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  • marcsth 9:42 pm on March 24, 2014 Permalink  

    There’s No Substitute for Good Writing 

    In a recent article by Greg Simpson, Senior Vice President, Career Transition Practice Leader for Lee Hecht Harrison entitled “Write Away: Seven Tips for Improving Basic Writing Skills”, job seekers and hiring officials are in agreement about one thing: basic writing skills are lacking. Recent polls show job seekers feel a lack of confidence in their writing abilities, while employers frequently list effective written communication skills as missing in today’s workforce. To address this unfortunate consensus, Greg provides seven useful tips for improving ones writing. They are:

    1. Consider your audience. Know who’s reading your document and why. Does your audience have a high or low level of expertise? Will the readers understand the terminology you’re using or should you explain in more detail?
    2. Respect the rules. If you’re not sure about how to use punctuation or have a question on grammar, usage or style, visit searchable websites for clarification (Grammar Girl, The Elements of Style, and Guide to Grammar and Writing).
    3. Hit the books. If you think your writing skills are a bit rusty, consider taking a free, online refresher course (e.g. Crafting an Effective Writer: Tools of the Trade) or enroll in a business writing class at your local community college.
    4. Know where you’re going. Create a short outline delineating your purpose, your supporting paragraphs, and your conclusion. An outline serves as your GPS—guiding you to your destination.
    5. Start journaling. Free-writing your thoughts for just 10 minutes a day will increase your comfort level with written expression.
    6. Break the block. If you’re suffering from writer’s block, pick up a notepad and start jotting down ideas in longhand. Studies show that handwriting engages areas of the brain related to thinking, language and working memory in ways that typing can’t.
    7. Raise the bar. When editing, combine short, choppy sentences into more complex ones; swap out over-used verbs and adjectives with more dynamic and precise options; and insert transitional words or phrases between sentences or paragraphs. These “finishing touches” enhance readability and the logical flow of thoughts.

    As you all transition from student to professional lives, numbers one and two are particularly important to remember. After years spent writing academic papers, adjusting ones writing style to a professional audience can be challenging, but with practice becomes increasingly easier.  However, the rules of grammar remain fairly consistent across industries and it is essential to know them well as you progress through your careers. In age of social media and text messaging, it is important to remember that there is no substitute for good writing regardless of what industry you find yourself working within. Resumes, cover letters, proposals, memos an emails; all of these documents are inevitable tasks of working in a professional environment and are tests of ones writing abilities. So like any upcoming test…study , practice, and repeat.


  • marcsth 1:47 pm on March 18, 2013 Permalink
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    Cover Letters…Writing about yourself without making it about yourself 

    Cover letters are your official introduction to an employer, whereby you intrigue them enough about your background and experience so that they’re compelled to read your resume and eventually say “we have to interview this person!” Yet, for most folks, writing a cover letter ranges from being an exercise in monotony to downright uncomfortable.  Cover letters for many go against everything they’ve been taught about being humble, while for other folks one page seems like not nearly enough to talk about themselves.

    However, the secret to writing great cover letter letters is keeping the following in mind: It’s About Them, Not You. The best cover letters are those which focus on the organizations needs and illustrate how your skills and experiences match those needs. An important part in ensuring whether your cover letter is focusing less on yourself and more on the employer is a basic one: grammar usage, specifically of the personal pronoun “I”. When a cover letter is filled with “I”, it can (albeit unfairly) leave readers with an impression that a candidate is self-absorbed, arrogant, and only concerned with what the company can do for them. To avoid this common mistake, Greg Simpson of Lee Hecht Harrison advises three simple steps to ensure that you don’t fall into the “I-Trap”:

    1. Gather some representative samples of your job search letters (cover, networking, follow up, etc.) written at various stages of your search.
    2. Look at each document and circle every use of the personal pronoun “I.” Then underline how many times you used “I” to start a sentence. Were the sentences consecutive?
    3. Practice re-writing the letters deleting all but one or two “I’s” and instead using “my,” “mine” or the pronouns we, our, you, and your. Shying away from the use of “I” not only engages readers but also projects confidence in your abilities without the arrogance.

    So the next time you’ve finished cranking out that cover letter, before hitting submit, review it and ask yourself “is this cover letter about me or them?”

  • marcsth 8:53 pm on February 15, 2013 Permalink
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    Follow Your Passion and Pay the Bills 

    Greetings AU!

    My name is Marc St.Hilaire and I’m the newest member of the AU Career Center. I’ll be working with graduate students within SIS alongside John Charles, so I’m looking forward to meeting with you all either one on one or during drop-in hours at the SIS atrium.

    On my first day at AU which was exactly two weeks ago my new boss said these fine words about careers: “Follow your passion and pay the bills”. At some point we’ve all been told to “do what you love,” but for some that doesn’t always mean a salary. Very often what we enjoy doing can sometimes feel mutually exclusive to what “pays the bills.”

    So how does one combine their passion with that inevitable need to make an income? The answer: It’s all about the small steps.

    If making a leap to your true passion is not a financial option at the moment, take small steps that’ll eventually lead you there.  A key element to doing this is setting aside time to develop your passion. Even if it’s as little as 15 minutes a day, make this time your own to do one or all of the following:

    • Start learning and developing relevant skills through independent study and/or coursework
    • Build relationships with people who work in your industry of interest through social media ( i.e. LinkedIn) and other networking
    • Intern, volunteer and/or job shadow in an organization(s) of interest
    • Work on side projects and other freelance activities

    Whether you’re being paid to do something you love or taking steps to eventually get there, keep at it because these activities will enable you to work at your peak. In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “Choosing Between Making Money and Doing What You Love,” the authors – Leonard A. Schlesinger, Charles F. Kiefer and Paul B. Brown – state ” You simply want to be doing something that you love, or something that is logically going to lead to something you love, in order to do your best work. That desire will make you more creative and more resourceful, help you get further faster, and help you persist”.

    So get out there and follow your passion, the bills will get paid sooner or later.



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