I’ve been writing a lot of cover letters and personal statements, and CV versions) lately, so this video really spoke to me today.It’s worth watching it a few times, if you;re at all in the cover letter zone, to note how economically it covers its bases. It’s modest, yet confident and assertive. It has wit and humour, but isn’t crass or off-topic. It covers experience in detail, as well as what skills the writer could bring to the table. It is informal but not egotistical or unprofessional. In its making, it demonstrates the skills it describes.

This last one is a particular nightmare for a writer! A cover letter or CV that’s anything less than mindblowing just lets you down professionally. And I see a few of these, as we’ve  also been receiving quite a few speculative approaches at work; there’s been a big restructure (hence the job search), and it’s amazing how word gets out.

Reading these letters, which are effectively angling for my job, is a great way of seeing what to do and not do in a speculative approach. I can see, for example, that if you write in your cover letter that you want to move your career into the sustainability sector – having identified an opening in a feature on a sustainability company in the Sunday Times – and if your CV contains no reference at all to anything even remotely connected to the green sector – you should really say something about why you want to work in it. Why you’re interested in it. Or what you think you could bring to it. Or how your previous work relates to it. Or prepared you for it. Or what you think your transferrable skills are. What’s in it for them, the employer. Or, really, anything.

As the old saying goes, ‘Who feels it knows it’. I’m lucky to get to read these examples of how not to do it, just as I have to do it. But does it really make it any easier? As with anything you ever write, you have to get into the head of the recipient, imagining what they want to know about. And, let’s face it: if you are writing a speculative letter, they didn’t want to know about anything. Until three seconds ago they’d never heard of you and were wondering how long till they could make a cup of tea. Why do they want to keep reading?

The real trick, I think, is to keep the freshness of spirit of this video, while writing to each company in a manner appropriate to the recipient, in his or her own language. (A doddle, then! And as you can see, I have a magic wand.)

In fact, right now the entire Text Pixel family is looking for work. Talk about living the Zeitgeist! The Text Pixie herself, if that’s me, is in a temporary contract for two more months, and now (as stated above) looking for a new role in corporate communications & PR.

The Text Pixel daughter is looking for a Saturday job, now her exams are finished.

The eldest son, a budding web design genius, has just handed in his final project for his second year in digital media at London College of Communications and is looking for work in an agency until October.

His girlfriend, a lovely, happy, friendly, experienced girl who can pull a mean pint, is looking for work in a pub.

And the Text Pixel boyfriend, a photographer who has been freelance his whole life, is looking for a way to pay his bills – as a portfolio (however impressive) won’t do that. He’s a great writer too but has never done it corporately. What to do? He is far from being alone; the streets and jobcentres are flooded with people his age who have just found that their world no longer exists. Everyone is job-hunting and the competition is fierce. There is no disgrace in having to find yourself afresh in your forties, but it is a challenge.

His approach is to create a sort of living portfolio, in the form of a blog that utilises his editorial and curatorial skills, showing that he can identify a niche, build a project, do picture research and editing and copywriting and negotiations, gain contributors (both photographers and writers), grow an audience, and keep it all going. It’s unlikely to land him an actual job; but it keeps his hand in, gives him a calling card, and is helping to develop new networks.

Anyway, I have written three of the CVs in question – all wildly different – and was asked for comment on the young designer’s portfolio site. (I think it’s great, but at the time of writing this it needs a little biography page. Perhaps along the lines of the video above. And he’s got a great thing going with that font at the top.) He was worried about not having much professional experience, but I’ve assured him that there’s no shame in being young, as long as you are (like him) bright and talented and full of energy and promise. Everyone has to start somewhere. The main thing is that the employer can see what you’re like, and what you can bring to the table.

So now we’ve got two great portfolio sites and a blog that’s already gaining critical attention; and I’ve linked in and monstered and joined up and updated, and my own website is now pretty much up-to-date. And we’re all researching companies to write to.

So we’ve got the material. We just have to do something with it. We have to go out there and hunt, under cover.

Cover letters, that is. I’m starting with the one at the top – and my magic wand.


Okay, they can make tea. But is their Twitter strategy joined up?

I’ve been reading a lot today, and only some of it’s been on Twitter. And talking to various people, and only some of it’s been about Twitter. (There were also some ancient boilers that looked like a family of very sweet robots; see above. They’re kind of following me.) But it’s the Twitter that’s sticking in my mind. Not just fun Twitter, but work Twitter. Corporate Twitter. What is it, how does it work, how can companies best use it? what can they get from it?

Is it a marketing, communications or customer relations tool? Or all three? How tightly controlled should it be? How many different Twitter accounts can an organisation run and not be confusing? Fewer than the Guardian, one rather thinks; but then, it can be confusing if lots of people are tweeting from one acccount, too. As a follower you never know who you’re getting. Does it matter? Does it matter in your organisation, I mean?

As with any other activity that involves communication, it’s not really about  the tweets; it’s about how well you all understand each other, deep inside. It’s about mission statements and company ethos, but it’s also just about culture and – get this – happiness. Happy people are people who get along. I’ve worked in so many organisations, and no two were the same; but two teams tweeting against each other with conflicting narratives or messages just isn’t pretty.

How does your organisation see itself? How does it talk inside itself? What does it – not just you, but the entity that is the whole shebang – think Twitter is for? How flexible, or not, is its brand? (This question contains the other one, about a firm core of recognisability at the centre of the brand. This stuff used to be the domain of brand experts; now anyone with a stake in a twibbon needs to think about it too. How much can you stretch it before it snaps?) Who can best drive it?

It’s easy to be a bit afraid of Twitter: brave new world and all that. but it’s just a tool,  like a typewriter or a telephone was once a new tool. It’s a thing for getting things done. So what are you trying to do, and how do you want to do it? You need a Twitter strategy. Or at least a policy. (Or some guidelines…)

As with any other strategy, a social media strategy depends on being clear about what you want to achieve. Once you get that, you can work out how you want to get there. I heard a story about someone who filled in a marketing materials commissioning form:

Material being prepared: leaflet

Outcome: leaflet

Well, that isn’t a bad start… But the tweets, they are like leaves on a tree, they are many and small, and together they must drift into the ether to make…

…what? What will they make? Over to you.

Here are my five starting tips for corporate Twitter (more like starting thoughts, really):

  1. Make sure everyone on your Twitter feed knows how to spell and use grammar. This sounds rudimentary, doesn’t it.
  2. Make sure everyone understands where there’s some give and where there isn’t. Singers, songsheets…
  3. Get your people talking to each other. Have a party. Have a meeting. Have lunch. Have fun.
  4.  Don’t forget your audience, they are people too and want to be informed and entertained. What are you giving them? Don’t just talk about yourself the whole time. This really is basic Twitter stuff, but you’d be surprised. Don’t be afraid to make a joke. Don’t be afraid to reply to negative comments. Don’t worry that if you talk about something else for a minute, everyone will forget to come to your website.
  5. Don’t script the tweets. Let your staff adopt natural voices – let them show that you have real people working in your organisation! Not just robots. (Or indeed Twitter bots, but that’s another post.)

Hmm, robots. There they are again. Time for a cup of tea…

Verb jamb, stile sheet, upper predicate and parting adjective...

Well, this seems like a good time to resuscitate the Text Pixel Pixie. I’ve been avoiding a discernable fluttering of little wings lately – and I mean more than just the moths! She has definitely been strretching and yawning.

There was the day my colleague, the internal communications manager, looked up at me from her desk, and said: “Transition. It’s not really a verb, is it?”

That was the same day another colleague wrote to her, asking her to put an item in the internal staff email telling people to stop misspelling “draught-proofing.”

That was, by chance, the very day I was already fulminating about language errors: “triple” not being a verb, and “to whit” instead of “to wit,” and verbs that don’t agree with their subjects. To wit, verbs in the singular, which agree with only the last noun in a list of things they’re supposed to apply to. To which they’re supposed to apply. Newspapers’ subeditors. Say no more.

Then there’s a thread someone started on Facebook, talking about the extent to which we should honour (or honor) US or British typographical practice, with double or single quote marks, and punctuation falling inside or outside (of) them. This thread is getting long and, in places, a little heated; people are confessing to years of frustration being stuck on the wrong side of the Atlantic, having to work to an annoying style guide – whichever way round.

I even gave a potted history of the noble antecedents of the American word “gotten.”

(You see I still, left to my own, use the double-quotes-punctuation-inside” form; I find it typographically neater. Though I kind of prefer the other one. So analys(z)e me.)

In the middle of all that, I wrote a snarky post about Comic Sans, which dramatically illustrated the ability of a typeface to interact with mood, even while being a relatively cheap shot.

I don’t really have time to maintain two blogs. That is why this one has lain dormant for so long. But the natural desire to have everything in its right place means I now resuscitate the fairy, and I’ll do something clever with LinkedIn or my website or something. It’ll all be fine.

So this brings me to the job description I just read. It’s a nice job and I’d have gone for it if the office in question weren’t relocating outside London. It’s a shame.  I think their ad takes this sadness a little too far, though, when it says: “Must be able to learn and perform multiple roles commiserate with working in a fast-growth small office setting.”

Bless! I am commiserating; I really am. And these people clearly do need me, but I can’t get to their office.

Enjoy your summer! And keep the holiday reading easy.

subtitle of the day

July 19, 2010

Power to the sub-editors on this one! It shows what you can do with wit, brevity and the right attitude. Kind of makes you want to buy the book.

(If only it were Barry Manilow’s memoirs…) But wait!

Ahhhh. That’s better. (For more Manilow, see today’s post on Baroque in Hackney.)

Next time you do something…

… make sure you don’t cut the wrong corner!

This came to me via a friend’s website; it was posted there for being funny, but I just think it’s depressing. Someone got PAID for making that bit of pavement!

It reminds me – and all it takes is for one of these old ladies to hit her head as she falls – of the discovery, many years after the fact, that the shipyard used cheap rivets when they built the Titanic.


The specs were (as you can imagine) for solid, heavy-duty rivets, and the contractor tried to cut a corner. That’s why, when the ship hit the iceberg, it broke up. The rivets didn’t hold at the point of impact.

The people who made this useless pavement didn’t value it, or the people who would use it. They are no doubt completely oblivious to the damage they’ve done so many of their fellows, as they rack up the balls, stoke up the barbecue, load up the computer game. (This is usually the case with people who do damage, by the way. Try not to be one of them.)