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Closing the geek gap

25 Nov

Fascinated by this study – 15-minute writing exercise closes the gender gap in university-level physics.

Think about the things that are important to you. Perhaps you care about creativity, family relationships, your career, or having a sense of humour. Pick two or three of these values and write a few sentences about why they are important to you. You have fifteen minutes. It could change your life.

…In the university’s physics course, men typically do better than women but Miyake’s study shows that this has nothing to do with innate ability. With nothing but his fifteen-minute exercise, performed twice at the beginning of the year, he virtually abolished the gender divide and allowed the female physicists to challenge their male peers.

It just goes to show how much peoples’ self-perception affects their performance. Perhaps an exercise to try with students who are under-performing at actively pursuing their graduate career?

I realised I had tried something vaguely similar in my beginners’ training sessions on blogging, just before they created their first blog. I gave everyone a sheet and asked them to fill in a Mission Statement for their blog, what their Key Selling Point would be (for want of a better phrase), what they were aiming and hoping for. Yet it was never a big success – it didn’t seem to be what people were expecting.

Image by Pedro Glez (Pitadel - Flickr)

Possibly I went wrong in heading it up with the phrase  ‘Mission Statement’ which is enough to make anyone groan. Possibly it was just too soon to ask beginners to make claims like ‘this is going to be the best source of news, resources and reviews for graduate careers in X’ when they hadn’t started yet. But I think there were also some who would have felt this blogging thing is a bit techie, not really their thing. Some who just wanted to get competent enough to turn out a few posts, tick a box to say they tried it, and not really aspire to more.

I wonder if I changed it around to be less about the blog, and more about the potential blogger:

  • What is it you love about your work in careers?
  • What do you value most in life?
  • Would you say you are an empathic people-person or an analytical problem-solver? Ahead-of-the-crowd or happy in the middle? What is more important to you?

(excuse the off-the-top-of-my-head questions)

Then use the responses in discussion as a way of exploring the potential blogger’s voice, their topics, their motivation, what kind of reinforcement and feedback would encourage them – maybe shift the priority from just sending out blog posts to building a real-life community that connects via blogs. It might help people move away from the idea that blogging is just for geeks – that they don’t have to fit any pre-conceived stereotypes to be a blogger. Discuss how blogging would fit into their career, values and life. Worth a try?


8 things I hate about blog posts that are just lists

17 Sep

  1. Image by phoenixdailyphoto on FlickrIt is blogging by numbers.
  2. It is a widespread and over-used format…
  3. …especially common to those seeking to monetize their blog through generic posts on hot topics
  4. It leaches personality from writing.
  5. The information is superficial.
  6. I am  bored now.
  7. I feel compelled to write them myself to increase readership.
  8. It works. People read them.

Oh fair enough, here are 8 reasons why people do just use lists

My pet peeve of the day.

Hot topics and keywords for careers blogs

17 Jun

Today I posted an entry entitled “Creative CVs for creative jobs – inspiring examples” and have had 100 views in a matter of hours. Yesterday I posted “The Guardian London Graduate Fair from The Careers Group” (now doesn’t that sound corporate and fun) and it has had 4 views. Yes four, in total. I really should have known better.

From experience I’d say “CVs”, “interview questions” and “aptitude tests” are always guaranteed winners as topics. After that, clearly including the words “examples”, “templates” and interest like “creative” are good. Beyond that I haven’t thought about it. Let’s see what the top 10 most popular posts on the library blog have been over the years, by title:

  1. Making a personal statement
  2. More tough interview questions – examples
  3. Practice graduate recruitment selection tests
  4. How to answer hard interview questions
  5. Preparing for competency-based interviews
  6. Networking for students and graduates
  7. How can I get medical and healthcare work experience?
  8. CVs – what to put for hobbies and interests
  9. Interview questions – real-life examples
  10. What do mathematicians do?

Are there any patterns? Clearly “interviews” are showing strongly – I thought it was interesting that the follow-up “tough” post beat initial “hard” interview questions post, though maybe it was the addition of the magic word “examples” that helped? The personal statement post was a surprise success, as it actually contains little information, but the title has turned out to be massive link-bait – interesting for future reference.

I think some of the other titles seem to mimic the sort of search phrase someone might put into Google – some are directly phrased as a question a student might ask. Most titles are 4-6 words long, with a high number of topical words crammed in – no puns or fancy phrasing, they are completely, concisely to the point. This reminds me of the BBC news feeds, which will capture an article completely  in 4-6 words.

I should give a quick mention as well to the bottom 10 titles, for contrast:

  1. Library closure 21st October 2008
  2. Feeling better?
  3. Library closure time on 18th December
  4. Library closures
  5. Library closure 19th September
  6. On the move…
  7. Happy New Year!
  8. The Guardian London Graduate Fair from The Careers Group
  9. But what’s it really like?
  10. Making a Difference

Clearly no one cares about service notices (and of course they don’t exactly have long-standing interest). After that, the other titles are generally short 2-3 word titles, not very specific, not descriptive. Just looking at them in a list you can see there is nothing to pull a reader in, no hook, nothing to say what the post is about.

I’d be interested to hear from other careers bloggers to see what their all-time top 10 blog titles are. Has anyone succeeded with a different approach?

Response: 4 lies about social media

8 Dec

I am a follower of Penelope Trunk’s blog, Brazen Careerist, and when I saw this post – 4 lies about social media – it immediately got me thinking as to whether it tallied with my experiences. She presents these as the four lies (quotes are from the blog post):

* My ‘agrees’ and ‘disagrees’ relate to Penelope’s position (so ‘agree’ means I do think the statement in the heading is a lie… sorry only saw potential confusion after writing…):

Lie #1: LinkedIn is for networking

LinkedIn is great. I’m on LinkedIn. I have 650 connections. At first I wondered, why do I need this list of connections published on LinkedIn? What was the purpose of it? But now I get it. With LinkedIn, people can tell that I am a very connected person.

Penelope’s main point is that LinkedIn is not a place for conversation.


  • Yes I tend to treat my profile as a fairly static CV/calling-card. I will connect with people I met at a work event, and store the contacts for later.
  • Yes I will have more respect for someone who is an effective user of the site, with plenty of contacts and a rich profile – it is a sign of professional awareness, yet…


  • If all I see in my feed is John Smith connecting with dozens of new people all the time, I will regard him as just a ‘collector’, not interested in meaningful relationships, and probably with a strong agenda or product to push (which I would prefer to avoid).
  • I do take part in some very interesting conversations in the Groups I have joined on LinkedIn. I enjoy receiving my round-up email and it regularly instigates me to participate. I don’t think I have actually made contacts through this, but some faces have become more familiar, and it definitely helps my wider professional development and awareness of broader issues.

Lie #2: Twitter is for conversation

The problem with using Twitter for conversation is that we need more than 140 characters to make a genuine connection with someone. So you’re not going to have a whole conversation there; Twitter is great for finding people who have similar ideas, and for keeping track of them in a superficial way.


  • Absolutely, Twitter has been fantastic for helping me find people in libraries, marketing and technology work, that has all been very helpful when I need advice (or work-related entertainment).
  • I suppose conversation doesn’t really happen there. Don’t tell, but the one web 2.0 tool I hate is instant messaging. For me, the benefit of Twitter is that I can exchange a couple of quality messages, then walk away without offending anyone. It is a degree more casual.

I’m not sure if this ranks as agree or disagree

  • Penelope adds that you need to take a Twitter-generated relationship elsewhere to solidify it. I agree with this, but just wanted to add that Twitterers generate meet-ups and events purely based on Twitter acquaintance, and associated Twitter tools built on the free API do provide instant chat, extended messages, photo exchange and more, which helps develop a relationship. The ‘elsehwere’ you need to go to may be Twitter-generated.

Lie #3: Blogs are personal journals

Your blog is a record of what you’re thinking, and that record will represent you online, as a high-ranking search result when someone googles your name. So if you care about building a network, you’ll stop using your blog as a diary.


  • Blogs are definitely not just diaries. There are wide possibilities for tone, topic and audience. They are indeed very public too, so you might as well consider the professional impact from the start and plan accordingly.

Lie #4: Social media is no place for business

Companies understand they need to participate in conversation, and they are looking a professional places to do it. If you want to be known to companies, you will use social media to allow them to get to know you.


  • Social media is a great way to build SEO and professional presence. If you approach it professionally there is no reason it should be inappropriate. Business is already out there on the social web, manipulating it, monitoring it, and if you make contact with them – monitoring you on it. Embracing social media should show you to be image-savvy with an eye for opportunities whereever they may arise – great traits for business.


Ok, so I don’t really disagree with Penelope at all, but I can understand reservations about using social media for business.

  • When times are tight, the hard-to-measure ROI of social media can make it a soft-target to cut or avoid.  Coupled with the fact that social media eats time and always demands more, it can seem an unappealing proposition to invest in.
  • For all the management effort you put in, you might still have a disaster event that means your own page or forum becomes the focus of a hammering. Trolls are given a space, publicly-available and searchable, to rant away. That is scary – it takes some progressive thinking and faith in your contacts and customers to trust that they will be reasonable and listen more to your responses and reassurances than the troll’s nonsense.

Blogging taking you too long?

1 Jan

Check out these tips in “How to Write Fast” by Alisa Bowman, as posted on

I loved this:

So you haven’t quite monetized your blog. That means you’re still working 8 or so hours in the non-virtual world for that paycheck. You may also have many other time commitments. They are called marriage, parenthood, friendships and Twitter.

Anyway, do have a look at the article as the advice is certainly helpful both for those who like to fiddle around to get things just right (like me), and for those who are beginner bloggers and want advice on how to structure posts – how bloggers typically approach post-writing.