June Career Spotlight: Whitney May Parker
We sat down with Whitney May Parker, head of user experience, design, and professional development efforts at Brazen Careerist, a start-up company based in Washington, D.C. In addition to her work with Brazen Careerist, Whitney is the Director of Social Media for YPFP.
JL: With interaction between prospective employee and employer becoming more digitalized (e-mail, social media, etc.), how has etiquette, in terms of professional and appropriate communication, changed for better or worse?
Whitney: Communication between job seekers and employers continues to evolve in the Digital Age. More and more recruiters are using informal chains of communication and social media sites like Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter to find and screen potential candidates. Job seekers are also adapting to the new landscape of digital communications, and starting to professionalize and brand themselves for the online world.
Etiquette during the job search process, however, seems to continue to elude the majority of young professionals when they are communicating to potential employers. It’s not that the communication has gotten better or worse, but it has become infinitely easier for job candidates to be responsive to employers, and so when job applicants fail to follow up after an interview, or are slow to acknowledge emails or phone calls, it’s that much more frustrating for employers.
Some of the wisdom I hear from recruiters and other hiring managers in the job search process, specifically pertaining to communication etiquette, includes:
- Always send a thank you note via email (rather than by regular mail) within 24 hours of your interview to the person with whom you interviewed. Provide any additional information that was discussed during your conversation or follow up on any questions you may have.
- Don’t assume you’re talking to a friend. You should always use complete sentences, proper capitalization and grammar. In no instance should you write like you are sending a text message. Spellcheck everything. During the hiring process, every piece of writing you send to a potential employer is being reviewed for your ability to be professional and represent the business to their clients and business partners.
- Respond to emails and calls quickly – even if just to say when you will be able to provide a full response. In the Digital Age, we expect that you have access to email and your mobile phone nearly 24/7. If you’re out of the country, you should always have an auto-responder or away message on your email and phone if you can’t respond quickly to important messages. We’re all inundated with more and more messages so learning to deal with them and organize how you respond is really important – so demonstrate to employers that you are accessible and responsive.
JL: Within an office setting, the manner with which a young professional effectively communicates with their co-workers is a careful balancing act. Throughout your experiences, what are some common mistakes young professionals make when traversing the office atmosphere?
Whitney: When you are in a professional setting, navigating inner-office communications can be tricky – especially if you are just starting out. Inner-office communication when you are an intern or junior staff member should mostly be about gathering feedback and getting as much information and knowledge from your more experienced colleagues as possible.
Some of the biggest mistakes I see young professionals make regarding their inter-office communications include:
- Not asking enough questions or asking for help. It’s great to exhibit independence, but you should never assume that you know how to do everything already. Everyone, including your boss, is in a constant state of learning, so don’t feel like it’s a weakness if you need to ask for more instructions on a task or feedback on the early stages of a project before you complete something incorrectly.
- Not updating your colleagues and bosses on progress. When you’re new at a job one of the best things you can do is send regular updates to your immediate supervisor or teammates letting them know what you’re working on and what your upcoming priorities are. It helps immensely with situational awareness and when your outputs aren’t immediately visible to the whole team it gives everyone a better sense of your value and contributions.
- Not taking notes. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing young staff members get tasked during meetings and they don’t write it down. Always bring with you a notebook where you can organize tasks and quickly capture critical information that gets discussed during meetings or conversations. Develop a good system for how you will keep track of tasks as you complete them.
JL: Networking, especially in Washington, D.C., is essential for any young professional looking to break into a given field. In your experience, what are some codes of behavior that a young professional must follow in order to effectively build and benefit from their network?
Whitney: There are two types of networkers: active and passive. Passive networkers are good at building relationships with current colleagues, and learning as much as possible about those around you. When passive networkers move on, their colleagues will become some of the most important connectors when job searching or if they need to leverage those connections for professional business. Passive networkers might add existing colleagues to their Linkedin network, and may even ask how they can help others in return. But generally they are not proactively trying to forge new relationships.
Sometimes it’s not enough to merely be a passive networker. Active networkers seek out opportunities to meet people and expand their professional circles. There are a number of fun and stress-free ways to do this, online and in person. In most major metropolitan areas, Meet-up groups abound and there are a variety of professional associations for which you can join and/or volunteer. You can also attend industry-specific panel discussions and lectures. Another great way to network in person is to ask people who you aspire to meet for an “informational interview”. This can start via a personal introduction or via email, and offer you the opportunity to talk with someone about their career and how they got started in your industry.
There are also a variety of ways to build your network online. Linkedin has many professional groups that facilitate dialogue and exchanges. You can participate in twitter chats or build your network through blogging. There’s a variety of ways that social networks like Facebook and Pinterest can help as well.
JL: Though maintaining proper office etiquette may seem an obvious perquisite for any young professional entering a new career, for many graduating from university it remains an unknown quantity. How does a young professional learn the proper nuances while developing in their field?
Whitney: There are several great online communities that can help you navigate the early years of your career gracefully. This is probably shameless self-promotion, but Brazen Life (www.brazenlife.com) is produced by the company I work for (Brazen Careerist), and we publish a variety of articles on a daily basis all about how to become a more successful young professional. You might also like www.myFootpath.com and www.lifehacker.com.
When in doubt about whether you’re fitting in to your office culture and hitting all the right notes when it comes to etiquette, there’s no harm in asking your boss, your HR office, or those around you for feedback. It’s sometimes scary to ask for feedback because you might hear something you don’t like – but that’s how we all learn and continue to grow. There’s no better way to speed up that process then to just ask and make adjustments if needed.
Aside from being the Director of Social Media for YPFP, Whitney May Parker is leading the user experience, design, and professional development efforts at Brazen Careerist. She has 10 years of experience as a full-spectrum digital strategist and has focused her career on helping nonprofits, small businesses, individuals, and start-up companies achiever greater recognition for their causes and products both online and offline.