Shorthand, social media writing has become all too familiar for my generation. (Isn’t filtering in ‘lol’ to almost any conversation second nature at this point?). But our hundred or so texts a day and witty Instagram captions don’t really help translate into the style of writing we use at work.
It turns out, being a good writer --even in an e-mail, letter, or staff memo -- is more important than you think. Cara Stein, chief talent officer for NBC Universal, would know. Cara identifies top talent at the company and also oversees the coveted and competitive NBC Universal Page Program, a 12-month, early career development program in the media. Cara’s tasked with recruiting the best in the industry.
And as someone who has seen her fair share of resumes, Cara says bad writing can really get in the way of a person’s professional development.
So much that it has become an instrumental part of what she looks for in a job candidate. “There’s not enough emphasis put on writing. But writing is, of course, the first step in communication. It's such a good reflection of how people organize their thoughts and how they present themselves. And we've, I think culturally as a society, have put that down a few pegs on the priority list,” Cara recently told me.
To highlight the importance of good writing, Cara at one point, incorporated a live writing test during the NBC Universal Page Program interview process to really gauge potential candidates’ writing skills and their professional approach.”
She asked applicants to use her bio and history to request an informational meeting. The goal was to get a sense of the job-seekers’ writing style and the tone they use when engaging with an executive.
“It ended up being an incredibly telling thing. There was such a wide range of how people approached it,” she said of the writing exercise.
One of the biggest red-flags Cara sees in applicants’ writing is their “level of casualness.” The default tone of how we communicate through social media and texting can be partially to blame.
Even if executives in your organization are not terribly formal, you should steer on the side of a more professional tone. “There are certain levels of familiarity and casualness that, for me, kind of tainted the person a little bit,” said Cara.
For example, applicants would write sentences like, “I'd love to buy you coffee sometime!!!!” Too many exclamation points and emojis isn’t the tone you want to project to a high-level executive, even if you work in a more casual environment.
That casualness can send off the wrong signal, “It feels presumptuous, it feels a little bit like...overstepping,” said Cara.
Instead, try using this template when emailing a higher up:
Hi (executive name),
I met you/heard you talk at (location). I know you have worked on/worked with (specific examples of their career) and I’m very interested in learning more about the trajectory of your career. I know you are a very busy person, but if possible, do you take informational meetings? I’d love to get the chance to speak with you further.
Finding the balance between being professional but not stuffy, casual but not too casual, can get tricky—especially now that there are more work environments that give off a casual vibe. But as Cara advises, “There’s a difference between casual appearance, a casual setting, and a casual relationship.”
She noted that the key is projecting respect in your writing and understanding that people above your pay grade do something you don’t do. After all, you are asking to learn from them.
Daniela Pierre-Bravo is Know Your Value's millennial contributor. To learn more about her, click here.