Want to Impress? Don't Do This.
A Note From The Editor
Think your company has what it takes to make our Top Company Cultures list? Apply now.Apply now »
Woke up with poison oak rashes all over today. Guess the dog got into a patch and transferred it to me while we were watching TV last night. What, doesn’t everyone cuddle with his dog in front of the tube? Where was my wife? Cuddling with our other dog.
Anyway, if you’ve never had the distinct pleasure of encountering urushiol (the oily resin that causes the rash), the itchiness is incredibly irritating. So if I'm a little more derisive than usual today blame the poison oak, not me. Now that I have an excuse for being snarky, this is probably as good a time as any for some tough love.
Whether you’re new to the business world or just misguided, let me fill you in on a little secret. It’s a common pitfall to think that everyone you meet or connect with thinks the way you do. This may come as a shock but, in all likelihood, most don’t, especially not the important ones.
Take those in a position to hire you or fund your business, for example. There’s a very good chance they are more experienced and accomplished, perhaps even more conservative and discerning than you are. They may not have even read “Me 2.0” or a Tim Ferriss book, if you can believe that.
Related: Why Generations Clash at Work
And since people that are different than you have a direct impact on your success in the business world, it’s a good idea to put yourself in their shoes and consider how you come across. In other words, whether it’s your resume, a VC pitch, or your profile on a social network, if you want to impress, don’t do this:
List every academic degree and obscure certification after your name. Whoever coaches people to write MBA, BS, MA, PE, PMP, CPCC, MPS, or HCS after their name on LinkedIn should stop. It’s pretentious, pompous, arcane and inane. Your name represents you, who you are and what you do. Don’t dilute your brand with all that nonsense. Yes, it belongs on your resume … at the bottom.
Write as if English is your third language. A typo or two is forgivable but if your writing projects an image of a third grader, nobody is going to take you seriously. And yes, I see emails, documents, websites, profiles and posts that fit that description every day. People even misspell their own name. I kid you not.
Call yourself a CEO, VC or serial entrepreneur when you’re really not. These days if you have a blog and a Twitter account, you’re a CEO. If you also sell baseball cards on eBay, you’re a serial entrepreneur. And if you pledged $25 to that potato salad campaign on Kickstarter, you’re a VC. Want to know how that comes across to those who actually earned and deserve those titles? Lots of ways. None of them good.
Related: How to Win the Game of Life
Use industry-specific jargon. Unlike some people, I have no problem with the occasional “core competency” or “at the end of the day.” Jargon becomes popular for a good reason, but that’s neither here nor there. The real problem is all the technical speak. VCs are generalists who cover a lot of ground. So are many people in a position to help or do business with you. And they won’t consider those they can’t communicate with.
Provide way too much information. Nobody wants to hear about your religious beliefs, political leanings, obsession with positivity, relationships, loony causes or 17 slash jobs. It’s off-putting, and serious business people will rarely get past it. I know what you’re thinking: then you don’t want to do business with them. Fair enough. But that’s a great way to eliminate 95 percent of your real opportunities.
Write the way I do. Impudent sarcasm may work for some writers and comedians but it does not come across well when you’re starting out, building a career or trying to grow a business. Instead try to be genuine, direct, professional, credible and self-confident in your communication, both online and in person. A genuine sense of humor and humility also goes a long way.
Look, I know you’ve heard it a thousand times, but I’m just going to keep repeating it until people get it. These days, your entire online presence is your resume and the Internet is forever. If you don’t want everyone you might someday count on to hire you or help you grow your business to see it, don’t post it.
Incidentally, there is a remedy for the dreaded poison oak rash. You have to run extremely hot water over the affected area for a minute or so or as long as you can stand it. Don’t ask me why but it provides a few hours of relief. I just did that. I’m feeling much better now, thank you very much.
Related: Great CEOs Don't Whine...Or Coddle