Am I the only person who does this? I occasionally fret that I err on the side of being too safe when it comes to professional descriptions of myself and my experience. Too safe and not memorable enough.
A friend of mine just rewrote her LinkedIn profile to include a really snappy introduction about herself. It was so clever and so informative that I wished I could hire her just to rewrite mine. Mine is useful, succinct and it tells you what I do, but it doesn’t make you laugh or nod or scramble for a pen to write down my name and contact information. It’s professional and correct and all those good qualities. But I don’t know if it really makes me stand out. I think part of the problem is that I’m a little afraid to stand out. I’m afraid of standing out in a bad way.
Sometimes I just want to be really blunt when I answer a job notice or send a query letter to an editor. I want to say something like, “Listen. I’m really good at what I do. I will not let you down. Give me a chance and you’ll see what I mean.” But who’s going to send an email to an editor who’s never even met them that says something so straightforward and…well, let’s face it…a little bit arrogant? Not me. Too risky. Way too risky.
No, I tend to revert to the much safer, “Dear Editor, My name is Jennifer Larson, and I’m a freelance writer with more than a dozen years’ worth of professional journalism experience. I am writing to you to pitch a story idea that I have for your magazine, an idea that I think your readers will love….”
And yes, that’s all true. I do have that experience, and usually I have pretty good ideas, if I do say so myself. I used to be a daily newspaper reporter, so I work fast. I’m a crackerjack researcher. If I’m not sure that something is right, I don’t put it in a story. I triple-check details, sometimes even in the middle of the night. Also, I’m a pretty good interviewer. I can talk to anybody. And in turn, people like to tell me things. I’m one of those people who looks pleasant and unassuming, and so people sit down next to me on airplanes and stand next to me in line at the grocery and start talking. And before I know it, they’re telling me how they’re so scared that their brother is going to die of cancer or they’re so upset that they missed their grandmother’s funeral. I get some great quotes from people because they’re not afraid to talk to me. They open up to me because I don’t come across as a hard-nosed reporter who’s out to get you. It’s one of my greatest strengths as a journalist, I think. (It also came in handy during sorority rush a billion years ago, too, now that I think about it.)
And yet, when I need to be hard-nosed, I can be. I’m not afraid to ask hard questions. Once, I attended a meeting organized by a coalition of health care providers. One of the invited speakers was a government official who was known for underpaying for the provision of health care to the tune of, well, let’s just say a lot of money. He wasn’t doing anything illegal per se, just lousy. He dodged several people’s questions, including questions from a couple of other reporters in the room. Finally, I got tired of it, and I raised my hand. I asked my question. He started to dodge the question, and I interrupted. I said, politely but firmly, “You’re not answering the question that I asked. I asked…” and repeated my question. He tried to avoid it again, and I did the same thing. And I noted that he hadn’t answered a similar question that another person had asked earlier, and why was he avoiding these questions if there was nothing to hide? Finally he just stared at me for a little while and then gave up and actually answered my question. Everyone else in the room started murmuring. Afterward, several people came up to me to thank me for not giving up. One lady patted me on the back and said, “You looked so nice and sweet, and then you opened up your mouth, and you cut him off at the knees.”
Again, I know when that particular skill is needed and when it’s better to just shut up and listen.
But I can’t put all that in a one-page cover letter. Or on my LinkedIn page. I can put it here, of course. And I guess I just did. I think I just need to work harder to achieve a balance between creative (to make myself memorable in a letter or query) and professional (no one wants to work with an overconfident loon). Like most journalists, I roll my eyes at gimmicks, so I don’t want to subject some poor editor to that kind of silliness, either. But I want to be remembered–for the right reasons.
How else can I make myself stand out?