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HR: Communication Methods can be Crucial!
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A few tips on best practices in communication

altWith the introduction of so many new communication tools, many just in the last few years, it is not surprising that we will need to adjust the way in which we converse. Communication has evolved from being formal and time consuming to the instant information sharing that most of us experience now, and with it the essence of interactions has been affected as well.

This month’s HR column offers some good tips on how to utilize new (and old) communication tools, and what to avoid. Of course this advice can apply to all our interactions, but in the case of job hunters, the hope to dodge communication mistakes must be great, as they are often the first interaction with a possible new employer.

There are countless mistakes people make when communicating via email, and it will therefore receive our greatest attention.

Greet people
Numerous job applications I have received by email while here in China have been a single line. Receiving such email demonstrates only that the person did not feel this email to be important and/or is not practiced in using emails. Always start your email by addressing the person you intend it for, or the department, or even with a simple formal greeting such as: Madam/Sir, To whom it may concern, For your attention, etc.

Write a clear email
altAlways write a complete email if you are the one starting it. Many have written me and stated: I would love to work for you.

Clearly this is lacking a lot of information, as the person should have introduced themselves, told me a little bit about them self, and then written which position they were applying for and why they are a fit.

Remember that hiring managers receive large amounts of email and if the communication is poor in the initial email, they might simply not bother to open the attached resume.

Signature is important

There seems to be a trend, a bad one at that, where people do too much or too little when it comes to signatures. I am likely to delete an email from someone I don’t know that has either no signature or just simply a name. You should always include your full name, telephone number(s) and one other way of contacting you (Twitter, QQ, MSN, Facebook, Weibo).

On the other hand, spare people the 20 line signature that too many companies have. First of all, if you are applying for a job, you are an individual and trying to make your signature look like a corporate one is just awful. Second, there is no need for it as they already have the single most important detail, your email address. If they ever need your address or different social network accounts than what you have included, they can simply ask.

No fancy stuff
Email systems, even today, can have a difficult time communicating with each other and fancy emails that have decorative fonts, are multicolored and even have some pictures in them, are likely to look bad on the receiving end. It is also tiring to read emails that have been extravagantly put together.

Stick to standard font types, use bold, italics and underline sparingly, and stay away from having text in different sizes.

Look at your file size

Another mistake, that can be forgiven if the person is not very computer literate, is attaching huge files to emails. It could mean your email will never reach the recipient, as some company’s email systems deny the receipt of large emails. It could also irritate the receiver as large files will take up a lot of space, and can result in them having to delete your email (not all systems offer the option to simply delete the attachment).

There are exceptions

Most emails today are stacked like a conversation once there has been a reply to the first one. Many people have therefore started to skip the greeting and signature once a ‘conversation’ has been established. This is generally fine, since your signature is already in the first email, but also because the nature of the communication has changed from being a message to a conversation.

I advise anyone applying for a job to copy the method the hiring manager demonstrates. If they start skipping greetings and signatures, you are fine to do the same.

This only applies to each individual email thread though. If you write a completely new email to that particular person, include a new greeting and signature.

Another exception is the latest trends among executives, whereas many of them have now changed their email communication style into simple SMS like conversations, often even just replying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to lengthy emails. I dare say that no one should adopt such practices until their title and workload justifies it.

altPhones have lost a lot of prestige from their early days and sadly, with it, some of their respect. People now answer their phones with background music blasting or in the middle of a busy train, hang up without saying goodbye and even sound annoyed at having received a call.

Only take the phone call if you can talk

When you receive a phone call, especially if you are expecting one from a hiring manager, be sure that you can talk on the phone. It is fine to answer and tell the person that you are going to walk to a quieter spot in order to hear them better. If you are at a noisy location, have the call go to your voicemail just make sure that your message is pleasant and professional, encouraging people to leave their name and number so you can call them back.

Answer pleasantly
Too often if I call people, there is an exasperated voice answering ‘wei’ on the other end, which in most cases is enough to instantly make me regret calling them (and therefore not booking them for an interview). Speak clearly, say ‘wei ni hao’, and use a Mandarin accent, instead of a local accent.

Know your caller

It is common that when I call people they do not remember having applied for the job. Clearly, it is important that you demonstrate that you know who is calling and that you were expecting their call even if you have to fake it! Once people have introduced themselves and the company they are calling from, speak out in recognition and tell them you are happy to hear from them.

Save their number
When you receive a phone call from a person you are likely to hear from again, instantly save their number on your phone. That way, you will see who it is next time, and you can answer the phone accordingly.

SMS with purpose
One very common mistake people make with SMS is to send one to strangers without saying who they are. Always include your name if you are sending one to anyone beside your friends and family. Be clear in your message, and make sure it is important. Consider sending an email instead if it isn’t too important or consider calling.

The Internet
Finally, there are several different new channels to communicate and express oneself on the Internet these days. Social Networks are popping up for almost everything, making it possible to consistently share your worldviews, and to be in direct contact with almost anyone you want.

Instant messaging
Always treat instant messaging, like QQ, Skype or MSN, like a phone conversation. Do not write lengthy replies that require the other person to wait, as it will break up the rhythm of the conversation. Remember the name of this communication method; instant messaging, and treat it accordingly. If you are not at your computer have your account show you away or even log off. If someone messages you, and you are busy, you should still answer and just say that you are preoccupied at that moment. The point is that if you use an instant messaging tool, and you are shown online and available, it is rude not to answer if someone sends you a message.
Even though sharing is an unusual type of communication, and very specific to the newest tools we have online, there are many good practices to remember there. First of all, remember to share only what you feel is fine for your own mother to see. Yes, it might be boring in the long run, but it is one of the best personal safeguards you can have for yourself.

Second, show respect. Too many people are sharing content and opinions online that are either extreme or rude. Your future employers are likely to find your online self, and it might not be so helpful for your career or obtaining a new job if you have been rude on social networks.

Third, be useful. This goes for most communication. We sometimes forget ourselves by thinking that everyone and their dog is interested in our worldview, but instead we should be thinking of providing value. When sharing something on the Internet, keep in mind your hope that it will be of use to someone.

Read up on what are the norms regarding different technology and communication methods. Don’t be like many and treat emails like a SMS, and instant messaging like emails. Show sophistication and use appropriate methods for each tool. Good luck.


By Sam Ragnarsson
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