Member Services Representative

Business

00:07

So could you please state your job title, where you currently work and how long it’s been since you graduated from college? 

00:28

Sure. So I currently work for So-fi or Social Finance, which is a FinTech company. I am a member service representative for them. And I graduated with my undergrad in 2015. 

00:44

Wonderful, and how long have you worked in that field?

00:47

Brand new–three months, four months. 

00:50

Awesome. Wonderful. What were you doing before that since you graduated?

00:54

Hospitality and event management. So, much different than what I’m doing now. But all customer service based so. 

01:02

That makes sense. Yeah. Could you tell me just sort of your primary job functions briefly? 

01:07

Sure. Yeah. So I basically work in a call center. So I’m talking to people all day, kind of troubleshooting any issues they might have with the app or like logging into their profile or issues with like transactions they may have? And I also service, our Invest product as well as our credit card. 

01:27

Wonderful. And could you estimate in an average week, what percentage of your job requires writing?

01:34

This typing count? 

01:36

Yes. 

01:37

Okay. A lot of it. I don’t–I mean, there isn’t a single call that I take that doesn’t involve writing. I have to notate every single thing that I do. 

01:47

Perfect. Okay. And so, yeah, what kinds of documents–what do you use to document those calls?

01:54

I use Google Docs to like take notes, or Google Keep rather, which is like a little note taking–I was unfamiliar with it before this job–so I take notes in that. And then I usually transfer those notes into two or three different systems that we have. So like, one tracks a certain thing, one tracks with the profile one tracks, like every call that we get. So 

02:19

Gotcha, and what is the primary purpose of that documentation?

02:24

To track our members and like kind of what they do and what they need help with, as well as like, basically, how we assisted them or they’re the issue that they were having.

02:37

And who’s who’s going to read those documents? Who are the audiences, once you put those into that–those systems? 

02:45

I mean, it could go up as high as like, if the CEO wanted to read it. So it really ranges. Like our associate managers, our managers, people along my level as well. So it’s open communication for basically the whole company, if they wanted to go into the program to look at it. 

03:04

Gotcha. Okay, that makes sense. And is–that’s the primary type of writing that you do?

03:09

Mm hmm. 

03:09

Are there other types that you frequently do?

03:12

Um, I’ll do like evaluations and stuff like that. Or I–we have an internal communication system called slack. So I use–we, that’s basically our form of communication between like peers, as well as managers and internal.

03:28

That makes sense, you’re more likely to use slack than you are by email, if it’s internal?

03:33

Nine times out of 10, yes, which is new for me, because I was an email queen in my last job. But we also have like, we also have a chat forum that we have to communicate with members on, so that’s another source, emails, sometimes more internal emails, than like member emails, but still they’re emails.

03:53

And when you think about maybe the documentations about the calls that you take, how did you know how to perform that kind of writing?

04:02

Training. Like, I, like I said, I’m brand new to this. So I had no idea what I was doing. It was a lot of like, watching other people do it, learning from them, and then basing off of like, my notes style of taking, so I usually overtake notes, and then kind of delete things away as I need to. So that’s, that’s how I learned. 

04:22

Gotcha, gotcha. And what was the most challenging thing about writing those?

04:28

Um, I think for me, it’s keeping up with the customers like when they call in and they rattle off 13 things within a minute. And like having to hear it all, type it all, and troubleshoot at the same time. That can be pretty overwhelming at times. But it’s a skill that I’m like, learning more and more. 

04:52

Wonderful. Yeah. Thinking over your career as a whole, not just in this job or in this field, has there ever been a time that you  felt unprepared as a writer? 

05:04

Yeah. Specifically, like in the positions that I’ve been in before I, I was a manager, which I feel like is a very relative term in the world. But I didn’t do like a lot of contract writing in my undergrad or in high school for that matter. Like it was a very brief overview if you do anything like that. So I feel like that was one big thing that I didn’t super understand and kind of had to acclimate to in each position that I was in. I’ve definitely been more of a formal writer, like proper grammar and stuff like that ever since. So like, the adjustment of seeing people who use improper grammar or…like abbreviations or like put “ppl” instead of people. That’s been an adjustment. But those are probably the two biggest weird things for me.

06:02

And does anyone oversee your writing? I know, we talked about like, those documents could go all the way up. But is there someone who’s sort of looking at your writing consistently or not necessarily?

06:13

Yeah, we have a quality and assurance team that goes in and double checks us. It’s not, I mean, it could be as frequent as a couple of times a day, it’s typically every couple days that they’ll go in, listen to our call. And then from there, they usually will go to the note and make sure that we have documented everything properly.

06:37

Gotcha. Okay. And so when, when they’re thinking about the quality of your writing there, it’s really just have you captured everything that took place in that call,

06:46

Right. Yes, that and like, they want to make sure that you’re not over noting, under noting, they want to make sure that you have like, legible grammar for the next person coming in. So they understand what the problem is, as well as like making sure that you articulated every single–not every single thing that you talked about, but like making sure that you have noted the account, so if the next person calls in, they know exactly where to pick up from, instead of like having to troubleshoot something you already did or start the process over.

07:14

That makes sense. And how long do you typically have to write–to go from like, the notes that you took during the call to actually putting them in? Is that like, wrap it as soon as you hang up the call you put in those notes?

07:23

Yeah, so it’s, typically you get like 45 seconds to a minute. So it’s pretty challenging. There, you can be like strategic and like, if you place a member on hold, obviously catch up on your notes and kind of like debrief. But it is, it is pretty fast. So it’s, it’s a lot to handle.

07:44

That sounds stressful. 

07:46

Yeah. 

07:47

Okay. Um, like looking back at your undergrad, what kind of writing Do you remember being asked to do as a student?

07:59

I mean, there was like, the papers every once in a while that we had to like read something and then write a paper on it, or like notetaking was huge for me. I was a pen to paper kind of person, not an electronic kind of person. So I do remember taking a lot of notes and being pretty thorough in that. But I remember papers, that was like the biggest thing of like, read this information, spit it back out at me how you want it to sound and what you got from that, basically.

08:33

Yeah. And then are–do you think that your college writing prepares you for the writing that you do in the workplace?

08:42

In ways, yes. I mean, I haven’t written a paper since college. So I don’t necessarily think that they’re super conducive to the real world. I think it’s a good way to like learn the information and then retain it. But I couldn’t tell you like, any of the, like, any of the papers that I wrote, or like my final that I had to write, that was like 25 pages. I couldn’t–I could not tell you like, I don’t do any of that nowadays. So like the note taking that I did take–more, it more assisted me in any position that I’ve ever been in.

09:21

That’s really interesting. Yeah. Are there other things that you wish you had had to write or learn to write in college that would have been helpful?

09:30

Formal emails? I feel like especially in customer service, and like the event industry, like you’re constantly talking to people, you’re constantly like, communicating with them. And I feel like it was way missed. I mean, obviously you go through like the grammar in elementary school and then you pick up on the English in Middle School in high school, but like, it really did not hit me until I had like my first job out of undergrad where I really realized, Oh, I can make a template for this. And then I can just change things around for every email, or, Oh, like save me some time. And I can do this template and then in intermix this one like–definitely time saving skills would have been something to learn as well as like, learning how to write a formal email.

10:21

Yeah, totally.

10:23

Or a resume. 

10:24

Yeah, exactly. I feel even even having graduated from college. 20 years ago, I had the same experience. Yeah, yeah. It’s amazing that we haven’t evolved to teach that.

10:34

That is pretty crazy. I didn’t realize that.

10:38

So this is sort of a more abstract question. But what is at stake in your writing, like what could potentially be problematic if you don’t do a good job at writing in your current position?

10:51

I mean, I would receive coaching. They’re pretty–they’re pretty positive company. So they’re not gonna, like, sit you down and be like you to do this. So they’re very proactive and like trying to coach you to do better. In previous positions, though, I mean, it would have been detrimental. Like, if I wrote an email incorrectly, or I used a wrong, like, word or didn’t follow up on something that I was supposed to like, it could have been really bad for an event.

11:21

Perfect. Has anyone helped you with your writing formally or informally in the workplace?

11:30

Not really, I mean, at the job that I had before this, I was an event manager. And I had a really positive boss right above me who was like my senior. And she–the way that they wrote emails with this company was just different than I had ever experienced. They called it like “bubbly.” So it was like, it was all about weddings. So it had to be like more bubbly, and it had to have like a little more fluff to it. So like, I had to learn the way that they wrote emails, as opposed to coming from like a corporate job where it was very like to the point. But it was totally just like, throw you to the wolves. And like, you’ll figure out our format basically, before that job.

12:12

Gotcha. That’s really interesting. Yeah. Um, how do you believe you’ve evolved or improved as a writer over your career so far?

12:21

I think being in the several different positions that I have been in with customer service has helped me become a stronger writer. I also will say that I think that technology has made me a weaker writer, because I rely way too much on auto correcting for grammar, as well as spelling. So I try to do my best to not fall into that pit, but it happens sometimes. I will say that that last job with the positive coach that I had, that I was telling you about, she really helped me learn the difference between like, somewhere right in the middle between like a very formal business email and like a too casual  email. So I feel like she was a big factor in how to find that sweet spot.

13:15

That’s great. Yeah. Um, to what extent do you think writing is valued at the company you’re with now?

13:22

It’s highly valued. It’s between like, the internal communication that we have daily, and I work from home now. So there’s no, there’s no talking to people in person, like, sure, I can hop on the phone and call someone or hop into a Zoom session. But like, it’s not–it’s it..it’s absolutely important. Like I can’t even stress the importance enough, that writing really is the only way that you get across and like, if you don’t take notes, or you improperly note something, the next time the member calls in, it’s just going to be a crappy experience for them. Because they’re gonna have to go through the whole entire process again, and then it’s doesn’t look too good on us. It doesn’t look too good on you. So it’s definitely extremely important where I work.

14:11

Excellent. And the last set of questions. So how do you define successful writing now, as opposed to how you would have defined successful writing as a student? And would you call yourself a successful workplace writer?

14:26

So when I was a student successful writing was like completing the paper. It was making sure that there was 350 words, if there needed to be 350 words. As an adult, an established professional, that means nothing. It’s honestly, in the position I’m in now it’s the less words that you can use the better. So how effective can you be with less words as opposed to more. So I do feel like I’ve–I do feel like I’m a pretty established professional when it comes to writing. I do still have like the ability to write formally if I need to. But I also understand like, how this company works is not extremely formal. So I, I’ve built the skills to be able to do the extremes and the in between.

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Tech Start-up Entrepreneur

Business, Computers & Technology

Q: Would you please state your job title, where you currently work, and how long it’s been since you graduated from college?

A: My name is Aaron Gotwalt, I am currently heading into my next project, so I don’t have a job title right now. In the past I’ve been a CEO, I’ve been a CTO, I’ve founded several companies. I graduated from college in 2004. 

Q: Great. And could you tell me a little bit about your field in general and the kinds of companies that you’ve started and worked for?

A: Sure. When I was a sophomore in college at Penn State, I founded a company called Elexio, with a friend of mine from high school. Elexio in 2002 I think was, when I think about it in hindsight, was trying to do something interesting. We built a web editor that ran in your web browser, so similar to something like Wix or Squarespace or something like that, and we did it in 2002. The technology was interesting, the people I was working with didn’t understand that possibility, and so though we had something kind of cool, it never lived up to its obvious potentials that you can see in hindsight. Sort of the thing that moved me to San Francisco, I built a company called CoTweet in 2008. CoTweet was an enterprise social media management dashboard for large companies. So our first clients were companies like Ford and Microsoft and JetBlue. And you had this, you know, as social media was gaining steam ten years ago, large brands were suddenly forced to try and figure out how to approach those platforms. And in CoTweet we built them a product that they could take their existing customer service approach to dealing with email and then apply that to social media, and so we built that. You know, it was a classic startup story where I moved home with my parents at 27, and I borrowed money from my grandparents to come out to San Francisco multiple times to try and find funding. We did that and then, probably the most unlikely thing happened, we sold the company about nine months later to ExactTarget, who then subsequently went public and then was acquired by SalesForce. 

Q: Oh interesting, interesting. Wow, okay. That’s fascinating. What a history. 

A: That gets me to eight years ago [chuckle]. And then in the past eight years we built a company called SeeSaw, which was a mobile social network focused on decision making, helping you decide if you know, what to buy, or where to go. And that, that was an interesting learning experience in just how difficult it is to get people to use new applications. And I think we executed really well, but it was a hard, hard lesson. I then built a company called Projector, and Projector was a little bit of a different space, it was a tool for developers, when we were trying to improve push notifications that go to your phone. We thought at the time that most people get far too many, and they sort of reach this noise threshold where you start ignoring them altogether, and so we attempted to build technology to filter those notifications down to the ones you actually want under the hypothesis that it’s good for both you, the user, and good for the company who isn’t necessarily trying to annoy you, but doesn’t have tooling to get more sophisticated at that. So we built that, we ended up shutting it down. I think we learned– Apple in particular does not have a long term vision that supports this, so it was a difficult learning project, but we learned a ton about the space and how complex it is for large organizations to manage those things. 

Q: Oh how interesting. And that’s the project you’ve most recently stepped back from?

A: Yeah.

Q: Great, wonderful. So a lot of these questions are sort of framed in a way that speak to a specific job, but you should feel free obviously to pull from any of these experiences. And just sort of talk more generally, you might be thinking about across the long term how writing has worked, things like that. So whatever way it makes sense for you to think about these questions and answer them is great with us, we’d love to hear about any of these experiences. So first let’s just start with sort of thinking about your role as an entrepreneur, as CEO of an organization, working with these sort of very technical startups, could you estimate in an average week how much writing you do, like percentage wise?

A: You know, I think over time it’s gotten to be higher. When I started, you know, I assumed that my engineering output was how I should measure my own velocity, so you know, I think when you have an engineering skill set, you can look at your output and you can kind of quantify it, and something I’ve learned over the last ten years or so, is that when I don’t know what I’m doing, I will default to just engineering things, even things that aren’t necessary, because they allow me to feel like I’ve accomplished something without necessarily getting anything done. And in truth, my real value is higher when I’m writing and figuring, sort of answering hard questions, than when I’m necessarily just building something. So I would say that my shift has moved towards writing, I think, especially you know I, I’m talking to a couple different companies right now, including one run by a friend of mine, and they’re 70 people right now, and they are in I think six time zones, and only 30 percent of them are in San Francisco. And in order to, you know I think there’s a growing trend toward decentralized organizations, which puts new pressures on the ways that you communicate and sort of build both a company culture and makes sure that everybody knows what’s going on, and that shift goes hand in hand with requiring that everybody’s a good communicator, and has strong writing skills. And I think that even as I’m, you know, whether I build something next or I go work somewhere, I think this shift towards decentralization sort of, it drives this idea that writing skills are really essential and are going to only be more central in how you do your everyday work.

Q: That makes perfect sense to me. And I’m wondering, you know, in the roles that you’ve had, there’s this obvious internal communication that you’re talking about now, particularly in these decentralized organizations, and so I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the breakdown between internal written communication versus external communication, what those different types of writing look like to you?

A: Sure. I mean, you know, internally we have tools like Slack. Slack isn’t the first tool that does short group messaging, but in terms of its dominance at least in the tech enterprise, it’s pretty strong right now. I think it’s one thing to text your partner or your mom or something like that, you can send without thinking, but the moment you have a team of three or four people, and you’re sharing sort of text space, even that becomes, there’s this whole art I think of communicating clearly and not having accidental secondary meanings to people when you’re using a chat tool. So I think there is an art to utilizing group texting in a way that’s productive for a team, that allows you to communicate whatever thing you’re trying to communicate without creating secondary problems in the text. I think there’s a common pattern where you will Slacking back and forth with a group of people, and then communication itself will break down to a point where you have to jump onto a video or phone call, and I’ve certainly done that, and been a part of situations where that happens, but that’s like a every hour, every day kind of thing for most teams. And I think it comes down to there are certain limitations to having multiple people typing towards each other at the same time without being able to really process what you’re saying. You know, like, I’ll write an email and then I’ll reread that email before I send it. For the most part in texting you don’t do that. And I think that that can create confusion because you’ll say things before you really realize what you’ve said. And as opposed to just saying it out loud, you know, where we have audio cues, we have vocal tone, we have facial expressions that you might pick up on you know when we’re sitting across from each other, you just, you’re faced with these cold letters. And so you can have really bad consequences in a work environment from people misunderstanding what you’re trying to say. So I think there’s even at that smallest scale, there’s a skill in writing that could be developed further, even though, I don’t suggest that colleges start teaching like, Office Emoji 101 or something. But you know there is this, how do you communicate professionally using tools that feel very much like the tools that you use to talk to your friends? You know, so I think that’s a component. So a lot of internal communication at least in the organizations I’ve been in in the past ten years have shifted from formalized communication via email to more nonformal communication in something like Slack. A trend that I’ve seen over the last five years is that, increasingly organizations are talking to their partner organizations via similar tools including Slack. So now, I used to think of email as sort of like the way a company talks to another company, and texting tools like Slack as a way that companies talked to themselves. And now increasingly that barrier’s being broken, so it’s companies talking to other companies via these texting tools, and I think that creates all sorts of new and probably interesting legal challenges, because you don’t have the sort of review that would normally go into a message where I’m sending an email to the vice president of something in some other company. So I think this shift towards deformalizing company communication probably has some really interesting challenges wrapped into it. And then there’s sort of the, you know, all the way to the other side, which is, you know, writing for public conception about your company, and that’s something that I care a lot about. I know that’s the one that’s probably changed the least. But writing blog posts, writing copy for your website, I think there’s a real art to that. I think something I’ve developed over time is, what am I trying to say? I think that there was this, when I graduated from college, I wanted to impress you with my language, and sort of these complex sentences and interesting styling, and I read some author and I’m trying to take some flavor from them into this blog post about my company. Over time I think I’ve learned that you really do want to write it in the simplest way possible, and that the simplest way and the least, you know putting up the fewest barriers to understanding allows you to communicate your ideas as clearly as they will be. It cuts down on difficulty if you have a reader who’s reading from a second language, or maybe not fully understand the technical concepts involved – with a lot of what I’ve done, there’s sort of technical layer to it – but I really love reducing complicated ideas to really understandable phrases, and I think that’s something that I’m trying to develop personally, and I hope that other people will develop too. It’s not about writing in this, you know, very complex paragraph-long sentence, it’s trying to reduce this to, “This is exactly what this thing is.” And yeah, so that’s another facet of this sort of writing development that I think I’ve done.

Q: Yeah, absolutely. That makes a lot of sense to me. And I think it’s a process a lot of people go through, whether they sort of do that consciously or articulate it, yeah. Could you walk us through, we’re particularly interested in writing process, I was wondering if you could think about a recent writing project, it doesn’t need to be large-scale, but it can be, and just sort of walk us through the steps that you take from the very beginning, sort of thinking about the writing project, all the way through to calling it done and sending wherever it needs to go?

A: Would you like in sort of office collaborative kind of example? 

Q: That would be wonderful. That sounds great.

A: Probably a year ago, after Projector, I was sort of experimenting with a couple different ideas, and one of them was a health privacy project. We did some technical experimentation and then learned, we learned some interesting details about the lack of privacy in healthcare data, and we wanted to write about that as sort of a mechanism for explaining why our company exists, and what it’s all about. I believe my partner in the project actually started the draft, you know, we started with an outline. We had data that we were trying to present, it wasn’t, you know, research-grade data, but it was you know, some observations that we had made while studying some things. 

Q: I’m sorry to interrupt you Aaron, just for context – who is the sort of imagined audience for this document?

A: That document was for health tech professionals.

Q: Perfect, okay, great.

A: It was for health tech professionals, I think that’s perhaps the most interesting thing, is that it was health tech professionals, but it was more importantly to communicate why our company exists to people who aren’t health tech professionals. So you have this multiple audience problem, where we needed to seem reasonable to both audiences.

Q: Yes. And as you were envisioning – sorry, I don’t want to derail you too far – but just for context, so where were you envisioning this landing such that those multiple audiences would access it?

A: Ultimately our corporate blog. 

Q: Great, okay.

A: And the scope of this work was like, we had discovered some data over two weeks, and we were going to put it out within a week, it wasn’t, you know, we weren’t, this was not a stop the presses kind of event, but it was significant. So we started, we had the data, and my partner at the time wrote a draft, I think I just rewrote it altogether. And I think the audience problem was the problem that we ran into. We wrote, I think the first draft of it ended up being very much geared towards people who are trying to understand our company but didn’t cover the technical aspects of it, and so we rewrote it. We brought the engineer who had been responsible for the data side back into this discussion to try and sort of shape the narrative around the data and make sure we understood when we were making representations about the data, that those representations were accurate. You know, so it ended up just being kind of a back and forth, we used Google Docs I think for it, where we would write and then add annotations and then write, and then add annotations. And ultimately then we sent it to an editor to have a clean up and an external set of eyes. I think when you’re writing this kind of a thing, you oftentimes develop blind spots because you assume that the audience will understand the words you’re using. So we sent it to an external editor for some feedback. And then ultimately published it. It wasn’t a long process, it was probably a four or five day process.

Q: No that’s great. That’s really really useful. Especially the collaborative writing aspect is really interesting to me. So you obviously do a lot of different types of writing, some as you mentioned sort of internal, some client-facing, and some more public-facing, and moving between those types of writing is obviously its own sort of challenge. So I’m wondering sort of how do you perceive that you learned how to perform these very varied types of writings?

A: Some of it is that I think I was exposed to great writing teachers. You know, I did not have– so I went to a private Christian school for K-12 and I would say that really their only strong suit from that education in its English department, which was pretty consistent, the rest of it was pretty bad. And then when I got to college I was exposed to some really great writers and writing teachers. A lot of it was creative writing, nontechnical, but that I think got, it triggered something in me, I think I learned something from that. I think some of my development has been because I’ve been annoyed by other people being bad at this, and so my professional development has been to no longer just rewrite it and not tell you. But you know, I think there was a phase where I was embarrassed by the communications leaving my company, and I was just going to take charge of it, you know, because we sounded dumber than we were [chuckle]. I don’t know what to tell you, I think there’s some aspect that’s just sort of like, you have these standards in your head for how you think you would sound, how you think the company should sound, and you’re willing to do whatever you can in order to make that standard the way that it is. 

Q: That makes sense, that makes perfect sense. So sort of to that end, has there ever been a time in your career that you felt unprepared as a writer? 

A: Huh. I don’t have a good answer for this question. 

Q: That’s okay.

A: Yeah, I mean maybe that’s sort of the danger of being in startup land, is that you’re never really prepared for anything, and you’re just doing it anyway. It’s probably like, you know, a college writing course, you know, you’re in this 413 and the paper’s due on Friday, and whether or not you feel prepared for it, you’re shipping it. I think I’ve gotten better at getting prepared for projects that I’m not that great at, whether that’s bringing in the right people, or getting second opinions, or becoming more confident in the core skill set that I have. 

Q: That’s great, that makes a lot of sense to me. 

A: One key thing is that, you know, I think that most professional writing that I am exposed to, it has some form of collaborative behaviour to it, you’re very rarely writing in a complete vacuum. 

Q: Yeah, that makes sense. Are there challenges that you’ve experienced that are specific to collaborative writing? I mean, there are some that we sort of assume, but does that process typically go smoothly for you? Are there certain things that you do to ensure that it goes well? Are there certain things that present unique challenges for you particularly in collaborative writing?

A: I would say that collaboration just in general depends on a certain maturity to be able to accept that you’re wrong about things and I think that’s something you develop over time if you’re lucky. I’m not sure that there’s some, you know, way to do that other than to just accept it at times. I’m sorry, I lost my train of thought. Could you re-ask the question?

Q: Sure, so the challenges that are unique to collaborative writing, and you said you have to be mature enough to be able to accept that you are wrong [chuckle].

A: Oh, yeah. So I think a core challenge in collaborative writing is that it gets back to that question of the audience. You, when you start writing, have some idea of who the audience is going to be, and if you’re collaborating with somebody else and you’re doing something that’s nontrivial, they may have a very different idea of who that audience is, and so you could both, if you’d set out and tried to write at the same time, could write very different pieces that communicate effectively the same information, and I think unifying that audience view is tricky. I think that even if it’s just you, understanding who your audience is, your first audience in a piece, is oftentimes very difficult in a professional setting, because there’s rarely just one, and sometimes the needs of the audiences that you’re dealing with are really competing with each other. And then when you add another writer into the mix, it can only further muddy it, so I think that’s a core challenge.

Q: That makes a lot of sense, that makes a lot of sense, yeah. You talked about this sort of researched or sort of, the blog project that you collaboratively wrote, and you talked about the timeline there, but could you talk a little bit about how long you typically have to complete a writing project?

A: In startup land, that could be hours or minutes, or it, you know I think, you know, there’s sort of how long you have and then how far ahead of it being due that you actually start it. You know it’s probably like any college paper – you know you have to write the midterm paper when you start the class, but you don’t start writing it until the week before, or the night before if you’re really bad. And I think that’s the crux of it – how much linear time you actually apply to it, you know, I think when you have more complicated things that you’re putting out that require research components or graphics or, you know, those sorts of things, it can take a while. It’s interesting, I just observed a friend of mine – the same friend of mine’s company wrote a very complex blog post about how they developed their product and how they run their organization. That blog post took at least two or three weeks and it had probably eight writers total involved. This is the same decentralized company that I was mentioning earlier. It’s clear that it took a lot of writing and they went so far as to acknowledge that there was no soul voice or soul lead writer to the piece. And I think that represents a really interesting model for how things are going to go eventually. But you know, I think that two to three week, you know, from the time that everyone agrees that something needs to be done towards this end for public consumption to that, you know, that’s about right. You know I think difficult professional communication, one-on-one communication via email is a thing where you know you need to send this email, and because of other distractions, it might take you a day or two to really coalesce your thoughts and make sure that it makes sense. And then all the way down to Slack or something like that, where you typed it before you really thought about it, and then [crosstalk 26:18] about immediately. 

Q: Right, right. So you talked a little bit about the writing that you remember being asked to do as a highschool student, and I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about the writing you recall from college, and also sort of how well you think your college writing experiences prepared you for the kind of writing that you have to develop now?

A: So I don’t think my college program was particularly, it wasn’t intentionally shaped to support me professionally. When I left the school of Information, Science, and Technology at Penn State, part of my thinking was that I could learn the technical side of it faster than they could teach me, and so my goal was to learn and to be exposed to things that I couldn’t teach myself. And so I spent a lot of time in the English department, and a lot of it was in creative writing and literature, which has no clear direct path towards this, you know, it’s not in the standard issue prep for being a technical person, but I think that those things actually really did help me a lot. They taught me about nuance in language that I don’t think I would have picked up on otherwise. I think writing, in prep for this I was walking yesterday and I was thinking about how, I suppose that there’s innate skill to writing or to communication, but I think that it’s a practiced skill more than it’s an innate one. You know, on the nature and nurture thing, I think that people can become pretty good writers, maybe not Pulitzer Prize winning authors or something, but you know, you can be a pretty good writer by writing a bunch, you just have to write a bunch. And I think that that, you know, my college process or my college education forced me to write a lot, and so I got to be a at least somewhat better writer, not a great writer by any stretch, as my graduating thesis will attest. Yeah.

Q: Great. That’s really useful and really interesting to hear, and I’m wondering too – are there things looking back that would have sort of given you a more direct application? Are there things that you wish you had been taught that would have helped you to be, maybe make the transition a little bit more quickly or more seamlessly into workplace writing?

A: I think I took one technical writing course and I may have late dropped it because it was really bad, at least really bad relative to thought– like I enjoyed my English classes, you know, and the technical writing one by comparison just felt dead. It was a very mechanical kind of project, and I think that good professional communication is not exactly mechanical. I think I, in college I assumed that like I was writing something that was fun, or I was writing corporate communications, and the modern corporate communication ironically turns out to need fun or people won’t read it. Like you have to have, like I think that good corporate communication may not be telling you hard-hitting jokes, but there’s a sense of humor and a sense of personality to it that isn’t dead, and I don’t think I picked up on that in college. I assume that college writing courses for professional writing have evolved since the time I was there, it’s been a while, but I think that finding something that’s in that middle space would’ve been really helpful. You know I think thinking about the audience is something that I didn’t do a whole lot of when I was in college, and I think that that does really come down to it, it’s almost, it’s like you have this idea that you’re trying to communicate, so that’s your starting point, but then you have, the really hard part is figuring out how to communicate to the people who matter most to you, and that’s different than how do you write a really good piece. In fact sometimes you have to take away the good parts in order to help them understand what you’re saying. So yeah, those are things that I think I wish I would have been exposed to. I’m not sure it was anybody’s fault, I think that when you look at corporate communications from the ‘90’s, it’s pretty dead, you know, it looks like a lawyer wrote it. And there’s still a place, as my lawyers will attest, for communication like a lawyer, but I think that corporate communications has loosened up and you can see that across the whole stack ranging from public communications to you know, tweets from companies, to internal Slack communications, to you know sort of this shift in formality in professional communication.

Q: That’s so interesting, yeah, that makes a lot of sense Aaron. This next question is extremely broad and it will also vary from writing project to writing project, but I wonder if you could talk generally about what you feel is at stake in your writing?

A: Um well, I mean, let’s start you know sort of Slack, which I know doesn’t count as writing in the traditional sense, but you have a team that you’re working with – let’s imagine you’re working with ten people – and you have this transcript of everything you’ve said to these people that stays for forever, and so any offhanded, unintentionally in-bad-taste joke lives for forever, and it lives for forever in this digital system, and it lives for forever in people’s memories to some degree or another. So there’s this reputational stake for making sure that you don’t do something really dumb. It’s sort of like digital photos on the internet, like you know, don’t take photos that you don’t want people to see of you ever, because they will somehow find their way into the public space. And I think the same thing is sort of true reputationally for writing, like you know, you don’t have a secret conversation off to the side anymore. So I think that getting good at writing, getting good at communicating your ideas, even in those really little things, is surprisingly essential. And sort of on the positive side, those little things allow you to build trust with people that you may not see face to face. I think this decentralized thing, decentralized organization means that increasingly, you’re building trusted relationships with people you work with, you know, 24/7, who you might see a couple times a year if you’re lucky. And so these asynchronous text communications turn out to be essential to that relationship, they are the relationship that you’ve got. So figuring out how to communicate your ideas and to sound level-headed even when you’re frustrated in communicating these things is really difficult. Um, you sound like you were going to interrupt.

Q: No, no, please. 

A: And I think the same thing is true for anything that goes publicly, you know, blog posts have a tendency to live for forever thanks to the internet archive, so you, you know, your words stick around for a while. At the same time I think, especially in the public space, there’s a higher volume of communication probably than ever, so in some ways maybe the stakes are lower, you do a lot more writing, at least I do a lot more writing than I used to. And I think that there is this general trend towards writing in this professional space being a really key component of it. I also think it’s interesting is, in a technical organization, the further up you go from being sort of a first line engineer, the more writing the less engineering you’re doing, because the writing becomes the, you know, the engineering is sort of the last step, but the writing is the coordination towards those goals. I’ve been reading up on, I’ve developed a fascination with Roman history, and sort of when you start thinking about military strategy and how you’re going to attack some town, or fight some battle, you think about the soldiers who are out there swinging their swords, but more broadly you think about this unit and this unit needs to move over here, and then you think about the person who’s responsible for that, you know, it’s this person is responsible for all of these units and you’re going to attack from this direction. And in an engineering organization, as it scales it becomes more and more like that as well, and the communication really is the work, there isn’t even a second thing that you’re doing, you’re communicating, you’re taking input from people, you’re developing a strategy, and you’re directing what happens.

Q: That’s a fascinating comparison. Yeah that’s really really interesting. In many ways you may have already touched on this, or you may just point me back to something that you’ve already said, but I’m curious what you would identify as the most difficult thing about writing in the types of positions that you’ve held?

A: I think the most difficult things I’ve dealt with actually come back to sort of group text communication. Unintentional consequences, misunderstandings over choices in words, accidental things that I didn’t intend as offensive that were read as offensive. And luckily I don’t have any truly cataclysmic stories about that, but I think that you, you know, if you work in an environment that communicates via that, you know, over the course of a month, you will end up apologizing to at least a handful of people within, that were accidentally communicated. But I think that those are really the hardest ones, because you have more a traditional process, the more external your communication is, the more formalized your communication is, the more checks and balances you have to your writings, you might catch that you said something horrible. It’s those places where it’s written but it’s impulsive that you can really get yourself into trouble, and you can, you know, it can also, it’s like a double edged sword, it can be very powerful, it allows to cut through the process and get things communicated very quickly, but then you can accidentally communicate the wrong thing very easily. So I, yeah, I think that the most difficult sort of day to day writing thing turns out to maintaining an even keel and dealing, you know, especially when you’re under stress or you know, frustrated with your team, or something like that, to be able to communicate in an even way that doesn’t create side effects via group texting turns out to be very difficult.


Q: That’s really interesting and I think that’s one of those things that our students really don’t get much of. You know, you talked about that you assume professional writing at the university level has improved since you were there, and while I’m sure in some ways it has, I think that it has not caught up–

A: I was being kind.

Q: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I think this sort of informal writing that happens is the piece that’s still missing though. It really isn’t addressed as much as it should be when the bulk of the communication, and like you said, in many situations, the most complicated sort of communications is going to happen that way. Shifting just a little bit, I’m curious whether anyone has helped you formally or informally since the start of your career, sort of post college, with your writing?

A: I have a handful of friends who are better writers than me, who for, whether it’s personal blog posts or professional work that I think really matters, that I don’t want to screw up, that I will send to review confidentially before I send it out. That’s about it. I would imagine there probably could’ve been more support, it would have been nice, but that’s sort of the limit to the support that I have.

Q: Okay. And when you think about, typically this question would be about the organization you’re currently with, but I think sort of looking more broadly at the world of technical startups would be useful – could you speak a little bit about how you feel writing is valued in that world?

A: Yeah, I’m going to focus on external writing for this answer. I think that it’s highly valued, but it’s under invested in. You know, I in a past project worked with a CEO, I was the CTO at the time, and the CEO very much wanted to do some really interesting writing projects, but he was not a good writer, and wasn’t really willing to invest in making that writing better. What ultimately ended up happening was I took over the writing project, because we had these deadlines that had been at one point set very reasonably, but getting to a consistent product turned out to be very difficult. So I think there is this understanding, at least in tech startups, I can’t speak to a broader audience, but I think that companies are aware and teams are aware that writing and communication is really essential. And yeah, there’s real value there. I was looking, I have a friend of mine who’s hiring for a project manager position at a larger company, and the job recs are essentially just writing skills, and some vague idea of the technical spaces they’re working in. I think that communication skills in larger companies are really the skills. Technology is assumed to be learnable more than communication is. 

Q: Yeah, I think that that’s really true but it is really interesting. I’m wondering how would you have defined successful writing as a student versus successful writing now?

A: I think now the end product is a lot, simpler isn’t the right word, right? It’s more like it’s, what’s the word I’m looking for? The writing is effective now, not just loquacious, or something, you know, like you have these words and syntax and structure that you read growing up, and so you’re trying to match that, or to sound very smart in how you’re writing. I think the real power and magic is saying a very complicated thing in a very simple way, and maybe in a much shorter way than college – like I think college writing was like, “Well it must be at least 15 pages, so stretch it out, and up the margins,” [chuckle]. It’s sort of the wrongest possible metric for being done and being successful. I think taking a complicated idea and communicating it really clearly in the simplest way possible is the success now. Nobody really wants to read a ten page blog post, you know, they want to read three, four pages and then like some breakout if they want more information. But that blog post may summarize what you’ve been working on for two years, you know, so you have to really edit the mess out of that in order to get to that point. And in that situation you have to edit out a lot of things that are really interesting, so it, you know, I think part of that success is getting comfortable ignoring or you know, reducing a month of your effort to a single word in the middle of a sentence in the middle of a paragraph, you know, it’s tricky.

Q: Absolutely, absolutely. And yeah, it could represent so much work, but also it could represent what you think is the most important or interesting thing, and knowing your audience means sometimes that goes, yeah.

A: Yeah, that’s really hard.

Q: Yeah, absolutely. And I actually just have one last question. Would you say that you are a successful professional writer?

A: I am a learning professional writer. It’s funny, I’m in the middle of, I’ve had some time off the last couple weeks and I’m in the middle of writing some personal stuff, and my partner is, she’s a writer, and she’s a better writer than I am, and so based off of her feedback, I am not a successful writer yet [chuckle], which I accept. You know, I think that this process, you know, I’ve been doing this now since 2002, which says I’ve been doing it for a little while, 17 years, 18 years, something like that? I’m clearly more of an English person than a math person. But I think I’ve gotten better over time. I think that some of these things probably are more, you could probably teach them better at college and saved me some time and effort, and some of them you only learn because you practice and you fail, and I’ve mostly done it the hard way, but I’ve gotten better at it, I’d like to think so.

Q: Beautiful, thank you so much!

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Logistics Specialist

Business

Okay. Would you please state your job title, where you currently work and how long it’s been since you graduated from college?

My job title is logistics specialist. I work at Metrica Inc. It’s a government contractor. It has been, let’s see, I graduated December, 2016 so, yeah, roughly two years.

Okay. And you’ve worked in this current field for the entire time?

Yeah. I’ve worked here a year and six months now. So most of the time yup.

Okay. And can you provide a very brief description of what your primary job functions are?

Essentially, there’s a lot of them, but the primary ones is essentially managing subcontractors on the ground in other countries from the treasury. Essentially, the treasury has projects ongoing a bunch developing countries and we have subcontractors out there just assisting in a support role for interpreters, or anything. If they a cell phones, if they need something printed officially, if they need really anything we help them out on the ground there in the third world country.

Okay. Great. Can you provide an estimate for a weekly average of what percentage of your job requires you to do any kind of writing? Zero from 25%, 25 to 50, 50 to 75% or 75 to 100.

It’s about 50% writing.

Okay. What forms or kinds of writing or documents are you most frequently required to complete?

Well yeah first and foremost definitely email writing and just being concise. Because if you’re constantly having back and forth between treasury, subcontractor, us. Definitely email writing, but also reports and assessments, and memos is also a partial portion, which none are very lengthy, but they just need to be concise. You get away with a lot of just using templates keeping it, so you’re not recreating the wheel every time.

Sure. And for those kinds of documents, who would be your primary audiences and what would the primary purposes be?

For memos it would be for actually sending and advancing money. That would be going up through our financial guy here, and then to a project manager and then off to headquarters. In terms of the email writing, it would be some going directly to our subcontractor in another country, some directly to the treasury. And then some internally, obviously just amongst, just for creating policies.

Okay. And so when you’re writing to a fellow subcontractors, or even to the treasury, can you give us a clue into the kinds of goals that you’re forming in the writing, what purposes you might be writing about?

What, what was that? Sorry, restate that question.

Sure. Just when you’re writing to either subcontractors or the treasury, typically what’s the purpose of those correspondences?

Essentially we have a task system that comes out of the treasury to us within the treasury there’s probably five teams. Each of them use this system called Tims, and that’ll create essentially a task order that we have to … that has a end and do date, where we have to make sure that everything, all the deliverables in that task order’s completed by the due date. So whatever’s in that task order, may it be, we need an interpreter from x to y, we need a new laptop, we need office equipment because we’re moving offices, we need … everything in that, well eventually, it comes to me. Then I create it in a way that the email can be clear and concise to our subcontractors who are multi-lingual in other countries and essentially and bullet points are your friends. And I pushed it onto them and then they get working on it.

Great. Great. And then with as much level of detail as you’re comfortable sharing, could you maybe walk us through the process for one particular recent project or type of project from the time that the assignment is given to you through your preparation and then any steps you take until it’s complete?

Okay. Do you mean general products or you want to go through a certain tasks?

Any specific project you’ve done recently that involved a writing component is fine.

Let’s see here. The most intensive project that I’ve had to deal with would be, so we had a advisor in Mongolia. He was working on a project that was actually creating a citizens’ budget for this country of Mongolia for their Ministry of Finance to essentially pass out and trying to … I couldn’t even give you the background on what exactly they wanted to do with it. But he needed our support to essentially make the publication, for the publication, look for people on the ground that had experience writing Mongolian. So yeah, so he had a bunch of different stuff that we had to do, and it also entailed keeping up on their budget because that’s another thing that we manage.

Now in terms of actually having to write, let’s see. I mean, again, a lot of it’s just through email. I’m not really writing full on reports. But I would say a good thing to mention is also the creation of SOP, just standard operating procedures. I’ve had to do that for just something as simple as our mailing policy, or because we’re always sending stuff. We’re sending laptops. So it’s just like, here you go, you log onto DHL, here’s our account information, here’s everything you need to know. This is how you should code it. This is how you should … what account to charge.

SOPs have been a part of my writing, which I mean it all just has to be clear. It can’t be wordy. It needs to be easy to follow, easy, bulleted, easily numbered and concise, and that’s really all I can in much detail explain those.

Sure. You say you do a lot of email writing. Aside from the concision and clarity, are these typically formal emails or do you consider them to be informal?

Oh no. Yeah, they’re all formal because they’re going to the treasuries so everything has to be very formal.

Yeah. Are there any particular decisions you have to make when you write formal emails, considering who your audience is? Do you do any kind of drafting process, or what?

Yeah, so there is a drafting process. If it’s something that’s very important that it’s going all the way up to their operations manager in the treasury. It’s a constant, I’ll draft it, send it to my senior log spec, senior log spec give me some feedback. Then I’ll send it to the project manager and he’ll have some feedback and then we’ll send it out. Just to make sure you know more eyes on it the better it’ll be. Just in terms of editing and what the message we actually want to get out is.

I have, for my own personal procedure, I have templates for certain things. So say I have a template for interpreters in a certain country. Everything that I need to say to the subcontractor is already there. It’s just I need to input the different dates, or any other additional information which I have space for, and that’s already in my template. Does that answer your question?

Yes, very much yeah. Thank you. Coming out out of college and moving into this position, or into this field in general, how did you know how to do that kind of writing? How did you know how to write successful emails or standard operating procedures that type of sort of thing?

Well, I mean I did go through business writing in college, but it wasn’t that intensive. I believe it was only … yeah, I believe it was only one class towards the end of my actual major. And they went through creating a report, formal email writing. But yeah a lot of it creating SOPs it’s just learning and just learning the terminology inside your office because every organization has different terminology. Say even if I do some other work on a different contract the terminology is different there too. I think that’s the most important thing, which I don’t know if you can really show that to students or put them in a real life situation.

But yeah, just the terminology and the way an SOP is created. Obviously there’s, for my circumstances they was already SOPs to base this off of. I just needed to update it with the changes that have happened over this year, or last year. So a lot of it is really on job training for for SOPs at least. Email writing it’s a constant work. You just get better at it as you go.

Great. Can you think of a time, maybe early in your career where you felt maybe unprepared as a writer at that new job?

I would say when I first started here I was … you want to stick away from the big long paragraphs. I think that’s a lot of feedback is, at least amongst the organizations we work with, is people hate when you just send up a big long email. That’s just a big long paragraph because people just don’t have time to go through and look at it all and try to actually capture all the information that’s in it. It’s obviously as I’ve already said the more concise your the better.

When I was unprepared. Yeah. I mean the SOPs in general, and just being able to write formally that that took some practice. And that’s all that I learned here really. I wouldn’t say I was super prepared for the actual formal writing, and things that you need to do on a day to day. That’s just a lot of on the job training.

Great. When you have those moments where you kind of feel like you need to learn on the job, are there specific steps that you took to overcome those kind of challenges? Looking at other templates or past documents or collaborating with other writers or, or anything like that?

Yeah, so I mean I’ll bounce things off obviously my senior log spec, just the way that he writes things, and just because he’s worked on other contracts that are similar. That’s a great thing. I was able to have a resource there. But there’s a lot of things just that you can access. Udemy I’ve gone and done a few videos and courses, which is good. They’ll … they try to incentivize you to do all that.

Are there specific Udemy courses that you’ve taken that you really like?

I couldn’t tell you the exact name of them because there’s like a million. But yeah I go on there or Excel of course as well just to do just learning more things just basic quick tips that would make you quicker. And yeah, I mean typically if … it’s not just my organization, they’ll just have … if they want you to hit a certain amount of certifications, or do certain amount of trainings per, every six months and you have goals that you set, try to hit all those that really helps.

Great. And I think you mentioned somebody in that position before, but can you talk a little bit about who specifically oversees your writing, and what their job title or role in the company is?

Okay. Yes. Senior logistics specialists, and then also my just project manager. He’s The PMP, so he oversees the entire contract with the Treasury. But a lot of it I don’t have to go to them to draft every single email obviously. I think I’ve excelled because of my email writing in this role. Where I’ve seen some people struggle is that we have a lot of people who speak multiple languages. And when English isn’t your first language, then obviously it’s just going to be way harder to write a concise email in English. I think that is where I’ve definitely been able to write my own emails and not always have to draft them if they’re going to the treasury because it just takes forever.

Sure. And in those moments for maybe more formal documents, when you do go to a supervisor for feedback, how do you think that they judge success or quality of your work?

Well, when it’s a really solid email, they’ll literally send a good job on this. Yeah, if it’s solid, there’s nothing wrong. It’s very clear the message that we’re trying to send. And everything is contractually legal, and they’re using the exact terminology that they want, then yeah, they’ll send a job.

Okay, great. And this can depend from email to maybe a longer project, but on average, how long do you say you typically have to complete a particular writing project?

It depends on the writing project. If it’s an SOP they’ll give me multiple days to complete that. If it’s an important email it needs to be out by … within an hour. And then other emails it’s just a constant feedback and those are quick within 20 minutes.

Sure. Great. You mentioned taking a business writing class in college, and maybe this applies to some other courses you took, but what kinds of writing do you remember being asked to create when you were a student?

It was basic memo reports which they based a lot of it on your heading being correct and other formal things that I don’t … that you typical don’t need to worry about. It’s more, I would just say getting the right words and verbiage, and just being able to write formally. We also worked on our resume in that class, which was a bigger portion of it than the actual email or thing. But yeah, it wasn’t too intensive. It was pretty much the basics. They’d have us memos, reports, however those are defined.

Sure. Do you feel like you were that those modes of writing that you learned in your education prepared you or did you feel unprepared when you entered the workplace?

Let’s see. Well, yeah that was just one class there. I did take other writing courses, like creative courses, which obviously helps a ton. I think that just being able to write, being able to write is something that typically people don’t try that hard on these days, and is incredibly important [inaudible 00:17:07] like I am right now. Yeah you need to be able to write. It’s definitely … you need to be able to get your points across.

Is there anything in particular that you feel like you got out of those creative courses?

Being more descriptive. I mean just having a way better vocabulary to use in your emails, to be descriptive, and not just sending the classic boring three letter adjectives, or just … I would say descriptive would be the thing.

Okay. Sure. Is anything in particular that you think would have been useful for you to learn or do when you were a student that would’ve better prepared you?

Yeah, it’s tough. I mean like writing courses are incredibly important and especially if you’re in a business role or any sort of role like I’m in. I would say definitely more emphasis on formal writing, formal writing style. Especially people, my generation, tend to direct incredibly casual because that’s 90% of our day to day via text message. So yeah the formal writing would be a good emphasis. And also email writing, just being able to write concise email.

Okay, great. Can you say a little bit about what is at that stake in the writing that you do? You know, negative consequences, for poor writing or even benefits for really successful writing.Oh yeah. There’s a incredible consequences for poor writing. Just not even just having the habit of editing, which a lot of people miss on just don’t go through it enough or just didn’t really edit ever. Being able to go through your emails and actually knowing your processes for editing, and just things that you miss was big. Sorry, what was the question again?

Just basically what’s at stake with your writing, so if something fails in writing what are the consequences, or if something’s really successful, what do you guys gain?

Yeah, I mean obviously the good feedback. You need to be able to be polite and also be descriptive and tell them exactly the point. But also you need to do it in a way that you’re talking to a client you’re not talking to, well, depending on who I’m sending it to. If I’m talking to the treasury, you’re talking to your clients. So getting that positive feedback or just being clear through email then the more positive feedback you’ll get from your actual organization and your clients.

Great. And is there a danger that maybe too inform an email or inaccurate documents could damage the relationship between your company and treasury or elsewhere?

Oh yes. It happens every day. If something’s not seen it definitely damages the relationship and it just doesn’t look good on us. Just looks like we aren’t we aren’t having that attention to detail that is so incredibly necessary.

Sure. And what would you say the most difficult thing is then about the kind of writing you do in your field?

Let’s see the most difficult. I guess just keeping the structure. I guess one of the most important things and one most difficult is just keeping the structure of your email corresponding with the actual timeframe of what’s the action you’re trying to get out of? I don’t know how to put that, but just essentially creating a structure in a way that it makes sense reading it paragraph from paragraph, like a essentially just creating a good schedule email. Not going from subject to subject and creating that actual schedule on your email. I don’t know if that-

Sure, yeah. The cohesion. Yeah that …

Yeah.

Has anybody helped you with your writing since you left college either formally?

Other than the classes, and courses I’ve taken on Udemy … let’s see. And my sister of course. But no. I mean no. I haven’t outreached to really anywhere other than people inside my organization to bounce things off of them. No I haven’t. Not exactly. No.

Do you consider a collaboration with your colleagues to be important to your writing process?

Oh yeah, definitely yeah it’s crucial.

Just a couple more questions. One, how do you believe that you’ve evolved or improved as a writer over the span of your career?

I would just say, how have I evolved? I would just say keeping my structure and my bullets all concise. I don’t know exactly how I’ve evolved because I’m not … Nothing I’m doing is incredibly creative. It’s all more sticking to having that same exact formula that the treasury will expect coming their way. So yeah nothing too creative. It’s just keeping it all the same. So it’s all in the same language so to speak.

Yeah. Are there things that you feel maybe more confident in your writing now than maybe on day one?

Yeah. Oh yeah, definitely. Just doing it every day. You’re going to spend more time with terminology saying, do you agree, or do you concur, or do you … just the actual terminology getting better. Is that agreeable? Is that … that’s definitely a the thing is just creating that vocabulary.

Sure. Great. Two more questions. First, to what extent do you think that writing is valued in your particular organization and in your field as a whole?

It is highly valued in mine. The actual project manager that started last here was here for senior logistics specialist position, which they oversee everything and all the reports, and constantly edit templates, constantly editing all the documents that we put out to the treasury and he’s now the project managers. So I think that was something that he really excelled in, just being clear. And he’s now at the top. So he’s a prime example of that. Obviously, that’s not the only thing. There’s a financial side to our contract as well and what you need to know, but I believe it’s highly, highly valued.

Do you feel that that’s consistent across your field in general? That that’s not special necessarily to just your company?

No. Yeah, I mean definitely across. You’d be surprised how many people mess up just the simple tasks of emails. And what kind of loss that creates in value that leaves. But yeah, it’s definitely across the board a pivotal thing to have.

Great. Thank you. And final question, how do you define successful writing as a student versus how you define it now in the workplace, and overall would you say that you consider yourself a successful workplace writer?

Yeah, I would say where I excelled in being a writer as a student, and now I think in my career now is playing close to detail in editing. People always think about writing, but they don’t think about the editing portion. The document isn’t done once you’re done writing it. I think going back [inaudible 00:26:06] scrubbing is where people make them from bad to good in terms of that.

Okay.

Yeah. For student versus … I believe it would be all the same. I mean, if you’re a good writer as a student, you should be good in this role. I believe that attention to editing is key.

Great. And you, you consider yourself to be successful as a writer at this stage in your career?

Yeah, yeah, for sure.

Great. All right. That’s it. Thank you.

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Senior Associate of Marketing Strategy

Business, Government & Military


My current job title is Senior Associate of Marketing Strategy and Analysis currently working at [redacted] consulting. And it has been nine years since I graduated from college.

Great. And how long have you worked in this field?

In the field of marketing I’ve been working since I graduated. Here at the government services. I’ve been working for three months now.

Oh, great. Okay. And could you tell me first, just a brief overview of what the organization does, and then a description of your primary job functions?

Sure. So the organization is divided into both a public sector, which is the government side that I work on and private sector, commercial, media, and communications. So my job specifically is working with government clients, specifically with NIH, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, working on a communications project for them. So we are government contractor hired by different government agencies to perform a variety of tasks. They range from technology, communications, marketing development, so anything and everything that we could do for the government we work on. 

Great, okay. And and in terms of your specific job description, how, how does that play out?

So my specific job description is working with marketing strategies. So I am basically brought in to develop marketing plans and strategy to get the word out, for whatever the project or goal is, of the government client. So I do a lot of writing in communications plans, and even writing for tactics, and basically managing the project from start to finish. So building the plan all the way to all the little nitty gritty day to day stuff, and then finishing out with metrics and analysis of how our campaigns performed. 

Wonderful. And could you estimate in an average week, what percentage of your job requires writing? 

I would say, during the week, a good, huh…if we’re counting everything from like, email communications to like writing of what’s going out to the public? 

Yes. 

I would say like a good 50% of my job is writing. 

Great. Okay, wonderful. Could–you mentioned a couple of those things–could you tell me more about sort of the forms or types of documents that you most often write?

So, on the strategy side, most of the forms that I’m writing are like developmental plans. So very high level overview, giving executive summaries, doing strategic analysis on the project or the client, and then diving in deeper and looking at specific tactics and how we want things to perform. So it’s a lot of like research and translating that into a Word document that my internal team can use, but also something that the client can refer back to. So it’s like a lot of project briefs, and communications plans. And then the other side of the writing is actually writing for the communications that are going out, whether it’s like emails or social media posts, or video scripts. So some of the high level and some of the day to day, and then sprinkled in there are just the daily communications and like emailing with the client, and then emailing like internally with the team. 

That makes a lot of sense. When you’re thinking about this content, just to clarify, like if you’re writing social media posts for a client or writing a video script, who is the ultimate audience for those pieces of writing?

So the usual audience for people that are viewing the video or receiving the email are the general public that are subscribed to receive information from NIH. So for example, the emails go out to a blast of health information subscribers within that network. So they have opted in to receive that. The videos, for example, or social media are more of a broad audience, not necessarily somebody that’s subscribed, but someone that just falls into the net of, you’re interested in a health topic or you might be in the network of somebody that’s interested in health or practices in health and see a video that they shared on their page from us. 

Got it. And, and let’s look at that–if we think about that social media again–what is the primary purpose usually of that kind of communication?

So our primary purpose for social media is really to build awareness and to get shares. We want to get the word out for our messages, specifically for highlighting something that’s going on in the health world, or if there’s like a new resource that’s available, we want people to take that resource and use it, and also share it with their networks. So that can be downloading a resource and posting it in a doctor’s office. Or, say you have a friend that’s suffering from a disease that we just released an article about, and you want to share that information with them? I would say those are our primary goals to build awareness and get those shares and likes out there. 

Great. Could you take maybe a specific recent project or, or even a type of project and and talk a little bit about the process start to finish, sort of how that task comes to you any planning, drafting revision, sort of the whole, the whole process?

Sure. So one of the projects that I manage and work on are the Health Awareness Months for my specific branch of NIH. And what this is, is every month for the different branches in NIH, they feature a disease or something that research is being done on. So diabetes is a big one. Diabetes month is coming up–that is in November. So from start to finish, when we receive this project, we know when it’s happening, so kind of start to build our timelines. And then from there, we want to establish what our goal is for this month. Do we want to build awareness for the general public? Do we want to have partners engaging? Do we just want to get the word out there and have people use this for the month [indecipherable]. So we have a big kickoff meeting to establish what our goals and our objectives are. And then from there, we begin writing our communications plans and diving into the specific tactics and strategy for how we want to accomplish the goals. So once we’ve kind of laid that groundwork, and everyone’s on the same page, we can go into the day to day execution, to get the tactics out to hopefully bring us back analytics and metrics that hopefully are meeting our goals and exceeding them. Then, yeah and then from there, we do a big wrap up, where we create this report, again, more writing that dives into what was successful, what we learned from this campaign, giving a summary of just what our awareness month was. And anybody could use that. So we want to write that in a way that our internal teams can reference, other people at NIH can reference, whether you had your hands in the project or not.

Oh, interesting. And so when you’re writing that, that wrap up report, is that a collaborative piece? Or are you the the specific person who writes it?

It’s a very collaborative piece, because there’s so many different elements and tactics that go into a campaign. So we have people from our digital team, for example, that ran social media, writing their portion, saying which posts performed the best. And then we have somebody that worked on the video, for example. So she’s writing what her findings were in creating that and we have email blast people that are tracking how many opens and clicks. So a lot of the more quantitative and like tactical information is coming from those teams, whereas I’m looking at it from a strategic level to see what worked best, what we might want to do again, and like did this strategy–was it  successful for the campaign. 

I see. And so are you are sort of–do you give those individual specialists feedback on the writing that goes into this report?

I do, in I guess my own way, we’re very much like in the digital age. So sometimes it’s a conversation, but usually, it’s like within a Word document we use, like track changes if we want to, you know, make sure we’re positioning something in the right way. For example, like, if a campaign–or sorry, if a tactic in a campaign didn’t perform that well, we want to make sure we’re positioning it in a way that makes it seem like you know, we’re learning from what we did, it wasn’t a complete failure, there was still some sort of success, trying to find the positive in it. So a big part of my job is making sure that we are spinning things like the right way. Where somebody who’s very much like a specialist and in the weeds is looking at it as like strictly numbers. So yes, that is a–that is a part to kind of review how the overall report is developed and like sent out to clients.

I see. And so it sounds like, in addition to this being a really sort of important informative document, you’re also in some ways, sort of justifying the work that was done even when it wasn’t 100% successful? 

Yes, yeah. 

Okay, that’s really interesting. How did you–this is sort of a broader question, but how did you know how to do this kind of writing?

So this is something that I learned at my previous job. Like, as I mentioned, I’ve been working in the public sector now for just three months. But before that, I was an in-house marketing strategy person. So I worked in the private sector. And my last company was definitely one of those very fast paced, learn a lot really quickly. And a big part of our training in my last company–and a big part of our job was the client relation part and how to speak to a client, how to write to a client. So I’m starting to bring that skill level over here to where I am, because it is part of an experience, having that relationship with, you know, a contractor that you have hired, that’s not an employee of the company you’re at. So at my last job, we went through boot camps with our owner on how to approach situations, difficult or easy, and if you’re caught in a situation where you don’t know how to give an answer, you are–we were trained and taught how to handle those. So while, of course, we never want to lie or tell like a false truth, there is a way of spinning it that makes it look positive, or we have learned from something or this is–there is a brighter side to what we did. And I think that clients become really receptive to that experience, rather than like, we tried this, and it didn’t work. So yeah, that was a big part of, of my last job was was how to interact with with clients.

That’s great. That makes a lot of sense. Yeah. Um, has there ever been a time in your career that you felt unprepared as a writer?

Yeah, 100%. Um, I was not a writer in college. My degree is in Information Science. So things that I was writing were code and those types of things. We didn’t write papers in my, in my major. So when I got into marketing, I quickly realized that a lot of it is writing, whether it’s writing plans or writing, like actual text that’s going out into the world. So I have definitely faced some difficult times with, I guess you would call it writer’s block, a writer would call it–that just not knowing where to start or how do you structure something or make it concise and clear to whoever is reading it. So I’ve been lucky to always work with a real copywriter and collaborate with them. But there are times where the copywriter’s not available and something’s got to get out. So I will write it and it could be either, you know, bouncing ideas off of a copywriter. I google things for templates and structure, just to figure it, figure it out that way. Sometimes, it’s just getting words on a paper and then having somebody else look at it, getting another set of eyes. So those are kind of some of the ways that I try to tackle my difficulties with writing because I’m not a writer.

Well, you clearly are, but you don’t feel that way. I understand. Yeah, that’s really interesting. Um, so we talked about how you oversee writing of other people. Is there anyone who oversees your writing?

Um, I do always share something that I’ve written with either a copywriter when they have time or my manager. And usually my manager is not also a devoted copywriter, you know, or like, that’s what their background is. But I will say once you’ve been in a field for however long like, for example, my manager here has been working here for quite some time, understands the nuances of writing for health. You start to develop that skill, and you can tell if a tone is right or wrong. Or are we taking this, you know, approaching this at the right angle? Is it too wordy? So I always do have somebody look at it, whether it’s somebody in content strategy, or it is my manager who’s usually the same position that I am, in just with more experience. 

That makes sense that makes sense. This will obviously vary significantly from project to project. But how long would you say you typically have to complete maybe one of your more substantial writing projects?

Well, that’s a good question. Since everything is always, always last minute. I would say with the bigger projects, which are usually like writing a marketing plan, anywhere from like, two to four weeks. Usually it’s on like the two week side. But ideally, yeah, it would fall somewhere, somewhere between then if we get our timing right.

Okay. Um, and this asks you to now look back a little bit at college. You mentioned you were an Information Sciences. person? Yeah, so what kind of writing do you remember being asked to create as a student? You said code? For sure.

Yes. So I was an Information Science major with a business minor. So there was a little bit of writing, but from what I remember, it was writing in my like, English 101 class that you have to take. And on the business side, the biggest thing I remember writing was a business plan. But other than that, I was not a student that was in classes where I was writing term papers or thesis or anything like that. It was usually very, like, technical. So I would say, aside from like, the basic 101 that everybody has to take, the biggest writing piece that I had was a business plan to complete my minor part of my degree. 

I see. And thinking about that business plan, or the writing that you did in that sort of first year writing class in English 101, are there ways that you think your college writing prepared you for the work you do now? Or does it feel really separate, really unrelated?

Um, I think, I think it’s a little bit of both. I think like, the English 101 definitely gave me like the foundation to, like, construct a sentence and a idea from start to finish. But I think that writing the business plan really helped me with the type of work I do today. So a little bit of both, I think the–you know, the 101 type stuff, just help me sound intelligent and be able to formulate a sentence. But the business plan, especially working in marketing, and in like business, really gave me like the, the structure of, this is where you have to start. And this is where you have to do the middle. And this is what you have to do, in the end, not necessarily like the grammatical part of my writing. 

Are there things that would have been useful for you to do or to learn in college to prepare you? 

Oh, um, I’m–trying to…let me think, things that would have been useful. I think writing for like, every day type of communications would have been useful, because you’re not writing papers, for example, when you’re in the working world, at least not in my profession, not in like, I’m not in a research type of profession. So I think that kind of some of those day to day communications and how to write for people in layman’s terms, like, when I’m talking about digital media, for example, I might be speaking to somebody that has never worked with that, or has heard of it for the first time. So I think in like, yes, the day to day communications, it would have been helpful to have some sort of background on that, but also learning how to speak to an audience that you have to pretend like they don’t know anything about what you’re talking about.

That’s really interesting. Yeah, yeah. Um, could you talk a little bit about what is at stake in your writing?

Um, I think that being an expert in what you’re writing in is really what’s important. I feel like if you develop a piece, and it sounds like you don’t know what you’re talking about, if there’s typos, if statistics aren’t right, if your strategy is all over the place, it doesn’t make sense. That’s really like what’s at stake for me. For me, I was hired to be an expert in my field. And if I can’t write and communicate in a way that shows that, then, you know, my level of like expertise is starting to be questioned. And with a client contractor relationship, building trust is really important. And if they feel like they’re speaking to somebody that doesn’t get them, doesn’t understand what they do, that can cause a lot of problems. So when I’m writing what’s at stake is just really like making sure that my clients trust me, I’m getting my point across clearly. And it’s making sense. I hope that answers that question.

It absolutely does. Absolutely. That makes perfect sense, yeah. Um, what would you say is the most difficult thing about writing in your field or in your specific position?

Hmm. Difficult. For me, what I find difficulty in is writing the communications to go to the public. They’re very specific, they have to be written with a certain tone. And you–there is like a element of being an expert in that field. For example, I work a lot with like diabetes work now. So the way that you talk about it has to be really specific, like you can’t contract this disease, it’s something that develops within your body. So using like those types of keywords, I, it’s something that you’d have to just learn over experience and over time, so I find it difficult to get it right the first time with those types of communications. Whereas on the other end, more of the planning type things I feel a lot more confident in and don’t have as much difficulty in that. Sometimes it just takes me a while to like, get to work and get something out that would be going to the general public.

Sure. That makes sense. I mean, this, you’re an expert in your field, but then it’s like you’re expected to be an expert in this other–totally other area. 

Exactly. 

Um, has anyone helped you during your, the course of your career with your writing?

In a sense of like, outside of the working world, or within, like, within working?

With working, but honestly, either. Yeah, since graduating from college, if you’ve gotten any sort of formal or informal help with your writing, if you could talk about that.

I haven’t gotten any formal help as far as like certification classes, or anything like that. Everything has been pretty much from my own experience. But I think I mentioned earlier, we did do like boot camps, like within the company, that were hosted by the owner of the company, to learn about writing styles, and how to communicate on a client relation level with a contractor. So while it wasn’t like very formal, it was some sort of training that has kind of like, set me up for how I write today. 

Excellent. Yeah. And in addition to that, or I guess, taking that into consideration, could you talk a little bit about how you think you’ve evolved or improved as a writer over the course of your career?

I would say I think I’ve like evolved as a writer, just because I have to do it, it’s part of my daily job. And it’s, it’s a big part of what I have to do. So just practicing and doing it every day. I think it’s really helped me to become better at it. I feel like when I first started working, it was definitely more of like an execution type role where not a lot of writing was involved, it was more like you get a task, and you get it done and out the door. But now that I’ve kind of moved on to a different level, more senior levels, it is a lot more about the strategic thinking and planning. So I’ve had to learn how to write. And that’s kind of how I feel like I’ve evolved, and I feel like it’s just going to continue in that direction.

Right. Um, thanks. Excellent. To what extent do you think writing is valued in your organization?

Um, I think that writing is–I think it’s very valuable, especially because you’re working with a client and like outside source. It’s not something internal, and you have communications that are going out to hundreds of thousands of millions of people. So your reach is a lot more than if you were just working within a small team, and you’re only emailing amongst each other. So I would say writing is a is a really big, big component of what we do here. We are–I’m working on a communications project. So it’s huge.

Excellent. And our last little question or set of questions here: How did you define successful writing as a student versus successful writing now? And would you say that you are a successful workplace writer?

As a student, I guess every student defines their success through their grades. But I will say that as a student my skill level or skill set within technical, math classes and science classes, not in writing. But I would say, you know, I was definitely like an average student when it came to English type literature. But now, because I’m not doing math problems and I am having to write, my success level is definitely a lot higher than when I was in school. I would say that I’m a successful writer, I feel that, especially with communications with the client, writing emails and things like that, I feel very confident. I’ve heard from reviews that I’m doing well, in that sense, and even writing for things for the public. Like, I don’t feel like I would have been able to do that many, many years ago as quickly and as well as I do it now. So if I had to say if I was successful or not in writing in the workplace, I would say that I am.

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Content Manager

Business
Interview–Content Manager

Speaker:              Would you please state your job title, where you currently work, and how long it’s been since you graduated from college?

Speaker:              I’m currently a contributing editor for a lifestyle parenting site called The Every Mom. I –how long as it been? I graduated grad school in 2008, so I’ve been there, I guess I would say , fairly in the workforce  since, then though I’ve worked prior to that as well. But since then my career line has switched.

Speaker:              Could you tell us a little bit about that switch?

Speaker:              Sure. I got my master’s in education, early childhood education and special early childhood education. And I taught  in New York City, in Philadelphia, Boston, and Miami. And then when we moved here to Chicago five years ago , I struggled finding a teaching job since my license had then expired  from New York and we had never been long–anywhere and long enough for me to actually get a teaching license in that state. So after having the babies I kind of shifted a little bit trying to figure out what I could actually do with the skills and the experience that I had. And since then it’s been a climb to try to actually figure out what I can come to and how it can be functional how we work with family life. And you know obviously make  some sort of income to actually have it all be worth it as well.

Speaker:              That’s great. That’s really useful. And so how long have you worked in your current field? I know the position is relatively new, right?

Speaker:              Yes. The position itself I just started in April. Prior to that I was a staff writer at another parenting Web site called Romper, which is under the Bustle Media Group. And that I had it for a year prior to that I was just freelancing. So it’s been a bit of a climb to be able to  actually get the staff writing job and then decide at that point–yes, a consistent writing job , but do I really feel  connected to it? You know, it’s important in the way that I want it to be important? And do I have the–my–a large part of my issue  after  motherhood is do I feel creatively challenged? And so after having that job for a year I decided that I didn’t–it, you know, it didn’t hit all of those marks. And so I started looking again and I came across this one.

Speaker:              That’s great. OK. And for this job that you’re currently in could you give me just sort of a brief description of your primary job functions?

Speaker:              I do a lot of writing. Since it’s a lifestyle Web site it’s very kind of colloquial, you know blog writing. We do research based pieces, which I am assigned to largely because of my education background and because I have the knowledge on that. So that’s actually you know helps out and it feel good that I’m good. You know throw away an entire  private education at NYU for no reason at all. And then we do a lot of I do a lot of content management. I work with other writers and people who want to contribute or submit pieces on developing their writing in order for it to be –I guess you could say read or relatable or acceptable to a larger audience. A lot of the time people who submit very personally to the point where  it’s not exactly accessible by an outside audience. So we work a lot on that.

Speaker:              That’s great. That’s really useful. Yeah.

Speaker:              Could you estimate in an average week what percentage of your job requires writing?

Speaker:              I would say probably 80 percent.

Speaker:              Okay, great.

Speaker:              And maybe even slightly more. Okay . Because, social media writing, like all that stuff. I would consider to be writing. But it’s so different and so not what my experience in writing had been prior and not what, you know, my English degree had ever taught right.

Speaker:              So you–do you manage social media for the site as well or you contribute to it?

Speaker:              I contribute a lot on Instagram captions and Instagram stories and Facebook write ups. Beyond that I don’t do much of the photo sourcing and stuff like that. But just for making sure the copy is on point.

Speaker:              Okay. Okay. And so in addition to those what other forms or types of documents do you most often create?

Speaker:              I would say the blog writing is the largest chunk of it on the actual Web site content that being–in addition to that probably e-mails, is, you know, a good amount of writing that I would not have normally considered writing.  But you know as I see it now in a–actual jobs email writing has a huge thing and not only does it take a lot of time, but it has to be very specific in the way that it’s written in order for it to be effective and for it to, you know, ease the strain of your job.

Speaker:              When you’re thinking about those e-mails that you typically write at work , who are the primary audiences and what are you usually trying to accomplish with them?

Speaker:              I would say that there’s you know a good amount of e-mails between our team but those aren’t the ones that I would really feel any sort of pressure about. The ones where I’m working with the writers is the biggest thing. I also work with a lot of PR firms that are looking to push their own experts, like doctors and psychologists and pediatricians into obstetricians and all of those you know what we’re looking for experts to weigh in on certain subjects.  But the ones with the writers this is probably where it is because I feel a sense of wanting to guide them and to, you know, to help develop their voice in the way that I never had someone do for me. But I also, you know, for the sake of efficiency you have to be quick and you know not long winded and that’s not a strong suit of mine. [laughter] So that’s that’s been something that’s been difficult for me to manage because I have that sort of perfectionist nature to my–to basically every kind of writing that I do. Sometimes you know the inbox can seem like such a weighty thing in the morning.

Speaker:              Absolutely, yeah.

Speaker:              Could you maybe think of a recent project a recent writing project that’s not formal-formal but a more formal than e-mail, and tell us a little bit about the process of writing it from beginning to end?

Speaker:              I’m working on a piece right now actually about rediscovering yourself after motherhood, and that’s been–because it’s something that is very important to me , it’s been one of the one such taking I’m looking at the open the browser window right now has 35 revisions on it  already. But the process, you know, usually I do a bit of notetaking. Sometimes certain sentences just come to me and I just jot them down quickly and then kind of of expand based on that and play around with it reorganize , make sure you read it try to cut down words because that’s always something of mine that I need to work on and then make sure that it’s successful in a way that has actionable points that are relevant to a larger audience.  I think that personal writing in that way can seem so overwhelming because you want to share your story but you also need to make it accessible for somebody else. Otherwise there’s no there’s no point in having them read it. And you know there’s not going to be, obviously, in a  workplace we rely on clicks, and we rely on traffic, and we rely on the content being interesting enough that when we promote it on social media that the audience is going to want to come to the website and actually read it. So that sort of stuff weighs on me, as well. Then for this particular one I’ve reached out to my editor a couple of times just to see, you know, where she thinks that there needs to be more explanation or a better transition. She told me that it’s perfect as it is, which only frustrated me even more.  So I reached out to the managing editor of our sister site just this morning to ask him what she thought as well. Because I’ve been convinced there has to be something wrong with it. You know I appreciate a lot of input and I appreciate the critique and criticism and all those things. I think feeling as though I’m not a writer it’s something that has stayed with me and I’m not sure why that is. And even though it’s my job now I think because it’s maybe a different sort of writing that I’m used to or that I’ve learned or it that I’ve grown up loving in terms of literature. You know it feels it always feels less than.

Speaker:              I think that’s a very familiar feeling to most people. Yeah.

Speaker:              When you think about these types of projects that you’re working on–this is sort of a broad question–but  how did you know or how did you learn how to perform them?

Speaker:              I would say a lot has to do with just doing it, and then, you know, like, I said asking for advice constantly. But I also am a serial researcher. And you know I really look into books obviously as another part of it. But I look at a lot of resources that have to do with copywriting and social media writing and, you know, captions that convert and you know what sort of format  is a good way to organize blog posts. And you know how to draw the reader and all that stuff. I end up reading so much of that that I don’t actually have time to read anything I want to read.

Speaker:              Right. Right.

Speaker:              Because I’m so so concerned with being good at what I do.

Speaker:              Uh huh. And so this really transitions well into this next question. You know, what I’m especially interested in is the points at which people feel unprepared or less than right feeling like they’re not up to snuff in terms of their writing. When you came into this job and you felt that–it sounds like to some extent–what did you do other than–are there things that you did other than research to overcome those challenges or at least make progress?

Speaker:              I think for my particular path , the part that was really big was making sure that I went in a–I went about it in a manner that made sense.  And by that I mean you know first being able to freelance, you know, a few pieces here and there for websites that are big bigger not so big. But being able to get good feedback on those and learn a little bit more about how to write for an audience, a little bit more about what it means to write content online, and then be able to go into that staff writing job at Romper which you know writing wise was very very easy work, but content –you know the content was simple and straightforward and it was, you know, a lot that was based on search engine optimization. So–but being able to learn that part of it then how–you know, how to use keywords effectively in your writing. Where, where the links are supposed to go where, you know, where you want your–what you want your heading to look like, why you want your headings to look  like this. All those things fell into place over there. And so along with the research that I was doing when I was at Romper I didn’t do any social media at all, but I watched a lot of theirs. And then by the time I got into this job I felt a lot more comfortable in that I maybe didn’t have the experience but I had the knowledge on how to go about it.

Speaker:              That’s great. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You talked about asking for feedback from an editor both your direct editor and a sort of parallel editor. Would you say that–is there someone who oversees your writing direct directly ? Does that primary editor oversee your writing  usually?

Speaker:              My–yes–she does. My managing editor does directly oversee it. The funny part about that is that she doesn’t have a writing background.  She has a marketing background, and it seems to be, you know, there’s this toss up between those two worlds because writing wise I’m like, well, you know this is what makes sense and she’s like you know marketing wise this is what we need to do. So there’s a bit of a conflict between the two worlds, as it is now that I see it. Now that online writing is becoming such a thing in that–you know it’s kind of like the primary way people are gaining information and also outputting information. The dichotomy between the two is something that I find really fascinating.

Speaker:              Yeah, absolutely. That’s really, really interesting. And how would you say –I mean I can see this dichotomy and imagine how it might play out, but how do you think that she judges the success or the quality of the writing that you’re handing her?

Speaker:              I would say directly based on stats.

Speaker:              Oh, wow, that’s really interesting.

Speaker:              I think she personally appreciates my writing and she’s told me that and, you know, she says that many times and even if my pieces don’t do very well she still likes them. But in terms of being the managing editor of the website and my boss she has to look at how it converts.

Speaker:              That’s fascinating.

Speaker:              How long do you typically have to complete a writing project?  You talked about this this piece you’re working on now about finding yourself after having kids as being a longer term project. Is that–but that’s not typical?

Speaker:              That’s not typical. I tend to take a longer time–longer being maybe a week–on the personal pieces because it takes me a longer time to be able to wrap my head around all the emotional stuff like you know in blocks around there and she is fine with that. She gives me leeway on that. But in terms of the more, what would I–I don’t know what you would call the more flat subject  pieces, like the one that I’m working on next is you know dental care for toddlers and infants. Those sorts of pieces I’m expected to put out about four to six a week. And I work three days.

Speaker:              Oh interesting.  Right. OK. So two a day. Wow.

Speaker:              Yeah. 

Speaker:              OK. So now how to shift and look backwards a little bit. I’m wondering what kind of writing you remember being asked to create as a student and the ways in which you think those experiences sort of set you up or didn’t to work right in the workplace. You mentioned being an English major, right?

Speaker:              Yes.

Speaker:              So what kinds of writing do you remember being asked to do?

Speaker:              I think it–you know I don’t remember so much about it –I remember you know English comp being–that that freshman English comp class being based on forming argumentative essays I think? You know in a pretty traditional paragraph format–not the five paragraphs essays that you’re used to in high school, but being able to organize and set up a paper in order to make a point. I think was the focus of that. And then as we got into more literature it was always based on analysis for the most part, so using that kind of you know here’s here’s my point , let’s prove it  sort of set up. That’s what I largely remember the English side being. I also was a psychology major as well.  And I think on that site it was more of a lot of analysis as well.  But also just kind of research based presentation of not facts but maybe a concept or an idea.

Speaker:              OK. Yeah. And how do you feel like those writing experiences prepared you for the kind of work you do now, if they did at all?

Speaker:              I’m sure they did in that I was probably able to kind of get a feel for my own writing.  And I was also able to get a feel for how fast I write. Sean always would make fun of me in college because you know we’d have a 20 page paper and I’d start it the night before and he’s like, basically clearly you just work well under pressure and you can’t plan you know worth a damn, which largely seems to still be true. So I think the reason that I can convert, you know, these articles pretty quickly is that I’ve kind of learned how to let go of that perfectionist stream, especially when the writing itself isn’t something that I’m truly connected to or that I feel so strongly about.

Speaker:              Yeah, yeah.

Speaker:              You know whereas like the personal pieces take a little bit more time because it’s so directly connected to me.

Speaker:              Right.  And that makes a lot of sense to me. Are there certain things that it would have been useful for you to learn or to do as a student to be even more prepared at this stage?

Speaker:              I always think that, you know, if I could go back to college now what would I focus on. But I really do find this online content world really really fascinating. I mean I know colleges now have started to gear towards that a little bit. Obviously when you know when we’re in school it wasn’t even a thing right. You know, people–I mean they like live journals, like that–you know, like nobody had blogs that wasn’t a thing, like social media didn’t exist. None of this was relevant. And so I don’t find that the education I had at any fault in not preparing me for the world. I don’t think anybody expected writing to have changed so quickly [inaudible]. You know, it’s really just–it’s been a whirlwind, if you look at it. I think now going forward schools can do a lot to, you know, point kids in the right direction because it seems as though even, you know, fields that are more scientific or anything–like when you’re publishing now you’re doing it online. You know you’re writing interest articles to gain, you know, funding because it draws people in and they feel connected to it and that’s how you get research money. Like all that stuff is so interrelated now that it’s become relevant in every field.

Speaker:              Right. Yeah, absolutely it has. That’s really interesting. Yeah, and I do feel like there’s some flexibility that we really should be teaching now even more so than the content because we have to assume that this writing will continue to evolve, right? Thinking about like how do we teach them about the writing world now but also how do we teach them to sort of evolve with that, which I think comes a little bit more inherently to some people, right, than than others.

Speaker:              Right. For sure.

Speaker:              So this is sort of a shift back to your current writing. Could you tell me a little bit about what is at stake in your writing?

Speaker:              What do you mean by that?

Speaker:              What–why does your writing matter? And what would be the effect of your writing succeeding or failing?

Speaker:              That’s hard because, you know, I feel like as a writer you always feel like you’re writing doesn’t matter.

[laughter]

You always feel like, clearly this is stupid and whey am I’m doing it?  I think it’s important –I think the personal work is important because it’s vulnerable and because it has the ability to connect to people and to make them feel less alone. And I think in that sense of parenting that’s very, very important. I think that informative articles are important because so many people rely on Google for information. And there’s been so much–quote unquote, I hate using this term–but fake news. You know that you kind of want to provide that little piece of reality and you know instead of fear-mongering and instead of using click bait headlines and things like that, you know just kind of reassure people that, hey you know this is the actuality of it, and you know yes you should talk to experts. But also here’s a little bit of a rundown say don’t freak out for the rest of the day.

Speaker:              Right. Right.

Speaker:              You know, I think that’s relevant  because it’s becoming–information is so widely spread now and a lot of times–you know, 85 percent of the times it’s incorrect . So it feels important in that sense. If the writing itself were to fail –I mean it fails in two ways it fails by not being important to the reader.  And it also fails in not being–or the reader not being able to reach it, and that you know that part of it lands on marketing and search engine option optimization and you know getting traffic to your website and things like that, which are everyday struggles for us.  But it also you know when an article falls flat, when it doesn’t get a lot of views and we know it’s good stuff it’s can be really upsetting because we know it’s not getting to the people that we need to get it to. And so it’s not helpful. You know, it doesn’t help that it’s out there. It has it can only help if the person who needs it is reading it.

Speaker:              That’s great. Yeah.  What is the most difficult thing about about writing in your specific position?

Speaker:              For me. It’s writing in a less academic  tone . Because I’ve done so much academic writing my entire education and most of my career , it’s really hard for me to be conversational in writing and that’s, you know, a lot of the comments that I get in terms of edits actually make this less stuffy? How can we make it less academic sounding, how can we make it sound less boring ? You know how can we make it seem like you’re talking to your friend? And I really struggle with that.

Speaker:              OK that’s great. That’s interesting.  You mentioned the feedback that you get from your editor. Other than that feedback , has anyone helped you with your writing in the workplace?

Speaker:              No.

Speaker:              How do you believe you’ve evolved or improved as a writer in this current sort of field, so maybe since you started freelancing till now?

Speaker:              I think a lot has been on my  own kind of , you know, transformation–my own side research and what I do to try to implement those things in my writing. But I really do  wish that I had somebody to , you know, kind of just develop me. But it’s you know like we were talking about before it’s –the people that are the higher ups in my –in our company, aren’t writers by profession. Or by background. And that can be  frustrating  because at some point it feels less professional than it should. But I think that’s also the nature of just being a part of a website like this.

Speaker:              What do you mean by–  Where–

Speaker:              Oh, I”m sorry. Go ahead.

Speaker:              No go ahead.

Speaker:              I was going to ask you , what do you mean by less professional than it should.

Speaker:              You know there’s still that part of me having  gone through an English degree, having gone through a master’s program, having worked with university writers for so long as a writing tutor. It –it doesn’t feel like writing a lot of the time. It doesn’t feel like the writing that you’re used to. You know, and that’s that has a lot to do with the fact that I resist change  in every corner. But it’s–you know, like, we were talking about the field of writing has changed so much in the last 10 years that  you kind of–and this is me speaking solely for myself here–but I judge people that don’t know how to write, in the sense of how I’ve learned. And in the sense of like education-based writing. You know, the girl who started our company is–she is excellent at being able to reach her audience she’s you know had a very successful personal blog, she has you know 50,000 Instagram followers and she’s grown the Every Girl loves websites , you know, to millions of page hits a month, but  for some reason I still  don’t feel like that’s  writing.

Speaker:              Right. That’s really really interesting to me. And that leads me to the next question which is, like,  I can see how you view the writing here. How do you think the organization as a whole values writing ?

Speaker:              I mean it’s definitely an  integral part of the website. They push out, you know, the Every Girl pushes out, I think four posts a day, and we do too at this point. We’re working on moving up to three. But it’s you know that’s all the content is writing–in social media too. So it’s extremely important. And they’re very, very effective  at it.

Speaker:              Right.

Speaker:              But it’s a totally different kind of writing than I’m used to. So you know I have trouble grasping that part of it. Like, you know it’s it’s very informal writing, I should say . It’s conversational, you know, there’s –you know, abbreviations and, and and you know little phrases that people, the kids nowadays  use. [laughter] But then, it’s like, you know, for me it’s like well can I take it as seriously as I take say the Times of the Atlantic or something like that? Like what –you know, what’s real and what’s better? And there is no better  really. It’s more in terms of you know are you able to write for your audience?

Speaker:              Right. That’s great. That’s a really interesting way to think about it.  And this is actually just our last set of questions so how did you define successful writing as a student versus successful writing in your current position, and would you say that you are a successful writer in your current position ?

Speaker:              As a student I think , you know, I solely went off of what my professors comments were and what my grades were in order to judge what the writing was and I was always pretty good at academic writing. This I find a lot harder . Would I consider myself successful? I think  maybe I’m, you know, maybe I’m at the beginning of the path where I will someday feel like that? But I think–I think I can be effective  in the writing that I’m doing. You know I do get comments from people that say that, you know, that the  article  was helpful to them or it meant a lot to them or they could relate. And I consider those things a measure of how successful it was .

 

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Marketing Manager

Business, Sciences

SPEAKER:             Could you please state your job title and the kind of organization where you work?

SPEAKER:             I am a marketing manager for a healthcare system.

SPEAKER:             Great. How long has it been since you graduated from undergrad?

SPEAKER:             Ten years.

SPEAKER:             And how long have you worked in your current field?

SPEAKER:             In my current position or in my current, just areas–

SPEAKER:             Both.

SPEAKER:             In my current position for four years, and i n healthcare marketing for eight years.

SPEAKER:             Okay, perfect, okay. Could you provide just a brief description of your primary job functions?

SPEAKER:             Sure. I manage marketing for again, a health care organization, and I manage service line marketing. So what that means is there a specific area within a healthcare organization that I’m assigned to manage all of their marketing, advertising, branding, and promotion.

SPEAKER:             Gotcha. Could you estimate, in an average week, what percentage of your job requires writing?

SPEAKER:             lot. Probably I would say maybe 60, 70 percent. A. lot. Yeah

SPEAKER:             Okay, okay. What forms or types of writing are you asked to produce?

SPEAKER:             Everything from advertising – so advertising copy – so that can be print advertising, radio, out-of-home like billboards, metro ads, things like that, to outcomes reports, which are very clinical in nature, to patient education materials, which are very black and white. So something like, “You’re coming to the hospital for X procedure. Park in this parking garage, go to this entrance, check in at this desk, bring this with you. “

SPEAKER:             Interesting. Okay.

SPEAKER:             And then e-mails of course [chuckle].

SPEAKER:             Right okay [chuckle]. Can you walk me through the process for maybe a recent project, or a type of project even, starting from sort of how that assignment or task comes to you, what do you do to prepare the writing, and any steps of like revision or editing after that?

SPEAKER:             Sure. Well every job is a little bit different. Typically what happens is my marking department typically kind of functions as kind of an in-house agency for our clients if you will. So my clients will come to me and they’ll say, “Hey we want a brochure on this new service that we’re going to launch. ” Sometimes they will have already provided that copy for me and all I do is refine it and make it a little more user friendly. Sometimes I get bullet points of what they want to highlight. Sometimes I get nothing. So it really, really just depends. A recent example we did just a quick little just trifold brochure on a new program that s launching as part of our Women’s and Children’s Services focused on breastfeeding. Didn’t have any particular copy that they wanted to cover, so I literally sat down and I Googled  facts about breastfeeding, kind of reworked those into some user friendly language, sent them off to my clients in the clinical realm, had them review, tweak as needed. Then I take their revisions back and kind of finesse them a bit for readability, and then repeat that process again  until everyone’s happy.

SPEAKER:             Gotcha. Okay. All right, that’s great. How did you know how to perform these types of writing?

SPEAKER:             I didn’t, to be quite honest with you. It was a lot of trial by fire. It was a lot of kind of learn as you go. It’s always helpful when the clients that I work with at least have some kind of idea of what they want to say, and they don’t always provide that to me in writing. Again, sometimes they will lay out all of this text for me and they want me to print that verbatim which we can’t do, or sometimes they’ll give me like three or four bullets, or sometimes they’ll just say, “I think we should talk about this. ” And whenever I get a little bit of direction that’s always more helpful, because I feel like it streamlines the process. But a lot of times I don’t, and a lot of times I’m just kind of again, I’m literally Googling medical conditions and trying to webmd my way into something that’s readable. So there was a really steep learning curve when I joined the organization of how do I write this correctly? How do I write it succinctly, and how to w rite it at a reading level that consumers who are exposed to it will understand? Because especially in healthcare it can get really, really technical and really a high level really, really fast.

SPEAKER:             Yeah, and that makes me think about this – so it seems like your audiences are pretty varied?

SPEAKER:             Absolutely.

SPEAKER:             Can you talk about maybe some different types of audiences that you’re writing to?

SPEAKER:             Sure, sure. My audiences vary from physician-facing pieces which again are very, very clinical, that have these huge like 25 cent words that I don’t know how to say or spell o r anything, all the way down to again, that straight up patient education of, “You’re going to go in for this surgery. This is where the cafeteria is located. This is the parking garage you need to park i n. This is what you need to bring with you on the day of surgery. ” So it really kind of runs the gamut and especially in an area as diverse, as this where English is not everyone’s first language, we always try as an organization to be super, super mindful to keep that reading level at a place that’s accessible for a lot of people.

SPEAKER:             That’s great. So that’s sort of a conscious, or like explicit conversation, when you’re–

SPEAKER:             Absolutely. And I talk a lot with folks in my organization, especially that are clinical, who are very, very head down into what they do and sometimes that’s a tough conversation to say, “This is all great, however we really, really need to broaden the scope because a layman isn’t going to understand these terms. “

SPEAKER:             Right.

SPEAKER:             So I always I say to them, “Dumb it down for me. Something that like a fifth grader would. understand “

SPEAKER:             Right. Gotcha. Interesting. Can you describe a time – you talked a little bit about this – but can you describe a time in your career where you felt unprepared as a writer at work?

SPEAKER:             I think it kind of goes back to that– and mine’s very specific because it’s such a specific niche, but a lot of the health care writing that we’re asked to do can get really, really technical, and I don’t have clinical background, my colleagues that I work with don’t have clinical background, we’re all  marketers. So again, it goes back to us trying to kind of decipher these huge medical terms and these huge medical words, and figuring out a) what it means, how do we make it user friendly? And that’s because I don’t think I was ever trained to do that. It was just kind of something that I had to figure out on the fly.

SPEAKER:             Okay. Were there certain strategies or things that you did to try to get up to speed in doing those?

SPEAKER:             I would typically just, I would bug people to be honest with you. I would knock on doors, I would say, “Hey I’ve got this content here, this is great. Can you explain to me what you mean by this sentence? Can you tell me this? ” And a lot of that was just I kind of absorbed it through osmosis, if you will, to kind of get up to speed really quickly on what these people were talking about. And that’s hard  because it’s really, really technical. But it was a lot of kind of in your face, “I don’t understand this. Help me understand thi s so I can write about it. “

SPEAKER:             That’s. And this is going back a few questions, but I feel like I have to ask a followup question. So let’s talk about this breastfeeding brochure.

SPEAKER:             Okay.

SPEAKER:             So when you’re tasked with this, and you’re not given any of the information, what is the client hoping to achieve if it’s– because when I hear, “Oh I was tasked with creating t his like breastfeeding pamphlet for presumably new families and others, ” I think, “Oh there is some information that specific that they want these people to have. ” But it doesn’t sound like that’s the case. So what do you think the intention was from your client?

SPEAKER:             Well, you know, and that’s really on a case by case basis. So again, some of these materials can be physician-focused, for the purpose of driving referrals, saying, “Hey I have a new physician coming in offering this service, refer her new moms to me who are having trouble breastfeeding. ” And sometimes it’s, “Oh hey, your a new mom, you just had a baby, you’re leaving the hospital, here’s a pamphlet if you ever have trouble. ” The challenge there is you don’t always know what their goal is. So I always try to make it a point to say, “Hey, do you envision this being a piece focused on physicians as your audience, or patients as your audience? ” Sometimes the answer is  both, which makes it a little more tough, because you want to try to get those high level clinical things that a physician will respond to while keeping it as accessible as you can.

SPEAKER:             Gotcha. That’s really complicated.

SPEAKER:             Yeah.

SPEAKER:             Yeah, okay. Is there anyone who specifically oversees your writing?

SPEAKER:             Not anyone in particular. There is not like a dedicated editor or a dedicated copywriter that funnels all of our work. The approval process typically goes, I will draft the content, I will send it back to the clinical person, or whoever my point of contact for this particular job is, for their review. They will typically make edits depending on the person or the job that– those can be pages and pages of edits, where they basically rewrite every hing or to, “Oh hey I think we should add this line in. ” So it just, it really kind of depends on the day and what the job is. After that’s done, I mean it’s really me. I’m proofreading my own work, I’m looking at things. We work with the graphic design department who are also in-house; those folks will proof sometimes, but again that’s not their primary role, but you know they’ll catch things, you know like, “Oh hey, you know this sentence doesn’t make sense. Can you check it out again? ” But again, there’s nobody dedicated to proofing that.

SPEAKER:             Got it. I’m sure this varies project to project, but how long do you typically have to complete a writing project?

SPEAKER:             It does depend. Typically I want to say, maybe depending on the job, like a week or two?

SPEAKER:             Okay. Thinking back to college, what kinds of writing do you remember being asked to create as a student, and in what ways do you think your college writing experience has prepared or did not prepare you for this kind of work?

SPEAKER:             Very good question. I mean did a lot of– I mean always kind of the standard like, let me write a paper on this book that I read, which is fine. And then specifically in comms class it was a lot of –

SPEAKER:             Were you a communications major? 

SPEAKER:             I was. It was a communications major. Okay. It was a

SPEAKER:             Okay.

SPEAKER:             It was a lot of papers about communication styles and different – again communication styles – ways to communicate, even like I took a PR class where we drafted press releases and those formats are always so different no matter where you go, that, I mean, it was good to kind of have like a good skeleton of what one looked like. But again, every job I’ve been in, it had a different format.

SPEAKER:             Interesting. That’s fascinating to me. Sorry I’m just going to digress for a second [laughter]. I think the thing that’s so interesting is, I think we theoretically know that, and yet I think most business writing classes, or like tangentially related to business writing classes, still teach like, “This is a form, and you’ll be asked to write this form in the workplace. ” And we know t hat some of those are outdated, like the memo. Or the memo at least looks very different than you know, most people are taught. But so even in a pretty explicit PR class, the forms that you learned didn’t match up with what you found in the workplace?

SPEAKER:             N o it didn’t match up exactly. And I think that varies from organization to organization. Everybody tries to put their own mark on a standard press release, for example, just because I can speak to that better than anything else. I mean there’s standard, you know, insignia and protocol that go on those, but even that is changing. And again, it was helpful to kind of have a little bit of background on it, like I remember my first job out of college when my boss said, “Hey, draft me a press release on this. ” Like I knew basically what I was looking at, but again, it wasn’t a carbon copy of it. I could kind of fumble my way through it, but I had to really kind of get in the groove and learn specifically from organization to organization.

SPEAKER:             Perfect. Are there things that would have been useful for you to do or learn as a student that would’ve prepared you?

SPEAKER:             I think, and I don’t know if this would have been an appropriate part of my major but I think having more discussion in school about relationship building with your clients, because I feel like, you know, in any industry you have a client of some form. And I was never really taught how to manage those people and how to kind of set expectations and goals immediately with those people who I’m have working for.

SPEAKER:             Yeah, yeah. T hat’s interesting. What is at stake in your writing?

SPEAKER:             Well depending on who you ask, I mean, well and actually no, I take that back, because depending on what we’re drafting, I mean a lot I can be at stake. I mean, you know, I even get as granular as like NPO guidelines for presurgery. And what that means is like–

SPEAKER:             What’s NPO stand for?

SPEAKER:             It’s like food and water, like nothing by mouth prior to X amount of hours before your surgery. And while t hat’s supposed to be communicated to a patient through their clinical person, whether that’s a nurse, or the physician assistant or whoever, you know, oftentimes they get a booklet, and they’re like, “I’ll look at this later, ” and then it’s the night before their procedure, and they’re like, “Oh yeah, when was I supposed to stop eating or when was I supposed to stop drinking? ” So getting those really kind of clinical things right is really, really important. And in my line of work we really rely on our clinical counterparts to provide that information accurately to us. And I mean stuff has slipped before, in you know, in my experience and you know, you just correct it as quickly as you can and move on. And then I can get it very very frivolous too. I mean it can get, you know, you put an extra letter on the back of someone’s name and you know, the world has fallen apart But I mean, and that, again that goes down to proofing

SPEAKER:             Okay. What would you say is the most difficult thing about writing in your specific position?

SPEAKER:             I think the most difficult thing is – I mean, can I say two things?

SPEAKER:             Of course. I

SPEAKER:             I think the first thing is again, kind of what we talked about of not always having a dedicated direction or not even having anything to kind of jump off from, and like I’m literally staring at a blank piece of paper again Googling breastfeeding. Like I know nothing about breastfeeding, I don’t know. And I m looking at WebMD trying to figure out how I can regurgitate this in an appropriate way. I think the other challenge is – and this is an internal thing, I don’t know if this is the same way for everybody – but we often have kind of approval by committee, if you will, in a lot of writing that we do. So if you show 15 people, you know, the same piece of collateral, they’re going to make 15 different changes. And everybody’s a writer, everybody does marketing, and that can be tough, kind of trying to juggle everyone’s expectations while still making it the way that I know as a marketer it should be.

SPEAKER:             How do you manage all that feedback?

SPEAKER:             You don’t always, to be honest with you. I try to kind of pick my battles on that. But sometimes I don’t win. I’ve had many a situation where, you know, I have said to my clients who I really feel strongly about including this or not including it, and I don’t win all the time. And you just have to let it go.

SPEAKER:             Okay. Has anyone helped you at your organization with your writing, formally or informally?

SPEAKER:             No. No one has helped me [chuckle].

SPEAKER:             Okay, very strong answer there

[laughter]

. How do you believe you’ve evolved or improved as a writer over the course of your career?

SPEAKER:             I think that I’ve improved greatly since I, you know, since my first job, you know, off the boat, if you will. I think that I’ve learned to do things really quickly but without sacrificing accuracy, if that make sense. Just because, we have, you know, as everybody does, we have a million things f lying at us as a department every day, so you’ve got t o get it done, and you can’t waste you know half a day working on one project. So I’ve learned to really kind of edit myself, in the sense that I don’t want t his to be too wordy, I want this to be to the point. I don’t want to use ten words when four words will do, but I have to get right. So I’ve learned, I think editing is the biggest thing that I’ve learned.

SPEAKER:             To what extent do you think writing is valued in your organization?

SPEAKER:             lot actually, a lot. A lot of what we do is writing based, whether that’s, you know, a piece of direct mail that we send out or a newsletter that we write or again, a piece of advertising that we do, a radio script. So they put a big kind of value on that from a marketing standpoint.

SPEAKER:             Great. And the last set of questions. How would you have defined successful writing as a student versus successful writing now? And would you say that you are a successful workplace writer?

SPEAKER:             How would define successful writing as a student – I would say something that would get me a good grade, and something that I feel like I didn’t have the kind of kill myself to understand, if that made sense. Like I feel like writing assignments in college, like a lot of them would come really naturally to me, like we would get a prompt and I was like, “Oh, I know I’m going to write about. I get it. I got it. Here it is. ” And I would usually do alright. And then I would get writing prompts where I’d be like, “I don’t even know where to start on this. ” And sometimes it would go really, really bad, and other times when I felt like I kind of b s ‘d my way through it I would actually do a great job. And I think successful writing now kind of looks like, again, how can I make this as accurate and as accessible as I can while still finding that balance between what I know as a quote unquote marketing professional to be the right way to do this, versus balancing kind of the powers that be politically in my organization and what they want to see. So it’s really kind of about all making sure we, you know, play nice in the sandbox together. It’s a lot of, you know, people kind of all want their own, you know, stamp on everything and want to make sure that their specialty is mentioned, they want to make sure that their name is underlined, and that’s not always the right answer. So just kind of picking my battles there. It’s a lot of like, who has a bigger slice of birthday cake, you know what I mean?

SPEAKER:             Okay, yeah, yeah

SPEAKER:             And what was your other question, sorry?

SPEAKER:             Would you say you are a successful workplace writer?

SPEAKER:             I would like to think so. I think that f rom where I started and where I am now I’ve definitely improved. I don’t think that I’m perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I think that – I would like to think anyway – that I’ve found that fine line of not spending a ton of time on a project if it’s not warranted, but still making sure that the content that I put out is quality.

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Director of Customer Support

Business

Director of Customer Support

32:20

 

Q: So would you please state your job title and where you currently work?

 

A: Okay. My job title is I’m director of customer service, or customer support, and the name of the company that I work for is called Global Phone or GPhone.

Q: Great, and could you tell us just a little bit about what the company does?

 

A: We provide a business phone service, as well as calling cards.

 

Q: Excellent, okay. And how long has it been since you graduated from college?

 

A: I graduated in 1975, so over 40 years.

 

Q: Okay, great. And how long have you worked in your current field?

 

A: In the current field, I’ve been in this company since 2002. Previous companies I’ve been involved probably in customer support, also in a telecom type of environment, probably since, the maybe late ‘80’s/early ‘90’s. And just to go back to one of the questions, so my undergraduate degree was 1975, but my master’s degree was late ‘80’s, or early ‘90’s, I think. See, I can’t even remember at this point, but–

 

Q: That’s okay.

 

A: It’s been that long, long ago.

 

Q: That’s useful though. Okay, okay. And could you just provide sort of a brief description of your primary job functions?

 

A: I would say that it is to manage a small team of individuals or reps who also deal with customers, usually over the phone or over an email, as well as working with coworkers in trying to support the customer.

 

Q: Excellent, and could you estimate in an average week, what percentage of your job requires writing?

 

A: It’s probably maybe 30 percent, I’m going to say that most of my work is over the phone, you know, definitely communication is a large part of the role, but with the internet and emails, I’m starting to see less people necessarily just calling us. They will often send an email and we will communicate via email.

 

Q: Interesting, okay. And in addition to email, are there other types of documents that you write?

 

A: Hmm. I want to say, you know, at one point, definitely writing let’s say teaching documents, or learning manuals for people who are new on the job, but I would say most are– it’s primarily emails. But sometimes, as I say, training tools for coworkers.

 

Q: Okay. And if we just sort of think about the emails specifically, who are the primary audiences typically?

 

A: I want to say it’s the end user, so a customer.

 

Q: Perfect, okay. And what are the primary purposes most often of those types of emails?

 

A: It’s, I want to say, to update them on any information regarding troubleshooting with problems that they’re having, whether it’s a technical problem, or if it’s let’s say more accounting or business-related type of problem, so, and as well as, “Hey, how do you use the services?” So a lot of my job, at least I try to sort of use the email as an opportunity to teach the end user how to best use our services. And so–

 

Q: Gotcha, that’s really interesting, yeah. So could you walk us through the process of maybe a recent writing task? So even just an email – sort of start to finish, if you think about like one specific correspondence recently, how you began, if there’s any preparation or steps you take prior to writing, what that writing process looks like, and if there’s any sort of revision or editing that happens?

 

A: Umm, hmm, let me think. From beginning to end, I’m just trying to think of a scenario that would best describe it. So, I don’t know if we can skip to the next question, or if you want me to think about this for a couple of minutes?

 

Q: Sure, we can absolutely skip ahead. And if something comes to you and you want to go back to it, that’s great, yeah, totally fine.

 

A: Sure, okay.

 

Q: So how did you learn how to perform these types of writing that you do in your work?

 

A: I want to say here probably repetition was a big factor. So it’s, you know, I think a lot of it too is, “Hey, I have something written up already,” and I know what I need to communicate to the end user such that, “Oh, I have it already written, let me cut and paste, and let me edit the documents or the email such that it is customer-specific, or issue-specific.” But I would say that, generally speaking, you know a lot of times, a lot of the information is in fact something I’ve used before. And I just, you know, copy and paste it.

 

Q: That makes sense, yeah. Has there ever been a time in your career where you felt unprepared as a writer?

 

A: Hmm. I’m going to say that any time that there is an issue that is, let’s say more technical in nature, I will often either get somebody else to assist me, or really sort of assign it to, “Hey, this is the best person to respond.” So we have, let’s say IT type of people here, or engineers, who are better equipped to address those questions that are more technical in nature, especially if the recipient of that email is also somebody of a technical nature. So I would say in those instances, I don’t feel equipped, where I feel challenged in answering or writing something. So I want to say anything that’s highly technical, I–

 

Q: And you said, oh sorry–

 

A: N, go ahead.

 

Q: Oh I was just going to say, so you said, either you assign it, but sometimes you get help with it. What does that look like, if you ask for assistance with something like that?

 

A: I would say a lot of times, they will sort of write something out and again, I will cut and paste, and edit. So the content of anything technical probably originated with somebody else.

 

Q: Got it, that makes sense. And are there any other strategies or things that you did maybe when you were new to the job to get acquainted with this kind of writing, and to learn how to perform it?

 

A: Well, I think a lot of it too was it, there’s, you know, in terms of dealing with a customer, there’s often almost like a formula involved, in terms of, you know there’s a greeting and a closing at least. And so it’s, you know, that was always pretty standard, and it’s still standard to this day, where, “Hey, we receive an email.” I always, you know, “Dear so-and-so, thank you for the email.” And always try to close the email in terms of, “Hey, is there anything else we could do?” You know, getting that confirmation back from them, “Hey everything is closed, everything is done.” But, you know, trying to sort of almost look at what they’re asking about, and sort of, “Hey, let’s answer those questions that you have,” as sort of the body of my response. So, I mean, there are times when I’m, you know, when I see an email from somebody and it’s let’s say in a paragraph format. A lot of times I will break it out in terms of, here’s the question, and put “Q1: Here is the question from your verbiage, and here’s my answer to you, A1. And Q2.” So it’s easier I think for them to read, easier for them to understand, because it’s not in that paragraph format. So sometimes I do that, and it’s also a way for me to make sure, “Do I understand what the customer is asking about?” So it’s a way of rephrasing what they’re saying in a simple type of question, and then trying to respond in a, “Here is your question,” even if it’s, “Hey how much does this cost? That’s your question. A: This is how much it’s going to cost you, and stuff. What are the steps? Hey, I need to make a phone call, how do I dial? How do I use your service?” And try to outline it for them, step by step. Sometimes I’ll cut, you know– a lot of our customers there’s, you know, will go into our portals and try to do things, and I try to encourage that, because it allows them not to always rely on me. And I will sort of do a lot of cut and paste, and sort of embed pictures within my response back to them, and try to put things highlighted and, you know, circle it red, so they know this is where you need to focus. And you know, thinking, “Hey, not everybody is a learner by reading, there are some people who are learners by pictures.” And it also leaves them with that document again, so they can in fact do it themselves, if that opportunity comes up again. So it’s sort of definitely looking, whether it is an email or a phone call, as an opportunity to sort of, let me learn something about the caller or the person emailing me, and what is it that I can teach them? What information can I share with them such that, they use our service, and use it more than maybe they had used it before, as well as, making sure that they’re always calling, they’re not always emailing, because I’ve provided them some degree of tools to be able to fix their problems or utilize our services better.

 

Q: That makes a lot of sense, yeah, that’s really interesting. The next question is, does anyone oversee your writing?

 

A: Not really. Generally speaking, no. So I mean, there may have been times when I’ve asked somebody else to look at something, especially if it’s you know, more of their, “Hey somebody has issued a complaint or something and I need to respond to that.” But I’m going to say, generally speaking at this point, I don’t have somebody looking at my writing, both in terms of content and style or anything like that.

 

Q: Okay. How long would you say you typically have to complete a writing project. So if a request or an inquiry comes in over email, how long do you typically have to respond?

 

A: I usually like to respond same day, if at all possible. So either same day or 24 hours. So if it’s going to take me longer, I will often let them know I may need more time. But [chuckle], generally speaking, within 24 hours. I like to have at least one touch.

 

Q: Gotcha, gotcha. So now, the next couple questions asks you to look back a little bit. So thinking back to your undergraduate days, what kind of writing do you remember being asked to create as a student?

 

A: I would say for the most part, it involved reading something and reporting on it, or having some sort of general topic and reporting on it. I’m trying to think in terms of my undergraduate, and to a lesser extent, in grad school in business, where you know, it was definitely much less writing-involved, for the most part, except in a couple of management classes. But you know, I think I tended to have a very, almost formulaic outline approach to writing, and it’s sort of, “Hey, what are my general topics?” You know, one, two, three, and four. And then looking at those topics, and sort of, having some sort of sub-information, a A and a B and a C. I used to do a lot of outlining prior to writing something, and you know, have an introductory paragraph that somehow refers to those issues that I’m going to be discussing in greater detail, and then again, it was my conclusion, reviewing what I discussed, you know, summarizing what I had said before. So I would say that I would just sort of sit down and start with an outline, and try to build that outline, and then, it’s trying to find the evidence to support the points that I wanted to make, and cite them, if need be.

 

Q: Okay. In what ways do you think your college writing experiences prepared you, or not, for the kind of writing that you do now?

 

A: Well, I definitely feel I’m prepared, I mean I don’t think that the writing that I do now is as challenging as what I did as an undergraduate or as a graduate student. I mean I think it’s overall at a lower level, for the most part. I mean it’s much more day-to-day types of conversations, rather than items that require, you know, a lot of reading and researching, in contrast to what I did in college, so.

 

Q: That makes sense, okay. This is sort of a broader question, but what would you say is at stake in your writing?

 

A: Okay, say that again? I’m not sure I understand the question.

 

Q: Sure, yeah. So the phrasing might be odd. So what is at stake in your writing? And what I mean by that is really, why does the writing you do at work matter, and what would be the consequence if you didn’t do a good job with that writing?

 

A: You know, I think what’s at stake is making sure that whether it’s the company brand or my own personal brand, you know, sort of comes through in how I communicate with people. And, “Hey, I’m in customer support, I’m in customer service.” And I definitely want to have that mindset coming across to whoever’s receiving that email that, “Hey, I’m trying to help you,” versus, “I’m just trying to get through an email,” sort of thing. So in general, I would say that to me, that’s what’s at stake, is that it reinforces whatever brand that it is that I think we should be displaying to our customers on a day to day basis. You know, they sort of go, “Hey, this person really is interested that I have good service.” And you know, in terms of consequences, you know, I would imagine [chuckle] that one is, I would say the consequence would probably be some sort of retraining, trying to emphasize that point more so than, “Hey, you’re out.” But in general, I think it’s more of, “Hey, let’s retrain on this and what it is that you need to do to be a better communicator, and a communicator of that brand.”

 

Q: Right, right. What would you say is the most challenging thing about writing in your specific position?

 

A: I think sometimes it’s, can I state the information in a simple enough manner such that it’s easily understood by the customer? I mean, I see this, I do this a lot, and it’s sort of second nature to me, but– so sometimes, some of the words have a lot of meaning to me don’t always carry that meaning towards the customer, and you know, example, “Hey, we’re going to change how we terminate the call.” And so, you know, what does that mean? And it’s a matter of, do I go into that level of detail, or do I simply say, “Hey, we’ve made some changes that we think we’ll help with the call connection, can you please try again?” So sometimes, you know, it’s things that, as I say, carry meaning for me and I understand because I’m in this world, often don’t carry the same sort of meaning to someone who is even less technical than I am. And making sure that they understand this and can learn from it as well, and you know, sort of, “Hey, let’s not get frightened by it, this is an easy thing to do, we can fix it.” So I would say that might be at times a challenge.

 

Q: That’s great, that makes a lot of sense, it sort of goes back to what you had mentioned earlier about this idea that like, in a lot of ways, you’re sort of the technical translator, to taking–

 

A: True.

 

Q: –trying to figure out how much information they need, and you know, how to parse that into terms that someone who doesn’t have all that background has.

 

A: Mhmm.

 

Q: Has anyone helped you with your writing, formally or informally?

 

A: In the immediate run, maybe not, maybe sometimes, you know, I’ve written something, and I’ve had my kids, sort of, “Hey, can you review this or make it better?” But in terms of my work overall, not a lot. I do remember having you know, somebody asked me to write, I belong to an organization called the American Association of University Women. So I joined a few years ago, and we have a newsletter, and it was, “Hey, can you write something up about yourself?” So it’s like, you know it’s one of those things, you know, that’s tough for me to do, and you think, “Oh, what do I say?” So I wrote a few things that I think Colleen sort of reviewed it and sort of punched it up a little bit and go, “That works, it’s done.” It’s sort of the hardest interview question in the world is, “Tell me about yourself.” Which I’m sure we have all heard and, so it’s a similar thing, and you know again, it’s brief, it’s just a few things that you should mention that are unique about yourself, but it was sort of hard and I know I ran it by the kids and stuff, so–

 

Q: Right, no that makes sense. That’s great. How do you believe you’ve evolved or improved as a writer over the course of your career?

 

A: I’m not sure I have, to be honest. You know, in some ways I don’t think I’m as strong as a writer as I was 10, 20 years ago, to be honest, and–

 

Q: And does that go back to this idea that– sorry, go ahead, I didn’t mean to interrupt you.

 

A: No, no, not at all. I just think that the type of work that I’m doing, it’s just quicker, and yeah, I’m sorry, hold on. [Silence]. Yeah, I just think in general, I think a lot of when I maybe first started here was more involved in putting documentation together well, that’s sort of done. I, you know, haven’t done as much of that as I did before. Or there’s less reading involved, you know, intense reading, than maybe I had before. So, yeah, I’m not sure I’m as, I think I was a better writer 20 or 30 years ago, I think it was easier for me in terms of more challenging writing. But you know, on the other hand, I think I have a great understanding of who my customers are, and I think, you know, I’m relatively good at trying to explain things to them. So you know, a lot of our customer base, while they’re very, you know, very intelligent, very well-educated, you know English may not be their first language, so I want to make sure I’m understood, in a pretty general way.

 

Q: Right, right, that’s interesting, yeah. So I have just a couple more questions.

 

A: Sure.

 

Q: To what extent do you think writing is valued in your organization?

 

A: I don’t know. I think it’s valued, I’m not sure it’s, I think some of the softer– you know, “Hey, this is a pretty technical type of company,” and so I think those who have technical skills and maybe more valued than if they had great writing skills. So I don’t know, that’s at least my humble opinion. So you know, but, on the other hand, you know, I think being able to communicate’s pretty important [chuckle]. So I think it’s important, I think it is important, and I know when I first started here, before I first started here, as part of my interview process, I had to take a test. And there was one part of the test was, “Here’s a paragraph, edit the paragraph.” And we’ve moved away from that, and I think there was value in doing that. I’m not sure I thought that to be the case when I was being interviewed [chuckle], but in hindsight, I think it was probably a good way to screen candidates, because it did assess a certain writing ability. So, you know, we definitely have moved away from that, but you know, I think it’s much more of, to me, “Hey, can you write?” may be a good indicator of, “Hey, what kind of employee are you, or will be? Are you, again, reinforcing the brand that we want to have in this organization?” Can I put you on hold on the phone, hold on one, oh, nevermind, they got it, they are gone.

 

Q: Okay.

 

A: So yep, so but yes, it’s I think it’s– clearly they thought, “Hey, it is important.” And maybe we’ve moved away– to me, it’s important based  upon, “Hey what sort of employees, what kind of team do you have within the organization?” and all, so.

 

Q: Right, that makes a lot of sense.

 

A: I don’t know, I’m not sure I’m answering your question–

 

Q: No, you are!

 

A: –but I think you know, writing is valued definitely, but I think it’s value is perhaps is not as obvious as having technical skills. So and I think that’s sort of what I’m making so it’s, on the surface, I’m going to say it’s considered less valuable than being technical, but I think when you think about it, it’s I’m sure everybody would say, “Hey, it is very important.”

 

Q: Right, right. Excellent. And my last couple of questions here: first, how would you have defined successful writing as a student, versus successful writing now?

 

A: [Silence]. I think in both cases, I would say that successful writing means, “Have I effectively communicated the point that I wanted to make?” So and I think that is true, whether I was a college student, or working after 30, 40 years since graduating as an undergrad. I would say it’s different in that I definitely think I was exercised more when I was in college than I am now. So, you know, I think it took a lot more effort, the writing muscle definitely needed to be exercised a lot more. The expectations were probably higher as well, in terms of communicating my point.

 

Q: That makes a lot of sense. And would you say that you are a successful workplace writer?

 

A: I’m going to say yes, for what it is that I need to write. So if somebody said, “Hey, Aída [sp?], do some sort of ad.” Maybe a little bit more challenging, you know, versus, you know there are, “Hey, reread our website.” Which, maybe perhaps I’ve done, you know, and “Hey, I read and let’s say caught errors,” that maybe somebody else would not have caught. But in terms of creating it in the first place, that may be more difficult for me today than maybe it would have been 20, 30 years ago.

 

Q: That makes a lot of sense, yeah.

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Director of Business Development

Business

Director of Business Development

54:18

 

Q: Would you please state your job title, where you currently work, and how long it’s been since you’ve graduated from college?

 

A: Yes. So my job title is Director of Business Development; I work at Flourish agency, we’re a full service, creative agency that really specializes in the direct-to-consumer space, and I graduated from undergrad in 2009 with a degree in political science and business.

Q: Great. And how long have you been in your current field? Since 2009, or?

 

A: No, I transitioned from the corporate/private banking world at JP Morgan in 2016 to the ad agency world. This is now my second agency in the last two and a half/three years, and yeah, that’s it.

 

Q: Great, okay excellent. Can you provide just a brief description of your primary job functions?

 

A: I lead and manage all agency new business and organic growth initiatives company-wide. So any opportunity to grow organically with our current client base is a small portion of what I do, but my primary focus is prospecting, developing relationships, and ultimately, earning business from brands that we want to be in business with.


Q: Okay, okay. How frequently are you required to write? So maybe, if you could estimate even in an average week, what percent of your job actually requires writing?

 

A: I would say I send upwards of 40 to 50 varied types of written messages every single day, that’s across social media, so LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, as well as emails. And another portion of my day is, obviously with any active opportunities that we have that we’re currently working to pitch or develop a stronger relationship with, we write pretty long and sophisticated presentations of which I probably am responsible for like, somewhere around 25 percent of. So I’d say most of my day is, maybe 30 to 40 percent of my day, maybe even more on some days, is probably focused on actual writing.

 

Q: Great, okay. And obviously it will vary from project to project, but typically how long do you have to complete a writing project?

 

A: It’s very quick turnaround. So, when prospecting or reaching out to current prospects or clients, minutes, you know, probably no more than 15 minutes are spent. With presentations, it probably ranges from, you know, we have such a large bank and I have a lot of experience to pull from it, the stuff that I’m writing is usually just modified in some ways or customized to the approach that we’re taking with that opportunity. But probably a couple hours, maybe two, three hours at most. And then usually, I kind of take over the reigns near the end once everyone’s contributed, and make sure that things are formatted and grammatically correct and consistent across each presentation.

 

Q: Okay. That makes a lot of sense. My next question you’ve sort of answered, but just to clarify – could you sort of list off the forms or types of documents that you most often complete? So you mentioned sort of prospecting emails, social media, these presentations – anything else that you write often?

 

A: Um, no, outside of like actual managing social media accounts, the things that I listed, you know, outward prospecting efforts and in presentations, it’s pretty consistently that, sometimes some internal communications. But no, I would say my role is pretty focused on those things.

 

Q: Okay, that makes sense. And who are the primary audiences and what are the primary purposes of those communications?

 

A: So, the primary purposes are to create relationships and ultimately move them through a funnel over a long period of time. So most of my sales cycles are between 16 and 18 months, sometimes longer. And the goal is to really create a consistent touchpoint throughout that journey. Obviously if I have never spoken to someone and they, you know, are consistently being reached out to by dozens of people like me, my goal is really to create innovative ways to get through to them. So, while writing is a piece of that, I obviously do a lot of things that aren’t writing based. And categorically, most agencies have like maybe three to four wheelhouses that they specialize in. Currently, for me, the prospects that we’re actively working are mid to large size universities, very health-focused consumer brands, like health foods to a little bit more of like the pharmacological products that are maybe sold for infants, or certain, you know, health issues that’s still readily available over the counter to you as a consumer, very focused cause-related work – so we work with, in northeast Ohio alone, probably 15 of the largest nonprofits, but also actively seek that out nationally. And then, those are the last spaces is our prospects in brand that obviously look and feel and map to our experience in the brands that we actively work with or have worked with, in like the hardware and home improvement space, so everything from [6:35 inaudible] brands, to raw materials, to other products that would be readily accessible at like a Home Depot or Lowes.

 

Q: Oh that’s really interesting, okay. Yeah, that’s really, really useful. And so when you are writing to these prospects, your audience is almost always a prospect I assume?

 

A: Um, yes. Or a former client, or a connection of a former client. So clearly the best way in is to have someone, you know, not just in trying to apply and earn a job, but also in the sales world, is to have someone to actually personally introduce you or make a connection. So I’d say a lot of my time is doing that, versus trying to just establish a cold relationship. But an equal amount of time spent obviously just proactively prospecting on my own.

 

Q: That’s useful. Okay, that makes a lot of sense. How did you know how to perform the types of writing that you’re actually performing?

 

A: I think I have a pretty natural skill set of communicating in writing the way that I communicate when I speak, and I think in the worlds that I’ve operated in, at least since I came out of the banking world – which is obviously a lot more formal, there’s a lot more regulation, and to be honest, the writing that we did was only internal, they didn’t allot a lot of external communications being written in email – and in the agency world, there’s so much jargon, there’s so many acronyms, there’s just so much fluff, and I feel like being concise, direct, and speaking to people the exact same way I would speak to them in person, you know, succinctly, I think is important. And leading with value I think is a key in sales overall, but really, you know, if I’m one of 40 people that have reached out to this really influential person at an organization that day or that week, the only way I’m going to cut through is either saying or doing something that’s a little bit out of the ordinary that they happen to see at the right moment, or they have to be in the phase where they’re actively looking to buy, or we already have to have an established relationship or connection and I’m simply following up at that point. So it really just trying to cut through the clutter and be as direct and concise and as personable as possible.

 

Q: That makes a lot of sense. It’s interesting, because you’ve only been doing this a few years, so I feel like it’s useful that it’s so fresh to you, and I’m wondering, was there a time early on in this sort of world that you’re in that you felt unprepared as a writer at work?

 

A: Yeah, my comfort level of knowing exactly what to say– everything is trial and error in sales. If you’re not getting traction, everything’s trial and error. So you have to try new things until you realize what works, and then even when you find out what works, you have to constantly evolve the way you do it, and try to constantly be ahead of the rest of the crowd. And while I’m new to this space, the core skills that have made me successful throughout my career in technology, private banking, and the agency world are all very similar. So, what I did when I transitioned to the agency world, one, it was a very methodical transition, but two, I had a very strong foundation to bring with me that most people in the agency world do not possess, and for me to learn the lingo and the types of things that are important to my prospects and internally was really the only thing that I had to learn at that time, and then just constantly evolve the way that I communicate. So it probably took six months before my comfort level was like kind of churning, but here’s the thing, you know, I’m lucky to be in a position where, if something doesn’t work out and no one responds, no harm is done and there are so many other countless prospects in each category that I can put my energy into that you try not to spend too much time beating yourself up for what could have been, instead of just focusing on the now. And at a year, I mastered is probably the wrong word, but feel like I can run with the best of my peers in the category and in the industry.

 

Q: That’s great, yeah that makes a lot of sense. When you were trying to overcome those early challenges, and you know, it sounds like most of that was really just learning the language, learning sort of the way things are done here, not the actual act of communicating well, right – were there certain things that you did to get yourself acclimated in that six month period?

 

A: Like a high volume of internal meetings and interviews with just my team. So I was at a 150 [inaudible 11:33] agency, and just getting as much as a downlook from them constantly knowing that I was probably only digesting ten percent or twenty percent each time we spoke, but over [11:43 inaudible] pulse for one, their view of the position and what they would like to see, and obviously take what you can and then kind of come up with what you think is the best step, and a lot of times it’s very aligned to the overall goals of the organization, and a incredible amount of podcasts and just everything I could listen to audio-wise to get my hands wrapped around it, and then over time it’s really being a part of–  you know, I’m actively managing, am the quarterback of every external relationship, that doesn’t mean that I am the reason they’re doing business with us, but I’m the opener and definitely a closer, and in this world, collaboration’s everything, like, it’s not selling a product. It might take months to strategize and come up with a formal recommendation to present to someone, and I had a very small, you know, maybe twenty percent input on that, and the subject matter experts are really the ones guiding that, and I’m just constantly focused on the story arc, and the way that we communicate, and what we communicate, and just the gut feeling of whether this is something that will earn us business. And I think the higher volume of meetings and conversations and sales opportunities and pitch opportunities I have, in my role, you just, you learn to add those conversations to your arsenal, and my knowledge is a mile wide, versus their knowledge being a mile deep, and I think what makes a successful salesperson is being competent in how you deliver things, even if you’re not confident that you are the subject matter expert in that situation. So at least being able to talk the talk enough to continue the engagement.

 

Q: That’s really interesting, yeah. I wanted to go back to one thing you said there – when you were talking about writing those presentations or having some input on those, the pitch, a formal pitch to a potential client, you talked about story arc – can you tell me a little bit more about what you mean by that?

 

A: Yeah, we’ve all seen awful presentations, right? And in the agency world, they are truly a piece of art. It’s not something that can be in Keynote or Powerpoint, it’s a fully designed presentation through InDesign, you know, we have a foundational deck that I created and our team created when I came on which we call our capabilities deck, which is really the foundation for any early stage conversation. It’s the makeup of who we are, some of our personality, obviously the aesthetic and the design is there, like very high design across, case studies, just additional thinking and high level strategic flies that we can drop in and out based on the type of opportunity or the position of the person we’re speaking to, or something they may have said early on that they want to learn more about of how we approach that. Pitches are that plus a very custom approach, but the look and feel and the tone of how we communicate is consistent. So it looks the same, obviously the flies have different content, but at that point what we’re really focused on is it’s not solely about us, but it’s our thinking and it’s creating an overall story arc that allows them to see that one, obviously we’re the right caliber and have the right experience, two, we understand the challenge that they have laid out or the challenges of the industry, and kind of bringing them through that as we’re discussing the challenges, really putting our frameworks, our processes in place, and telling them along the way how we would approach this and why we would approach this and in some cases, taking it to the extent of doing a speculative creative that shows them the caliber of the work or early stage ideation, which is kind of a BS thing in the world because essentially they are getting free work from, I don’t know, four or five agencies or more, and it’s just laying it out in a way that is insightful, energizing, obviously intellectual and factual-based, but with a ton of energy. And the presentation in a pitch is obviously something that we’re narrating and we’re presenting, so the dynamics are much different, but you always have to be cognizant that the things that you’re sending and putting them after the presentation if you provide them with a copy – it has to live on its own, because the real decision takes place when you’re not in the room – and so it’s a fine balance between making sure that it’s not word soup, and it’s not logo or diagram soup, or process soup, but also there’s enough there that someone could draw the same assumption that we call back during the presentation when they’re meeting with their team or other team members or a board at some point. And understand the rationale on their own as well.

 

Q: That’s really, really interesting. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense but it’s something I’ve not experienced and not thought too much about in the past. I’m wondering, I mean that feels like such a specific way of thinking and way of crafting, was that something that was new to you? Or have you worked in sort of genres like that before you got to the agency? Have you done work like that before?

 

A: Yeah, I think being a natural and effective communicator in presentations are obviously, has always been a sweet spot, whether I was actively doing those right before I transitioned I don’t think is relevant. But I know what’s relevant and energizing to people, and in sales, you win because you have a natural ability to size up a situation, read body language, read between the lines, and obviously not just cater to them but understand what’s important for you to address. And I think you instinctively see what has been presented in the past, so I got there and clearly, they’ve been pitching for 70 years so they know what it looks like, and I did a full assessment of where they were at, and they just weren’t, you know– we started foundationally with revamping our capabilities deck because it’s the foundation for every deck we create after, and we were not effectively communicating us, it was very scattered. And most agencies, while they create these beautiful brand strategies and messaging and content strategies for others that are usually very concise and straightforward, agencies fall to the same issues that their clients do in they don’t focus on themselves. And so the first step is to do that, and then the second step is, you roll out that iteration to the specific customized presentations, and I know what they look like, and I know what they should feel like, and I know what information is relevant and what information’s not relevant, based on what I’ve seen, you know, based on what I see when I’m reading it as an unbiased person. And also when I’m in the room practicing and presenting with our team, it really gives you an opportunity to be very critical, and because I’m only making up probably 10 or 15 percent, you know, maybe the opening and a strong close near the end, my goal is really to provide active feedback to the team, and help them self discover to a certain extent what is necessary and what’s not, and I think once people have seen it once or twice, it becomes very easy to replicate it. So we finally had an opportunity after let’s say ten months at my first agency to do it the way that we wanted and push the wrong people out of the situation and really just managed it closely, and it went so phenomenal, and it was a huge swing out of their weight class and we won a substantial piece of work, and so from then on, we had a pulse for what that looks like and feels like, and you just try to replicate it in different scenarios moving forward.

 

Q: That’s fascinating. Yeah, that’s really, really helpful. Thank you. Is there someone who oversees your writing at the agency, or no?

 

A: So it’s a little unique. So at my first agency, 150 people, we had a whole team of copywriters, right? Junior level, senior level, and then creative directors that came from either the art director or design background, or came from the copywriting. Usually it’s a 50/50 mix, because you need both. At that agency, we also had a proofreader. So while it was a first swing by each of us kind of contributing our piece, and then probably a partner overseeing the overall and giving their very direct input throughout the process and managing it very closely with me, ultimately the copywriters and the creative directors would take it and bring it back to us for rounds of revisions, and would really have, they had their entire hand in writing it the way that is on our brand and tone. At my current agency, we have two creative directors, one that comes from the copywriting and once comes from design, and even when the one from the copywriting background isn’t involved in one specific opportunity, she’s has a heavy hand in helping us revise it. And there’s a lot of us that I’d say in the grand scheme of the world, were probably B+ writers, but [21:20 inaudible]  salesman,  and so when we get it that far down the field with the content, it’s usually one or two people that have a hand in helping us revise it before it’s finalized.

 

Q: That’s great. That makes a lot of sense, yeah. The next question is about process, and I’m wondering if you could pick, maybe you could actually speak to the social media writing that you do for the agency, and talk just a little bit about, you know, how maybe one recent example, how that looks start to finish. Like how do you decide what’s going on there? How is it crafted? Is there revision? How does that work sort of start to finish?

 

A: Yeah, and this is probably not the best example because one, we’re small and two, social media in a perfect world, and I believe in the power of it, and I would even say that we should invest 100 times more in it than we do, but at this point, it’s meant to be like a fact checker, kind of like a check box. One, it’s just meant to show a little personality. If someone we’re already in conversation with us or in the early stages of vetting and they happen to likes Instagram and uses it heavily, if they were to check us out it’s visually engaging, it shows some personality, it’s consistently showing our brand, like we, it’s consistently designed, all which I do in an app in about five minutes a day. We show our culture a little bit, and it’s meant to be more smart sarcasm and wit, is kind of the energy and vibe that we give off outwardly, I don’t know if that’s necessarily like the type of people we are, but it’s usually energizing, it has a little bit of a wit to it. And when I’m writing, it’s pretty plain, you know, we’re leveraging some type of quotes, or writing about a client and keeping it short and sweet, and just really trying to boost people’s awareness in our active community of what that is, and then I think over time, it could lead to more organic reach. But it’s pretty straightforward, it doesn’t, I don’t have a ton of input, I think I’ve, we all know what social media looks like, and we know what the popular people on social media post and the copy they write, and you just try to mimic something that looks and feels authentic to you, and is still obviously, you know, lighthearted.

 

Q: Sure, that makes a lot of sense. That’s useful. Let’s talk then maybe about the process for, you had mentioned that it’s still just sort of a matter of 15 minutes sometimes, but maybe a first or second pass at reaching out to a potential client – what does the process like that look like? Does someone give you contact information, is that someone you seek out? Like how does that process start and where does it go from there?

 

A: Yeah, so it’s as simple as early stage assessing the case– so we take a look at what we’ve done, that’s number one. Okay, we’ve done this. And you start kind of bucketing them, and I think we ended up in those categories that I mentioned, right? And it’s just a gut thing. If I were to call someone today in a certain category and you pick one, do I, is there something that relates to them strongly that they would want to have a conversation? Not to say that you need to have direct category experience, but it’s a massive piece of, you gain an upper hand if and when you have that. So the goal is start categorically, and then really start finding brands. So that’s a pure collaborative effort. I would say I’m responsible for 95 percent of it, and I take some input from members that have ideas occasionally, but at end of the day I’m the one that’s driving it fully, and my previous agency I managed a smaller team where I was the head and they were responsible for kind of like executing some of that, and then it came to me, and I was really the one that was still prospecting. And then, once you determine the brand, you have a list, you know, you dig into them a little bit more. You kind of learn more about their brand, sometimes maybe it takes you seven or eight minutes, and whether they are someone that has worked with an agency or currently works with an agency because that’s a great indicator that they would work with you as an agency at some point, whether today or a year from now. And then it’s kind of navigating the hierarchy of the position, so like, literally using everything. Using Google to search for the different types of agencies or any type of press releases or anything that would give way to new decision makers or organizational changes or work that they’ve done historically or recently, LinkedIn to really navigate the complexities of who, you know– some organizations have 20,000 employees and I’m trying to find the right one, it’s based on title, and over time you really learn what you’re looking for based on the size of the organization and the type, and sometimes you’re reaching out to the CEO and sometimes you’re reaching out to like, mid level brand manager as a first point, and sometimes both. And from there, then obviously there are a lot of paid databases that give you contact info, but that stuff is the basics. Once you decide you’re going to reach out, understanding the right cadences, and understanding kind of how to hack through to that. So I think when I talked about constantly evolving what I do, I rarely send a cold written email any longer, outside of maybe a [26:49 inaudible], I record videos on a thumbnail of me, literally saying and articulating the exact things that I would say in an email, except they see an attachment, very straightforward language about trying to cut through the clutter of their inbox, and would love the chance to connect at some point. And then they see a video, and if they open it, my response rate’s through the roof. The same thing goes for, obviously at some point I do write lengthy emails, especially to people that I’ve already been in conversations with. Calling is still a major piece, right? So calling them, trying to cut through and get through gatekeepers when possible, you get them out of office when they’re on vacation and they happen to put their cell phone in there, you immediately gain an upper hand, like there are all very small field tactics, but then leveraging Instagram and Linkedin and Twitter, like DM’s. Like those are the most, you know, Linkedin has become what I would consider email used to be in the professional world, right, and people are almost at this point kind of becoming numb to it, right? Email replaced mail, and cold calling kind of always is in there as relevant if you’re using it the right way, and LinkedIn has kind of replaced email at this point in some ways, and now you have this beautiful thing called Instagram, and obviously have to be very cautious with what you say and how you say things, because you are reaching out to people on their personal profiles, after you [28.25 inaudible]. But the response rates in the digital age, especially with any of us that are like, a little bit older millennials or gen-Z or even people that are just actively involved in the tech space Gen-X, if you position it correctly, even though they may be a little hesitant, or may even make a joke about you reaching out, obviously I would call that out, “I understand I’m reaching out on your personal profile, trying to the clutter, would love the opportunity, here’s a little bit,” and usually when they respond, it gives you a direct opportunity to speak with someone and the same thing with Twitter. Sometimes LinkedIn brings the same type of result, but it’s a combination of all those things, and even mail in those cases kind of cutting through the clutter of like, sending them something like very high design, well [29:22 inaudible]. They’re all pieces and writing plays a factor and it’s across the board, whether you have to be very very detailed and articulate, whether you have to be very high level and playful, you really have to adapt what you’re saying and when you’re saying it depending on where you’re at in the process with them.

 

Q: That makes a lot of sense. That’s super useful and really, really interesting, Josh, thank you. The next question is a little bit more broad and it’s what is at stake with your writing?

 

A: What is at at stake? Can you clarify what you mean by that?

 

Q: Yeah, I mean, what happens if your writing succeeds or fails? And obviously we have sort of this idea of the financial stake that is really obvious in sales, right? So I would imagine that’s the primary thing that’s at stake in your writing, but are there other things that you feel come from that writing in a sense, like, are there other consequences of your writing?

 

A: Sure, yeah. So the obvious that you noted, so like in a presentation, right, just making sure that things are grammatically correct and punctual, you know, spelled, and the right punctuation, I actually have a rule of thumb that people in the agency world spend like a ridiculous amount of hours just going through every minute detail to make sure that there’s not one grammatical error. And my thought is, if someone doesn’t want to do business with us – clearly put your time in and try to create a strong product – but if someone doesn’t want to do business with us because of a missed period or comma or one misspelled word, then like, we don’t want to do business with– like pardon my language, fuck them. Like, they’re not the right fit, clearly like, they’re missing the overall point. But as far as like, the day to day contacts, it’s a really sensitive balance. You never know if you’re actually getting through when someone hasn’t had an active relationship with you. But if they have– clearly I document literally every piece of outreach and conversation ever, going back, every small email, everything is in a CRM, chronologically updated in Salesforce, and I have a very meticulous follow up schedule according to when the next touchpoint makes sense, whether they’re in the funnel and I’m trying to convert them, whether I’ve never talked to them, it’s always detailed. But you are aware of brands that are very well suited for you, and you really feel passionate that if you were just able to get through, it would make sense. Sometimes you don’t know if the points of contact, even if I believe that there’s right cadences and know they are, you never know how they’re perceived on the other end. And you’re just always conscious of being seen as generic, or creating a barrier of them just literally blindly deleting or avoiding you because of the things you’ve done and said. You know, you must balance that as a salesperson with, there’s so many opportunities out there that you can’t dwell on every opportunity, and it’s like an internal struggle that you physically feel even though you would never say it outwardly to your team, you just know that everything you do is going to be interpreted somehow, and obviously you move on and you try not to dwell. But also, from a personal perspective, the world’s very connected, and I’m not representing only my agency, if anything I think in the digital era, especially using those other mediums besides email, you’re representing yourself, and clearly want to be as articulate and sound as smart as you possibly can and know that the people that you’re potentially connecting with are connections of your connections, you constantly have to be aware of what you say and respecting that relationship without bastardizing it. And also, you never know who you’re going to come in contact with, or who knows who, and their point of view or feelings about the things you’re saying, so you just, through trial and error and through being able to read people on each medium and understanding the complexities, you just have to be constantly aware. And I would say especially on Twitter, and especially on Instagram, with different gender dynamics, clearly I am a white male that is a tenacious human being, and it’s not likely the first time I’ve reached out, and so I have to be very compassionate and understand the situation that I’m putting them in by reaching out to them. They have the opportunity to ignore it, but still, there’s still an emotional and professional reaction that takes place if they do read it and when they do read it, because everyone checks their Instagrams DMs. So just constantly aware of the things that I’m putting out in the world, and how I’m portraying myself, and obviously my company and my organization as well, but, it’s much more personal. It’s knowing that, you know, clearly you have influence but, you don’t want to obviously be perceived negatively or as if you’re intruding on their own personal space.

 

Q: Absolutely, yeah that’s a really interesting answer. And this sort of might lead into this next question, and that’s what’s the most difficult thing about writing in your specific position?

 

A: Umm, avoiding redundancy in the wrong ways. So like, the hardest part is if someone doesn’t respond three or four times, and then you, you know, it’s days or weeks or even a month before you’ve maybe touched them two or three times, and it could be longer, because you really have to play your cards right and understand the season, and understand the timing, and understand like the history of who they’ve selected as an agency and where they’re at on potential projects. And, I think the hardest part is, most people, let’s say 90 plus percent people have no recall of me reaching out at all. Ever. And so allude to previous points of contact in some cases, sometimes I just play the cold card again, because today might be the day that they’ve spent five minutes on their email, or on their phone. And it’s just making sure that the story of first contacts through when they decide to reply or decide to, even if they say no, you know, a reply is a great understanding ‘cause it allows you to know how much effort you’re going to put into something. So it’s just really avoiding generic outreach and putting us in a light that won’t allow us to kind of deliberate, you don’t want to ever, in any situation, make it seem like I mass-customized a piece of outreach, and I don’t. Even though I have a lot of similar emails that are being sent, they’re very customized in the sense that like, I’ve just become very good at and efficient at changing the things that need to be changed, but that’s years and years, dating back to the beginning of my career, knowing how to do that. But to them, it seems like a very focused email. Avoiding that redundancy is huge, especially because sometimes, in most cases, I could reach out for ten straight months. Most of my big wins I’ve reached out for ten months, nine months a year, and then after that period of time, they finally respond, “Josh, I really appreciate your persistence in reach out. I’ve been meaning to get out to you. I’d love to talk tomorrow.” So like, for a year, they weren’t in a buying position. They weren’t in the state that they were ready to talk to someone. But the day that they were, my email happened to come through around that time, and they remembered me somehow. Or I seemed like someone that they wanted to talk to even if they don’t recall anything. And that’s the opportunity. So just knowing that there’s a fine balance between continuing to repeat the same things because they’re your value propositions, but not churning and burning emails with the same type of copy or messages with the same type of copy. Everyone has email history, like, in one second they could see all your Twitter DMs, all your Instagram DMs, your Linkedin messages, so if I send six in a row, like clearly that conveys a message. And if they’re all the same, that looks even worse.

 

Q: Absolutely, right, okay that makes a lot of sense, yeah. This is more about sort of your development as a writer. Has anyone helped you in the workplace formally or informally develop as a writer?


A: I am someone that just picks up things from other people, so I think I was, like I said, like a B– compared to you, Brian, and my wife, I’m a C writer. Compared to the rest of the world, I’m a B+, right? So in the grand scheme of things like I say, we jokingling, but like, truly there’s a upper echelon of people that are so incredible and it’s an art, and it’s a subject matter; they’re subject matter experts. And clearly I wouldn’t presume that I could be immediately be as great as them. I think I’m an effective communicator, but those are things that I’ve picked up over time, that I’ve picked up from subject matter experts or other people, but, also just being with Sarah– I’m really focused on transitioning careers at this point into something that has been on my mind for years, and just going through a cover letter and a resume with her, the bulk of the things that I wanted to communicate were there, but like, what she did and what she helped me with while working through those things, it’s an art. And the end product is significantly greater than where I would have ended. So I think, just organically picking things up from people and knowing, at least how to translate my spoken word into writing format, and then also, obviously collaborating and being around people that are very strong writers.

 

Q: Great, okay, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Do you remember–

 

A: And I went to a very, very good high school, so like, the number one ranked public school in Ohio for like, I don’t know, ten out of fifteen years. And that’s not like a [40:09 inaudible] point, but I remember my high school teachers saying – I was like a, I think that I was really a B or B+ student consistently through high school – and they said that like, “Our C students, you’re going to go to college and the majority of you will be in the upper echelon of writing students because of the education that you’ve received.” And it was true. I went to a small school, I was planning on going to the naval academy, but ended up at a small school, and this B+ writer was an A+ writer among other people, except maybe the top tier of actual writers, because I received such a stellar education. And from there, it was just, you know, I don’t know how much I’ve evolved, but I think I’ve just learned how to communicate a little differently.

 

Q: That’s great, yeah, that’s really, really interesting. Do you remember or either in highschool, but I guess more specifically in college, what kinds of writing were you asked to do?

 

A: I was in political science and was pre law, and just like, not going to the naval academy like a month before, and deciding to back out, I decided to back out of attending law school, like a [41:13 inaudible] and got my MBA instead, and everything worked out great. But in college, I had like two or three professors that were, like one was the former head of the entire political science program at Xavier, one was a Harvard law grad and worked on the federal circuit, and they were extremely influential. And the writing that we did for those courses, in liberal arts you have a lot of gen ed classes and bs stuff, but it’s pretty bland, and if you just do your work, you’ll get through it. But in those classes, your writing was everything. You know, you might only have one or two papers a semester, and two four hour long, handwritten or typed exams, with a plethora, like a crazy amount of case histories, and really taking a current case and dissecting it based on the things that are already in law at this point. And I really honed my ability for rational thinking and strategic thinking at that point, I think it took me from someone that thought he was a pretty good writer at communicating simply and concisely to, here are these things that have already taken place, and I had to rationally connect the dots between the two of them, and I think my writing skills probably doubled during about six different classes [42:41 inaudible] over my junior and senior year.

 

Q: Oh, that’s great. Yeah, that’s wonderful. Do you think that those experiences prepared you to write in the workplace?

 

A: I think in some way. Transitioning right from that and being like law-focused to going to the MBA world, where I still was in a lot of business classes and it was a focus in college, during my MBA, I think the same type of strategic thinking and writing was critical. So, here’s our recommendation, here’s why historically, here’s the rationale behind it, and then, you know, kind of being succinct in summarizing the recommendation again, and it’s very similar to what I did: here’s the idea and here’s the answer, here’s the historical and rational context behind it, and leading it ultimately to your final points. And I think they’re very similar in a lot of ways, and I think that’s almost identical to how we operate in the agency world of, you know, here’s us, here’s the recommendation, we’re going to walk you through a long version of why, we’re going to show you how we’ve done it ourselves, and then here it is, very, very straightforward on one or two slides. Here’s the whole picture of what we want to do and why we’re going to do it.

 

Q: Hmm, yeah I can see the mirror there, yeah. Are there things that would’ve been useful for you as a college student that you didn’t get that would’ve better prepared you?

 

A: I don’t think a lot of college courses focus on careers. I think they focus on academia, like the academic version of what subject matter these students are studying versus how that translates to an entire industry or job function. And while it’s difficult obviously to focus specifically on a role, I think it’s much easier to focus it on an industry, and push people to– you know, what I loved about my two law professors were, they were literally pushing us and running the course as if we were at a top tier law school. It was an identical [44:58 inaudible], and now that maybe doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the real world, but it prepared us for the next logical step in our lives. All of us were very serious prelaw students. I had a lot of marketing classes, and I had one where we did do a pitch and worked through things, but I don’t think, at least at a small liberal arts school like ours, there wasn’t a ton of– it was an expectation, some professors probably were much more critical than others around the actual grammar and in writing skills overall, and some were less and more focused on the answers, and the thinking. And I just think equipping students to sell themselves and understanding how to communicate ideas, recommendations, values that they believe in, values that they bring to a certain subject or field, I think all of those things are really important, and I wish that someone would’ve spent more time maybe pushing us to do that. Especially, I would say like of all the things I’m an expert at, is networking and interviewing, like jokingly. But I love that the most in this world, and I’m phenomenal at creating a story arc of me personally and professionally and kind of combined. And I honestly think that if some students– like most people suck at selling themselves. They’re more focused on responsibilities than values they’ve delivered and results, and I think that that’s the case in a lot of business writing at least, is a lot of people spend too much time on the details versus communicating the value and the overall idea, and I think students probably, especially as they’re headed in the real world, not resume writing, but like, communicating the specifics of why in their story arc, and having a story to tell, I think that’s always important. And it starts on a piece of paper as an outline, and then you tell it enough that you kind of grow it and evolve it over time, and feel more confident in it.

 

Q: That’s great, yeah.

 

A: I’m all over the place, I apologize.

 

Q: No, no, that’s super interesting! And again, it’s sort of not something that we think about that often I think in the classroom, that’s great. I actually have a few more questions, they’re relatively short, I want to be conscious of your time. How do you think you’ve evolved or improved as a writer over the course of your career?

 

A: Less fluff, much more succinct, I think is number one. I’ve learned how to communicate way more specifically and effectively. I’ve learned how to take my personal spoken style and the way I am as a human being, the way I just naturally communicate with others in any medium, and translate that to what I’m doing professionally in writing. Depends on the medium, but like, I think if you were to see the things that I write, small, big, across the board, wide range, banking, technology, agency world, you would say that that’s, it’s pretty consistently Josh. That’s my tone, my language, and I think I’ve learned over time how to do it more effectively. So I don’t think I’ve always been that great, but I think, you know, even after working through the resume and cover letter, like, Sarah clearly has input on things, and I just know instinctively that that doesn’t sound like me, or that’s not a way that I would articulate something. I think that’s just how I am, I believe that you just have to be yourself when doing those things.

 

Q: Great, okay. To what extent do you think writing is valued in your agency and in the sort of field as a whole?

 

A: In the field it’s maybe the most critical piece. It’s how everything is communicated. So clearly, pitches and different things, like you’re articulating an idea, not just spoken, but also written, and actually written first, and then you adapt how you speak about it. Every brief, every simple operation, from changing a logo or creating a new logo, which isn’t as simple as it sounds, to a full brand new brand strategy or messaging strategy, there could be ten pages of just showing them and creating a guide for how this brand will communicate with the outward world and internally. There are briefs and emails exchanged before those projects are kicked off, there are const and communications that are taking place with prospects and clients throughout the process, the actual work that you deliver oftentimes outside of like a pure design piece is written. And even in that case, it’s written so that there’s context to the entire situation. So, every nuance of advertising, the written word is the most important in so many ways. And specifically at my agency, I believe, everyone believes in the power of it. But it’s kind of siloed, where we all take our pieces and understand that we’re all pretty good writers and hopefully it comes together well in the end and we’re all pretty critical of it, but unfortunately we don’t have the time to value it as much. At my first agency, you have brilliant copywriters that you literally give them a pile of garbage and they come back and give you like the most beautiful piece of art in the world and you have no idea that something could be communicated that way. And when you do read those things and the things that actually make it to the client, versus things that are internal, it could solidify the value that you deliver and them wanting to do business with you. So I think it’s just dependent on the team and the agency. I think it’s always valued, but some places it’s like an unspoken expectation, and other places it’s an art.

 

Q: That’s great. That’s great, yeah. And our last question actually – how would you have defined successful writing as a student versus being a successful workplace writer now, and would you say that you are a successful workplace writer?

 

A: I would say I’m a successful workplace writer, and I would say that it’s something that every single day I’m focused on evolving. Like I walk into work every single day knowing that I have to evolve in even one sentence, or half a sentence, or one piece of communication has to evolve in order to continue kind of optimizing the way that I communicate. And the results that it brings – in college, you know, there are just so many different types of writing. One, I wish I understood, someone maybe was able to articulate and walk you through the spectrum of the different types of writing that they could encounter, right? You have your literature classes, and you have your law classes, and you have your business classes, and they all require a lot of different things, and they all focus on writing dependent on the professor, but I think to be able to summarize where they fall on the spectrum on what’s important, I don’t know if I ever had a professor tell me in a non writing-focused class what they’re looking for specifically in the writing, outside of like a specific idea or missed idea in a lot of cases. I also think that understanding the mediums as to which people are going to be writing in this new age, helping them understand that. Everyone has their own interpretation of what’s important, right? Like the things that Sarah says are really important are platforms that I rarely use, or use completely differently, and the way I communicate is completely differently, and I think just having an appreciation and understanding of that, and allowing people to understand like the full range of technology and the way people communicate on those platforms, and if the professors are not subject matter experts, not acting like they are [chuckle], and really people to obviously give them guidance on what that looks like, and I think understanding that whole range in that space I think would’ve been really awesome for me to know, you know. And I think it could have potentially guided me out of law. Had I known in college what a lawyer from a writing perspective, and the volume of documents they write and format and change every single day, I’m pretty sure I probably would have pivoted a little bit earlier.

  

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Realtor (Realtor 2) Washington, DC

Business

Realtor (Realtor 2) Washington, DC

Date of Interview: March 31st, 2017

Transcript:

Q: Okay, so would please state your job title, where you currently work, and how long it’s been since you graduated from college?

A: Yeah. So my current job title is a realtor at the Bediz Group, under the Keller Williams Capital Properties banner, I guess, so to speak. I’ve been working in this field, in residential real estate, as a realtor for about five years. And I graduated college from RIT in Rochester, New York back in 2000, I believe, if I remember correctly [chuckles].

Q: And you had mentioned before we started the interview that you’ve worked in a few previous industries before this job – do you mind telling me a little bit about those, for some context?

A: Sure, sure. So again, my concentration in college was advertising photography, with a minor in psychology. So I got out of school doing a lot of different work, essentially, in the Washington, D.C. area, doing graphics, working as a production assistant on small-budget films, working as a production assistant on other people’s advertising jobs in photography, doing my own advertising, and doing my own photography. So basically, pretty much anything I could do to pay the bills [chuckles].

Q: Right. That’s great. And then, do you mind me asking how you got into realty?

A: I got into real estate actually through my photography. In my previous job to this one, just prior to this one, I wound up working in commercial real estate for about five years until I just decided I had to go. It wasn’t necessarily I was looking for a career shift, but I just didn’t want to stay with the company I was at.

Q: Gotcha, okay, great, thanks. Could you tell me a little bit about your primary job functions?

A: So my primary job function now essentially involves a lot of lead generation, in terms of networking with people. And then in terms of kind of like management, in terms of managing the process from – I’m a little overcaffeinated – managing the process from beginning to end in terms of – I’m spacing on the right phrase of how best to put that – but in terms of like project management, essentially. So once I take on a listing, in terms of scheduling all the contractors I’ve involved, and everything else that would be involved in terms of getting the property ready for the market, and then making sure we execute everything on time, as well as also have everything else set up properly, and all contracts and legal documents are signed off on and we’re clear to go, so that the property is fully marketable. And then once we are under contract, make sure that we clear through everything well enough to be able to execute the settlement on time and walk away with a happy client on both ends so that I can continue to get referrals from my current clients. So there’s that, and then on the other side, there’s also the office side where I’m dealing with staff in terms of trying to make sure that things are working on time, working with my graphics person to make sure that we’re getting adverts out in time, and effectively reaching people. I would say as I’ve gotten older, I probably fail more at– it takes me a while to communicate effectively to people. I sit down and I spend a lot of time making sure that my emails are clear and concise as best I can when I’m communicating to clients.

Q: Okay, great, great. How frequently are you required to write, if maybe in a given week, is it possible for you to give me a percentage of what, what percentage of your job requires writing?

A: Most of my writing is simply just emails. A lot of the contracts that we do are already kind of pre-filled out, and it’s a matter of just plugging in the right data and knowing what data– and also understanding the verbage. You know, they revise a lot of our contracts on a yearly basis, but they’re very small tweaks usually. So just understanding the verbiage and how we might want to tweak it if we need to, given a situation. Actually it’s really hard for me a lot of time to actually handwrite things, because I don’t spend much time handwriting, so when I do have to handwrite, it’s a little trickier for me. It’s weird, it’s a motor skill that has somewhat disappeared. I definitely can’t write legibly for the most part, I have to struggle to, if I’m trying to communicate and write someone a nice note card, it’s a struggle.

Q: I understand that, as someone who writes on the board periodically in class, I’ve found over the years as I handwrite less and less, that handwriting has gotten less and less legible for my students. Okay, that’s great. So what forms or types of writing or kinds of documents do you most often complete? So you talked about sort of contracts and emails, are there any other written documents that you work with?

A: A lot of texting, a lot of calls, so that’s not really writing, obviously. We do craft of adverts, I usually leave that to my graphics guy, when we’re creating new brochures or new handouts or any type of materials like that. And as I’ve painfully learned the other day, we still make mistakes, because I sent adverts out to Del Ray, and apparently we spelled Del Ray wrong [laughter], which is kind of embarrassing when you’re marketing to a specific market, and you’re saying, “Hi, hello Del Ray, and I own this area,” and then you apparently can’t spell it right. That doesn’t speak very well, professionally. To be honest, a lot of what I do is kind of already preformatted, so when I literally am doing long communications with people that’s very detailed, I usually will cut and paste from an old email or communication that I’ve had, in terms of if I’ve written a letter, or something like that. I literally just cut and paste sometimes, because it makes my job a lot faster and easier, and then just kind of tailor what I need to say specifically from that. So I’ve gotten quite lazy in that way, to do that. And I found myself doing that when I worked in commercial real estate – once I’d gone through the pain of making certain communications that I’ve needed to do that I’m going to be repetitive in, I’ve, literally, you just start copying and pasting and then kind of refiguring out how to retool your messaging through what you’ve already got as a basic outline, essentially.

Q: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. When you find that you’re sort of retooling those things, is it tone, or style, or just the details that you find yourself adjusting most often?

A: It’s just the use of the details. Sometimes it will be the tone, in terms of if I need to tailor it to a much more specific audience, in terms of who I’m trying to communicate, so they do feel like that this is a personalized communication. And I have had made a few mistakes I think, on rare occasions, if I’ve been trying to do an all-nighter, or something like that, sometimes in the busy season, where I will wind up not putting the correct name somewhere, or something that’s very obvious, where people are like, “Well, who’s that?” Oh, yeah. Like they’re like, “I’m not Charlie,” and I’m like, “Yeah, you’re definitely not Charlie, I got that. Thank you for pointing that out to me,” [laughter].

Q: That sort of leads nicely into the next question – so could you describe the primary audiences to which you’re usually writing, and the primary purposes?

A: I mean literally most of my communication is to other agents where we’re vying to secure, in a competitive situation, an offer. Essentially to secure the property that my clients would like to secure. So I draft up everything in terms of the documents and the offer, which include a little bit a cover letter for me where I have to personalize the sales pitch, and then I send that to my clients for them to review and sign off on everything, and then they also are included in the final communication, bcc’d, essentially, on the offer. So they see all of that communication a lot of times. So that’s a good bulk of what I’m doing. And then the negotiating factors – I like to get most of the negotiations done in writing so that we have a good record of things. And [inaudible 9:15] to the process, in terms of being under contract, if we’re still negotiating with various items, I still like to keep that in writing in terms of emails, essentially, to be able to keep a written record of where we’ve come, which has been helpful. I do that a lot because I’ve been in a couple of court cases over the years as well from various businesses where it’s kind of like, you learn that it’s best to have a written trail of your conversation and where things have led to.

Q: Interesting. Yeah, I would imagine your field that becomes really essential.

A: Yeah, yeah.

Q: Could you tell me a little bit about your writing process? So is there any sort of preparation or brainstorming that goes into a typical writing project? Or do you just sort of sit down? I imagine most of your work is pretty time-sensitive, so–

A: Yeah, if I have to craft up something that’s going to be a little bit more creative, and I’m going to sit down with my designer, I try and think, “What’s the message?” Because I know that I’m not very good at this, I do a lot of kind of repetitive, where I’m going back and, “Did I actually convey the message that I’m trying to convey as concisely as I can and there won’t be any confusion?” And that’s a problem I feel like with a lot of communication, from texting to emails – everyone’s in a hurry and we’re doing it quickly, and there’s a lot of room for error in terms of clarity, in terms of the communication. So there’s a lot of the ambiguity and vagueness I feel like in today’s communication, and in my business, the more I can eliminate any ambiguity and lack of clarity, the better off I am in terms of making sure that we get the end results. Where I’ve had other agents sometimes where they’re like, “Oh, well I thought it was this,” and I was like, “Actually, if you go back and read the verbiage, and if we ever had to take it to court, it’s very clearly stated what our intent is and what the expectation for the end result would be.” So, it’s to my benefit to be as clear and concise as I can to get the results that I want.

Q: Absolutely. Right, right, and it’s interesting because you’re writing to this immediate audience, and then the audience that’s bcc’d, but you’re also sort of thinking about that potential worst case scenario audience of like a legal situation.

A: Exactly.
Q: Yeah, that’s really interesting.

A: Because a lot of what I do relies on kind of a lot of faith in reputation, and so when you, I don’t know, it just relies on that. So when that’s not happening, then you have to revert back to it in a worst case scenario, what do we have, and we have this written communication, and how clear and concise was everything laid out in that, which ultimately, if I ever had to go to court, and I guess that’s kind of the way I always look at it is, if I ever had to go to court, this is exactly where we had, you know, battle out between two attorneys, this is where we would land essentially.

Q: Right. Yeah, that’s really interesting. Do your documents go through multiple drafts or multiple revisions, or is it usually just a sort of, one shot and it’s done?

A: Since most of what I’m doing is kind of cut and paste in terms of cover letters or– so when we do get under contract, and then my clients find a whole bunch of issues with the property that they want to have resolved before they feel like they can move forward, I make the verbiage very clear and concise and kind of go back and I have to research sometimes products, and understanding the process of what it would take to get something done, so that I can understand how to clearly communicate what we want done, and how it should be done, and what the final expectation is. So sometimes I have to kind of go back and review and like, “Does that make sense? Is that actually what it’s called? Is that the process?” Yeah. I don’t know if that helped. Did that answer your question?

Q: It does, it does, perfectly, yeah. And this obviously will vary from writing to writing project, but how long do you typically have to complete an average writing project?

A: Most of what I do is very time-sensitive, and so I don’t usually have a whole lot of time to get anything done, so that’s also probably why I wind up reverting to just cutting and pasting [inaudible 14:15], because I can more effectively piece things together, better than if I had to sit think there and think what do I want to say from beginning to end, and how do I want to have the conversation flow in terms of what I’m writing. When I’m making an offer, like an hour to two hours, maybe? But a lot of that’s filling in contracts and making sure I have all the pieces of the contract that I need. So I don’t know, yeah.

Q: That’s fine, that’s useful, that’s really useful. What is at stake in your writing? You’ve talked a little bit about repercussions, but could you describe what’s at stake in an average writing project?

A: Well, I mean, the end result could be my job or my reputation [chuckles], in the sense that if I leave any liability for my clients in the end of the day, they could be financially liable, which could come back on me, which would result in likely, eventually ruining my reputation in the business, which I don’t want to do [laughter]. So it’s not quite as serious, you know, I think of all my friends who are attorneys, it’s not quite as serious as that, but it certainly is because this is a large investment that people are making, and there’s no room for error in timing and/or expense. I mean, who wants to pay for someone else’s mistake? And I do know somebody in the business who, they actually had to buy a house because they left their clients liable and to make up for the mistake, they literally bought the house, which put them in a huge financial bind.

Q: Wow. I can imagine [laughter]. Wow!

A: And I think that was a way probably to avoid getting charges filed against them.

Q: Oh, interesting. Okay. Does anyone oversee your writing?

A: We do have a legal compliance department within our brokerage, and their job is to make sure that we’re all buttoned up in terms of being legally liable. So make sure that we have all the correct forms, that we have all of our initials and signatures where we need them, that everything’s flowing in terms of the contracts and that we’ve completed. And even down to the point where it looks like we’re facing a potential court case with somebody who has not done what they’re supposed to do, and I need to button up everything and make sure we’ve got our ass covered, essentially, in that manner. And the same thing in my previous job, when I worked in commercial real estate for a major corporation, I would always work with HR and legal to make sure that everything I was doing was in compliance, my messages were very clear and concise, and that we were following all the procedures needed to make sure that we were not putting ourselves at risk in terms of being sued or liable for something. Because I oversaw about 20 people, essentially, in my previous position where I had to make sure, whether it’s an HR issue or something else we were doing was clear. And then even prior to that, I managed a health club for five years as well, an executive health club, so overseeing a staff of about 50 people.

Q: Okay, that’s so interesting. So, especially because you’ve had sort of a pretty varied career in the past 15, 20 years, have you had any training or education specific to writing since you graduated from college?

A: No, and I consider myself a horrible writer, actually [laughter]. So that’s why I probably spend more time at it. I think if I ever got back into a more corporate, professional environment, I think I would definitely struggle with that for a while. But it’s fine, I think it’s like the same as when I got there to my last job. I would spend a good amount of time making sure I was fully prepared for the things I needed to be prepared for, whether it was a court case or whether it was a meeting, or a presentation. So I would probably spend more time than maybe some people would, because I don’t think I had the background that I needed. I had the tendency to put off classes and lessons that I didn’t think were pertinent to me at the time, so starting as early as probably middle school when we were supposed to learn how to type, I was like, “Why do I ever need to learn how to type? I’ll have a secretary that’s supposed to do that for me,” [laughter] – that was probably the worst idea I ever had, that was probably a dumb idea – that was a dumb idea. Because here I am in college, trying to basically peck at the keyboard trying to figure out how to type up these long papers and I’m like, “I don’t know really how to do this,” and even to this day, it’s finally come to me in the last probably 10 years of my life, me now being 40, where I can actually literally type, probably not as efficiently as need to if I was having to, I definitely am horrible at dictation if I have to read my writing or hear what someone’s saying and then type it, it’s not happening.

Q: That’s really interesting. So you’re sort of talking about this already, but the next question is what challenges did you face when you were entering the workplace? And that doesn’t need to be in this job, right, this can be right out of college. But I’m curious about what the writing challenges were, and what steps you took to try to overcome those early writing challenges.

A: I’m trying to think. So I know my last position I did spend a good amount of time looking at resources to try and figure out how do I do what. I even brought up the CEO of the company, just happenstance before I even knew he was the CEO of the company, that we needed better resources at the company, and they did try and link us to kind of like an online library of resources for classes and educational purposes, which is something that HR eventually took on to do where they wanted to help us learn more. And they did start teaching us and doing classes that was helpful, because I did a lot of stuff in my last two positions where I was having to recruit people into the company as well as then hire and train them, and then manage them. Actually there’s a great class at Keller Williams – they’re heavy on classes, and so was my previous position – we would take a lot of classes that the company would offer that I thought was very helpful in terms of– which doesn’t necessarily pertain to writing, but it certainly, I think that continuing education through your employer is very helpful, because I don’t think, had I had to do it on my own, I probably wouldn’t have done it. I mean basic books in terms of idiot guides to like how do you write– and even now, I would struggle if I would have to write a resume, I haven’t had to do it in 10 years, so I don’t know how [inaudible 22:12] [laughter]. It’s kind of like as idiotic as how long it took me to figure out how to do this Skype [laughter].

Q: No, no. Yeah, once you’re out of practice in those things, there is a big learning curve coming back to any sort of new writing, for sure.

A: Yeah. Did I answer your question? I can’t remember what it was–

Q: You did, you did, yeah. And what were the sort of strategies you undertook, and you said you went to the CEO and sort of embraced these classes and things like that. Are you able to identify a change in your writing between college and now?

A: Well I don’t write essays, so there’s that. I know a lot of times people tell me– I think I would struggle if I had to– like I was talking about my friend who’s an attorney who does a lot of work for manufacturers, I would definitely struggle. But then watching him do what he does, he tells me he kind of does a lot of what I do, you basically look for previous evidence of what you’re trying to do, and then you copy essentially that, and then reformat it to the specific needs of what you have at hand. I kind of feel like that’s kind of the era that we live in, where people are doing a lot of probably cutting and pasting, and it’s like okay, this works for what I need, and then I can just kind of fine-tune it down to what the purpose is.

Q: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, I would say 90 percent of the interviews we’ve done, people have talked about some form of that strategy, in some cases I think people feel very adept in adapting that text and making it feel personal, like we were talking about, and then other folks have voiced a struggle to maintain consistent style or tone, but that they sort of have to rely on that because of time constraints, as you were mentioning, which is interesting.

A: Yeah, but I definitely understand that. I don’t have a good baseline in terms of my educational upbringing, just in the sense that I was never interested in doing anything that I didn’t think was to my benefit at the time, which led to me not paying attention to a lot of classes or even attending classes that I probably should have attended. Just as basic as having a good understanding of proper grammar in a lot of contexts, in terms of, you know I sometimes sit and listen to my friends talk about some of this stuff, and it’s quite embarrassing. I’m like, “Wow, I really should have paid more attention,” and even today, but I have no, it’s like I don’t know what I would do to correct it at this point because it’s kind of like, “Alright, well,” and that’s probably maybe also why I spend more time on some of my communication than maybe I should be doing, just because I’m trying to make sure that it’s clear, concise. And God forbid, I have to actually handwrite a note to somebody, because then I have to think about the correct spelling of things, which I don’t do half the time. I love how our computers can just guess things most of the time.

Q: Yeah. So when you think back, you’ve talked about how you were really not especially interested in things that didn’t seem to have an immediate use for you in college, but were there writing skills that you did learn in college, that you found prepared you for writing in the workplace?

A: Technical writing was an interesting exercise, and I wish that– I mean I think what I got out of that is essentially that you have to remember, you know, it was kind of fun, you had to remember that if you didn’t write clearly and concisely in a very thorough manner, then someone could miss a step. I mean, technical writing is as simple as, you know, part of it’s like the instructions that people have like when you go to Ikea and you buy piece of furniture and you have to put it together, and you have to remember you’re not going to be there to help them do it, so those instructions have to be very clear, concise, and thorough from beginning to end, and how do you get there? And so that’s kind of a lot of times like my writing now – I’m starting off trying to figure out how to flatter somebody, lay out what the problem is, and then how do we want to get that resolved in the end, but being very friendly in my tone, but stern in the sense that there is an expected end result, and sometimes even consequential in terms of what would be the result if we didn’t have that. So you have to kind of flow that conversation in your writing in terms of figuring out how to keep that.

Q: Right. Can we go back to, you just said the first part of that was, was it flatter the reader? Can you tell me a little bit about that?

A: Yeah, I mean you want to– you have a goal of what you’re trying to achieve, and you want to grease the wheels, you want to keep things going. What are you looking for, or what more–?

Q: I just, I think that’s just one of those things that we all do but don’t articulate very often, so it’s interesting to hear you say that that’s like a conscious step that you’re taking. Does that make sense?

A: Yeah, so I learned in college from a friend of mine who was actually very manipulative that there is, you can kind of joke and go back to Star Wars force. If you’re very purposeful in your life on a continuous basis, which takes a lot of energy and time, you can almost always get what you want in the end, but you just have to be very purposeful about your message and your end result. Whether it’s communicating verbally in a situation, or in writing, but more so, he taught me more in the verbal sense of that. And it worked – I would watch him and it was like 99.9 percent of the time, it worked. So I kind of went with that. So that’s kind of what the use of the flattery is, you know? And at the end of the day, we all have to work together. I have to work with that person again, so I want to make sure that we’re keeping things friendly.

Q: Yeah, absolutely. That’s interesting, thanks.

A: I don’t know if that helped at all [laughter].

Q: It totally helps! Yeah, no, it’s just an interesting, you know, as I said, I think we all do some form of that, trying to establish a relationship as you are working with folks, but we don’t often articulate that that’s part of the goal of the communication because we’re usually more focused on the deliverable or whatever the decision is, right? So it’s sort of interesting to think about that as a secondary purpose, but something that’s always kind of underlying in those emails, in most industries, probably.

A: So managing people for years now, most of my life actually, I’ve learned that you have to do that, even in my verbal communication with employees, and I’ll admit I learned this probably later in my career, that you have to remember that people have feelings. Because I think I was always kind of very stern in my management style, not in terms of the sense that we’re– we’ve all I think had, unfortunately, the boss or the leader in our lives who, because they had pain in getting to their position in life, they want to make your life as painful as possible too, to get to your next step in life. I’ve always very mindful of that, I never did anything like that because I don’t enjoy being treated like crap, and I want to make sure people feel respected and understood. But at the same time, I guess I was also very like, “This is the task at hand, these are our goals, get it done.” And it would come down to, even on a daily routine and basis, my communication with employees and staff about stuff. And it wasn’t until later in my career, I remember one of my employees said to me, “Listen, you seem really very stern all the time.” And I was like, “Yeah, I’m not looking to be your best friend. We work together as a team, and I happen to be leading this team, and these are our goals.” And she’s like, “Well, it doesn’t feel good sometimes, the way you come off to us.” And I was like, “Oh, alright. Well that wasn’t the intention.” So I had to kind of reformulate, and I actually had private meetings with all of my staff to ask them what they wanted, what they were looking for. And they just wanted to have more friendly communication in terms of like, “Hey, how’s your wife? How’s the husband? How’s the kids? How’s your day? How’s the weather?” you know, that kind of stuff. And I was like, “Oh, okay,” [laughter], “I can try that. You want small talk, okay, fine.” So I learned to pepper that into my daily communication with people, and kind of let loose a little bit more, loosen up, I guess, more in the workplace. And I’ve actually done that, even in real estate I was very kind of rigid in the beginning of my career with the borderline of client expectations and then their client– you know, I’ve been hired to do a job, I’m doing something, I’m working and they’re my client, I’ve kind of softened that a lot, so we become friends. And that’s actually the most effective way to do my job actually, in terms of long term business. You want your clients to be your friend in the end of the day, if they can, or close acquaintances at some point, so that they feel comfortable to eventually want to pass your services on to their friends and family and colleagues and stay within their sphere of influence and circle of friends, to stay top-of-mind so that you can keep your business moving forward. Which is how I’ve kind of gotten to know Patrick, they hired to buy a house– they wanted to buy a house in Virginia, and it turned out that it was Old Town, but we’ve since become friends, so yeah.

Q: Right, right, that’s super interesting, especially this sort of conversation that an employee had with you and how lasting that impact can be after years. That’s really interesting. So, just a few more questions. In what ways would you say would you say you were unprepared as a writer, coming out of college into the workforce?

A: Again, kind of having a baseline of maybe how to clearly communicate. I mean there was a lot of creative writing in highschool and college, I wrote a lot of my papers spontaneously at the very last minute. It’s weird, the way I work, I don’t know if it’s– it’s changed a little bit, but the way I’ve worked for most of my life in terms of being able to write extensive communication, long, several-page essays, or reports, papers, was to absorb all of the information for a long period of time, and then just spit it back out in a large paper all at once as fast as possible. And then kind of go back and tweak it, and then done. I don’t think I could ever do what you’re doing in terms of being a PhD student [laughter]. Because I’ve known several people who’ve worked on their PhDs and stuff like that, and I have to say I don’t think I could stomach doing all that. So yeah, I think that, just even the baseline, but that really comes down to that being my own fault. The tools were there, I just didn’t take advantage of them. And I got called out by my professors. One of my favorite professors, she actually gave me an “F”, and that was the first time that I think I ever remember anyone saying, “Listen, you can’t just do what you want. This is exactly what I asked for, and you didn’t give it to me. You can smile and tweak it, paint it all different colors, but it’s still not what we asked for. So in the end of the day, you’ve achieved an F.” And I was like, “Wow.” And it was funny because even my classmates were like, “Well he did an amazing job.” And she was like, “Yeah, he did. But it’s not what I asked for so you [inaudible 36:08]”. And I was like, “Wow. That’s a first. Thank you very much,” [laughter].

Q: That’s interesting. So this next question, you kind of answered it earlier. Would you say you’re a successful workplace writer? You said you don’t consider yourself a good writer – could you tell me a little bit about whether you think that you’re ultimately successful though?

A: I’m successful in the sense that I get the results that I’m looking for most of the time, but I’d say the majority of the time, but I am not successful in the sense that, because of my struggles, I’m just horrible at time management sometimes. So that probably adds to my time management crisis or crunch sometimes, in terms of having to write.

Q: Okay. And last question – what skills would you say are must central to writing in your specific job?

A: What skills – I think this is more of a skill of life, it’s– in my career in photography, I had the opportunity to meet– and actually my upbringing is I guess kind of varied in that sense as well. I grew up very average, kind of on the lower scale of middle class, but had a interesting peppered life of adventure, and kind of being all over the place. So having the chance to connect with a lot of people that I may not connect with, or meet people – I shouldn’t say connect like we form long term relationships – but meet people. So I guess as more of a clear example to help out here, in photography, I would meet the president, I would meet CEOs of corporations, I would meet a lot of famous socialites, so sports stars, and usually had to hang out with them sometimes for an entire day. Which it’s funny, because I don’t think I do this well in some aspects, but to be able to just really connect with people is a core life skill that you need to have and a lot of times I think that people, we all have our insecurities and I think that that’s one thing that kind of gets in the way. Not to say I don’t have a whole stack of insecurities [laughter], like I hate to speak in front of people unless I know exactly what I’m talking about and I have a clear, concise path in terms of where I’m taking everyone in that conversation. But if I have to do a spontaneous, quick speech, sure, I’m happy to. Especially if I have to demand something of people in a large group, I tend to do that well for some reason. But I guess just keeping it short, connecting with people and creating an open environment and understanding I think is something that I do well and also goes into written communication as well because I– you know it’s funny, I think there’s always, I know at least working at an office when I used to work in an office, the culture of people would write these nasty emails and then you’d run into them in the hallways, and they’re like, “Oh, hi.” And it’s just kind of like, “Why would you do that? Why are you communicating this way? It’s not going to be conducive to what you’re trying to achieve in the end, you’re making everyone’s life more painful in the process.” So connecting with people is a huge life skill that should be applied in any kind of written communication as well.

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Vice President, Human Resources

Business

Vice President, Human Resources, Mortgage Company

Date of Interview: February 25th, 2017

Transcript:

Q: Okay, so would you please state your job title, where you currently work, and how long it’s been since you graduated from college?

A: Executive vice president of First Guaranty Mortgage Corporation, and I graduated in 1993.

Q: Okay, could you please provide a brief description of your primary job functions?

A: I oversee the human resources department, all facilities, corporate administration, and customer engagement.

Q: Gotcha. And how big is the organization?

A: We are 850 employees right now.

Q: Ah, okay. How frequently are you required to write? If it’s possible, maybe you can estimate in an average week what percentage of your job requires writing?
A: I would say, especially from email, it’s going to be about 70 to 80 percent of my job.

Q: Okay. What forms or types of writing or what kinds of documents are most typical for you?

A: So typically either policies and procedures, or emails – formal emails and informal emails.

Q: Could you make the distinction between the two, sort of describe what each might look like?
A: So I guess for me, informal emails are usually reactionary, I’m responding to someone else, whereas most of my formal emails are going to be where I’m trying to communicate to a group, either with my peer executives or to the entire company to make a specific point.

Q: Gotcha. Okay. So you kind of answered this a little bit–

A: I’m sorry.

Q: No, no, that’s great. But so the primary audiences – employees always? Or not necessarily?

A: So primarily internal, so yes, employees, but then different levels of employees. So sometimes it’s going to be other executives – what we have is an executive management team – other times it’s going to be directors, senior directors, and then just the entire employee population as a whole.

Q: I see. Okay. Could you name some of the purposes of those writing – what you’re going to accomplish in those types of– ?

A: Usually they’re directional. So it’s, “This is a new policy to the organization,” or “It’s now time for performance reviews, you need to do this, in order,” you know, “It’s now becoming open enrollment for benefits, you need to do this.” So it’s usually directional.

Q: Okay, perfect. Were you familiar with the kinds of writing you’re doing now when you were a college student?

A: No, I think for two reasons: one, I’m actually old enough that email wasn’t a big deal back then [laughter], it wasn’t a big deal. And then also two, I never had to do– I don’t feel like I always had to write as often about persuasion. I didn’t– having to persuade somebody. I feel like I’m doing that a lot more now than I am [inaudible 2:50].

Q: Interesting. What are the contexts in which you are trying to persuade people these days?

A: So, typically with executives, it’s going to be– we’re a consensus group, so we try to make decisions by consensus, but when it’s my area of expertise, I’m saying, “Here’s the basic information, here’s what I think we should do.” And then I kind of persuade you that that’s the way you should go, rather than, I don’t like to say, “Hey, this is my department, I made a decision, everybody get on board.”

Q: That makes sense, okay. Could you describe your writing process? The question asks how writing tasks come to you, but presumably there, you are initiating them. But maybe any preparation you take before you start writing, and/or what that process looks like from start to finish. And maybe we can think about a typical formal policy piece of writing, rather than an email.

A: Right, okay, so yeah, so policy or even a longer email, I would usually create an outline, just to get my thoughts together, sort of here are my major points, you know, some sort of bullet point, and then fill in the blanks – okay, this is what I need to talk about at that bullet point, and then I would transfer it into an email.

Q: Gotcha, okay. And do you do any revision after you’ve written a full draft of it?

A: Yes. Typically I do my own revisions, I share it with people in my team when it’s their area of expertise to get input on those revisions.

Q: Excellent. And is that input, it’s usually content-based rather than sentence-level style?

A: No, right, it’s content.

Q: Okay, great. And when you’re making revisions on multiple drafts, are there any particular strategies or approaches that you take to improving a piece of writing?

A: I guess really just time. I usually tend to try to walk away from something and come back later on just to get a new context and to look at it from a different eye, a different viewpoint.

Q: Great, great. How long do you typically take to complete a writing project, if it’s something sort of substantial like that that’s official?

A: I would usually say a day. If it’s the end of one day, it’s going to be the end of the next day before I put it out. So 24 hours.

Q: Perfect, okay. Because you’re at the vice president level, the executive level, I’m assuming there’s no one who oversees your writing, is that–?

A: Yeah.

Q: Right, okay. But you said if someone has an area of expertise in the department, you might run it by them?

A: Right, exactly.

Q: Beautiful, okay. And are those, they’re usually director-level folks?

A: Yes.

Q: Got it. And how would you say the success or quality of your writing is judged, either by other people or by yourself?

A: You mean, whether they judge it to be decent writing?

Q: Yeah, yeah.

A: I mean I usually get quite a few compliments on my writing, that it’s persuasive, it’s succinct, it’s to-the-point, which is a big deal in business [laughter].

Q: Great. Yeah, absolutely. Have you had any writing training or education in writing since you graduated from college?

A: I can’t really say that I have, I may have taken, you know years ago I may have taken some sort of writing class just to help persuasive writing, but I would say that was probably ten years ago. So not really.

Q: Gotcha, okay. Do you remember facing any challenges as a writer when you entered the workforce?

A: Yeah, I mean I think early on I figured out that I wasn’t necessarily understanding my audience very well, maybe was too emotional in emails. What I call emotion in the sense that, too many adjectives, sort of almost a slang, almost how I would talk, I was writing, so that was a — luckily for me I think I got over it. I identified it relatively early in my career and got over it. [inaudible 6:48], relatively.

Q: That’s interesting. How did you identify first that you felt that it was not–?

A: Because of reactions I got from people. So, especially in human resources, you are in many cases trying to pacify a situation, you’re trying to calm things down, and I would find that sometimes when people would read my writing, it made it worse. So I would be like, “Okay, that was not my intent [laughter], clearly I need to repeat that,” and that’s where it was– maybe I had too many, sort of, where it felt personal to people. So many times I would be writing to correct a situation, to say, “Your performance isn’t great, this is how we need to fix it” and maybe it came across as personal, like I was personally attacking, so it wasn’t received well.

Q: Absolutely, yeah. And when you tried to remedy that, were there specific approaches you took to sort of change your writing in that way?

A: I think the main point for me, which seems simple but wasn’t simple until you figured it out, was to simply try be in the other person’s shoes. Say, “I’m the person who’s going to read this, am I going to take it the right way?”

Q: Yeah, right, gotcha. Other than what you just talked about, are you able to identify any changes in your writing between college and now, and if so, are there certain positions or things that have happened that you might attribute that shift to?

A: I think my vocabulary’s grown, simply by the nature of my work – HR terms and things that I use more often – I think it’s gotten a lot better. But I also think just from viewing other people’s work, my grammar’s better than it was when I was in college. I think my sentence structure is better. You know, like I say, I think it was more just from seeing it in other’s writing rather than in a class or something like that.

Q: Absolutely, yeah. That makes sense. Out of curiosity, what did you study in college?

A: U.S. History.

Q: Okay, alright. In what ways do you think the writing you did in college prepared you or not for writing in the workplace?

A: I think it gave me the sort of the basic structure of it. Through highschool and college, it’s understanding how to write it structurally. But honestly I think a lot of it I’ve learned since college, it was sort of on-the-fly. Most of the things that I would say I’m good at in writing I’ve learned on my own.

Q: Gotcha, okay. That’s interesting, yeah. And presumably you did a lot of writing as a history major?

A: Yes, yes.

Q: Although a very different kind of writing.

A: Right, right.

Q: Okay. Would you say that you’re a successful workplace writer? Other than sort of getting compliments, are there things that–?

A: Yeah, I do think so, because again, I feel like I persuade my audience, even when it’s employees. I consider it successful because I don’t get a lot of pushback. So it may be a policy that I know people aren’t going to like, and when I don’t hear a lot of negatives, I feel like I was persuasive.

Q: Yeah, absolutely. Are there still lingering writing challenges? Are there ever projects that you’re working on, a piece of writing, that still feel like a real challenge, or do you feel like you’ve really mastered all the genres, the types of writing that you’re doing at this stage?

A: I will say actually to this day, some pieces of grammar are still a challenge for me, commas and semicolons [laughter], some of those simple things are still difficult for me. If something is an emotionally charged interaction– even, so the writing is supposed to be emotionally charged, I’m still not very good at that, because I do come across– it’s almost like I’ve overcompensated, I’m very factual in my writing. I don’t really allow a lot of emotion into my writing, so sometimes that can be a problem.

Q: Could you give me an example of a situation that you think should be more emotionally charged?

A: Probably just expressing sympathy to one of my employees in a loss, or trying to show understanding when somebody– sometimes you would go back and forth in a persuasive argument, and something you may say at the end, “I’m fine with this. I don’t love the idea but I’m fine with it,” and I’m probably not coming across maybe as magnanimous or as feeling as I could, because I still have that sort of–

Q: You’ve really perfected that very specific tone [laughter] for everything else.

A: Right, right. Exactly.
Q: That’s really interesting, okay.

A: That is something I have to work on, and remember that there’s a change in audience. Sometimes I still forget to recognize the change in audience and not word– this person I’m not trying to persuade in that same way.

Q: Yeah, right, that makes sense. And the last question – what skills would you say are most central to writing in your very specific role?

A: I do think it’s about keeping to facts, you know, don’t allow a lot of extraneous information – succinct. I work with an executive who, you write more than three or four paragraphs, you’ve lost him and he’s gone. So it’s fact, fact, boom, boom, boom, loves bullet points. And I think all of the executives, as we communicate with each other, are the same way. You’ve got to be very succinct.

Q: Excellent, thank you.

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