A major key to success: writing skills

An acquaintance recently told me she was looking for a job. I asked for her resume, offering to keep my eyes open for her. I wish I hadn’t. The resume was terrible, riddled with spelling and grammatical errors.Amazingly, she claimed to have “excellent” communications skills, a claim that would have taken no research to disprove.I offered some suggestions, and she sent me the new version. It was still a mess, so I fixed it and sent it back. Not willing to build a front she could never live up to, I just fixed the errors. It could still use improvement.However, I couldn’t help but explain “excellent” communications skills usually include the ability to write well.“What should I do? Narrow it down to verbal communication skills?” Unfortunately, most jobs of the type she is seeking require good writing skills as well. So I explained how she could improve her writing.She could take a business writing course. She could read William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s “The Elements of Style,” or perhaps the Chicago Manual of Style is more up-to-date. In either case, it’s not exciting reading, and I doubt she’d get through them.I asked if she liked to read novels. “No, I just like magazines.” So, I recommended Ernest Hemingway, arguably one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. He had a very simple, direct style. You always understood what he said, and there was no quicker way to say it. In a sentence or two, he could say what it might take others a page or more to say. He might labor an entire morning on one paragraph, revising it and revising it, but when he was through, it was tremendous.It’s interesting that the John F. Kennedy Museum in Boston houses the greatest collection of Hemingway’s papers. The late president was a great fan of Hemingway’s, seemingly emulating him. “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” is still famous 50 years after Kennedy’s inaugural address.It says more in just 17 words than many can say in an entire book. And memorable? It’s seldom intentionally misquoted. That’s how to communicate!Showcase your skillsAs for my friend, if she likes Papa Hemingway’s work, and reads enough of it, some of his style just might rub off. It’s not the best way to develop writing skills, but it just might be the most practical under the circumstances. I also suggested she consciously practice writing better in e-mails to her friends.What about your writing skills? Are people calling to ask what you were trying to say in your e-mails? Does the thought of writing a letter to a superior or a customer scare you? How about a cover letter for a resume, or even the resume itself? Whether it’s going on paper or electronically, it’s still a reflection of you.Although an occasional cryptic message from your Blackberry or iPhone may be acceptable, it’s not how you want to be known.Your writing skills may just be the key you need to showcase all those other impressive skills. If you’re looking for a job today, there are so many good people, many with advanced degrees, competing for jobs that might have only required a high school education a few years ago. The ante has increased considerably. Regardless of your level, you have to compete at a superior level even to be considered.Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham who has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia, can be reached at 603-898-1871 or RonBourque@myfairpoint.net.