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Stories and Strategies

Appreciation: Hazel Rowley

This weekend, I'm mourning the loss of a neighbor I never met. I may have shared an elevator with her at some point, but I don't believe we ever spoke.

I live in a 12 story building in New York. There are 12 apartments on each floor. Boxes within a box. There are four tenants named J. Kim who live in the row of apartments - e.g. 108, 308, 708, 1008. Each of these apartments has the same floor plan. None of the Kims are related.

The doormen and the building owners are perhaps the only people who know everyone.

A few weeks ago, I walked in the lobby and Julian said, "I want to ask you something. Come here."

Julian is originally from India, has a fascination for American politics, regularly polls tenants on politics and is a consummate predictor of weather.

"Isn't your first name--the name you don't use--Eleanor?"


"Do you know Hazel? The writer who recently moved back again from France?"


"She just wrote this book, Franklin and Eleanor, about Eleanor Roosevelt. She brought it to me. I am going to read it. You should, too."

A life-long admirer of Eleanor Roosevelt. I made a mental note to read it...after I got to the book I have still yet to buy--and read--for my book club. I'd leave Ms. Rowley a note after I read it, I thought. And maybe see if she wants to have coffee.

On Friday, Julian stopped me again.

"What do I wear to a funeral in a Catholic Church on a Saturday? Should I wear a suit and tie?"

"Who died?," I said.

"Hazel, the writer," he said. "She had a stroke, heart trouble. She was young - only 59."

I've spent the weekend learning about my former neighbor--online. Born in London, Hazel Rowley was also raised and educated in Australia, where she studied and later taught literary studies at a university. She was a writer's writer, having written biographies about writers Christina Stead, Richard Wright, and another providing an in-depth glimpse into the relationship of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sarte. The Age reports that she "once described writing a biography as like having a love affair":

You know how it is when you are in love? You smile indulgently at their faults, you are fascinated by every minor detail about them. You cannot take your mind off them, you become so totally obsessed. You live with them day and night for years.

Apparently, her love was paying off: Franklin & Eleanor was named one of the best 10 books for 2010 by NPR's Fresh Air. The book was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in October; she died in the middle of her book tour. The New York Times has yet to mention her passing, but here's a brief obit from the International Business Times. And a piece on her book from NPR. What a career!

Do I even need to tell you what my next read will be? Thank you, Hazel (and Julian).



They're Just Not Into Me...Or Are They?

One of the job seekers I know and think the world of applied for her dream job several months ago. Based on  the job description and what she could learn of the organization, it wasn't only an ideal role from her perspective: She also had the skills and experience the employer requested. A perfect match--or so it seemed.

Only she never heard from them. Ever. 

How did she feel? I don't even need to tell you. 1909249179_ef653964d4_m

She followed up with an e-mail. And she learned why they didn't contact her--and wouldn't be: The organization she applied to put the search on hold.

The reason she wasn't interviewed had nothing to do with her. It was outside her locus of control. And if she hadn't followed up with them, she would never have known it. She could have spent months with her head down thinking, "they're just not into me." Or days stuck inside her head thinking negative thoughts.

How often do you let the job search process go like that for you? And if you follow up with an e-mail and it doesn't break your way, what's your coping strategy? I'll share a suggestion or two in my next post.

To Your Success,

Photo by MargoLove

Steve Martin on How to Beat Writer's Block

Ever had writer’s block when writing your resume, your LinkedIn profile, or a cover  Steve_martin letter? Do you know well what you’ve accomplished, but have trouble putting it to paper? A quick way to fix it is to borrow a strategy Steve Martin recommends in an ironic essay called “Writing is Easy.”

Martin's advice for writers who get stuck.

Go to an already published [novel] and find a sentence you absolutely adore. Copy it down in your [manuscript]. Usually that sentence will lead you to another sentence; pretty soon your ideas will start to flow.

Here's a strategy you can use to apply Martin's advice with your resume and career documents:

  1. Find material for inspiration. Watch how other people write up their own experience.

    I recommend using LinkedIn for this purpose. Through LinkedIn’s Advanced Search feature, you can find LinkedIn profiles of others who work in your field or industry. Narrow your search by geographical area, industry, groups, years of experience or function (LinkedIn has over 85 million users).

  2. Read the profiles that come up within the first four pages of search results: The ones that come up first will be a combination of individuals in your personal network (people who may be networking resources for you), and people whose profiles are fine-tuned to work well with search engines.
  3. Make a collection of phrases and keywords that align with your skill set and experiences. Was someone else able to articulate what you do better than you've been able to say it yourself? (If yes, you can borrow a sentence for now.)
  4. Go back to your resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letter, etc. Use the ideas you've gathered as a jumpstart for listing the keywords and phrases you need for your resume. If you've borrowed a sentence, revise it. Put the idea in your own words.

Plagiarism is wrong. I’m not saying that it is okay to copy sentences or use someone else’s LinkedIn profile as your own. (Martin actually advises that “you can safely copy up to three sentences of someone else’s work--unless they are friends; then you can use two." I disagree with this--and suspect he does too in all seriousness.)  But I do find that seeing how other people summarize their skills and experience can help you sum up your own. Is the writer's block gone?  Good.

When Martin wrote this essay, he was being sarcastic. But I like this piece of advice because it really does help people get unstuck—and because watching how other people do things is always a good way to learn. Especially when managing your career or writing your resume.

My next post will focus on some trouble Martin ran into recently when he wasn't being humorous--and why it may be more fun to be an fine artist than a comedian. In the interim, here's a hat tip to Steve Martin. Thanks for all the help with writer's block--and for helping us laugh!

Cross-posted on Career Hub.

Lessons in Brevity from Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson held multiple positions during his life. He was a U.S. Minister to France, Secretary of State under George Washington, Vice President to John Adams, and was U.S. President for eight years. His tombstone, however, mentions none of these roles: Thomas Jefferson "author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.” TJ_Wyeth

Jefferson wrote his own tombstone inscription in advance of his death. "Not a word more," he advised. These were the three things for which he wanted to be remembered. And if you've ever visited the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville, you'll see that there's no chance he will ever be forgotten there.

Spend even 30 minutes on the UVA campus (known as "On Grounds"), and you'll see signs of “TJ's” influence and opinions--everywhere--especially at the heart of the grounds, Jefferson's Academical Village.

From the serpentine walls he designed to the reminder near the ceiling of the Aquatic and Fitness Center

Give about two hours every day to exercise,

for health must not be sacrificed to learning.” 

Thomas Jefferson, 1789

As a graduate student at UVA, I felt Jefferson was everywhere. I wondered why Jefferson decided not to mention his Presidency on his tombstone. Clearly, he was proud of the country he Tj_tombstone helped to create and then later governed. Why not mention his eight year tenure as President? Was it an attempt to downplay his experience? Was it because he knew there would be many other U.S. Presidents, but that the scope of his work on the school so close to his home would be more evident many years later? 

I spent today in Charlottesville, and found myself thinking of TJ's tombstone from a different perspective--that of a writer who focuses on helping others get hired. Now, the tombstone inscription appears to me as the result of what my colleagues, co-authors and friends Deb Dib and Susan Whitcomb call “ruthless editing.” Editing down to only the essential points of differentiation—even when it means eliminating mention of experiences that are impressive but irrelevant.

TJ's tombstone inscription is142 characters. Two more than a tweet, and 18 characters less than is allotted for a standard text message. This is significant when you consider that TJ wrote over 20,000 letters in his lifetime--all in long hand (or cursive as we call it today). Visit TJ’s home, Monticello, and you’ll see the duplicating polygraph, a device he refined the design of and used to make copies of letters as he wrote. (Note: It's not the same as a lie detector.)

Jefferson chose to be remembered for his ideals, contributions to an emerging country and state, passion for architecture and education--not his job titles. The prolific writer was--in the end--a ruthless editor when it came to his own epitaph. He made it clear what he wanted for us to remember.

At first glance it may be hard to see the relevance of TJ's brevity for today's job seeker. After all, many elementary schools don’t even teach cursive. As a society, we prefer text messages of 160 characters even to post it notes. Letter writing is almost a forgotten art. The U.S. Postal Service has proposed to eliminate Saturday delivery; I haven't noticed a large public outcry.

But buried in the efficiency of TJ's tombstone inscription lies an essential ingredient for career success today--make it clear what you want to be known for and how you can contribute. As my colleague Deb says, "Say it fast, say it clear, and make me care."

As a majority of employers scan resumes with applicant tracking systems before reading them and those don't frequently look at candidates via Smartphones, it is essential to approach your job search by making a strong case for why you should be hired over someone else. After all, if you don't--chances are good that no one else will.

How can I help you move forward?