You Need to Write Better Emails

May 12, 2014

Image of a blue envelope with a slip of paper denoting an "@" symbolEmails are a huge part of everyday life. Look at your own inbox and I am sure you will agree. In today’s world of constant digital communication, strong writing and effective communication skills are more important than ever. Especially if you are job searching, remember that all of your correspondence throughout that process is being critiqued. You only have once chance to make a good virtual impression, so pay careful attention to detail!

Here are some of the most common email mistakes to avoid:

1. Misspelling the recipient’s name.
Many people have uniquely spelled names or a name that is difficult for you to type correctly. Autocorrect can be your worst nightmare in this regard. Compound this with the fact that people generally focus on their name within a document and can immediately spot an incorrect spelling. So, whatever you do, double check your typing and make sure you are spelling the person’s name correctly.

2. Using an incorrect title.
If you are not sure whether you should use Mr. Ms. or Dr. then do a bit more research. Look around online and within LinkedIn to find the most appropriate title. When in doubt, address someone more formally to avoid offending them.

3. Stop defaulting to Dear Sir/Madam.
The best email communication is personalized and this is a generic catch all that often goes awry. Too many female colleagues complain about the number of “Dear Sir” emails they receive daily.

4. Skipping the salutation and valediction.
General pleasantries might seem like unnecessary filler to you, but they can help warm up the tone of your email. They are especially important when you don’t know the person you are emailing very well. Simply starting with your text and no greeting and ending without some sort of closing can come across as curt. Take the time to properly address your recipient (“Dear Dr. Smith,” or Hello Ms. Jones,”) and to close your email effectively (Best regards, Your Name or Thank you, Your Name).

5. Using a vague subject line.
Give your reader a heads up before they even open your message. By using a descriptive subject line, you are helping to get to your point quickly. Your reader will probably thank you for cutting to the chase and saving a bit of their time.

6. Don’t resend an unanswered email!
Forwarding an unanswered note to the same recipient with no new message can be perceived as annoying at best and rude at worst. Try to include a note saying, “I know you are busy, but did you get a chance to look at the message I sent about X?”

7. Don’t spam an entire office/department with the same question.
The problem with sending the same email to multiple individuals is that you often forget to tailor for each individual. So Mr. Jones may get Ms. Smith’s message and quickly realize the spammed message upon receipt. Don’t assume that co-workers aren’t conferring and making notes.

8. Avoid textspeak.
Abbreviations, non-governmental acronyms and emoticons are way too casual to include within a professional email. Always err on the side of formality.

Following these tips will help you avoid some of the most common email faux pas. Effective emailing can help you network, job search, and perform well in your current job. For even more tips on writing effective emails, check out a past blog post here.

What mistakes have we missed? What are some of your email pet peeves? Let us know in the comments!

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How I Used LinkedIn to Get a Hiring Manager’s Attention

April 2, 2014

Part one of a two-part series written by guest blogger Dr. Phil Ryan, Director of Student Services at the Office of Intramural Training and Education.

I am in an enviable position because I love my job. Regardless, we should all be looking forward in our career and thinking about what the next step entails. While I am not actively pursuing new positions, every now and then a job posting comes to my attention and piques my interest. I am sure many of you have had a similar experience. Usually the scenario goes like this: you see the job title and it sounds like something that really interests you. Next, you click on the posting and read the job description and you really love what you are reading. Then, you scroll down to the qualifications section and your heart sinks a little bit. The degree and field in the education section does not match your own. The position description lists years of experience that you don’t have on your resume and the wording they use does not match any of the official titles you can list on your resume.

The truth is if you submitted your resume through the normal channels, it would not get forwarded on to the hiring manager for them to review. But, you feel certain you can do that job, do it well and really enjoy it. This experience recently happened to me and I want to share how I used LinkedIn to overcome some of these barriers in order to grab the attention of the hiring manager before I ever submitted my application.

Step 1: Get Prepared

The first thing I did was find the Web page for the department in which this position was located. In many job postings it will list the title of the person that position reports to. Sometimes, it just lists the department the position will be in. Either way, with a little searching online you can often find the director of that office or department. After I found the director of the office in which this position was located, I looked him up on LinkedIn and searched the Internet for other information on him. I found a couple articles he had written and I read them.

Then, I changed and updated my LinkedIn profile. This is one of the benefits of LinkedIn. On a resume it is hard to stray from your official titles for a position. But in the experience section of your LinkedIn profile you can highlight the activities you are involved in even if they aren’t a part of your official job. You can also include links to your projects available online, or to Web pages of organizations or events you have been a part of. You can highlight whatever projects you want to highlight in the Projects section. Most importantly, your summary can be used to clearly communicate what it is you are passionate about.

Step 2: Reach Out

Once my profile was updated and organized to make me look like a great candidate, I sent the director a request to connect. It read something like this:

“Dear Mr. Director, I am interested in the position of [position title] in your office. I have read a couple pieces you have published and really like your take on [field]. I hope we can link in to share resources and network.”

Notice that I offered up another reason for him to accept my invitation other than to discuss the position. It’s important to realize that my offer of sharing resources and networking was sincere. Even if we were not able to discuss the position, I was making a connection in a field of interest to me professionally.

Within three days we were talking on the phone about the position, the field in general, and our respective career paths. I had not even submitted my application and I was basically having a pre-interview! At the end of our conversation, he encouraged me to submit my application. Within a week of my LinkedIn request, I was on Skype interviewing with the entire hiring committee and was later flown out for an in-person interview. As a career development professional, I had to ask if my application would have made it to his desk had I not contacted him through LinkedIn. He would not go so far as to say “no,” but he certainly did not say “yes.”

The end result was I was offered the position. After careful consideration, I respectfully declined to accept the job. Why? Well, that is to be continued in another blog post….

 


Review of ResearchGate

March 24, 2014

Screen shot of a user profile on ResearchGate. The user profile highlighted is Ijad Madisch, one of ResearchGate's founders.Recently a few trainees have inquired about ResearchGate, so we decided to take a further look at this site. It was founded in 2008 by two physicians who discovered that collaborating with a friend or colleague (especially one across the world) was no easy task. They created this website with the intent of helping make scientific progress happen faster.

ResearchGate has been described as a mash up of familiar social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn because it contains profile pages, groups, job listings, the ability to leave comments as well as “like” and “follow” buttons. However, this social networking site is designed exclusively for scientists and researchers. According to ResearchGate’s site, there are four million users and their primary aim is to:

• Share publications
• Seek new collaborations
• Ask questions and hopefully receive answers from like-minded researchers
• Connect with colleagues

ResearchGate is free to join and members can upload copies of their papers. All papers will be searchable, which also allows users to track and follow the research publications of others in their field. Researchers are encouraged to not only upload successful results but those from failed projects or experiments, which are stored in a separate but still searchable area. The official mission of this site states: We believe science should be open and transparent. This is why we’ve made it our mission to connect researchers and make it easy for them to share, discover, use, and distribute findings. We help researchers voice feedback and build reputation through open discussion and evaluations of each other’s research.

Some critics of ResearchGate argue that even though the site states that there are four million users, it seems there are a lot of inactive profiles. Another criticism has focused on the fact that there hasn’t been much buy in from senior researchers meaning a high percentage of users are students or junior researchers. If you decide to create a ResearchGate profile, make sure you tailor the notification and privacy settings associated with your account since some members have complained about unwanted email spamming.

At this point, ResearchGate shouldn’t be the only site you use for networking, but it can be another helpful tool to connect with like-minded scientists/researchers and additionally it can be another way to help promote your work. As with any site, the more effort you put in, the more you will likely get out of this resource.

We would love to hear your thoughts about ResearchGate! If you have used it, what do you see as the pros and cons? Do you have any recommendations for future users?

**Compilation of Readers’ Reviews**

* In addition to networking, it is extremely useful as a research tool. A couple of points:
-When users sign up the website automatically adds the publications that have your name and appear in your profile, it also continues searching and when one
publishes an article it is also added automatically.
– It also suggests to connect with people that you cite and people who cite you so it is a tremendous tool to keep up with people in your field.
– People can ask questions about experiments and also get immediate feedback if they have questions about a publication instead of having to wonder.
– It allows you to follow senior investigators the same way one can follow a celebrity on Twitter, but there are no tweets and unless you ask a question all the conversations are personal,
there are no “wall postings.”

* It seems to be getting some traction with senior investigators. In the future, it may become more relevant to academia than perhaps LinkedIn.  Within ResearchGate, it is easier to connect with senior investigators because requests are not sent to connect, rather one just “follows” researchers.


How to Prepare for a Skype Interview

March 12, 2014

Image of a laptop with a Skype video conference going on between two women.It is highly likely you have or will have a Skype interview at some point in your job search.  Budget cuts are making travel arrangements for in-person interviews prohibitive, so more and more employers are conducting initial interviews via Skype or another online video service.  Employers also feel that Skype helps them get a better feel for a candidate than a phone interview allows.

Here are some tips to take your next Skype interview from awkward to awesome:

  1. Practice first!  Do a trial run a few days before your real interview with a friend or a career counselor, and make sure you record it. Your first few video calls are bound to feel a bit uncomfortable as you figure out where to look, how loudly to speak and what to do with your hands.  Analyze your tape and adjust your actions accordingly.  It may take a few practice rounds until you feel comfortable.
  2. Adjust the lighting and background in your interview room.  Think about your surroundings and what will be visible on the screen.  It is best to be positioned in front of a wall free of clutter or personal items. Also, make sure your lighting is aimed at you and not behind you; otherwise you will appear as simply a silhouette.
  3. Find a quiet space.  This can be hard to do if you are interviewing at home with kids or pets running around, but it is imperative to plan accordingly for uninterrupted interview time. Make sure you also keep other programs closed on your desktop that might ding alerts about calendar reminders or emails. The interviewers will also be able to hear these beeps.  If you are having trouble finding a space for your interview, be in touch with the OITE and, if space allows, we will do our best to try and make an office available for your interview.
  4. Dress for an in-person interview.  Make sure you are conveying the right first impression and dress as you would for an in-person interview.  Even if that means a blouse and blazer on top and pajamas on the bottom.
  5. Don’t sit as close to your computer as you normally would. Sit a little further back so that your face and upper shoulders are in the shot. It can also be helpful if you position your webcam a little bit higher so you are looking up and not down. This can be easily accomplished by propping your laptop on a stack of books.
  6. Cover the image of yourself. If you find the image of yourself distracting, minimize it as much as you can. If you still find yourself looking at your image and not the interviewer, then put a post-it note over that window on your screen.
  7. Don’t forget to smile! Smiling often comes naturally in a face-to-face interview, but it can be surprisingly difficult to remember to do in both phone and Skype interviews. Smiling can help reduce stress levels and your interview anxiety; plus, it is a subtle but powerful way to convey your enthusiasm for the position.
  8. Have notes in front of you. The perk of a phone or Skype interview is that you can have notes in front of you without the interviewer realizing it. It can be difficult to subtly look down at key points during a Skype interview, so tape notes around your screen with important points you want to make or questions you may wish to ask.

As with all interviews, be sure to follow up with a thank you note to each person you spoke with that day.


Building Confidence for a Successful Career in 2014

February 25, 2014

Almost everyone faces challenges with confidence in the workplace at some point in their life.  Challenges with confidence can be more noticeable if we live or work in a culture that is different from the one in which we were raised.  Our family, cultural background and personal preferences may also affect our comfort with expressing ourselves in a confident way.  However, one can stay true to their values and still learn to express themselves confidently.  Two key steps to increasing your confidence include:

1.       Identify areas where you feel both confident and unsure.

In an article in Science Careers, Sharon Ann Holgate offers many useful suggestions about developing confidence.  She notes, “For those with low self-confidence, establishing appropriate metrics and measuring your progress against them can be difficult, so make sure to involve people you trust to offer honest feedback and support …Conversely, seeking out constructive criticism is important whenever you are feeling supremely confident about your job performance.”

The take away message from her article is that confidence needs to be grounded in reality. Seeking support and feedback are essential because we can both underestimate and overestimate our abilities.

2.       Practice confidence-building activities.

There is some interesting research from Harvard which indicates that your body language not only affects how others see you, but also how you feel about yourself. A power pose is to stand in a posture of confidence – standing tall and upright with shoulders squared and back. The simple act of power posing can have a positive effect on increasing confidence and reducing stress.  Social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, shares how this works in her TED talk.

Confidence is often built over time with repeated practice, so seek opportunities to continue to develop your skills.  Start small in an environment that feels safe to you and push yourself to work from there. The OITE has many workshops that could be a great starting point in developing your confidence.  For example, do you feel uncomfortable asserting yourself in lab? Then, make a note to attend the workshop Speaking Up: How to Ask For What You Need in the Lab and in Life.  Are you feeling less than confident about your English speaking skills? Then, be sure to come to the two day class on Improving Spoken English.

Whatever the issue may be — self-doubt happens for many.  When it comes up for you, make sure you take time to recognize it and then take steps to make it more manageable for yourself.


Career Assessments: MBTI vs STRONG

January 22, 2014

Image of a pen marking answers to a quizCareer assessments are valuable tools to help you during your career exploration and planning. They can be a great starting point and the results can help you think more deeply about your own personal preferences and career interests. Two formal assessments are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Strong Interest Inventory.  To take these assessments, questions are answered online and then the results are shared and discussed during an appointment with a career counselor.

A career counselor can also help you determine which assessment (if any) is right for you; however, this blog will give you an overview of each assessment through the lens of three questions:  1. What is it? 2. Why should you take it? 3. How can you use the results?

MYERS BRIGGS-TYPE INDICATOR (MBTI)

1.  What is it?
The Myers Briggs is an assessment with the aim of measuring your personality preferences along four different dichotomous dimensions. The MBTI helps people answer the following questions:   Where do you focus your attention and/or get your energy?; How do you prefer to take in information?; How do you make decisions?; and finally, How do you organize the world around you? Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs extrapolated these dimensions from Carl Jung’s theories regarding psychological types.  Myers and Briggs believed that in order to have a more satisfied life, people needed to better understand themselves which could then help them choose an occupation which better suited their personality.

2.  Why should you take it?
Today, the Myers Briggs is one of the most widely used instruments.  Many people find it useful as a way of understanding themselves, as well as their commonalities and differences with others.  Not only is it often used as a tool for self-understanding and career development, but many organizations also use this assessment for the purposes of team building, management/leadership training, and to help recognize differences in communication styles – all of which have direct implications during every phase of one’s job search.

3.  How to use the results?
The Myers Briggs will not tell you specific career paths you should choose; however, you can utilize your results to consider the pros and cons of different employment sectors/occupations and how much they match with your personal preferences.

STRONG INTEREST INVENTORY

1.  What is it?
The Strong Interest Inventory was written by psychologist, E.K. Strong, Jr.  in 1927 with the purpose of helping individuals exiting military service to find suitable occupations.  Today, the Strong Interest Inventory is based on John Holland’s theory of occupational themes. Work environments are classified into six different theme codes — Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, & Conventional (RIASEC). Generally, the Strong gives each test taker a three letter code representing their highest matches.

2.  Why should you take it?
This is a helpful tool if you are uncertain about your career interests.  It connects your interests with possible career options and categorizes your interests based on four different scales: General Occupational Themes, Basic Interest Scales, Occupational Scales, and Personal Style Scales.  Anyone can take this assessment; however, young adults might benefit the most since it also helps to highlight new occupations which might not have been considered.

 3.  How to use the results?
The Strong Interest Inventory generates a list of your top ten basic occupations and these results can give you new ideas and occupations to consider as you continue your career exploration and planning. The Department of Labor (DOL) has been using the RIASEC model in its free online database, the Occupational Information Network  (O*NET).  This is extremely helpful because you can take the information that you learn from your Strong Interest Inventory to explore even more occupations of possible interest.  Then, you can utilize the DOL’s Occupational Outlook Handbook to look into each occupation more in-depth by examining preferred qualifications, projected industry growth and typical work environments.

***

More information on both assessments can be discussed with a career counselor or online through CPP, Inc., the company which administers both the Myers-Briggs and the Strong Interest Inventory. Additionally, the OITE encourages individuals to participate in the Workplace Dynamics workshop series where the MBTI is administered and discussed as a group with the aim of helping you better understand yourself and your communication skills.


2014 Career Success Plan

January 10, 2014

Here at OITE, our continued resolution is to help trainees become skilled in a variety of core competencies.  We view these four competencies as vital to your career development.

They include:
1. Career Exploration and Planning
2. Communicating
3. Teaching and Mentoring
4. Leading and Managing

Our goal for the blog this year is to cover a variety of resources and projected outcomes for each of these core competencies.

One of the first we will tackle is career exploration and planning.  This often involves four phases: Exploration, Preparation, Action, and Adaptation.  You will most likely go through these steps more than once because one’s career development very rarely follows a linear projection. Look next week for a blog on the topic of career exploration and planning, specifically individual development plans.

Hopefully, by covering all four of the core competencies, we will help to establish a thematic framework as you continue to read the blog throughout the year.  We will label and categorize each new post accordingly, so that the blog becomes a searchable site for you to easily navigate.  In addition, we hope this gives you some inspiration as you set your own new year’s career goals.  For a more detailed view of the graphic, please click on the image to enlarge.

Diagram of four core competencies; including: Career Exploration & Planning, Communicating, Teaching & Mentoring and Leading & Managing