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Jan 282010
E-mail in notes

Image by dampeebe via Flickr

While it may seem that e-mail’s pre-eminence as a digital communications medium is waning as other, more "sexy" Internet applications grab the limelight, the truth is that e-mail is still the stalwart of business communication, and it’s likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

E-mail’s near instant delivery, the ability to send messages to groups of recipients simultaneously, and the ability to seamlessly attach business documents, files and photos has resulted in a highly flexible, incredibly valuable business tool. There are now, arguably, more effective ways to do all of those things — but when you consider the way that e-mail combines them into a single application that is practically ubiquitous throughout the business world, and you begin to see that it will be some time before real time collaboration and social media usurpers topple the king of business communication from its throne.

While e-mail is, undeniably, a great asset to business, keeping your corporate inbox under control can be a challenge, and dealing with incoming e-mail inefficiently can be an enormous time waster.

A survey of global members by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) revealed that people generally believe that they receive too much e-mail, send too much e-mail and that the time they spend dealing with unimportant e-mail every day has a detrimental affect on their productivity.

Over 80% of respondents admitted that they constantly monitor their incoming e-mail throughout the working day, 40% indicated they spent at least two hours in a typical working day responding to e-mail , and over a third said they spend 3 hours or more doing so.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of constantly monitoring, sorting and replying to a never-ending stream of e-mail, and unless you take control of your electronic inbox, before long you’ll realist that it’s actually controlling you.

Take control of your inbox

  • Make a positive start: try and avoid checking your e-mail as soon as you arrive at your desk in the morning. Pick something more productive to work on first — achieve something tangible before firing up your e-mail client. Making a productive start to the day will help you to maintain your focus throughout the day.
  • A time and a place: constant monitoring: of e-mail is a major distraction. Instead of listening for the "ding-dong" tone of a new message landing in your inbox, try checking it three or four times a day at prescribed times. Set aside designated periods for dealing with e-mail, and stick to them. Not only will you be less distracted, you’ll find that when you do deal with your incoming mail you do so in a more focussed and productive manner.
  • Use your tools: most e-mail software comes with a series built in filters that can automatically block unwanted mail and sort the mail you do want into specific folders for you. Most of your regular e-mail can be auto-magically sorted in this way, leaving your inbox less cluttered (if you’re not sure about using filters ask your IT department or a tech-savvy colleague for help).
  • Only answer if necessary: before hitting reply, consider whether a response is really necessary. Will your message contribute something positive, or simply clog up someone else’s inbox, probably prompting another unnecessary reply in return?
  • Reply to the right people: if you absolutely must reply to an e-mail, steer clear of the "Reply to All" option, which will copy your response to every recipient of the original e-mail . Unless that’s absolutely necessary, simply send your reply to the sender, and spare everyone elses inbox an unnecessary message.
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Oct 152008
An interview

Image via Wikipedia

Going for an interview can be a stressful proposition – especially if you go in unprepared. By taking a few steps to get yourself ready before attending the interview you can reduce nervousness, improve confidence and project a more professional image.

Here are just some of the things you can try before an interview to help settle your nerves and improve your chances of success:

  • Know your CV and Application Form inside out: you did keep a photocopy of that application before sending it in, didn’t you? Your interviewer is likely to use your application and CV as a roadmap for the interview. You need to be ready to answer questions and elaborate on everything contained in those documents.

  • Put yourself in the interviewers shoes: imagine yourself in the interviewer’s position. You’re looking for the best candidate for the job – what questions would you be asking? Make a list of all the questions you can think of and try to come up with viable answers for each of them. Write your answers down and read them back to yourself several times to commit them to memory.

  • Focus on awkward or uncomfortable questions: Think about the questions you would you least like to answer. These will often relate to your weakest areas, so it’s worth spending some time honing and polishing your answers to them.

  • Practice delivering your answers out loud: even better, do it in front of a mirror or a video camera so you can read your own body language and adapt it accordingly. You may feel a bit silly at first, but this can do wonders to improve your delivery. Aim for confident, but not cocky – you want to project an air of enthusiastic but measured competence.

  • Arrange a mock interview: if possible arrange a practice interview. Ideally this should be with an experienced interviewer. If you’re a recent graduate ask your college careers advisor about this service. If you applied for the job through an agency they may be able to help, or ask somebody that you know. Remember that you need objective feedback on your performance – so it may be better to steer clear of family and close friends.

  • It’s a two way street: although the interviewer(s) will be directing the interview, remember it’s a two way process. It always pays to have a few well thought out questions about the job or the company to ask at relevant points in the interview. These questions should reflect the research you’ve already done and as a rule of thumb you shouldn’t ask about salary or benefits. Make sure you steer clear of questions whose answers are readily available on the company website or literature (remember you’ve already done your research…).

The more prepared you are, the less nervous you will be and the more confident your interview performance will appear. Just remember that some nerves on the day are normal – even beneficial. A bit of tension will help to keep you alert and will work with your preparation to strike that elusive balance between poise and enthusiasm that is the interview ideal.

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Oct 152008

Whether you’re looking for your first job, a new job, a promotion or a career change, an effective CV is one of the most crucial weapons in your career-development arsenal.

The purpose of your CV is to convince a prospective employer to invite you for an interview. That’s not as easy as it sounds. The average employer’s is swamped with CVs, and will typically spends less than 30 seconds looking at each one. If it’s going to stay out of the rejection pile your CV has to make an immediate impression.

So how do you go about transforming that list of work experience, academic qualification and extracurricular activities into an attention-grabbing, interview generating tool?

  • Put yourself in the employer’s shoes: it is important to remember that you’re not creating a CV for your own benefit or to impress your peers. You’re creating it to convince a prospective employer that you should be on their interview short-list. Before writing your CV put yourself in the employer’s position and consider what you’d be looking for in a candidate. Then make sure you address those requirements in your CV.

  • Provide the most important information first: it’s surprisingly easy to bury important deep in the body of your CV. As you assemble the information in each section, prioritise it and list the most significant and relevant information first (remember to do this from the employers perspective).

  • Don’t try to cram everything in: your CV needs to be a concise summary of your skills, experience and achievements as they apply to the specific position you’re applying for. Keep your CV short and to the point (ideally no more than 2 A4 pages), while making sure you include all of the necessary information.

  • Presentation: your CV is the first glimpse that a prospective employer will get of you. Everything about it should reflect the qualities they are looking for in a candidate. Use high quality white paper, and ensure that your final document is formatted in a way that makes it easy to read. Use no more than two different fonts throughout (one for headings and one for body text).

  • Make it scannable: use clear headings and bullet points where relevant to make information more accessible. With only seconds to impress guiding your reader to the most relevant information quickly will pay dividends.

  • Be confident and don’t sell yourself short: not many people like singing their own praises, but your CV is no place for modesty. Use positive language to highlight your skills, strengths and accomplishments to maximum effect.

  • Tell the truth: while it’s vital to make the most of your achievements on your CV, it’s equally important that you can back up the statements you make. When you get called for interview you’ll be asked to elaborate on the information in your CV – and any falsehoods will come back to haunt you.

Finally, always remember that time spent honing and revising your CV is never time wasted. Think of it as an investment in your future. After all, an effective CV can open the door to a whole new world of opportunity.

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Oct 152008

They say that knowledge is power. That never applies more than when you’re approaching a job interview, yet it’s surprising how many candidates turn up for interview with only a cursory understanding of the organisation they want to work for.

Don’t fall into that trap. Immerse yourself in as much information as you can on your prospective employer, and use that knowledge to highlight your potential. Find out when the company was established, what its core values are and the sort of people who work there. What products or services does it provide? What markets does it operate in? What challenges does it face?

Here are a few pointers to kick-start your research:

  • Check out the company website: this is the obvious starting point. Most organisations have a website that provides information about the company and the products or services it offers. It may also yield details about the management team and archives of company news and press releases.

  • Search the web: by entering the company name into leading search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN you’ll find other online references to the company. Look particularly for reputable news or business sites that mention the organisation.

  • Study the marketing literature: the company’s marketing material will not only give you insight into the products and services the company offers, but also into their target markets and how they reach them.

  • Talk to people: ask other people about the company. What sort of a reputation does it have? If you can, talk to someone who already works there. If you’re applying through an agency ask if they can put you in touch with a candidate they’ve already placed.

  • Study the industry: look at recent editions of trade magazines and industry websites. Get a feel for the bigger picture, and your prospective employer’s position in it.

  • Know the position you’re applying for: try and find out as much as you can about the job you’ve applied for. What will your responsibilities be? How will your performance be measured? Who will you be reporting to? How does your position and/or department fit into the overall organisational hierarchy?

  • Know your interviewers: this is a trickier proposition, but if you can it’s worth finding out who will be interviewing you, and getting a bit of background information about them. Do you share a common interest, or come from the same place? Is there anything you can use to help build a rapport during the interview?

Remember you can never know too much – and the more you find out the more comfortable you’ll feel. Even if you don’t use all of the information you discover, the fact that you’ve done your homework will boost your confidence and is sure to impress your interviewers.

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