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Once Upon a Time Introducing Oneself was an Art Form

Once upon a time, I would sit at a desk, work on my resume and print it out on special resume paper. You know that nice thick stock paper that was slightly off-white or, rather, ivory-colored. It had a nice watermark and 100% cotton fiber. It was meant to make an impression-a great first impression. As we all know, we often do not get past that first impression. Research has indeed shown that in many situations, our impressions of other people can be quite accurate, even after just the first two minutes of introduction. I remember so well, going to the career center at Vassar and sitting for an hour learning the artform of resume writing, as well as cover and thank you letters. I learned to specialize in the thank you note. I would even write out the thank you letter before the actual interview so that I could mail it out within an hour of the interview occurring. Yes, that is right. I used to mail, through the postal service, a thank you letter.
I remember reading every line of a job advertisement and hitting all those points in my cover letter. The letter was supposed to be a special way of conveying who I was and why they needed to know me. Ironically enough now, I barely ever read cover letters when I am looking to fill a position. I go straight to the electronic resume and scan for key words. Occasionally, I do read the cover letter if something really stands out. Oftentimes, however, I read it in order to understand why the person ever thought they should apply for a fund raising position when their background is in structural engineering. Surprisingly, in those situations, the letter conveys next to nothing other than the person is quite delusional. The art of introduction has just gone the way of the dodo bird it seems.

Because most job applications are electronically submitted, people barely put any effort into writing a convincing cover letter. This is the time to introduce who you are and you can’t even be bothered. Remember, or note if you will, that within a few milliseconds of our perceiving something we not only unconsciously understand what it is, but decide whether we like it or not. Maybe through our many modern-day avatars we think we can always get a second chance to just introduce ourselves over and over again under different social media rubric. As such, writing a cover letter is becoming more of a yester year thing. On LinkedIn, many job postings now just ask a person to upload a resume. Cover letters are either optional or not even allowed. Thus, the resume may serve as one’s only form of introduction. Some career strategists note that in writing a resume you have to engage in the three Rs; which includes “research yourself”. Really? I guess at one point in time that could have meant one should reflect on who one is and where one wants to go in life. But nowadays, a “research yourself” directive could very well mean research which persona you want to present in this particular situation. At this point, how many selves do we have a resume for?

I actually have three business cards; one for each of my current different titles. Two of my titles are for my current company and both titles are legitimate. I do hold those two positions as well as manage 100 tasks that do not even get captured under those two titles. Burnout anyone? My third title is one for a volunteer position I hold for a prestigious entity. I have so many business cards and wear so many hats, I do not even bother bringing my cards on business trips. The question is, who am I at any given business moment? I am everything and anything the moment calls for. I can be a psychologist, a manager, an organizational consultant, a coalition member, a trainer, a pooper scooper, a pop culture fiend. What do you need in order for me to help you be more efficient? And who are you?

A business meeting is quite often a theatrical improvisational performance between two actors figuring out who the other is. So, why bother handing out business cards? A business card seems quite permanent and who we are is not. I no longer hand out my business cards. When I receive the business cards of others, I glance at the cards to see if they did anything cool with their card. Evil clown or taser as a logo? That could possibly serve as a memorable introduction. I then throw them into my briefcase and two months later I dump them out onto my desk. Today, I threw out 300 business cards from my home office. I got tired of clutter and those business cards were just clutter. Business cards no longer serve to introduce one to a new possible colleague. Instead, they just take up space and create dust. Who isn’t allergic to dust and dust mites nowadays? No need to keep those business cards if it means I have to keep an EPI-PEN handy. Yes, business cards send me into anaphylactic shock. I am only slightly exaggerating.

Now, let us forget about the cover letter, resume and business card. What about that handshake? Oh boy, that is fraught with all sorts of weirdness these days. Have you ever met someone, shook their hand and been disappointed within a flat second? You have the weak, limp handshake that makes you just wonder how frail is the individual? Although, in certain countries a weak handshake is the norm and that is a whole other story. Then you have the MBA graduate who grabs your elbow, looks you in the eye and repeats your name. It is meant to imbue confidence and make you feel good, but I just get a bad vibe from it. More like the heebie jeebies. Then you have the slightly wet handshake that could mean either the person is nervous and thus sweaty or that they are sick and just wiped their nose. Or it also could be that they just left the bathroom: was there no hand towel to dry off or is that liquid something else. Ok. That was yucky. Yes, I went there. Either way, you are left wondering “what was that”? Handshakes throughout history have been used to convey trust, balance, and equality in sports, debates, and meetings of heads of state. But there does seem to be a bit of a lost form to the handshake as well. There have been times when a handshake meant something. Remember when Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat famously shook hands for the first time on September 13, 1993 (with Bill Clinton in the middle)? There was so much hope in that handshake. They were being introduced to each other anew in the vein of a new world. Alas, well, we know the story. Have you ever watched Mike Myers (as Wayne) demonstrate the art of the handshake? You can catch it the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVbAsWH-6Jk Maybe Governor Brewer of Arizona should have viewed that video before she wagged her finger at President Obama on the tarmac last year.

Despite the lost art of introducing oneself, many desire to be introduced to others as a way of furthering their own career. It is all about referrals and making one more connection. So, while people have forgotten how to introduce themselves, they are learning the art of getting introduced by others. Apparently, the current thought is that the best connections one may possibly make is through the introduction by others. Nowadays you may be at a social event and are eager to meet someone. You want to be introduced to that person for who it is that they can introduce you to. You do not want to really get to know that person. You just want to get to know who that person knows. That would be the art of the meta introduction. We are now mediators and not necessarily presenting ourselves to the world anymore. Maybe some can take the lead from musician extraordinaire James Brown who one day at a concert began chanting his own name consequently becoming an iconic moment in pop-culture history. Now that was an introduction to the world.

3 replies »

  1. Hits close to home for me. I was brought up in the days of stock papers, typewriters, and well-thought-out cover letters (because they couldn’t be edited on the fly) and well-constructed resumes (again, because they couldn’t be edited on the fly – they had to be totally retyped!). Anyway, nowadays, I feel like using emails and computers are so impersonal when I send a cover letter and resume, like I’m not truly connected to them, therefore, the interviewer, or potential interviewer, doesn’t get a true sense of who I am, and I’m only a Delete or Print hot button away.

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