I have nothing to say

Most of the time, most ideas worth writing about don’t show up fully formed at the precise moment we stare at a blank sheet of paper.

Indeed, if we expect all of our useful, original ideas to show up only after we settle into the chair, we are setting ourselves up for a lot of frustration.

The ideas come at other moments.  Our job is to remain curious and attentive, so that we stop for long enough to notice our glimpses of passionate insight, of outraged exasperation or of simple, concise observation.

When these moments occur, we must hold on to them for long enough to write down the feelings we have, the core of the insight, and a few scratches about how the argument will flow.

Once that’s done, the writing boils down to the relatively simpler act of putting words around the thoughts so others can see them too.

20 tips for job seekers

Now more than ever you must put your best foot forward when applying for a job.  The trap is falling into “job mode” and thinking that somehow churning out a standard resume and a standard cover letter is the answer.  It’s not.  Your goal is to make a personal connection with the person reading your application, to use your application as a chance to tell your story.

How to do this right is not the focus of today’s post.  This one is about error avoidance: here are 20 things not to do on your next job application.  And while this post is meant to be lighthearted, these are all very common and very avoidable real mistakes people make.

  1. Ignore the instructions in the job description – late submissions are a plus
  2. Hide your personality, especially in your cover letter
  3. Make sure 2 out of every 3 sentences in your cover letter start with “I”
  4. Make spelling and grammatical mistakes
  5. Write such a long cover letter than you have to shrink the font down to 8 point to fit it on one page
  6. (And do this with your resume too!)
  7. Refer often to “how much you bring to the table” and “how this job is perfect for you”
  8. Lie or exaggerate
  9. Use fancy, crazy fonts – cursive is a bonus
  10. Write a really long resume…4 or 5 pages to show how accomplished you are
  11. Misspell the recruiter’s or the organization’s name
  12. Append titles to your resume (John Smith_nonprofit resume.doc), to make it clear that you’re applying for jobs in multiple industries
  13. When describing yourself, both on your resume and cover letter, refer mainly to tasks.  Steer clear of concrete accomplishments
  14. If there are gaps in your employment record, don’t explain them.  Instead, assume the person reading the application won’t notice
  15. Describe yourself as “uniquely qualified”
  16. Try not to refer to the organization and its strategy and needs.  Instead, keep the camera focused on YOU.
  17. Never use bullet points or summarize your experiences in a pithy fashion.  Rather, assume the person reading your resume has 5-10 minutes to spend piecing together your experiences
  18. Create a generic list of widely shared skills to describe yourself
  19. Use jargon and acronyms as much as possible
  20. If your experience is different than what the job calls for, don’t make clear that you know that.  And definitely don’t try to explain why your untraditional background could translate well for this role.

(this post was heavily inspired by 19 Offensive Presentation Techniques on paul’s blog.  The bonus there is the link to a wonderful lecture by Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen.  In fact, to continue the thought from today’s post, you might want to check out Garr’s post from Monday about how to land The Best Job in the World.  Applicants for that job don’t send in a resume and cover letter; they get 60 seconds to make a video pitch.  As Garr astutely points out, “Remember: the goal is not to land a job in the one-minute video presentation, the objective is to state your case (or make your pitch) and make a connection in such a way that you can land one of the interviews.”

So here’s the question: is there a single substantive difference between the dream job 60 second pitch and every other job you apply for?  I didn’t think so.)

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