let me know what you think.
Please…

Writing without rambling.

When we listen to a speaker, we always appreciate clear, concise language. Rambling is not welcome.
So why would we put up with anything less in writing?

How does this sentence take excess time to express itself?
In the 1970s, some of you may remember, there was an “oil crunch” in the United States. It was brought about by several historical factors, with the result being a large, rapid increase in the price of crude oil.

First, let’s eliminate ‘some of you may remember’. Regardless of memory, the ‘oil crunch’ happened.
Second, ‘was brought about by’ and ‘with the result being’ are lazy and bulky expressions. They’ve gotta go.

By slicing out the excess and merging what remains, we finish with a tighter sentence.

In the 1970s, several historical factors rapidly raised the price of crude oil, causing an “oil crunch” in the United States.

Simple, clear writing.

The collective attention span shrinks as fast as the quantity of reading material explodes. Using fewer words to convey more meaning respects the reader’s time. Writers must carefully choose their words.

With that in mind, pay special attention to the second sentence in this sample.

“There’s no such thing as a local story, a trade story, or even purely internal communication anymore. Everything has the ability to circumvent the globe at light speed, and corporate leaders are starting to become aware of this.”

What does “has the ability to” really mean? “Can” would do the same job in less space. Unless discussing features or capabilities, “having an ability” is a cumbersome, inferior expression.

Similarly, “…starting to become aware of this” is less direct than simply stating “…are becoming aware of this”. “Becoming” implies a transition of learning and change. We can shorten this idea further by declaring “…are catching on.” (True, this phrase is informal; context dictates word choice. Formal language may be as inappropriate as slang, depending on the context.)

Simple and clear: “Everything can circumvent the globe at light speed, and corporate leaders are catching on.” expresses the same idea without distracting phrases or excessive language.

Confident, direct writing.

Be direct. Respect your reader’s time and interest.
Use qualifying words and statements sparingly.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at this little sentence…
Nearly all development and construction, in the strictest sense, is not fully sustainable.

“Nearly all”, “in the strictest sense”, and “fully” distract from the sentence’s core message: ‘Most development and construction is not sustainable.’

The idea of “Nearly all…” can be expressed just as well by “Most…” in less space.
“…in the strictest sense…” confuses the sentence. Better to define sustainability elsewhere.
“…fully sustainable.” is redundant. Something is either sustainable or it’s not. There is no half-way point.

It’s better to cut out the fluff, make one confident statement, and then elaborate elsewhere. Cramming too much into one sentence weighs down its meaning and trips up the reader.

Clear writing is always in fashion.

Here’s an eyeful for you…

Sustainability has merged with the term “green,” that used to refer mainly to environmental causes (most notably the “green” political parties in Europe and the US) especially over the past three years, so that it seems that “green” is the new “black.”

Phew! What a long sentence!

Not simply because it has many words. This sentence abounds with ideas:

  1. Merging sustainability with the term “green”
  2. environmental causes,
  3. political parties in Europe and the US, and
  4. ‘the new black.’

At school, we learn to speak one at a time. That way, every voice is heard. The above sentence is the written equivalent of four voices clamoring for attention. As a result, the reader may not understand the sentence’s main idea; sustainability merging with the term “green”.

Let’s start by assuming that the reader is already familiar with “green”. (Readers like to be credited for their intelligence.) Making this (very reasonable) assumption allows us to remove the middle describing segment:

Sustainability has merged with the term “green” so that it seems that “green” is the new “black.”

Now we’re getting down to a single idea.

Let’s cut away that cautious, half-hearted language ‘it seems’.

Sustainability has merged with the term “green” so that “green” is the new “black.”

Just one more step: can we assume most readers will understand the meaning behind ‘the new “black”‘?

If they have a background in design, it may be appropriate.

Just to be safe, let’s use more accessible and understandable wording while keeping the original meaning.

Sustainability has merged with the term “green” so that “green” has become trendy.

Finally, we’ll clean up the redundancy of “green” and “has”…
Since merging with the term “sustainability”, “green” has become trendy.

(Sigh of relief.) We’ve preserved the original meaning of the sentence while cutting away all the excess words. The sentence reads smoothly and still conveys its meaning.

As always, if we want to make our idea understood, we must write as clearly and cleanly as possible.
That’s a fact that will never go out of style.

Question every word.

“The more I contribute, the more I am accepted and valued by the group as a whole.”
‘Group’ and ‘as a whole’ are redundant.
Think about it; what’s the difference between ‘group’ and ‘as a whole’ in this context?
‘Very little’ in my mind.

‘Group’ implies the entire unit of people represented. And ‘as a whole’? It also implies a collective, but because there’s little difference in meaning between ‘group’ and ‘as a whole’, why mention both?

It’s a subtle redundancy, but one worth striking out. Every word must pull its weight; don’t allow any excess language. The resulting sentence is tighter; enhancing the flow of the rest of the piece.

“The more I contribute, the more I am accepted and valued by the group.”

Yes, it’s a minor alteration, but the sum of this editing over the entire piece of writing will add up to a stronger, smoother read for your audience.

Little room for big words.

“Write like you speak” seems like simple advice, but it’s not always taken. For example:

“Approximately 70% of all jobs are obtained through networking. However, when I counsel individuals and groups, I find most people dedicate the majority of their time to searching online for job postings. Statistics show that less than 20% of all jobs are obtained by responding to job postings. The effective job seeker allocates the appropriate time to each activity. I think most people know deep down inside the value of networking but try to avoid it or limit it as much as possible.”

“Approximately”? “obtained”? “counsel”? “individuals and groups”? “allocates”?

Whoa now.

Who uses language like this? Who uses these words in casual conversation?

Whoever “counsels individuals and groups to allocate an approximate amount of the income they have obtained” may also read the dictionary for fun. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that…)

Surely, many of us would “recommend that people budget some of their earnings.”

Same message, but the second sentence is easier and faster to read.

Word choice is critical to how the reader experiences your writing. Lots of long words may be stimulating, or it may make reading a chore. Do you want to make your reader work, or do you want to make it as easy as possible to understand your message? (Hint: the average attention span will soon be measured in nanoseconds.)

I don’t meant to imply that you must write to the lowest common denominator. Just think about who you’re trying to reach. Pick your words with care. If that adds to your writer’s block, go crazy with the multi-syllabic vocabulary in the first draft. Just take a little extra time and consideration with editing.

Write in thoughts.

Just look at this writing. Don’t bother reading it. Just look…


Approximately 70% of all jobs are obtained through networking. However, when I counsel individuals and groups, I find most people dedicate the majority of their time to searching online for job postings. Statistics show that less than 20% of all jobs are obtained by responding to job postings. The effective job seeker allocates the appropriate time to each activity. I think most people know deep down inside the value of networking but try to avoid it or limit it as much as possible.

Some advantages of networking:
• Get leads and referrals into specific companies and/or job opportunities
• Develop coaches who want you to succeed and use their influence to help where possible.
• Gain important market insight and stay informed about trends
• Solicit feedback and different perspectives on types of roles and companies that could be good a fit

I usually get two responses when I suggest increased networking activity to my clients. The first response is “I don’t like networking” and the second response is “I’m not very good at networking.” When reaching out to people or meeting with people at events, be prepared to share your unique skill set and a clear understanding of the characteristics of your ideal role and employer. The most effective job seekers create a one page marketing plan that also includes a list of target employers. This makes it easy for others to get a snapshot of what you do and where you want to do it. Finally, ask if it’s okay that you follow up with your networking contacts to share your progress and to see who else they know that you should call. I find that most people want to help, but aren’t sure how to help. By being prepared, you will make it easier for others to help you.


If big blocks of content look like a plate piled impossibly high with food, you’re not alone.

We don’t ramble on at great length like this in conversation. We’d pass out from oxygen deprivation!

Instead, we take breaths.

We pause for emphasis.

We give our audience the opportunity to swallow one thought before offering the next.

Writing should be the same way. Short, digestible paragraphs with plenty of breaks for mental chewing. I don’t mean to say that longer, complicated sentences or paragraphs are off limits.  Just make sure to space your thoughts wisely.

Graphic designers call this effective use of ‘white space.’ In writing, it’s simple consideration for the reader.