A good friend of mine recently sent me his New Year’s resolutions:

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I’m about to say something radical: If you are searching for a new job, the number one most dangerous thing you can do is ask yourself questions about your job search. “What do you mean?” you may ask. “Are you crazy? All the job search guides tell me to answer questions like what my goals are and what my ideal job is. If I don’t ask myself questions, how will I get answers?” The problem with asking yourself questions is it's really difficult to have a conversation with yourself. Asking yourself questions will get you only the answers you can generate yourself. Those answers are necessarily limited. Your conversation might sound something like this: “What do I want to do next? Oh, I don’t really want to think about that. I’m confused. The economy sucks. Maybe I’ll never get a job again. I think I have to do the laundry. Wait, what was that question?” Thankfully, there’s an alternative to this mind chatter: Have someone ELSE – someone you trust – ask you the important job search questions. You might be surprised at the clarity you achieve when you bounce ideas off another human being. That person might be a job search coach or a relative or a friend. It MUST be someone who listens extremely well and asks good questions. Here are the top 10 questions to have someone ELSE ask you. Give this list to someone you trust and have him or her read it to you, one question at a time:

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Spurred in part by an exercise I did at an ActionCOACH business planning workday, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a leader. My commitment is to be a great one, and I’m getting clear in order to be successful, there are certain traits I must possess. Here are my top ten ways to be a leader: 1. Deliver clear, consistent communication. Of course there are no guarantees everyone will understand the communication the way you meant it. At least if you’re clear and consistent, you minimize the possibility of misinterpretation or gaps in the lines of command. 2. Learn from your mistakes and miscommunications. If you keep making the same mistakes, you are not being a leader. You are just being insane. Learning from your mistakes requires a willingness to self-evaluate, and a commitment to the utmost integrity. 3. Be charismatic. What this means is to be present in the moment. Show up as who you are and not the way you think you should be. Charisma also requires a sense of humor! 4. Be unstoppable. Obstacles and challenges are bound to arise. If you stop to carefully examine the obstacle you will not get past it. Keep looking toward your goals, and obstacles will have nothing on you. 5. Have vision. Know why you are doing what you are doing, and have it be about something or someone other than you (or money). Vision will help you be unstoppable and inspiring. 6. Be inspiring. Ask yourself, “Would you follow you?” If the answer is no, “Stop, drop and roll” and get yourself back in alignment. Get yourself to “Yes.” Take action! And be the inspiring leader you know you truly are. 7. Support the people around you. The measure of a great leader is the success of the people he or she leads. If the people around you are learning and growing, you’re doing something right. 8. Be willing to change direction. Stubbornly charging toward a particular goal in a particular way is a recipe for disaster. Flexibility will allow for unexpected expansion and miraculous results. Keep looking for the next way to grow. 9. Be committed. Dabblers and dilettantes will not get very far in leading anyone. Leaders can be counted on to be 100% in the game and to ride out the ups and downs. 10. Know that it’s a game, and play full-out. Play a BIG game. That way if you win, you win, and if you lose, you win. Looking at my list, I notice there are places where I’m right on, and others where there is a gap between where I am and where I want to be. This is good news! I get to learn and grow and always strive to more fully embody the qualities of a leader. What do you see for yourself in this list? Please share in the comments below. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

In December 2010 I posted the "Top 10 Grammar and Spelling Errors of 2010" and got a record number of hits on my blog and “likes” on Facebook. In the past year as The Essay Expert, I’ve collected a new batch of errors. I did repeat a couple of things from 2010 that were so persistent I just had to repeat myself! I write these lists in the hope people will implement what they learn and produce better essays, better resumes, and overall better written collateral. Improved writing gets results when it comes to obtaining jobs, getting into school, landing new clients and keeping the customers you’ve got. So read up!

10. Advice vs. Advise

Here’s a note from one of my loyal readers, Christine, who requested that I mention this common mix-up: “Advice is a noun. An example would be: ‘Brenda provided very useful advice regarding spelling errors.’ Advise is a verb. An example would be: ‘Brenda can you please advise your readers about similarly misused words?’” Thank you, Christine, for your contribution to my yearly list!

9. Your vs. You’re

You’re is a contraction for “you are.” If you’re using the word to mean “you are” (two words), write it as a contraction. E.g., Do you know that you’re about to miss the 5:00 train? Your is a possessive pronoun. E.g., Your train is leaving in two minutes.

8. Tenet vs. Tenant

Even our president messed this one up. A tenet is a belief or ideal of faith. Tenants rent from landlords.

7. Sign up vs. Sign-up

I see this one on the web all the time and it drives me a bit batty. Sign up is a verb. Sign-up is an adjective that modifies a noun like “form” or “sheet.” Correct: “Sign up here for news and updates” or “Go to our sign-up page to register.” Incorrect: “Sign-up here for news and updates” or “Go to our sign up page to register.”

6. Everyday vs. Every day

Everyday is an adjective meaning “common” or “day-to-day.” As I’m sure you know, people make everyday grammatical errors every day.

5. “This” without a referent

Make sure that if you use the word This to start a sentence, you help your reader understand what you’re referring to! The best practice is to use a referent after the word This. Incorrect: This will ensure your sentences are understood. Correct: This practice will ensure your sentences are understood.

4. Verbage

Verbage does NOT mean "words!" Although the OED does have an entry for “verbage” as a “rare alternate spelling of verbiage,” Merriam-Webster does not even acknowledge the existence of the word.Verbiage, often misused as well, means excess language. The jury is out as to whether the phrase “excess verbiage” is redundant—but I’m sticking to it.

3. Apostrophes (that’s not apostrophe’s!) to make plural nouns

With some exceptions which I won’t go into here, plural nouns are formed by adding an sor es to the singular form of the noun–NOT by adding an apostrophe! The plural of parent is parents; the plural of computer is computers;and the plural of Wednesday is Wednesdays. No apostrophe needed! Conversely, possessives ARE formed by adding anapostrophe s. To speak about an author’s intent, for instance, use the apostrophe s.

2. Myself

Think for a few seconds before you use the word myself in place of me at the end of a sentence. A sentence like “George was speaking to my friend Lucy and myself” is grammatically incorrect. Replacing me withmyself has become common, perhaps as an attempt to avoid using the word me. Think about it. You would say, “George was speaking to me,” so just say, “George was speaking to my friend Lucy and me,” — NOT, “George was speaking to my friend Lucy and myself.” The parts of speech don’t change just because another person was added to the sentence!

1. Comma splice

I can’t tell you how often my clients string two full, complete sentences together with a comma. This error is called a comma splice. Here’s an example: “Simply observing my surroundings was not enough for me, I needed to know how things worked and why they worked in that specific way.” The correct way to punctuate this sentence is “Simply observing my surroundings was not enough for me; I needed to know how things worked and why they worked in that specific way.” Two full sentences may get separated by a semicolon or a dash—NOT by a comma. I look forward to your comments and “likes.” Best wishes for a grammatically correct 2012! Brenda Bernstein, founder and senior editor of The Essay Expert LLC, has been coaching professionals and students on their writing projects for over 12 years. She works closely with clients to create effective written expressions of who they are and what they have accomplished. Red oops button image from Shutterstock
On December 13, 2011, LinkedIn released its most overused buzzwords list for 2011. Here is the list of the top 10, with “creative” reigning at the top. When a particular country or countries stood out for overuse of a term, the country name(s) are listed in parentheses:
  1. Creative (Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States)
  2. Organizational
  3. Effective (India)
  4. Extensive experience
  5. Track record (Singapore)
  6. Motivated (Ireland)
  7. Innovative
  8. Problem solving (Italy)
  9. Communication skills
  10. Dynamic (France)
The good news? Some people heeded last year’s list and stopped overusing at least some of the following 2010 overused buzzwords:
  1. Extensive experience
  2. Innovative
  3. Motivated
  4. Results-oriented
  5. Dynamic
  6. Proven track record
  7. Team player
  8. Fast-paced
  9. Problem solver
  10. Entrepreneurial
The four exact matches between 2010 and 2011 years are “motivated,” “dynamic,” “innovative” and “extensive experience.” There are also some near matches with “problem solving” vs. “problem solver” and “proven track record” versus “track record” (I personally have tired of all of these terms). I believe job seekers and career professionals have done some good work changing the landscape — four of the terms on the list have changed, and all of them have changed rank. Let’s face it: There will be overused words every year. I’m just glad to see we’re learning lessons along the way.

How Creative Are You?

This year’s primary lesson: Don’t say you are “creative” – demonstrate your creativity! Design and upload a PowerPoint presentation to SlideShare and post it to your LinkedIn profile. Give examples of marketing strategies you devised. Include your artistic portfolio in your profile. And don’t use the same words everyone else is using! We now know that asserting you are “creative” is a sure way to prove that you are not.

Met or Exceeded Organizational Goals?

“Organizational” is a bit tougher. How do you say you met organizational goals without saying you met organizational goals? One thing to keep in mind is that of course you are going to strive for and meet organizational goals! What other goals would you possibly want to report? I admit I will be a little sad to let this term go, but I see the point of finding alternatives. “Meet targeted goals” would be just as effective (oh did I say “effective”? Send me to India where I’ll be in good company!) Or perhaps a chart of goals versus accomplishments would obviate the need for the term “organizational.” I predict that next year “goal(s)” and “target(s)” will top this list.

Devise an Effective Strategy Lately?

Thankfully there are a multitude of ways to convey the concept of “effective.” “Successful” is the clearest alternative, followed by “winning,” “profitable,” “lucrative,” “productive,” “fruitful,” “targeted” and even “efficacious” (I don’t love that last one as a resume/profile adjective). Take your pick or find another way to say what you mean! (Sometimes you can just leave out the adjective completely, as I did by avoiding “find another effective way” in that last sentence.) As for “extensive experience” and “track record,” these terms are like nails on a blackboard to me. I see them a lot and make short work of them on my resumes. How many of these top 10 overused words show up in your LinkedIn profile? Please share below. Red innovation button image from Shutterstock
The New York Times has been rife this season with articles about the college application essay. The Common Application’s newly reinstated 500-word guideline is the topic of much conversation, as are general themes and strategies for the personal statement. It is now November - some early application deadlines have come and gone. Is your high school senior still stuck or struggling with his or her personal statement? Many people, not just college applicants, have a hard time writing about themselves. Yet that’s exactly what you need to do when writing a personal statement. No matter how much you might not like it, your personal statement is about you. There’s really no way around it. Today I will provide some assistance and resources to help any college applicant write a great personal statement. 1. Relax! Have fun! “It’s all about loosening up,” says a California college professor in Crafting an Application Essay That 'Pops', a New York Times article which reported on the recommendations of 5,000 admissions officers and counselors who gathered at the latest NACAC conference. I couldn’t agree more. To help students have fun with their personal statements, Stanford University has come up with an interesting twist: They ask applicants to write a letter to their future freshman roommates. Here are some samples, quoted in the article, of how students approached the essay: “If you want to borrow my music, just ask. If you want to borrow my underwear, just take them.” “I eat ice cream with a fork, and I drink orange juice right after I brush my teeth just for the sour taste.” “If you have anything other than a Dodgers poster on the wall, I will tear it down.” Note all these lines are written in the first person – unfortunately to some, a required element of writing about yourself. And note that all the lines are unique. It’s unlikely that two applicants would have written the same thing. Here’s the key to writing a great essay: Write something no one else could have written. If that sounds like a daunting task, loosen up! Take a cue from Stanford’s essay question, no matter what topic you choose to write about. All you have to do is tell stories about yourself. 2. How NOT to Start your College Application Essay One common pitfall students fall into is trying to write an essay about their reasons for applying to school, instead of simply telling a story. One of my recent clients started her essay to graduate school with, “I am applying to the XX school for several reasons.” I coached her to simply start telling her story. This approach made the project a lot easier, and made her essay a lot more interesting! Here’s the start of an essay that meets this requirement: When I went to Fall Out Boy’s Chicago radio show, there was the comment from the drummer, “The girl from New York is here.” When I fought my way to the front of the crowd in Florida, there was the bassist’s point of his finger at me as he mouthed one of my favorite lyrics: “I still hate you.” This opening line works because it tells a story no one else could tell. It brings us into a world unique to the applicant. And it sets us up to think something interesting is going to happen in this essay. The reader is compelled to read the next line. Contrast this to an alternate version of the essay that might have read, “Music is one of my passions, and because of that I attend a lot of rock concerts. My favorite band is Fall Out Boy.” You might laugh, but version two is the way many college essays read. Or, to avoid boring the committee, applicants swing the other way: “Raindrops heated by the flashing lights above, falling abundantly and without end, singeing my hair, my skin, my eyes…” Here’s a tip: If you are not a brilliant creative writer, just stick to the facts. They will set you free. 3. Doing it in 500 Words The Common Application now suggests a 500-word limit for a college application essay. The more you stick to a story – a story that is directly linked to the point you want to make in your essay – the easier it will be to stay within that limit. Note it’s okay to spill over by a couple of words – but think of how impressed an admissions committee will be if you can knock their socks off in 500 or under? The New York Times’ “The Choice” blog provides spot-on advice for how to stay succinct in "Advice on Whittling Your Admissions Essay." Read this article immediately if you are over the limit and unsure of how to cut your writing down to size! You might also gain some breathing room from Matt Flegenheimer’s October 28, 2011 article, "College Application Essay as Haiku? For Some, 500 Words Aren’t Enough." Brenda Bernstein, founder and senior editor of The Essay Expert LLC, has been coaching professionals and students on their writing projects for over 12 years. She works closely with clients to create effective written expressions of who they are and what they have accomplished. Image from l i g h t p o e t/Shutterstock
A New York Times article, To Earn an ‘A,’ Set the Alarm Clock Early, reported early morning classes, at least at one college in New York, correlate to higher grades. The professors who conducted the study found a direct relationship between later morning classes and higher incidence of alcohol use. The article did not make it clear whether the morning classes were the cause of the tame nights, or whether students already inclined not to drink were the ones who chose early classes. What was clear is students with later classes drank more and slept more poorly, albeit for more hours, than did their early bird counterparts. Apparently their grades suffered. Could an early schedule actually be a cause of sobriety and overall responsibility? If so, it seems registering for early morning classes is a good idea for any college student. Why tempt fate? And perhaps the same rule applies to people in the workforce. Certainly people who get up at 5:00 AM for work every day are unlikely to spend their weeknights pounding shots until 2:00 AM. So what about business owners and job seekers? Those early morning BNI and other networking events might be keeping us on the straight and narrow. I am not a drinker myself, but I do know when I don’t have early morning appointments I tend to stay up later – working, not playing, but perhaps I would be more productive if I were to go to bed by 10:00 PM and get up at 5:00 AM each day, rather than slide into a 1:00 AM to 8:00 AM sleeping pattern. Am I hurting my “grades” by doing that? I’m starting to wonder. If you are someone who does not have an external force keeping you to a schedule, perhaps it is a good idea to create an early morning appointment of some kind to train you to go to bed at a decent hour. Some people I know have a mini-coaching call with a friend each morning. Some go to the gym religiously at 7:00 AM. If you knew you would perform better overall by starting early, would you do it? One of my friends and informal coaches keeps telling me I should stop working at night. I generally haven’t listened to his advice (note: I wrote this blog post at 10:00 PM on a Saturday night). But I’m going to try an experiment. This week I am going to go to bed by 11:00 PM every night, and get up at 6:00 AM. Will I see a difference in how much I get done, or in how well I do it? I’ll keep you posted on the results. Brenda Bernstein, founder and senior editor of The Essay Expert LLC, has been coaching professionals and students on their writing projects for over 12 years. She works closely with clients to create effective written expressions of who they are and what they have accomplished. Image from Melanie Taylor/Shutterstock