Archive for the ‘Articles by Brenda Bernstein’ Category

College Summit: The Joys of Surprise and Making a Difference (and Even the Travails of a Norovirus)

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2014-07-13 12.34.15-1I recently heard Anthony Robbins say that as long as you have your attention on other people, and as long as you are making a difference for others, there is no way you can possibly be depressed.

He is so right. This past week, despite contracting a norovirus that gave me serious gastrointestinal distress as well as flu-like symptoms, I was in as good a mood as I’ve been in in a long time. Why? I was making a difference for a group of low-income high school students at College Summit, a national program that supports young leaders to create a culture where kids go to college.

I’m like a proud mother when it comes to the small group of four “peer leaders” I worked with in Berkeley. Every one of them surprised me in their own way. Let me kvell just a little (names are changed for confidentiality)!

Keylon

Keylon wrote his first two “free writing” exercises about topics like his relationships with girls and how he was going to find one that would make him be the man he wants to be. I feared he was bland and would not identify a relevant topic for his college admissions essay. On a break, however, he shared his real story—a story about abuse and how he turned to destructive behaviors and friends to compensate for his pain. It was also the story of how he changed direction, in part through a music program that saved his life.

Keylon’s story surprised me when it came forth, and so did how industrious and focused a student he was. When I gave him questions to answer in writing, he sat down and didn’t stop until he was done. And when it came time to edit his essay, he was able to devise seamless transitions where they had been missing, and to cut out excess words without my even pointing out the spots where he could do so. Keylon says he wants to be a singer, and perhaps he will succeed. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he finds his stride as an editor!

Keylon was also a great sport when we got realistic with him about his college choices. His top choices were out of his reach, and he needed to consider community college options. He adjusted course without protest or external upset. We could all learn a thing or two from this young man about acceptance and adaptation.

Jaquon

Jaquon had a sweetness to him and a clear, passionate life purpose under his non-plussed attitude. On the first day, he slumped down in his chair, hood over head, clearly not 100% enthusiastic about being asked to write … anything. His first free write was not about much, and I had to remind him multiple times over the 10-minute time period to keep writing. Initially he would not volunteer to answer a question and would only participate if I called on him directly (though he always had something great to say when I did).

Jacquon’s second free write was the big surprise. A saxophone player, he hit on the theme of music, and I’m telling you, it was pure poetry. He called music a “20-20 all access path…” and spoke about his purpose in life being to connect with people off all cultures through his gift. This goal was not just a pipe dream; Jacquon has already performed both in concert halls and on the street in the U.S. and abroad.

Jacquon mentioned in his essay that he gets nervous when playing only because he is afraid people won’t connect with his music. When I asked him what it would be like for him if they didn’t connect with his music, his answer popped out: “It would be like I don’t exist.”

An excerpt: “[I] put my all into every breath, note and melodic phrase so that whoever hears that will feel my passion, my struggle, my story, and my dreams.”

That’s a man with a life purpose. A purpose, when not fulfilled, that makes him feel like he doesn’t exist. If only every one of us had one so clear.

Rodrigo

Rodrigo was my volleyball captain. He was a meticulous, methodical worker who edited himself as he wrote.

The core story that emerged from Rodrigo’s free writes was about his father, who recently started working as a janitor in Rodrigo’s school. Although Rodrigo had weathered various insults as a volleyball captain for being short and young, he had a thick skin—until the insults started being aimed toward his father. Rodrigo wrote about how his father had taught him to stay positive and not judge others, and how ultimately he used what his father had taught him to rise above his anger toward his insulting classmates.

Another thing that came out of Rodrigo’s writing was that he liked to make up words and had a penchant for metaphor. In one of his last drafts, his creativity emerged in a surprise conclusion: “I’m like a volleyball. You may kick me, push me around, hit me, or abandon me, but in the end I’m still persevering and surviving the ugliest actions against me.”

Talisha

Eager to participate and answer questions, Talisha was fast out of the gate but as the writing process went on, she somehow found a way to look like she was working when she really was spinning her wheels. I gave her what I thought were clear questions and instructions and she would nod and put her pen to paper, but 10 minutes later she would not have made progress.

In my mind, we finally reached a growth point when Talisha realized that growing up as the middle of two sisters and taking care of both of them gave her management skills that have helped her in her production design projects at school. I’m not sure I’ll ever see the essay she writes on this topic though, since she only saw this connection for herself literally at the last hour.

Really the biggest surprise from Talisha was what she told me at the end of the program: that I helped her learn things about herself that she might never have known—not just on the last day, but from the time we started doing free writing exercises. And all that time I thought she was refusing to let me make a difference for her.

Brenda

As I mentioned, there was a norovirus that went around and knocked out almost every one of the writing coaches in the program for some period of time. I barely made it through my part of the Saturday night banquet presentations—but it was worth it to hear Rodrigo say in front of the entire program, “Your joyous, encouraging, and gentle nature brought us to fully understand how and what to write … [and] created a bond within our group that will never be forgotten.

I will definitely not forget the experience I had with these motivated leaders from the East Bay. And I will be back next year.

How to Publish Long-Form Posts on LinkedIn

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On February 19, 2014, LinkedIn® began rolling out its new publishing method, long-form posts, to all members. According to LinkedIn®‘s Official Blog post, The Definitive Professional Publishing Platform:

“When a member publishes a [long-form] post on LinkedIn®, their original content becomes part of their professional profile, is shared with their trusted network and [can] reach the largest group of professionals ever assembled. Now members have the ability to follow other members that are not in their network and build their own group of followers.”

LinkedIn®‘s total publishing platform includes: 1) sharing updates via your Home page and 2) publishing long-form posts, or articles. Both are accessed from the same place on your Home Page. Perhaps the coolest thing about these long-form posts is that they are searchable outside of LinkedIn®. That means readers don’t even need to have a LinkedIn® account in order to view your work. Think of the reach you can have!

If you don’t yet have access to LinkedIn®‘s new long-form post publishing feature, you can request it by filling out this application for early access. According to the LinkedIn® Help Center, you will be notified by email once you are approved. I did not receive an approval notice; however, if you are active on LinkedIn® (as you should be!) you will quickly become aware of the new icon when it appears.

To create a long-form post once you are given Publishing rights, click the pencil icon in the Share an update field:

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You will arrive at the Create a New Post page. To publish an article, simply add your content, along with images and pertinent links.

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Be sure to proofread and preview your article before publishing! Once you click Publish, your post is shared. As with status updates, you will also have the option to tweet your long-form post. Here’s what people in your network will see in their inbox when you post an article:

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Here is what your post will look like on the Home page of your connections:

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Each time someone likes or comments on your post, it is brought to the top of the page again.

Your post will also appear in the Posts section of your profile, just beneath your photo. Visitors to your profile can click through to the post page where they can then follow you and comment on your article, even if they are not currently in your network. Social media statistics and share buttons above your post allow readers to spread your work beyond LinkedIn®!

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Published and draft posts are listed in the right sidebar of your Create a New Post page. View and edit published and draft articles and measure their success by clicking on “See your posts and stats.”

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When you have your Notifications summary turned on in Settings (Privacy & Settings > Communications > Set the frequency of emails), you will also receive status updates on your posts:

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Remember that publishing industry-relevant long-form posts will establish you as a thought-leader in your field. You might also find your post featured in LinkedIn®‘s Pulse. For LinkedIn®‘s tips and best practices for publishing long-form posts, visit LinkedIn®‘s Help Center topic “Long-Form Posts on LinkedIn Overview.”

Have you utilized LinkedIn®‘s new long-form post feature? If so, what benefits have you enjoyed? And if not, what are you waiting for?

Top 7 Mistakes You Didn’t Know You Were Making on LinkedIn®

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It’s July 2014! For me, The Essay Expert, this month marks the 2nd full year that How to Write a KILLER LinkedIn® Profile has been trending as #1 in Amazon’s Business Writing Category. I continue to be very excited about being a best-selling author—and I’m looking forward to my DreamBank presentation on how I got here, coming up on Thursday July 17!14

Part of what’s contributed to the success of How to Write a KILLER LinkedIn® Profile is that I keep updating it with new information and tips. In honor of the book’s anniversary as #1, I thought I’d let you in on some of the mistakes that even the most advanced LinkedIn® users might be making. These are not the ones you see in all the Top 10 lists out on the internet!

1) Giving up on connecting with the right people

What do you do when you do an Advanced search for people on LinkedIn®, get the perfect result, and then run into something like this?

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With the above contact, I searched on the keyword “venture capital,” however, there was no connect button and no way to send him anything but InMail, and LinkedIn® wanted me to upgrade in order to see his profile. Thankfully, when this happens to you, you have two “top secret” options to view someone’s profile even if LinkedIn® tries to block you.

Option A:

This workaround will allow you to connect with anyone on LinkedIn® as long as you can view their headline.

First, copy the person’s first name, last initial and headline into a Google search box and the result that shows up in Google will include the full name:

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Check it out! The LinkedIn® member’s full name shows up and you don’t have to upgrade! Clicked on the link and here’s what appears:

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Notice the Connect button? By clicking on Connect, you can write a brief note to the member and start up a conversation with an invitation request. If the person accepts, you will be able to see his or her full profile – without purchasing a premium account.

Option B:

Another “top secret” trick for when all else fails is to share a person’s profile. Here’s how:

  • First, contact a friend or family member and tell them you will be sending them a message via LinkedIn®.
  • Then, select the People option from the search bar drop down menu:
  • You will likely not have access to the individual’s full name, so if you already know who you want to connect with, try typing their first name and job title into the search bar. Or if you just want to connect with several supply chain managers, type in “supply chain manager” and you will return a full list of people with the same identifying information.
  • Then scroll to find your desired connection, hover over the drop down arrow to the right of the “Send InMail” button, and select “Share”:5
  • Send your message, then check your sent messages and you’ll see there is a link to the profile you just shared.

  • Click on the link and you will be able to read the entire profile and contact the person! Yes it’s kind of like magic.

2) Leaving keywords out of your job titles

Pretty much everyone knows that keywords are a must in your LinkedIn® headline. But not everyone realizes the importance of keywords in your job titles. Don’t get limited in your job title fields by entering your actual job title and nothing else. There’s nothing wrong with a job title, but you have 100 characters to use in those fields. So use them! Any keywords you have identified for your headline will benefit you in the job title fields as well; you will get extra mileage by repeating your keywords as much as is appropriate.

Example #1

Before: Vice President Human Resources

After: Vice President Human Resources | Director of Human Resources | HR Generalist

Example #2

Before: Director of Engineering

After: Director of Engineering ½ Technology Development Manager ½Biomedical Engineer

Example #3

Before: Health & Wellness Educator

After: Health & Wellness Educator ? Corporate Wellness Program and Holistic Health Services

Take a look at your job titles. Are yours optimized for LinkedIn® SEO? If not, go add some keywords!

3) “Appending” your Specialties to your Summary when prompted

If you are a long-time LinkedIn® user, you might still have a separate Specialties section. You’ll know you have this section if you go to your Edit Summary page and it looks like this:

If you see the message in blue prompting you to “Append specialties to summary,” DON’T CLICK! If you do, you will lose out on 500 characters’ worth of keywords or have to cut down your Summary section to add them; and once you delete your Specialties section you won’t be able to add it back.

If you do not have a separate Specialties section, not to worry. You can still use your Summary section to include keywords for searchability in LinkedIn®’s Advanced Search function. You can create a “mock” specialties section within the Summary simply by typing the word “Specialties” and following it with a keyword list; or you can integrate your keywords into your Summary paragraphs.

4) Ignoring the Jobs features

LinkedIn® is pretty much THE place to find a job in today’s marketplace. If you are a company, you need to be advertising job openings there. If you are a job seeker, you need to be looking for jobs there DAILY.

The most obvious place way to post and seek jobs is through the Jobs tab.

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Just by clicking on Jobs, you’ll be given a list of jobs that match the keywords in your profile. But you’ll probably prefer to use the Advanced Search function to find jobs in the geographic area(s) and with the job title(s) that interest you. Here’s a sample search result:

You can save your searches to make it easy to get the latest postings for the jobs you want. And you can apply right from the LinkedIn® site.

It costs $195 to post a job for 30 days on LinkedIn®, and if you use this feature you are likely to get matched with very desirable candidates. If you don’t have the budget to post a job officially, consider posting it in the Jobs Discussions within LinkedIn® groups. You won’t get the same exposure as you would if you posted to Jobs, but some savvy job seekers do look in the Jobs Discussions for openings. Be sure to post any Jobs Discussions in groups where your target market will be members.

5) Not leveraging the Find Alumni feature

We humans get downright silly when it comes to Alumni connections. Perhaps the only thing we are more loyal to than our college is our sports teams. We just trust and love anyone who went to our own college way more than we do anyone else. Therefore, if you are not using the Find Alumni tool on LinkedIn®, you are missing out on getting some seriously preferential treatment. The feature is located under the Network tab.

Use it to find alumni from your own college or high school, or even from other schools. Then send some messages to these folks. They will want to help you!

For more on how to leverage this great tool, see The Best Way to Network with Alumni on LinkedIn on the LinkedIn® Official Blog.

6) Using symbols and formatting that doesn’t translate

The symbols and formatting accepted by LinkedIn® change every day. Pay attention! When you copy any text into your LinkedIn® profile, check to see if it looks the way you want it to look before making it public!

Hint: If you see a formatting trick or symbol you like in someone else’s profile, you can easily and reliably copy and paste it into yours.

7) Keeping it on line

Too many people think that having a LinkedIn® profile and having online conversations is sufficient to build a network and get results. It’s not. The people I’ve given and gotten the most value through LinkedIn® are the people I’ve spoken with on the phone or met in person.

Next time you make a new connection on LinkedIn®, how about picking up the phone and talking to them? Or, if you’re traveling to any city, see who in your network you can meet for coffee. I have met LinkedIn® connections when traveling to Chicago, Austin, San Francisco and more. These connections that have led to opportunities to make presentations and build my business in various ways.

People like to meet people. Don’t forget that there is a human being behind every LinkedIn® profile … and chances are every one of them has a telephone and goes out for coffee dates. Go meet them!

If you learned something from this article – or have another tip you want to share – please comment below!

When College Has a Negative ROI – Guest Post by David I. Block, EA

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college-fund

My accountant from NYC, David Block, sent this out to his list and I thought it brought up some important issues to consider for anyone considering going to (or sending a child to) an expensive yet low-ranked college. For some, at least on pure economic/financial grounds, it might make sense to go straight from high school into the working world.

Here’s what David has to report:

With graduation season pretty much behind us, there are a slew of high school graduates who are enjoying their last golden summer, before … well, before that time that many consider to be another golden four years.

[I fondly remember those halcyon days before the real world hits! Even in college, I remember thinking: Wow, am I ever BUSY! All of these social events to juggle!!! But alas, "real life" isn't quite so bubble-wrapped.]

But over the last couple decades, there has been a rising chorus of critics who point to skyrocketing tuitions, and the corresponding skyrocketing debt-loads, and are just wondering: is it ACTUALLY worth it?

Well, for some schools, the answer is a resounding: NO.

TaxMaster Financial’s “Real World” Personal Strategy Note
When College Has a Negative ROI

“What’s right isn’t always popular. What’s popular isn’t always right.” – Howard Cosell

As many have claimed (such as the US Census Bureau http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/p23-210.pdf ), a typical college degree is worth up to a million bucks over a career — but that’s not true for every degree.

What’s becoming more and more apparent is that prospective college students need to do their homework beforehand, because some degrees simply aren’t worth the investment.

Of the 1312 colleges evaluated in the 2014 PayScale College ROI Report (found here: http://www.payscale.com/college-roi/full-list/financial-aid/yes ), graduates from 58 institutions are estimated to be worse off after 20 years compared with those who skipped college and went straight to work. These 58 lackluster institutions make up 4.42% of all the colleges surveyed. The lowest grade goes to Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, where PayScale estimates that grads will be $121,000 worse off after 20 years for earning a degree.

To calculate this estimate, PayScale uses an opportunity cost measure they call return on investment (ROI). After factoring all the net college costs, the report compares 20 years of estimated income of a college graduate versus 24 years of income from a high school graduate who started working immediately and didn’t have to pay college expenses (or take loans).

Future college students (and their parents) must realize that not all colleges are equal.

The graduates from the lowest ranking schools report earning less income after graduation. The PayScale website is helpful because it allows you to see reported earnings of graduates from over a thousand colleges. I also assume that low-performing schools in this report tend to offer less financial assistance, which leaves their graduates with larger debt burdens.

However, the most highly endowed colleges can reduce their cost of attendance with grants and scholarships. For example, Stanford is one of the most expensive schools based on sticker price, but its financial assistance is typically generous. So the net cost is very competitive, and their ranking is number 4 based on the PayScale study.

The list, unfortunately, is not all inclusive. For example, my alma mater does not seem to be in the list at all. And, of course, there is a question about whether or not college is to be best utilized to create well-rounded, intelligent students, well-versed in liberal arts, or if college is now simply to be considered as vocational school. Nonetheless, the list has some value, as there are differences between schools and majors.Debt burdens are relative. A doctor’s salary can more quickly pay off a high-price education loan than can a teacher’s. A good rule of thumb is to avoid incurring college debts that will be more than half of your expected annual income. Limiting loans to no more than 50% of a future salary allows graduates to pay off their debts after five years, using 10% of their future salary.Some students begin to realize their faulty economics only after they have enrolled. Not surprisingly, those schools with the lowest ROI also have the highest dropout rates in the country. For example, we have Adam’s State, which has a 21% graduation rate and a 20-year net ROI of minus $20,143.

What should be clear from this data is the world of difference between the outcomes of graduates of highly-rated schools, and of those near the bottom of the barrel. Attending a college with a poor ROI is not necessarily a mistake, but the financial aid package had better be sweet. So, treat your college decision like any investment: you also need to do your homework before you commit your time and money to an unknown outcome.

I hope I am helping the college choice discussion for you, rather than hindering!

Warmly,
David  I. Block, EA
For Arnold, Tina and Dianne
TaxMaster Financial Service Corporation
(212) 247-9090

What do you think of David’s analysis of College ROI? Does it change your view of how you will approach the college choice process? Please share below.

What You Can Learn About Life, Communication and Death from Reality TV

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conversationI have a confession to make: I am a communication junkie. And it gets worse: I have been following the reality show The Bachelorette (with bachelorette Andi Dorfman), entranced by the ins and outs of communication between the show’s participants. I admit that I am susceptible to getting swept up in the drama of these shows, especially when something happens that strikes a chord in my own life. “Reality” TV, after all, is about real people. Real things happen on the show, as well as to people after they leave. Real communication happens constantly.

This season, about a month after Andi sent one of the men, adventurer Eric Hill, home, he was killed in a paragliding accident. Their last conversation, the one that drove him off the set permanently, was not exactly a positive one. I was frankly shocked by how it went. The following is excerpted from their conversation:

Eric: I feel like you’re not being “the” Andi with me. I’ve seen little glimpses of you. Like the real you… And that’s the Andi I like. When we were building the kite. When we were building the sand castle. When you were just gripping leather when we took off in the helicopter. I came on this to meet a person, not a TV actress.

Andi: You think I’m a TV actress?

Eric: I see two different sides of Andi.

Andi: What do you think you see every day though?

Eric: Poker face.

Andi: Really?

Eric: And I understand. You do need to be fair and diplomatic around the other guys. But this is our one-on-one time. This is where you can show me…

Andi: You’re sitting here looking me in the eye and telling me I have a poker face on.

Eric: Not now.

Andi: But before?

Eric: Yes. When we would talk, I was having such a hard time reading you.

Andi: I’ve asked everybody to be open and this is what this is about and you have every right to be open and I respect you being open, I really do, even though it hurts. But I’m very taken aback by that.

Eric: This is the real Andi I’m talking about… Do you feel like you’ve been comfortable and natural all the time?

Andi: … Not a chance. But do I work my ass off and stay up late so that everyone knows that I’m here for them? Yeah I do. You have no idea what it takes. You have no idea how exhausted I am. You have no clue how it is to look people in the face and send them home. You have no idea. So for you to sit here and tell me I have a poker face is so offensive to me…

Eric: Andi, I’ve seen you smile, and I know that when the cameras aren’t here, there’s been a different side of Andi.

Andi: You’re continuously calling me fake though… Do I not realize that there are cameras everywhere? Do I not realize there are guys there? YES I do. But you’re seriously still insulting me. What if I sat here and was insulting you?

Can I just be honest? This is so far past healthy, this is so far past what needs to be happening. I want you to have come here and have had a good experience… I…

Eric: You’re so upset with me… I’m sorry. I just, I want you to be totally comfortable with me.

Andi: I’m not gonna sit here and pretend to just be okay with that. But I think at this point you and I both know this is not gonna work… I cannot fight for somebody who doesn’t believe in me and I don’t think you do.

Eric: If you don’t think I believe in you it won’t ever work.

Andi: I don’t think you do.

Am I missing something here? Eric gave Andi some genuine feedback on how much he liked her when she was able to relax and be herself. He tried to tell her he wanted more of that. He tried to tell her, while she was expressing her anger and pain, that he was now seeing the true Andi, the one he wanted to see. Yet all she could hear were the negatives and “insults” that, in my opinion, were not even there. She latched on to “poker face” and “actress” and refused to let go.

If I had been Andi, I would have been more, not less, interested in Eric after this conversation. I want a relationship partner who challenges me to show my true self, whether playful or hurt or angry. And I wonder, if Andi had known that Eric would die shortly after their conversation, if perhaps she would have responded with a bit more receptivity. Perhaps she would have appreciated Eric for his honesty. Perhaps she would have taken his coaching. Perhaps she could have seen, instead of a man who was insulting her, a man who was 100% on her side and wanting to be with her most open and genuine self.

Instead, they left it like this:

Eric: I do think you’re reading the way I feel a little bit heavy. And I’m gonna be thinking about how it all ended.

Andi: Me too, me too.

Now the entire reality-TV-watching world is thinking about how it ended. I hope others, like me, are reflecting on what’s important in communication and in life.

The Magic LinkedIn® Formula

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My e-book, How to Write a KILLER LinkedIn® Profile, enumerates 18 “Mistakes to Avoid” as well as 7 “Bonus Tips.” That’s a total of 25 items that I think are important for every LinkedIn® user to understand and implement (actually more than 25, since many of the chapters have subpoints as well).dreambank

Nevertheless, on Wednesday I will be giving a presentation at American Family Insurance’s DreamBank on “Top Five LinkedIn® Mistakes.” Not 25, but 5.

It’s not easy to choose the top five, but I managed to do it. Not only that, but I even narrowed it down to three general categories. I call this my “Magic LinkedIn® Formula” and even if you’re unable to attend my presentation live on Wednesday, you can benefit from the formula.

Success on LinkedIn® comes down to what I have dubbed the “3 Ls” (not to be confused with the class of students in their third year of law school):

  1. Locatability
  2. Likeability
  3. ALiveness

1. Locatability

If no one finds you on LinkedIn®, there’s not much point in having a profile. Unless you are in a rare situation where you prefer not to appear in LinkedIn® searches, easy locatability means you will get in front of the people searching for someone like you. For job seekers and business owners, being found by a target audience is one big key to success.

Increasing your locatability entails two main actions: 1) putting the right keywords in the right places, and 2) growing your network aggressively and appropriately to at least 500 connections. A combination of well-placed keywords and a robust network is a winning LinkedIn® strategy.

2. Likeability

Just because someone finds you on LinkedIn® doesn’t mean that person will contact you. If your profile is sloppy, incomplete, unfocused, or off target, you will probably be skipped over for someone with a better presentation. If, however, people like what they see, they will be more likely to request a connection or conversation.

Likeability means sounding like a human being and not a robot; listing accomplishments without bragging; having an attractive photo and format; and putting your personality onto the page. The more you distinguish yourself as unique, the more you will encourage valuable interaction.

3. ALiveness

I like to say that having a LinkedIn® profile is like having a gym membership. You only get value from it if you do the work! Sitting on your butt will not get you 6-pack abs … or a new client or job through LinkedIn®.

Aliveness on LinkedIn® includes but is not limited to updating your profile, participating in groups, sharing valuable information, engaging in discussions, and taking relationships off line to the phone or even a coffee shop!

how-to-write-a-killer-linkedin-profileThat’s my Magic LinkedIn® Formula: Locatability, Likeability and ALiveness! Are you using it? If you already are doing everything listed above, great—you are a power LinkedIn® user. In that case, I recommend that you dive more deeply into How to Write a KILLER LinkedIn® Profile for the fine points that will bring your LinkedIn® success up even another level.

I’ll have time for Q&A at my DreamBank presentation on Wednesday, and you get to participate too. What burning questions can I answer about my Magic LinkedIn® Formula and your LinkedIn® profile challenges?

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I Write to Discover What I Know

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As a blogger, I see everything that happens in my life as a possible jumping off point for an article. There are writing topics surrounding me at every moment. And yet, I sit down most weeks not knowing what I’m going to write about. I face “writer’s block” on a regular basis.

How do I manage to think of something to say every week? I scroll through various topic sources such as:

  • articles I’ve read or that someone has sent to me over the past week
  • things I’ve learned at a conference or workshop
  • articles someone else has written that I might want to post as a guest post
  • client success stories and challenges, as well as business lessons from the past week

Topic ideas are a dime a dozen. But how do I land upon one that strikes a chord with my audience? Sometimes I start writing only to discover that it’s a dud; and so I start over.

Today’s article began when a friend sent me a link to a page of chalkboard art. I looked through the images through my default filter of “Is there a blog article in this?” When I saw a beautiful rendition of a quote by Flannery O’Connor, “I write to discover what I know,” I knew I had found a rich topic.

I-Write-to-Discover-What-I-Know

I started thinking about a class in law school, Alternative Dispute Resolution, where I first discovered the phenomenon of “discovering what I know” by putting pen to paper. Each week we were given a choice of 3 topics and had to write a page or two about one of them. Each week, I was sure I would have nothing to write about. But write I did. I got an A.

Writing doesn’t have to be academic to be a discovery process. Even writing a shopping list can help you uncover previously hidden information. So can writing a heartfelt letter to a friend. If you are someone who writes a journal, you understand that you discover surprises about yourself as you let your thoughts flow onto the page.

Often all it takes to “unblock” a writer is the spark of an idea; sometimes that idea must be accompanied by a detailed framework or outline of a full essay. If someone is having a hard time writing a resume, going through How to Write a WINNING Resume along with one of my resume questionnaires can do the trick. Clients often tell me that completing that questionnaire is one of the most valuable parts of working with me; they identify what they know about themselves as they start putting it into words.

I would like every person faced with a writing project to know that it’s okay to start out not knowing what you’re going to write. Even if you have no clue, try sitting down and writing, even if it doesn’t make sense or isn’t related to the topic. Stream of consciousness is just fine and is a great way to discover your own thoughts.

You might be someone who needs to talk through ideas with another human being and nail down an outline before writing. If so, call someone (perhaps The Essay Expert) to work with you. If, on the other hand, all you need is structure, I recommend reading “how to” books such as How to Write a WINNING Resume or How to Write a KILLER LinkedIn Profile. If you are stuck on your resume, try answering the questions in my resume questionnaires so that you have guidance as you start to put your ideas to paper (or to computer).

I am a frequent writer, and thus an evolving discoverer. I explore how seemingly unrelated topics connect with each other. I dive into my opinions, likes and dislikes. I find out more and more about who I am and who I am not. Flannery O’Connor was right on target, as I hope you too will learn as you embark on this path of discovery.

The #1 Way to Solve Business Disputes

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Stock image of person wearing business suit and boxing glovesAs a business owner, I want my relationships with both clients and vendors to run smoothly 100% of the time. In actuality, of course, business dealings sometimes involve conflict. Although I am not exactly a conflict avoider, I don’t enjoy it either (I left the legal profession almost 6 years ago for that reason and have never looked back)! Nevertheless, I strongly believe that when faced head-on and handled well, conflict can lead to greater trust and a foundation for long-term success.

Whether you are a client or a business owner, you might possibly have experienced conflict in a business relationship, or if not, then you might possibly experience it in the future. Below are some situations I have faced, and which have had different outcomes based on one predominant factor. This factor makes the difference between a happy customer and a dissatisfied one.

Commitment to Excellence at The Essay Expert

I have a team of writers at The Essay Expert who do top-level work, and 95% of our clients are satisfied with the first draft of their resume and LinkedIn profile. I am proud of that number; and I am even prouder that for the small number of clients who have issues with their first write-ups, we are able to create happy clients 99% of the time. The writers who work with me are fully committed to satisfying our clients and they go the extra mile to accommodate each person’s preferences. In the end, I believe that the most important value we offer is our commitment to doing the work required to satisfy every client. Clients leave feeling like we truly partnered with them to meet their needs.

Sometimes I face a situation where a client and writer are not a perfect match. In these cases, if the client speaks up right away (which I encourage them to do), I first determine whether we can resolve the situation with the current writer. If not, I assign the project to another, more senior writer or, in rare cases, step in myself. If any uncorrectable human errors have occurred, I will always offer a partial refund. I am always available for discussion and negotiation, and will do everything I can to reach an agreement and satisfactory resolution.

Sometimes the clients who become The Essay Expert’s biggest fans are those who were not satisfied initially, and with whom we worked tirelessly to remedy the situation. In fact, just this week, one such client referred a connection who hired us for a resume and LinkedIn package.

How to Handle – and Not Handle – Billing Disputes

I am a client to other companies as well as a business owner, and this week I experienced both excellent and poor customer service. In one situation, I raised issues about the service I was receiving and questioned the validity of some charges on their invoice. Despite the fact that I have been a client of this business for two years and have never questioned an invoice before, the owner refused to discuss the issue, instead telling me that the firm no longer would be working with me. I stated my desire to work things out and he still refused, though he did tell me to pay whatever I wanted and they would write off the rest. I was left with a negative impression and if anyone asks me about that business I will tell them how I was treated.

In contrast, with another firm, when we ran into an issue where a job they were doing for me went over budget, I agreed to their terms and requested something in return from them that I felt would be a good trade. They thanked me for my communication and agreed to give me what I asked for. I was left with a positive impression and will continue to refer business to that firm.

The #1 Factor: Customer Service (Plus…)

In each of these cases, what made the difference? Customer service. That’s the #1 factor to watch when addressing business conflict. Good customer service can turn conflict into good will. Bad customer service can create ongoing negativity.

customer-serviceAlso note that someone has to start the conversation about the issue at hand if anything is to be done about it. When my clients do not tell me they are dissatisfied, I am at a big disadvantage. I can’t resolve an issue I don’t know about. It’s therefore essential to ask clients about their experience consistently so that they have an opportunity to voice any concerns. Showing interest in the quality of their experience is a key piece to customer service.

Once an issue is aired, I have found that it’s very helpful to hold a strong vision for the relationship. Whichever party states a vision, the other party often aligns with it. This alignment sets the stage for a satisfactory resolution. In rare cases, one party might state a vision for an amicable ongoing relationship and the other does not join that vision; in this situation, the conflict will likely not be resolved.

Thankfully, most of us as human beings are wired to want to work well with other human beings. And most businesses have a strong commitment to good customer service. That commitment, when put into action, creates a foundation where almost any conflict can be resolved.

If you have stories of good customer service or more ideas of how to resolve business conflicts, please share below!

How to Write a KILLER LinkedIn® Profile – Don’t Miss these Updates in the 9th Edition!

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When I first undertook writing a book about LinkedIn®, I had no idea what I was getting in for. I did not know how much the platform would grow and evolve. I could not have fathomed the massive changes happening on LinkedIn® weekly if not daily, necessitating updates to the book every few months. How was I to know that the images that on a stroke of insight I added into the book would have to be changed regularly, requiring special formatting assistance every time?

It’s a good thing I didn’t know all that before I wrote the book, as it might have stopped me. As it turns out, however, I enjoy the challenge of continuing to author the #1 best-selling e-book about LinkedIn®. To maintain that status, I must constantly rethink and update the information I’m providing.

The 8th edition of How to Write a KILLER LinkedIn Profile was published in January 2014; now, just 4 months later, here’s what to look forward to in the 9th edition.

How to Write a KILLER LinkedIn Profile – 9th Edition Updates

  1. New organization of the book by section.
    Sections were a great way to organize information in my resume e-books How to Write a WINNING Resume and How to Write a STELLAR Executive Resume, so I carried over the idea here. Rather than just a list of 18 tips, the book now is divided into LinkedIn® Profile Nuts and Bolts, Writing and Presentation Tips, and Playing the LinkedIn® Game to Win. Plus there’s still an Introduction, Bonus Tip section and Appendices A-H. I think you’ll find the organization of the book to be helpful as you go through the tips!
  1. Hugely expanded chapter on crafting LinkedIn® Summary statements with examples, and more examples of Experience section entries.
    You asked and I answered. I’ve provided more substantive tips and real-life examples of LinkedIn® profiles that you can use as a model for yours!
  1. Introducing LinkedIn®‘s new blocking feature.
    LinkedIn® has finally responded to complaints that stalkers can’t be blocked on their site. I’m thrilled to report on this new feature!
  1. New tips on how to make connections, expand your network and keep in touch; and on LinkedIn® Skills and Endorsements.
    I receive many questions on these topics and have addressed many of them in the new edition. Plus, get the most up-to-date information on how these features work!
  1. Completely revised chapter on special sections, de-emphasizing outdated “partner applications” and updating new functionalities including SlideShare.
    LinkedIn®’s “partner applications” disappeared over a year ago, so I decided it was time to stop referencing them. The focus now is not on replacing the functionality of those apps, but on building a robust profile with the tools LinkedIn® provides now.
  1. More updates including the latest on LinkedIn® Jobs, the new face of LinkedIn® Groups, special export issues for Mac Users, and the latest overused buzzwords.
    All images and functionalities have been updated to match the new look and features of LinkedIn® as of May 2014!

How to Get the 9th Edition of How to Write a KILLER LinkedIn Profile

If you have purchased the PDF version of my book prior to this release, you will be receiving a link to the new book automatically. If you purchased the book on Amazon, you’ll want to log in to your Kindle dashboard and turn on “Automatic Book Update.” You should then receive a notice in a few weeks announcing that an updated version of the book is available, which you will be able access via your Manage Your Kindle page. If you do not receive this notice, contact Amazon directly.

So… If I had it to do all over again, would I do it? Yes! This book is like my baby. I would even include all the screen shots again (thankfully my amazing assistant Jeanne Goodman takes care of replacing those for me!).

If you’re a current owner of my book, I hope you enjoy the update. And if you haven’t gotten a copy yet, now’s the time to do it! I truly believe this edition is better than ever—making it even easier for you to create a KILLER LinkedIn® Profile.

How to Bring Your Personality into Your LinkedIn Profile!

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I received the following note on LinkedIn® this week from CEO and Creative Director Steve Klinetobe:

“I just finished reading your eBook. Thank you, thank you. Tonight I’m going to read it to the kids. Never too young to start building your network! :)”

This was probably the first LinkedIn® invitation I’ve ever received that made me laugh, and I was jumping up and down in my seat. How great when people can express themselves in their professional communications!

Humor is sorely missing from most people’s LinkedIn® profiles, and to be honest, it’s not always appropriate. But inserting your personality into your profile sure is. One of my clients, sales superstar Anna Wang, wrote in her self-authored profile, “When I’m not bludgeoning quotas with a baseball bat, I can be found rocking out with my band, or parked at a poker table.”

That’s a woman I would want on my sales team!

And Jess Hornyak, Marketing Director at KEVA Sports Center, crafted this paragraph as part of her LinkedIn® Summary:

When I was little, I wanted to drive a garbage truck. Then, I moved to Wisconsin and declared I would be the next Green Bay Packers QB once Brett Favre retired.?No one ever told me “No” (or that girls don’t play in the NFL), but soon after I found art and writing, and hopes of being the next big name in football were passed along to Aaron Rodgers.

Jess’s creativity shines through and would persuade me to consider her seriously for a sports marketing position.

Of course humor is not the only way to express your humanity on LinkedIn®. Take this example from one of The Essay Expert’s clients, a dedicated teacher with a background in HR, whose passion is teaching the “whole child”:

When it comes down to it, children *are* our human resources, and it is imperative to support them to reach their full potential. To that end, educational policy and program development are intensely interesting to me. I believe strongly in differentiation in the classroom, and I believe that this is what we should offer to all of our children.

If your career has taken an unconventional turn, revealing your personality might be particularly useful. Here’s an example from Nick D’Antonio, a law school graduate who decided to change paths (not that I would know anything about that…)

My career path veered off course when I realized I didn’t want to become an attorney (please hold the “How many attorneys” jokes). Of course, I graduated during one of the tougher periods for the employment of early careerists; many like me did what was required to remain independent and hopefully make in-roads into a career.

It wasn’t until recently when introspection led to the conclusion that what I’ve done all along has been to build a reputation for promoting customer satisfaction through exceptional service, and a steady flow of repeat business. Not multi-million dollar repeat business – yet – but garnering repeat business taught me the power of the personal business connection.

So…want to talk Sales and Marketing?

If I were looking for someone with an upfront personality who has what it takes to make it through law school and take the risk of following his passion, I might want to talk sales and marketing with this guy. He does not apologize for his background and makes a good argument for himself.

What’s your personality and your compelling story? What’s the best way to tell it? I encourage you to put as much of yourself forward on LinkedIn® as you are comfortable sharing, as appropriate for your background and industry. Perhaps you too can create a tale that’s worthy of reading to the kids at night.