the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Tag: cover letter

Writing with Conviction

by MDY

Belief is optional, but trust is not. I was recently commissioned by a close friend to assist her with the year’s inaugural round of career applications. Standard operating procedure: peruse the brief, build the ordnance, and deliver with instructions on how, where and when to fire. Nobody else in recent memory has refused to deploy my words. I don’t know what her three second-opinions squawked to dissuade her, nor do I know their names. I once wrote a trilogy of short stories titled “Names”, “Games”, and “Faces”. My structural approach and use of the second-person was a bit of a gamble, but when I discussed this with the words on the page I was assured that I could trust them. We still share a moment once in a while, when someone dredges up the old glory days in a snipping of conversation. Nothing eases the gut like an unbeaten track record – or so I used to think.

Belief: sometimes helps, sometimes hinders. Personally, I have this suspicion that every microprocessor and mainframe in the world will one day sprout legs and flee its masters to establish a second First State somewhere in the Pacific ocean. Cloudy with a chance of matrices, to be exact; however, I understand that most people expect their mobile phones to be revolutionary in a slightly different sense. Of more importance than believing what you write is the ability to see things from multiple perspectives. Being able to do this also gives your words greater gravity with their readers. If I am a distributor of pre-cellophaned careers, for example, I want to drop my scarce packages where they are likely to yield the most fertile crops: namely, where their recipients can write with flair about how they plan to use these packages to get me a good harvest. I don’t want to know that they like the colour of the cellophane, or that the Allen-Key inside is something they’re passionate about, or that they’re allergic to shrimp paste. Writing is communication, and communication is knowing how to piece together both sides of the story.

Trust require two sides of the story. My writing only hits the mark when I believe it’s for a worthy cause, of which handsome remuneration is only one. If I don’t trust the other party to treat my words with care and respect, I’ll politely decline their offer. Like the gooey insides of a tamago, trust has a tendency to harden if you apply too much hot water. If you’re not writing with conviction – with belief in why you’re writing, and hopefully what and how as well – then you’re only damaging your own package. Talk to your words if you have any concerns. They’re the ones being fired, not you.

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Five ways to meet and beat deadlines

by MDY

Why are they called deadlines? Because if you don’t get to them in time, something dies. That something may or may not be you. It may be your career, your reputation, your burgeoning relationship of sweet romantic passion. It may also be you. Whatever. Whether in business, leisure, or your gooey sham of a love life, deadlines are not negotiable. They don’t go away if you don’t look at them. And if you miss one, no amount of DRABC is going to help you. Here are five ways to walk the line:

1. Know thy enemy. Deadlines are like ninjas – you often don’t recognise them until it’s too late. Boss asking if you think you can have that report done by Friday? Careers advisor mulling over the due date for job applications? Hungry for a hard-boiled egg? Someone always wants something and they want it now. Or at least by a fixed date and time, in a fixed place. That’s the essence of a deadline. So you better get your typing/intervieweeing/tama-cracking on, and fast.

2. Pay attention. What are you thinking about if a ninja is attacking you? Not your favourite TV show, or the Higgs Boson, or what’s for dinner tonight. If you don’t give your deadlines the same existential focus, the ninjas will get you.

3. No luxuries. Most people spend their time on things like hobbies, social lives, “quiet time”, and so on. Don’t be most people. Get that urgent thing done now and let nothing stand in your way. You know who has lots of quiet time? The ones the ninjas got.

4. Triage. But what if you have multiple urgent things? Let’s say you’re applying for a summer internship at a prestigious law firm. Applications close in 5 weeks. Lots of time, correct? Correct – if all you’re doing is writing a cover letter. But you also have to

  • Research the firm;
  • Update (or write) your CV;
  • Withstand a barrage of existential questions like “What is your greatest achievement?”, “Explain the implications of our recent merger” and “if you were a ninja, what factors make you suitable for this firm?” (Hint: not good grades and a refereed CV);
  • Procure a copy of your academic transcript from your university;
  • Doctor the aforementioned transcript’s results; and
  • Repeat for the ten other firms whose applications close on the same day.

So you need to master the art of triage: identifying a priority order for all your deadlines, and all the tasks required to complete each one. In the above example, it might be that you place those 11 firms in order of “Least Evil to Work For” then work down the list. Or you might handle all cover letters first to maximise the miracle of Copy-Paste. If you’ve tracked your deadlines well, you’ll know what has to come first.

5. Learn to write (and think) fast. Self-explanatory, really, and it helps almost every sort of deadline. See this post for some pointers.

In brief: Just don’t die.

Goodbye, hello: the art of salutations

by MDY

The first words are the hardest. Your salutations in written correspondence are a lot like striking up a conversation with the cute guy/girl/amoeba at the bar, or being introduced to the parents of the aforementioned guy/girl/amoeba who just happen to have a net worth with more digits than your hands. Most people think of salutations as stock-standard phrases which don’t mean much, but they can (and often do) say a lot about your professionalism, personality and persimmons.

(We will get to gratuitous alliteration in another post)

How do you say what you want to with your salutations? Here’s a quick guide to help you say goodbye and say hello:

Be polite: Which would you prefer – sounding a bit too formal, or coming across as a inchoate slob? Err on the side of propriety if you’re at all unsure what register to take: a “Dear Mr/Mrs ______” is always a safe option, as is “To whom it may concern” for letters of bureaucracy, administration, etc. Remember, “Hey” is for horsing around at the bar, not professional communication.

Use their name: Most people say “Hi, John” in real life and “Dear Sir” in their letters. I write “Hi, John” in my letters and say “Morning, Sir” in real life. Result of a grammar school education? Definitely. Pompous and off-putting? It works for me, but who knows. However, nobody – particularly executives or C-suites who might be reviewing your cover letter, RFP-response or wedding invitation – likes being called “Sir/Madam”* or “whom it may concern”. Take names and kick ass. Even better – get to know the people you’re writing to first.

Stay consistent: If you start off sounding formal, keep it up through your entire email or letter. Same thing if you lead with a jovial “How’s it going?”** or a comradely “Yo waddup my homie brudda” or my favourite of all passive-aggressives, the “Hi.” No matter how smoothly you may think you’re doing it, changing register in the middle of your email/letter/birthday invite doesn’t establish rapport with your addressee – it makes you sound incoherent. Or schizoid.

Say what you mean: What’s the difference between “yours sincerely” and “yours faithfully”? One means you’re being sincere, the other means you’ll be faithful. Personally, I prefer not to use these stock sign-off lines, and when I do I make sure I mean it.

For example, I’ll say “Warm regards,” if I have a warm and fuzzy feeling about my fellow correspondent.

Or “Many thanks,” if they’ve done something I’m actually grateful for.

Or “Hi.” if they’ve really ticked me off.

My usual line for “first approach” letters (where I don’t know the person) is

Hope to hear from you soon, and thanks for your time,

-M.

A bit long, but it speaks plainly: I’m hoping the person gets back to me, but I want to thank them for reading my letter regardless. In most other correspondence I avoid getting bogged down by degrees of warmth (lukewarm regards, anyone?) and sentiment and stick with the simple

Cheers,

-M.

It’s ugly, but that’s why we drink.

In brief: Approach salutations as any other form of writing – a means to say what you want to. Sincerely.

*Even amoebas.

**You should know by now I’m pretty relaxed about formalities and manners, but this one really bugs me. It’s intrusive, kitsch, and usually signifies some sort of brutish attempt to “establish rapport” in order to sell me some piece of worthless junk or scam me out of my collection of 20c coins***. How’s it going? The same way as the Titanic – because you just sank your chances.

***Yes, it exists. No, you’re not getting any.