A couple of interesting, thought-provoking events hit me today. Individually, they would have gone unnoticed. Together, they were more powerful.
- I read an article about the death of email.
- I asked a job candidate to give me his resume in 160 characters.
First, the death of email. Everyone must have read thirty articles on this topic already, and I don’t feel like beating a dead horse today. But the shortened, usual argument goes like this: Though we use “technology” to send/receive email, long-form written communication is an antiquated notion required only in fewer and fewer situations. Email took type-written memos, put them on your screen, and let you send them back and forth to one or many users.
Further, due to a variety of reasons including our (collective) increasingly short attention span, commonly accepted web copy guidelines, and the volume of messages we all have to read these days, nobody really reads entire emails any more. Certainly not if they’re longer than a paragraph.
This will become increasingly obvious once generations Y and Z start impacting serious change. The Pew Research Center found that email was 11th on the list of activities done on teenagers’ phones. Some activities performed more often:
- Taking pictures
- Recording video
- Playing games
- Playing music
This doesn’t surprise me too much. But remember — this group only uses phones for communication. They don’t sit at their desk all night emailing their friends. Email was a dramatic shift in what we use to communicate, but not how we communicate. But what comes next? Will we communicate in 160 character thoughts?
Which brings me to my next question: how much information can you convey in 160 characters? When I asked my candidate to give me his resume in 160 characters or less, that’s what I wanted. Though I’m sure he wasn’t ready for the question, he did a commendable job. While I don’t expect employers to begin accepting tweeted resumes, it’s not a bad idea to practice condensing complex thoughts and concepts into 160 characters. The best speakers, teachers, trainers, and leaders are able to do this.
I remember reading in Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath that even though you may not want to compare your product or idea with a similar concept, sometimes the best way to describe something is to say “It’s like Product A, but with more Feature X.” I have friends who describe their coffee shop as Starbucks without the smug. Catchy! And certainly a lot easier than delicately dancing around the description so they don’t bring up the rival two blocks down. Also: perfect for Twitter.
So now I’m thinking about asking candidates to respond to my questions in 160 characters, more or less. (Oh! Think of the time it would save!) Successful candidates will demonstrate the ability to think on their feet and summarize complex situations or ideas. Both important traits in our line of work (consulting). Or does this seem cruel and unusual?