In a recent blog post, Chris Brogan describes a scenario familiar to anyone not living under a rock: “Today, I sheepishly deleted several e-mails that were waiting for a quick response. Dozens. Maybe 100 overall. So that means almost 100 people got my attention, got me to read something, got me to think that maybe I should do something,” and then never heard back.
Why does this happen so often to so many? Brogan’s diagnosis is convincing: Because “we don’t fully understand the syntax of saying ‘no.’”
He offers a graceful example of how to construct this elusive sentence: “What you’re doing is important, and I’m very supportive of you, but I’m not able to take on what you’d like me to do because of my own full plate of commitments.”
“We’re gonna make your logo pop! We’re gonna make the IPREX globe spin! And we’re gonna make the buttons beautiful!”
“A button can be beautiful?” asked a skeptical Susan.
“Oh yeah!” beamed a confident Jesse.
It was at this moment that Jesse had Susan. He’d been muddling through the meeting, but this burst of bravura, energy and passion was sincere and infectious—a gust of fresh wind that I believe won him the contract to redesign SusanDavis.com.
Similarly, when I myself interviewed with Susan, things coasted along for the first 15 minutes. She asked about my experience; I provided conventional answers. Then she deployed her pet question: “If you were an animal, what would you be?”
In the current edition of her e-newsletter, Claire Kittle, who runs the Talent Market staffing agency, recounts an anecdote that immediately rang true for me. With Claire’s permission, I’m reprinting the story, which I’ve edited slightly.
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I get dozens of applications every day, and you would be amazed to see how many seemingly intelligent candidates do not follow instructions. If I had to put a number on it, I’d estimate that 50% of applicants fail to send me what my clients request.
I used to give all candidates the benefit of the doubt. I would follow-up with them and ask for the information they neglected to send the first time. But I learned that those same candidates often still fail to follow instructions on the second (and third!) attempts, and worse—they frequently get belligerent about being asked for more information!
It took a recession, but résumés finally are receiving renewed scrutiny. The ability to embellish and obscure shrinks when one out of every six workers is under or unemployed. More than ever, recruiters want to see accomplishments, not responsibilities; numbers, not adverbs.
Certain professions have it easier than others. If you’re a lobbyist, you cite legislation passed or defeated. If you’re a fundraiser, you count dollars raised. If you’re a political operative, you record a win-loss record.
Alas, if you’re a social media consultant, you probably shun such metrics. Sure, you’ve helped clients tweet and blog, but who among us hasn’t? Sure, you have 10 years of experience, but what have you achieved?
If ever you’ve interviewed for a job you didn’t get, no doubt you’ve bumped into this unpleasant experience.
You interview, you send a follow-up letter—maybe even with some writing samples or references—and then you wait. A week or so goes by, and you check in, yet hear nothing. Another week passes, and your frustration mounts.
If you’re lucky, eventually you receive a form letter that the position has been filled.
Would you hire this self-described Internet strategist? He rarely blogs, doesn’t much tweet, and uses YouTube for quick and dirty videos filmed with a Flip camera.
No? Would your mind change if you knew he were a veteran of Microsoft and Yahoo, whom the Washington Postdescribed as “one of the elder statesmen in the … class of online political operatives”? What if NationalJournal.com credited him with expanding the Republican National Committee’s e-mail list from 1.8 million to 12 million, and “dramatically improving the party’s social media outreach”? His name: Cyrus Krohn.
In the first week of my first job, my boss sent me the following e-mail:
“Jonathan: Please find out who voted for BCRA.”
My first instinct was to reply, “Hi Bill: So sorry about this, but I don’t know what BCRA is.” Fortunately, before clicking Send, I rethought my response and instead Googled “BCRA.” Ten seconds later, I found the answer: BCRA stood for the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, otherwise known as McCain-Feingold.
These differing responses represent the two types of employees. The first response, which foists the burden back onto the questioner, comes from the slothful employee, who wants to go about his job without exertion and who does not seek success. The second response, which embraces the burden, comes from the achiever. He may not know the answer—and even be utterly ignorant of the subject—but he takes it upon himself to learn. He is averse to answering a question with a question, and considers it a failure if he cannot do what is asked, even with limited information. (A third response, research without success, is fine, as long as the research is undertaken in good faith.)