Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

Simplicity, clarity mark effective PowerPoint presentation

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When it comes to public speaking, “less is more.” The simpler a presentation is, the clearer and more memorable it will be — and the more time needed to prepare it.

Unfortunately, this principle is apparently underappreciated. According to a survey quoted in the book “Resonate” by Nancy Duarte, 86 percent of executives say communicating with clarity directly affects their career and income, but only 25 percent of executives devote more than two hours to preparing for high-stakes presentations.

Tips for crafting simple, clear, memorable PowerPoint slides:

Solicit advice on your presentation from people who have addressed your target audience. I benefited from this strategy by consulting a knowledgeable colleague before giving a talk about press coverage of projects sponsored by a new employer shortly after starting the job.

My adviser suggested that I call out program managers from the audience as I discussed their projects in the talk and that I brandish their names on appropriate slides. Although this strategy, which helped me win over my audience, seems obvious in hindsight, it had not occurred to me as a newbie.

Design each slide to convey its message almost instantly, like a billboard. If it would take more than a few seconds to understand a slide, simplify it by conveying its message in fewer words, streamlining/generalizing complicated charts or graphs, or moving information to other slides.

Give each slide a balanced, logical design that guides the viewer from an obvious starting point to an end point; the audience should never “get lost” in a visual three-ring circus and wonder where to look.

Include eye-catching graphics on most slides, if possible. Graphics help make presentations memorable by reinforcing spoken words and by serving as mnemonic devices. Collect ideas on how to graphically convey concepts by doing Google image searches on relevant keywords.

Crop images for maximum impact with the “Crop” button under the “Format” tab.

Don’t confuse simplicity with blandness. A simple, compelling slide can be created solely with an attention-grabbing statistic and an evocative image. I recently witnessed the effectiveness of this principle by a presenter who impressed his audience by the reach of one of his office’s publications, which had been circulated to 5,000 people, by accompanying this statistic with an image of Carnegie Hall, which has a comparable number of seats.

Use consistent color and font schemes throughout your slides, but vary slide layouts. For example, one idea might be best conveyed by an image positioned adjacent to several short bullets, while another might be best conveyed by a quote, fact or hard-hitting phrase superimposed on an image covering an entire slide.

Choose background colors that contrast with one another without creating glare, such as white text against a dark blue or black background.

Save time by using screen shots of websites rather than by hyperlinking to the Internet.

If you must show your audience a page of a document during your talk, convert the page to a PDF and import it into PowerPoint with the “Object” button beneath the “Insert” tab. Also distribute it to your audience in a readable hard-copy handout. Similarly, if your talk must include complicated diagrams or formulas, distribute them in handouts.

Once you’ve finished preparing your slides, ruthlessly eliminate some of them. Time flies during presentations. You probably won’t have enough time to present all of the slides you have prepared at an unhurried pace. And your audience won’t miss what they are not shown. The number of slides you present should be far fewer than the number of minutes you have to present them.

If any viewers squint/strain to view a slide, summarize its contents for your audience. And improve your slides for your next presentation; treat your slides as continual works in progress.

Tell your boss about positive verbal comments and favorable audience surveys generated by your presentation, and include this feedback on your accomplishments list that you submit before your annual review.

Lily Whiteman is a federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job” and a trainer on career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is IGotTheJob.net. Email your career questions to lwhiteman@federaltimes.com and view her blog at blogs.federaltimes
.com/federal-careers.

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Simplicity, clarity mark effective PowerPoint presentation

Bookmark and Share

When it comes to public speaking, “less is more.” The simpler a presentation is, the clearer and more memorable it will be — and the more time needed to prepare it.

Unfortunately, this principle is apparently underappreciated. According to a survey quoted in the book “Resonate” by Nancy Duarte, 86 percent of executives say communicating with clarity directly affects their career and income, but only 25 percent of executives devote more than two hours to preparing for high-stakes presentations.

Tips for crafting simple, clear, memorable PowerPoint slides:

Solicit advice on your presentation from people who have addressed your target audience. I benefited from this strategy by consulting a knowledgeable colleague before giving a talk about press coverage of projects sponsored by a new employer shortly after starting the job.

My adviser suggested that I call out program managers from the audience as I discussed their projects in the talk and that I brandish their names on appropriate slides. Although this strategy, which helped me win over my audience, seems obvious in hindsight, it had not occurred to me as a newbie.

Design each slide to convey its message almost instantly, like a billboard. If it would take more than a few seconds to understand a slide, simplify it by conveying its message in fewer words, streamlining/generalizing complicated charts or graphs, or moving information to other slides.

Give each slide a balanced, logical design that guides the viewer from an obvious starting point to an end point; the audience should never “get lost” in a visual three-ring circus and wonder where to look.

Include eye-catching graphics on most slides, if possible. Graphics help make presentations memorable by reinforcing spoken words and by serving as mnemonic devices. Collect ideas on how to graphically convey concepts by doing Google image searches on relevant keywords.

Crop images for maximum impact with the “Crop” button under the “Format” tab.

Don’t confuse simplicity with blandness. A simple, compelling slide can be created solely with an attention-grabbing statistic and an evocative image. I recently witnessed the effectiveness of this principle by a presenter who impressed his audience by the reach of one of his office’s publications, which had been circulated to 5,000 people, by accompanying this statistic with an image of Carnegie Hall, which has a comparable number of seats.

Use consistent color and font schemes throughout your slides, but vary slide layouts. For example, one idea might be best conveyed by an image positioned adjacent to several short bullets, while another might be best conveyed by a quote, fact or hard-hitting phrase superimposed on an image covering an entire slide.

Choose background colors that contrast with one another without creating glare, such as white text against a dark blue or black background.

Save time by using screen shots of websites rather than by hyperlinking to the Internet.

If you must show your audience a page of a document during your talk, convert the page to a PDF and import it into PowerPoint with the “Object” button beneath the “Insert” tab. Also distribute it to your audience in a readable hard-copy handout. Similarly, if your talk must include complicated diagrams or formulas, distribute them in handouts.

Once you’ve finished preparing your slides, ruthlessly eliminate some of them. Time flies during presentations. You probably won’t have enough time to present all of the slides you have prepared at an unhurried pace. And your audience won’t miss what they are not shown. The number of slides you present should be far fewer than the number of minutes you have to present them.

If any viewers squint/strain to view a slide, summarize its contents for your audience. And improve your slides for your next presentation; treat your slides as continual works in progress.

Tell your boss about positive verbal comments and favorable audience surveys generated by your presentation, and include this feedback on your accomplishments list that you submit before your annual review.

Tell success story in SES application

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Most applicants for the Senior Executive Service hastily slap together application essays that are long, disjointed lists describing general achievements. The problem? Their essays are about as interesting, impressive and memorable as a stranger’s mile-long “to-do” list.

My advice, based on my experience serving on many federal hiring panels and coaching hundreds of feds: Structure your essays around blockbuster success stories — descriptions of how you accomplished concrete, specific, important, big-picture goals or solved show-stopping, vexing problems that parallel the responsibilities of your target job.

Your success stories will be compelling because,  unlike achievement lists,  they will be conceptually united by a dramatic narrative that will wrap around and stick to managers’ brains like verbal Velcro. In addition, they will capture the uniqueness of your goal-reaching and problem-solving expertise and de-emphasize responsibilities that are indistinguishable from those of hundreds of other professionals who have the same title as you. Therefore, they will help you stand out from the pack.

Each success story should concisely describe:

  • Your goal and its importance to your agency. Did you address requirements to do more with less;inefficiencies or gaps in expertise that damaged your office’s reputation or productivity; outdated procedures or equipment that increased costs or wasted time; bad survey or audit results; or criticism from Congress or the press?
    Warning: Only give as much information about your target goal as necessary to provide context for your explanation of your achievement. Your essay should mainly be devoted to your problem-solving or goal-reaching success — not to inventorying your agency’s problems.
  • Your actions. Explain what you did to address the problem or goal and why you chose your strategy. Did you overhaul or consolidate offices; pass or enforce a major regulation; improve a system or process;  issue new grants; raise standards; run a public awareness campaign; manage an investigation; organize a conference; launch a new product; undertake a high-dollar procurement action; generate new partnerships between organizations; or create training or education opportunities?
  • The special challenges you conquered. Don’t pretend  your job is easy. Describe the tough obstacles you deftly surmounted, such as budgetary, personnel or geographic constraints; tight deadlines; a change-resistant bureaucracy; a sensitive political situation; data shortages;  schedule or policy changes that required accommodation; technology glitches; leadership turnover; the lack of consistent commitment from senior management; racial or gender glass ceilings; hostile stakeholder groups or press; or the trail-blazing nature of your work.
    Describe your challenges in objective, impersonal terms without resentment or bitterness. Emphasize what you did, not what was done to you — no matter how overly burdened you might have been. No grumbling!
  • Results. Provide tangible evidence that you solved the problem or achieved the goal. Did your actions yield savings in costs or time; improved health or safety statistics; increased productivity; improvements in survey or audit results or other metrics; a product that drew a large audience and positive evaluations; acquisition of needed products or services; improvements in recruitment; or reductions in pollution or energy consumption?
  • Positive feedback. Quote positive press and written or oral praise from managers, colleagues, associations, stakeholder groups, unions, government organizations; and cite any formal recognition or promotions or awards received because of your results.

Format each essay to jump off the page by giving it an eye-catching title and by labeling its parts with the following headings: My Goal; My Actions; Special Challenges I Conquered; My Results; and Positive Feedback. These headings will convince hiring managers that you produced results and positive feedback even if they don’t read your essay word for word.

See the worksheet for writing effective success stories on the Career Matters blog at www.federaltimes.com.

How to write essays that will get you into SES

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If you’re like most applicants to the Senior Executive Service, you would rather eat glass than answer those odious essay questions in SES applications. Nevertheless, answer them you must, and it is virtually impossible to do so quickly and succeed.

So if you’re unwilling to spoil an otherwise enjoyable weekend — or longer — with essay writing, you will probably lose your SES competition to a more self-sacrificing competitor. Conversely, if you give your essays their due, you’ll probably vault ahead of your competition.

Tips for crafting winning SES essays:

Read essay requirements and sample essays in the Office of Personnel Management’s Guide to Senior Executive Service Qualifications.  Ask your SES colleagues to show you their essays for inspiration.

  • Identify which credentials to cover in your essays.

While you’re overburdened by current priorities, it may be difficult to remember previous achievements and objectively gauge their relevance to your target job. So ask your trusted advisers to review your achievements and target job with you so that  they may remind you of achievements you may have forgotten or dismissed as insignificant.

An example of the importance of this principle: An agricultural executive from Central America who has a doctorate from an Ivy League university consulted me on his rejected SES application. The problem: The executive had loaded his essays with descriptions of ho-hum, dime-a-dozen administrative responsibilities rather than with his Superman-like achievements — including his success in single-handedly negotiating the safe rescue of several of his staffers who had been taken hostage by rebels in the wilderness, even negotiating alone and unarmed with the rebels face-to-face in a remote forest.

Brilliant though the executive was, he had omitted his negotiating triumph from his essays because he had not realized that it brandished his courage, leadership, grace under pressure, strategic planning, conflict resolution abilities and other sought-after management qualities. But once the executive armed his essays with this and other important achievements — some of which were truly worthy of a Bruce Willis movie — he landed a top post at a large federal agency.

  • Inventory your achievements — from your résumé and annual evaluations; written and oral praise from politicians, political appointees, journalists, executives, colleagues and subordinates; your publications; presentations and events you led; media campaigns covering your work; evaluations from trainings and speeches you delivered; your awards and grants; fellowships, detail assignments and special projects for which you were handpicked; your academic transcripts and certifications.

Note the number of people or sizes of jurisdictions you managed and the size of your budgets; survey results you improved; your streamlining programs that saved time or money;  the ways you promoted diversity through hiring and mentoring; your high-stakes decisions; high-dollar contracts you authorized; ways you modernized office practices; and crises your managed.

  • Triage your successes for inclusion in your essays via these rules: The bigger your achievements, the better.

This means the more people you managed and were affected by your work, the more life and death, health and safety, job-creation and financial implications of your work and the more positive media it garnered, the better.

Also, recent successes usually trump ancient ones.

  • It can be tricky to parcel your credentials among your answers to SES questions because these questions are maddeningly redundant and overlapping. But here’s a strategy: Write down each question followed by all of your big relevant academic, professional and volunteer credentials that parallel the demands of your target job. If a credential fits multiple questions, use it only to help answer the question that provides the best fit — unless you need to use it to expand another answer that would otherwise be lacking.

How to become a Presidential Management Fellow

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The Presidential Management Fellows program will continue to operate, despite budget cutbacks, because agencies must continue to grow new leaders and conduct succession planning, Angela Bailey, the Office of Personnel Management’s associate director of employee services, said in an interview.

So if you’re qualified to join the PMF program, apply. Don’t bypass the program on the wrongful assumption that it will be a casualty of cutbacks.

Although attorneys and policy wonks are, as always, welcome to apply, technical specialists  — in health and in information technology fields such as cybersecurity and software engineering — are in particularly high demand.

The PMF application begins with an online questionnaire. High scorers become semifinalists. Each semifinalist is invited to an in-person assessment that may be completed at various locations nationwide.

This assessment includes several components, including a behavioral interview, a group exercise and a timed essay-writing exercise.

Survivors of the in-person assessment become finalists who are eligible for PMF positions — many of which are filled at an annual job fair in Washington. Usually, about 60 percent to 67 percent of finalists find PMF jobs.

How to maximize your chances of succeeding in the PMF application process:

Study the websites of the PMF program (www.pmf.gov) and the Presidential Management Alumni Group (www.pmag.org). Also, use personal and online networking channels to connect with program alumni and discuss their experiences with them. Reflect your resulting programmatic knowledge and your desire and ability to contribute to the program in the written and in-person components of your application.

Follow application instructions to the letter. Many applicants wipe out by failing to do so.

Seize opportunities to explain why you want to work in the public sector, and your relevant experience.

Emphasize your leadership credentials, such as experience in student government, and positions in teaching, training or tutoring. This is important because the PMF program is aimed at cultivating a cadre of government leaders.

Also, prove that you’re well-rounded, that you have had a breadth of paid or unpaid experiences, and that you would skillfully maneuver through working environments that are multigenerational and have differing office cultures.

Prove that you’re a good leader during your in-person assessment. Participate in all exercises; ask questions when appropriate; show that you work well in teams; and demonstrate adaptability, good communication skills, collegiality and calmness.

For example, if your in-person assessment includes a mock news conference with aggressive questioning, maintain grace under fire; don’t get flustered, riled or knocked off your game; and explain the issues at hand in a clear, straightforward manner.

Stay on your toes throughout your in-person assessment, even during lunch. “Character is defined when no one is looking,” Bailey said.

Respond to written and in-person situational and problem-solving questions by honestly explaining what you think the best way to handle the challenge at hand would be, instead of by trying to guess the “right” answer, because such questions often don’t have a “right” answer, Bailey said. Rather, such questions are designed to draw out your thinking processes, logic and judgment.

Answer all questions included in background checks completely and honestly. You are more likely to jeopardize your acceptance into the PMF program by lying on your application than by disclosing potentially thorny aspects of your background, which won’t necessarily be deal-breakers if you can thoughtfully explain them.

Agencies hire PMFs at the GS-9 through GS-12 levels or their equivalents. So salary offers for PMF jobs vary depending on the hiring agency, the opening, and the applicant’s qualifications and negotiating success. So shop around and negotiate.

How to qualify for the Senior Executive Service

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Do you think you are or could become executive material? If so, consider aiming for the Senior Executive Service.

Some SES jobs are open only to GS-15s or above and their equivalents, but others are also open to GS-14s and their equivalents.

Before moving into an SES job, you will need to obtain certification of your leadership skills from a Qualifications Review Board (QRB) — an independent board administered by the Office of Personnel Management and composed of SES members. QRBs base their certification decisions on five Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs): leading change, leading people, results-driven, business acumen and building coalitions. To access descriptions of each ECQ, type “ECQ” into the search window at www.opm.gov.

You will also need an offer for an SES job.

There are two ways to obtain QRB certification and an SES job offer. One way is to land an SES job through competition. After an agency selects you for an SES job, it will submit your job application to the QRB for a certification decision. Once the QRB certifies you, you may start the job.

Another way is to complete an SES Candidate Development Program (CDP) run by OPM or another federal agency. CDPs are intensive programs — lasting 18 to 24 months — that require classroom training, at least four months of developmental assignments outside the candidate’s current position, mentoring, coaching, field experiences and Web-based learning.

Agencies may tailor their CDPs and the size of their CDP classes to their particular workforce needs and organizational missions. However, agency CDPs must be approved by OPM.

Acceptance into all CDP programs is competitive. Invitations to apply are usually governmentwide and announced on a rolling basis on www.USAJOBS.gov.

Upon graduation from a CDP, candidates usually obtain QRB certification. Any CDP graduate with QRB certification may be selected, without further competition, to any SES job for which he otherwise qualifies. But graduation from a CDP and QRB certification do not guarantee selection for an SES job.

Some agencies offer new SESers a set percentage increase in salary, usually 10 to 15 percent, over their previous salary; other agencies are free of such restrictions. But no matter what your hiring agency’s policy is, you should at least attempt to negotiate an SES salary.

In fact, these words, “Is this salary offer negotiable?” may be among the most valuable because they compel your hiring agency to increase its offer to you. In addition, salaries in the excepted service — for which agencies are not required to notify the public of vacancies — are usually higher than those for comparable jobs in the competitive service. So, if you are moving from a job in the competitive service into an SES job in the excepted service, your negotiating potential may be particularly promising.

Whenever you negotiate a salary, be diplomatic. The more convincingly you explain how your qualifications exceed the minimum qualifications for the target job, the better. No ultimatums!

The minimum annual salary for SESers is currently $119,554. But maximum salaries vary from agency to agency. Agencies that have been certified by OPM for adopting performance-based appraisal systems may pay higher SES salaries than uncertified agencies. The maximum salary for SESers covered by certified appraisal systems is currently $179,700, and the maximum salary for SESers not so covered is $165,300.

Since 2010, the salary table for all SESers has been frozen along with those of other feds. However, SESers have remained eligible for bonuses.

All SESers accrue eight hours of leave per pay period.

Maximize your time as a Presidential Management Fellow

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Tips for current or aspiring Presidential Management Fellows and the managers and associates who advise them:

  • Before applying to the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program, consider its advantages and disadvantages versus other federal fellowship programs or entry-level positions.

The PMF program offers prestige, training, networking, mentoring and substantive experience. But so do many other federal internship and fellowship programs and entry-level jobs. Many such positions have simpler and faster application procedures than the PMF’s. And some entry-level jobs pay better.

  • If you apply to be a PMF, keep pursuing other career options. Only about one in 10 applicants are accepted into the program.
  • Even if you’re selected as a PMF finalist, you will still have to find a job in an agency and then rotations. When you’re hunting for jobs or required rotations, beware that some managers are more knowledgeable than others about the benefits of hiring PMFs and about the program’s requirements. And some agencies devote more resources than others to helping PMFs satisfy program requirements.

For example, a Bureau of Land Management PMF told me her managers assured her they “want me to fall in love with BLM during my fellowship’’ and “consider it part of their jobs to help me succeed.” Unfortunately, some agencies are not so invested in their Fellows. What’s more, the BLM Fellow warns that some managers may accept Fellows for rotations, in part, to gain “free labor.”

So when you research jobs and fellowships, ask current and former Fellows about your target organization’s attitudes toward Fellows. And in interviews with hiring managers, ask them about: their understanding of the program; previous experiences with Fellows; willingness to allow Fellows to devote time to required PMF activities; the agency’s infrastructure for cultivating Fellows; the impacts of budget cuts on this infrastructure; and the potential for landing promotions and post-fellowship positions.

Also, be prepared to sell the program and explain to hiring managers the benefits to them of hiring Fellows, as explained on the PMF website, www.PMF.gov.

  • When you’re seeking a PMF job or rotation, the BLM Fellow advises: “Be genuine, confident and upfront about your interests. I found it OK to show hiring managers that I already had some direction, but to also acknowledge that I don’t know exactly where and how exactly I want to get there. Part of the appeal for managers is to show you a career path and get you excited about it.

“Explain to managers what you offer, while staying humble and expressing your eagerness to learn from other professionals. Be careful not to seem overly confident or cocky, or you’ll risk alienating hiring managers by reinforcing the unfortunate stereotype of PMFers as ‘people who act like know-it-alls.’ ”

  • Land rotations that will complement — not merely duplicate — experiences offered by your main PMF job.
  • Network. “Go down the hall and introduce yourself to PMF alumni,” the BLM Fellow advised. Through such networking, she received helpful advice on finding and selecting rotation and training opportunities, and on documenting her successes, as required for graduating from the program.

Your LinkedIn profile should open strong

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Open your LinkedIn profile with a bang by instantly conveying your professional stature and by concisely packing as much information as possible into your header and your summary.

Your header is the title following your name. It shouldn’t necessarily match your job title, particularly if your title has only a ho-hum ring or does not capture your stature or areas of accomplishment.

Consider spicing up your header by calling yourself an “expert in X.” Do you recoil at the thought of calling yourself “an expert” even though you’re a seasoned professional? If so, you’re not alone, if my experience is any indication: When I lead seminars on career advancement skills, I invariably meet many true experts in their fields who — out of misplaced modesty — had never considered themselves as such until I convinced them otherwise.

Here’s my “expert” rule: If you’re the go-to person for a skill or topic and have years of experience in it, you’re an expert in it. All the more so if you have taught or published in your field.

Still not convinced you’re an expert? Then consider including in your header an alternative impressive phrase, such as “with extensive expertise in X.”

You might also spice up your header by citing skills you possess that are not covered by your job title. For example, I know a professional whose job title is “illustrator.” But because she also produces videos on her job and would like to move into a video production job, she added “video producer” to her LinkedIn header in addition to “illustrator.”

Another option: Define your position, your unique approach and what makes you stand out from the pack. For example, “chief financial officer who closed my agency’s books in record time.”

Also, feel free to cite your current employer in your title.

Your summary is the section following your header. Consider beginning it with a verve-filled conversational statement that defines your specialty or rare combination of skills, or describes how your approach distinguishes you from the pack.

For example:

• Journalism suits me to a “T” because I am inveterately curious. I love asking questions, and sleuthing out answers.

• Golda Meir said, “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.” Her philosophy has guided each alternative dispute resolution negotiating session I have led between employees and managers during the last 10 years.

• I am a multitasking maniac. I manage a 10-person press office that is a veritable news release factory; airs weekly webcasts routinely picked up by The Washington Post and The New York Times; produces daily updates to a website that receives 500,000 hits monthly; and serves as my agency’s crisis management center.

• I created a cure for meeting overload! As a conference planner and facilitator at X since 2006, I have been running productive, engaging conferences that render disorganized, pointless and endless events obsolete.

Also include in your summary a “greatest hits” career overview in a concise paragraph or bulleted list of three to five of your most relevant achievements. Determine how to phrase those achievements by asking yourself, “If I were to meet a pivotal contact, which of my achievements would impress him most, and how could I prove to him that these achievements were important?”

LinkedIn is key to getting a job, promotion

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My informal survey suggests that LinkedIn may be the most popular social media website among seasoned professionals.

Harder evidence of LinkedIn’s indispensability: According to a Jan. 27 New York Times article, “In Hiring, a Friend in Need Is a Prospect, Indeed,” some large companies are finding qualified candidates by recruiting new hires from the LinkedIn networks of their current employees. In the process, they are bypassing reams of nameless applications from recruiters and job boards.

So if you’re seeking a nonfederal job, it is practically de rigueur to create an impressive LinkedIn profile. And if you’re seeking a federal promotion, the same is becoming increasingly true. In light of the popularity of LinkedIn, you can expect federal hiring managers to review your LinkedIn profile before they meet with you.

But LinkedIn is important for more than job hunting. These days, whenever you’re exposed to new professional contacts, some of them will probably review your LinkedIn profile. These contacts may include new managers; colleagues and subordinates at your job; your interviewees; fellow attendees at meetings and conferences; people who hear you speak at events; editors considering publishing your work; and journalists.

Some tips for improving your LinkedIn profile:

  • Maximize your name’s reach. Include nicknames and maiden names in your profile name, if you want to be found by people who know you by such names. Follow your name with the letters that represent any advanced degrees or certifications you have.
  • Keep your LinkedIn profile shorter, less comprehensive and more conversational than your résumé.
  • Be selective. Exclude jobs too dated or too unrelated to your current persona to matter anymore.
  • Be descriptive. Job titles don’t speak for themselves. Each job listed in your LinkedIn profile should be accompanied by a job summary.
  • Be concise. Limit each job summary to several bullets or a short paragraph that captures your salient achievements. Emphasize achievements that most parallel your current goals — no matter how little time you may have spent on them. And exclude achievements that don’t parallel your goals — no matter how much time you may have spent on them.
  • Purge vague, overused clichés such as “team player” and “results-oriented.” Instead, prove that you warrant such descriptors. Did you, for example, lead a team, reconcile differences within a team, contribute to a team’s success or win a team award? And identify your results — if possible, with metrics. Did you, for example, manage a large network, save staff time by streamlining procedures, produce more with less or manage a budget? How big? How did you do it differently and better than others?
  • If you’re job hunting, exclude any information that may alienate hiring managers, such as your political affiliations — unless you’re seeking a political job.
  • Order information strategically. Order your jobs in reverse chronological order — unless a previous job is more relevant to your current career goals; in such cases, order your jobs according to their relevance to your current goals. Similarly, if your volunteer experience or education is more relevant to your goals than your job history, give such information top billing.
  • Cite relevant websites in the “Summary” or “Projects” sections of your profile or in the appropriate job summary. These websites may include online portfolios or sites that showcase your projects or positive press coverage of them.
  • Use quality controls. Run all profile text through a spellchecker before posting it on LinkedIn, which does not check spelling. Mistakes such as “detail-oriented edtor” [sic] are instant credibility-busters. Also, review the final version of your profile on LinkedIn to catch formatting mistakes.
  • Make your profile public, if you feel comfortable doing so. A hidden profile won’t generate traffic.
  • Increase your wow power. Regularly update your profile. And review other profiles to collect ideas on how to improve your own.

Job applications require your best efforts

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The 17th-century French scientist and mathematician Blaise Pascal said, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” The principle that writing concise documents takes more time than writing long-winded ones applies to just about every type of document, including reports, fact sheets, websites, letters, presentations and applications.

Instead of leaving the preparation of documents to the last minute, take time to:

  • Tailor each document to its target audience. When deciding what to leave in or out and how to order your document’s contents, consider what your audience most wants and needs, and prioritize accordingly.
    And when it comes to applications, remember: Managers are about as likely to read and remember generic, untailored applications as you are to read and remember your junk mail — and for many of the same reasons.
    So your time is much better spent tailoring a few applications to their target audiences than carpet-bombing the world with many untailored, generic applications that will all probably miss their mark. Put another way: If you are unwilling to devote an otherwise enjoyable weekend to tailoring your application to your target job, some of your competitors almost certainly will be willing to do so — and so they will probably beat you in the competition.
    To tailor your application to a target job, identify the types of academic and professional experiences as well as personality traits demanded by your target job; carefully troll through your background to identify your matching credentials; describe them; ruthlessly edit your resulting descriptions to eliminate superfluous information; and then order and format your descriptions so your most relevant credentials appear first and most prominently on the page.
  • Write to be understood. Consider what background information your audience needs to understand your message and provide it. Define acronyms and technical terms, as needed.
    In your applications, assume no previous knowledge about your field or sector so that human resources personnel and managers who have no previous knowledge of your field or sector will understand your application and be impressed by it.
  • Work on your document in multiple sessions. It is virtually impossible to crank out a winning document in a single session — even in a long, caffeine-spiked all-nighter.
    Rather, crafting eye-catching, informative and easy-to-read documents requires multiple sessions punctuated by long breaks. Only by temporarily detaching yourself and then returning to your document with fresh eyes can you even approximate the perspective of strangers  — and recognize problems, such as passages that should be reordered; logical leaps that should be clarified; wordiness that should be economized; long passages that should be broken up with shorter paragraphs and headings; ho-hum passages that demand zest; errors that need corrections; and important information that should be added.
    If you don’t have time to let your document go cold for extended periods, let it at least go lukewarm for brief periods, if only by briefly distracting yourself by watering your plants, making a phone call or jamming on your air guitar.
  • Proofread your documents scrupulously. Repeatedly print your document and proofread for  typos, misspellings, punctuation problems and extra or missing words that will not necessarily be found by spellcheckers and are easier to spot on hardcopy documents than on the computer screen.
    Large percentages of federal job applications are rejected solely because of these types of careless applications. If an applicant’s work doesn’t pass muster when he is supposedly putting his best foot forward, it is unlikely to pass muster under less pressured circumstances.
    The tragedy of rejections based on careless errors is that the hapless rejectees are almost never informed of why they wiped out. So be forewarned.
  • Solicit friendly fire on your documents from trusted advisers before submitting them. The only way to know how you’re coming across is to ask other people, “How am I coming across?” It’s better to find out how to improve your documents when you still have opportunities to improve them than to blissfully submit flawed documents and let your mistakes silently sink you.