Monday, September 29, 2008

The Hazards of Text Messaging

According to a Nielsen Mobile survey released last week, Americans now text more than they talk. The numbers are fascinating because it is the first time in history this has happened--and it wasn't even close. In the second quarter, mobile customers sent and received an average of 357 texts per month compared to an average of 204 calls for the same period.

Why is this important?

Because text messaging has turned into a convenient way for many people to avoid otherwise difficult or potentially unpleasant conversations.

Text messaging is wonderful for confirming plans, getting directions, and witty exchanges. The convenience and fun make it easy to see how people get hooked. But there is definitely a limit.

While it would be unrealistic and inappropriate to expect everyone to operate with the same principles I strive to live by, there are certain standards of behavior it would be wonderful to see more people adopt. For example, I will not use text messages (or emails) for any conversation that could be emotionally charged for either party.

I have quite a few friends who routinely use texting as a way to cancel dates or other engagements. This is not an acceptable use of texting because it shows no concern whatsoever for the feelings of the other person. Using text messaging in this way actually communicates a second, and far more damaging message, than simply canceling a date:

"I've decided I don't want to see you, but I lack the courage to say it over the phone where I might have to explain myself or hear your disappointment. So, I'm going to take the easy way out and send you a text message. This way I can put it out of my mind and not have to deal with it."

This is LAME.

Having been on the receiving end, I can tell you firsthand this approach is FAR worse than if the person handled it the thoughtful way and made a phone call. When it happened, I was sad and disappointed. But I got over it. Looking back, it was also a gift. Why? Because this behavior says a lot about the person's integrity and communication skills--or lack thereof. This is not the kind of person I want to be involved with romantically or otherwise.

The more technologies like text messaging give us opportunities to hide from difficult conversations, the more we have to consciously avoid the easy out. Our reputations depend on it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cover Letters and Info Interviewing

A client asked me recently about the difference between a cover letter requesting an informational interview and a cover letter written in hopes of securing a formal job interview.

To appreciate the differences, it is important to look first at the similarities.

In each case, the goal is to encourage the recipient to agree to an extended conversation--preferably face-to-face. For simplicity, we'll refer to the recipient as the interviewer.

In order for the interviewer to agree to the conversation, the person must be convinced there isn't a risk. The risk for each interviewer is similar because neither wants to waste time on someone who isn't worth the attention. However, the risk for the formal interviewer is greater because if this person hires you and you aren't the right fit, the cost will be at least several times your annual salary.

So what does this have to do with your cover letter? Everything.

When you write a cover letter to secure an informational interview, you have to make it clear why THE INDUSTRY is the Next Logical Step in your professional development. After all, if the interviewer is going to spend time sharing ideas and advice, he or she will want to know the steps you have taken to demonstrate interest in the field. (Think Passion, Initiative, and Resourcefulness). Knowing as much as you can about the interviewer's company will be helpful as well. Skip this step and it will be clear you didn't do your homework. Worse, the interviewer is likely to walk away feeling like you wasted his or her time.

A cover letter written to secure a formal interview is slightly different because it must be convincing about why a place IN THE COMPANY is the Next Logical Step for you. In this case, you'll need Passion, Initiative, and Resourcefulness, along with a heavy dose of solid research and knowledge about the company, the position, and how your skills match their needs.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I've arrived...

This is a departure from the usual posts, but I just had to share some interesting PR I received today. Believe it or not, I was quoted in an article about the New England Patriots and the challenge facing Matt Cassel, the quarterback replacing the injured Tom Brady.

Strange as it might seem, this same publication quoted me in an article about Hillary Clinton in March.

I have to admit, it is truly an honor. I never thought anyone would ask about Tom Brady's replacement or Hillary's attempts at humor.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Great Time Wasters

For as much as I procrastinate (and I do--just look how long it took between blog posts this time), I tend to be a very productive person. People often tell me they are amazed at how much I do, how many activities I am involved in, and how much I get done. From my perspective, it doesn't seem like that at all because I am painfully aware how much time I waste. But the question isn't: How do I do so much? The real question is: Why is everyone else so much less active?

The reasons probably won't come as a surprise: Television and the Internet.

Think about it. The same people who claim they don't have time for volunteer activities, sports, or any number of other outside interests, have no trouble at all telling you what happened on the last three episodes of The Bachelor (or whatever show happens to be most popular at the moment).

The fact that people waste time watching television and surfing the Internet isn't as shocking as the statistics that back it up.

According to A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American spends more than four hours per day watching television. That seems like a lot--and it is--but the numbers really get staggering when you project them on a weekly, monthly, yearly, and lifetime basis.
  • Per Week: 1.2 days
  • Per Month: 5.1 days
  • Per Year: 2 months
  • Per Lifetime: 12 years (based on the person living to age 72)
But what about the Internet?

According to Cox Communications, children between 8 -12 years of age spend an average of 2 hours per day surfing the Internet. This figure matches similar research done a few years back by in which employees reported spending an average of 2 hours per day surfing the Internet at work. That is the equivalent of 2-1/2 days per month or 1 month per year of continuous surfing.

What a colossal waste of time!

I personally can't imagine spending 12 YEARS of my life mesmerized by the television or 6 YEARS surfing the web, but that is exactly what the average person does.

I haven't seen research that specifically says the figures for television viewing and web surfing are cumulative, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if they were. In other words, a significant percentage of the population is probably spending 4 hours per day watching television and ANOTHER 2 hours per day surfing the Internet.

I sincerely hope I'm wrong about this because it's a horrifying thought.

Viewing statistics like this, I am reminded how grateful I am to my parents for taking our television away when I was 10 years old. You read that correctly. For most of my formative years, we did not have a television in the house. At the time, I wasn't happy about it at all, but in hindsight it was the single best gift my parents ever gave my five siblings and me. So what did I do instead? I read books. I joined a hockey team. I played baseball and football with friends. In other words, I got involved with what life has to offer.

Continuing the tradition, television does not play a major role in my life. When people come to visit, we don't plop down in front of the television. We talk and enjoy the time we have together. That's why family parties at my house are always a lot more fun than they are than when we get together somewhere else. While other families are watching sitcoms, we are making memories.

I challenge you to do the same. If not for yourself, for your children.

I leave you with the two most important questions:
  • What would you do with an extra 6-18 years of productivity?
  • What are you waiting for?