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“Minding Your “P’s & Q’s” with the PS Mid-June 2014 Newsletter

June 17, 2014

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Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The great basketball coach, John Wooden, once said, “whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you.”   That can certainly be said of this month’s Pekarsky Stein original content contributor, Jessica Young.  Jess has been with the firm for all of three months but has had an immediate impact on the place.   Like so many in our profession, Jess hadn’t thought about a career in search until a fateful meetingbetween her and I (her and me?) last November when she was about to move west and came to see me about possible communications roles in these parts.   Not wishing to appear too keen, I waited a full eleven minutes before asking her if she’d ever considered search.   The rest is history.

The self-proclaimed Grammar Queen of the office, we have had more than a few debates around subject-verb agreement, the Oxfordcomma and, most recently, apostrophe-S versus S-apostrophe.   Jess has brought a certain flare to the office, a je ne sais quoi, that while (which while?) already abundantly present in Ranju and Lisa has gained the notice and admiration of clients and candidates alike.   To quote (and hopefully embarrass) Jess after a significant readership spike in one of our newsletters in which a photograph of her was featured, “Do you want to know how to get more people to read our newsletter?” she deadpanned to me two weeks into the job, “Put more pictures of me in it.”    But Jess is more than the proverbial pretty face.   She has already run several searches from start to finish, demonstrated the networking knack of a seasoned veteran and immersed herself in our community through numerous volunteer and charitable efforts.

Perhaps most impressive, however, is Jess’s ability to write.   The woman can write!   Funny thing about this search business; there’s an exceptional amount of writing involved.   Whether it’s a succinct yet straight-forward weekly update to a client, a detailed yet compelling position description or a comprehensive and balanced candidate write-up, Jess has quickly proven herself up to the task.  Indeed, she has risen to Editor-in-Chief of my monthly musings, a role with little praise, no pay and even less glory.   She has achieved the one thing I have counselled numerous people across various professions to strive for:  indispensability.  She also knows that if she ever leaves here she’ll wake up with a horse’s head in her bed.

Enjoy Jess’s article and we’ll be back with a special anniversary edition of our newsletter in early July.

Regards,
Adam

Je dis ça, je dis rien (Just Sayin’)

The middle of June marks my fourth month in Calgary and, as of this weekend, the first time I’ve caught myself admitting to friends that I’m developing a bit of a crush on this town. For those of you whom I haven’t met in my short tenure in the Stampede City, I will often spin my story situating myself as a recent transplant from Montréal via Switzerland via Toronto. My dirty secret, however, is that I was born and raised just a few hours away in Edmonton (which might be the reason that I was hesitant to admit how much I’m growing to like living here). Before I was brought into Pekarsky Stein, lured back by my prairie roots (and the fact that my Alberta drivers license, which I had never given up, is due to expire this summer), I had set myself on a career in communications. It seemed the obvious route, having studied English Lit in my undergrad and then forgoing law school (I feel OK about that choice, by the way) to pursue an M.A. in Communications at McGill. Words and language are constant source of interest for me and how you choose to communicate your story will actually tell me an awful lot about you.

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By way of example, I’ll share with you what I’ve come to miss about living out East, because it has everything to do with communication. When I left Montréal and made the jump West, in the middle of winter no less, I knew that I was making a smart move, but there were definitely days where I felt like I’d left my heart in la belle province. (In the name of disambiguation, I need to point out that I mean Québec and not the fast food haven of the same name that draws tourists in search of poutine at 4 a.m.; I don’t even like poutine and certainly not that of the early morning variety). Perhaps I didn’t appreciate it while I was there but I love hearing more than one language bouncing back and forth amongst people on the street. You certainly won’t hear an argument from me about Calgary’s ever increasing cultural diversity, but take a stroll down Stephen Avenue at lunch and I would bet that most of what you hear falls heavily in favour of good old Canadian English. The English is not the issue but, like I’ve said, word choice is more important than you realize.

 Now, what language politics and Franglais have to do with the Pekarsky Stein mid-month newsletter might not prove immediately apparent, but if you will bear with me the same way that you bear with Adam when he puts proverbial pen to paper, I promise I will make a point.

The way people can slip in and out of French and English in Montréal is truly impressive and I promise it’s not because everyone is bilingual and somehow smarter than those of us who only have one set of language laws to abide by. Complete and functional bilingualism is actually pretty rare and moreover, I can promise that you will not be yelled at there when you can’t tell the difference between an accent aigu or accent circonflexe. I appreciate and miss these exchanges simply because they underscore the fact that it is possible to express a single idea effectively in more than one way. My time with Pekarsky Stein has only increased my appreciation for that sort of communicative flexibility because while I do speak French, I certainly do not speak Finance, Tech, Legal, or HR with any degree of fluency.

It should be obvious by now that I am making an argument for “it’s not what you say, but how you say it.” Learning the process of recruitment has meant learning how to speak a variety of professional dialects. There is no way for me to determine whether or not a candidate and a client make for a great match unless I can speak their respective languages. The Pekarsky Stein tagline that I chose for my business cards actually says exactly that: “we know people who speak your language.” And, while at first that statement seemed to me just a great example of branding, I’ve come to appreciate how integral it is for us to be willing to communicate across industries and disciplines.

The truth is that this process isn’t even remotely unique to search. Each of us has to find ways to bridge gaps of understanding at work on a daily basis. Lawyers can easily break into a comfortable, if verbose, cadence of legalese with other lawyers, but how are you going to explain stare decisis or obiter dicta to a client? I have recently been working on searches that carry an IT bent, and information technology has proven the perfect example of where industry specific language creates barriers to understanding. I mean, I could be inflating the issue, but I dare you to tell me in Plain English what the differences between ERP and SAP and CRM and EAI might be in thirty seconds or less. Even Richard Branson, who has a ludacris net worth and spends his weekends here, has admitted to never really knowing the difference between “net” and “gross.” So, while this might verge on the hyperbolic, let me warn you that every time you sink into jargon at the office, especially with someone who doesn’t share your vocational vocabulary, you are essentially combining Murphy’s Law with the game “Broken Telephone” and hoping for the best.

Granted, disciplinarity and expertise are important. There are innumerable reasons why I want my doctor to have medical degrees on the wall, not the least of which are that I didn’t want to spend 10 extra years in university and the human body is capable of some pretty disgusting things. What difference does it make to me how much of an expert my doctor is if he can’t explain to me that cephalalgia just means headache? In my opinion, we actually put too much emphasis on proving our worth as experts through the use of technical language. There is also the danger of leaning too heavily on “business speak” pure, which is potentially one of my biggest pet peeves. Throwing around “synergy” and “strategic leadership” don’t actually make you a better business communicator; for me, speaking about a “paradigm shift” means you’ve read Thomas Kuhn, or you haven’t but you think it sounds smart. The real value is in successfully translating the most specific of concepts to broadest of audiences. We love to break things off into clean, crisp categories, but business (just like the human body) is messy and bleeds. Having departments like HR and Finance and IT only makes sense and will only prove successful insofar as they are able to really understand one another.

It is for this reason that I brought Montréal up in the first place. Sometimes, you can only explain yourself in one language. “L’esprit de l’escalier” doesn’t have a direct English translation, but if I were to tell you that “the spirit of the stairs” (that’s literal) just designates the particularly annoying problem of thinking up the perfect comeback a few moments too late, you probably wouldn’t need a one-for-one linguistic substitution. Sometimes, there isn’t a better way of explaining the truly technical and sometimes jargon is all we have. Sometimes, it’s really good to flex our expert muscle. It can make us feel intelligent and important and helpful. But, I am willing to wager that we would all save a ton of time, frustration, and complication if we found a way to translate the untranslatable at work. If you want to make sure that your client really understands what you’re trying to tell them, use the formal acronym but also some time to break that acronym down. Find the lowest common denominator between the complex terms you use every day and the layman’s language of choice. Develop an “elevator pitch” to explain a really involved project. Try speaking about your work from different angles and organizational perspectives. Work on learning a little bit of professional Franglais, as it were.

Jessica Young is Pekarsky Stein’s newest associate. Prior to beginning her career in search, Jessica focused her attention in the energy sector as a Communications Consultant.  See more at: https://pekarskyco.com/about-jessica-young/#sthash.612Ghew0.dpuf

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