Vice President, Human Resources, Mortgage Company
Date of Interview: February 25th, 2017
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–?
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?
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.