• George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” 1946

    Here is the complete text of Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language”, with web-friendly punctuation and paragraphs:

    Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

    Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

    The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

    These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad — I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen — but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that i can refer back to them when necessary:

    1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.

    Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression)

    2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder .

    Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossa)

    3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?

    Essay on psychology in Politics (New York)

    4. All the “best people” from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.

    Communist pamphlet

    5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream — as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as “standard English.” When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma’amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!

    Letter in Tribune

    Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them.

    The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision.  The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing.

    As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.

    I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose construction is habitually dodged:

    Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically “dead” (e.g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles’ heel, swan song, hotbed.

    Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a “rift,” for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning withouth those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

    Operators or verbal false limbs. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc., etc.

    The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, by dint of, in view of, in the interests of, on the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved by anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desired, cannot be left out of account, a development to be expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.

    Pretentious diction. Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements. Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are used to dignify the sordid process of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic color, its characteristic words being: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion.

    Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien regime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i.e., e.g., and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers.* The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard, etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentary and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one’s meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.

    Meaningless words. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.† Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader.

    When one critic writes, “The outstanding feature of Mr. X’s work is its living quality,” while another writes, “The immediately striking thing about Mr. X’s work is its peculiar deadness,” the reader accepts this as a simple difference of opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies “something not desirable.” The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning.

    Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Pétain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

    Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

    I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

    Here it is in modern English:

    Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

    This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit (3) above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations — race, battle, bread — dissolve into the vague phrases “success or failure in competitive activities.” This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing — no one capable of using phrases like “objective considerations of contemporary phenomena” — would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness.

    Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase (“time and chance”) that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.

    As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier — even quicker, once you have the habit — to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don’t have to hunt about for the words; you also don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry — when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech — it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style. Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump.

    By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash — as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot — it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking.

    Look again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay. Professor Laski (1) uses five negatives in fifty three words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip — alien for akin — making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness. Professor Hogben (2) plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase put up with, is unwilling to look egregious up in the dictionary and see what it means; (3), if one takes an uncharitable attitude towards it, is simply meaningless: probably one could work out its intended meaning by reading the whole of the article in which it occurs. In (4), the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea leaves blocking a sink. In (5), words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning — they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another — but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: 1. Could I put it more shortly? 2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.

    In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a “party line.” Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them.

    And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.

    In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, “I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so.” Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

    “While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.”

    The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics.” All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find — this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify — that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.

    But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow. Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against.

    By this morning’s post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he “felt impelled” to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence I see: “[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany’s social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe.” You see, he “feels impelled” to write — feels, presumably, that he has something new to say — and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.

    I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail. Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists. There is a long list of flyblown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job; and it should also be possible to laugh the not un- formation out of existence*, to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable. But all these are minor points. The defense of the English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does not imply.

    To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a “standard English” which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one’s meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a “good prose style.” On the other hand, it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one’s meaning.

    What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose — not simply accept — the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one’s words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

    (i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

    (ii) Never us a long word where a short one will do.

    (iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

    (iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

    (v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

    (vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

    These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.

    I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end.

    If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin, where it belongs.





    *An interesting illustration of this is the way in which English flower names were in use till very recently are being ousted by Greek ones, Snapdragon becoming antirrhinum, forget-me-not becoming myosotis, etc. It is hard to see any practical reason for this change of fashion: it is probably due to an instinctive turning away from the more homely word and a vague feeling that the Greek word is scientific.

    † Example: Comfort’s catholicity of perception and image, strangely Whitmanesque in range, almost the exact opposite in aesthetic compulsion, continues to evoke that trembling atmospheric accumulative hinting at a cruel, an inexorably serene timelessness . . .Wrey Gardiner scores by aiming at simple bull’s-eyes with precision. Only they are not so simple, and through this contented sadness runs more than the surface bittersweet of resignation.” (Poetry Quarterly)

    *One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.

  • Can you guess the artist?


    Can you guess the artist behind this interesting painting?

  • Seven years’ good luck

    ** From my weekly newsletter to TheLadders.com subscribers **

    Today marks seven years that I’ve been writing this newsletter to you all. If I had to summarize my advice from all those years, it would be this:

    Everything’s going to be all right.

    Look, I know. I’ve read the anxiety in your e-mails; I’ve seen the worry in your faces; I’ve been through countless job searches with you, Readers.

    There’s no doubt about it, the job hunt is stressful, straining, and tedious. The lack of certainty over what’s going to happen to you, your family, and your career creates so much worry that it’s easy to fall prey to periods of despair.

    But I can also tell you that everything is going to be all right.

    We’ll make it through, together.

    We’ve helped literally millions of people through their job searches over these past seven years. It’s rarely easy, but those millions have landed successfully on the other side in a new role. And you, too, will find your way through.

    It will take longer than you want; it will be more of an emotional rollercoaster than you were hoping for; and there will be days when you think it is never going to end.

    But end it does. The call will come, the offer will be made, you will find your next great gig. Barring major medical problems, professionals like you do land in a new role. I’ve seen it happen, literally, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of times.

    And to get through the job hunt challenge, let me elaborate a bit further on what I’ve learned over these past seven years. My best tactical advice is this:

    Pace yourself.

    The job search can take anywhere from 6 to 8 months, sometimes longer. It may happen sooner, but you shouldn’t get your hopes up lest you wind up disappointed. Be sure that you’re mentally ready for that long of a search. Set your expectations and think through how you’ll handle a half-year or longer of looking.

    You’ll need to work at it, steadily and consistently. And you’ll also need to take breaks. Just like “real” work, job search work is exhausting, and you’ll perform better if you keep yourself mentally, spiritually, and physically fit and well-rested.

    Get your resume professionally written.

    A great product needs great advertising. You are a great product, with a price point that’s measured in six figures per year. Please have a professional write your “ad copy.” The competition (i.e., other job-seekers) has done it, and it enables them to stand out in a stack of resumes. And while it typically costs less than 1% of your annual earnings to get your product well advertised, it will be the most productive money you spend in a job search.

    Apply to one job per day.

    If you’re applying to dozens of jobs per week, you’re not doing yourself any favors. The “spray and pray” method doesn’t work. Because recruiters and HR departments receive so many resumes these days, if your application is not on target, it goes in the bucket.

    All that wasted effort not only does you no good, it does you actual harm. Because you’re sending out so many applications, you don’t have the time to follow up on the right ones. And when your response rate turns out to be very low, you too may get very low as you inaccurately perceive there to be no demand for your talents.

    Do this instead: apply to one job each day. And then use the extra time you have from not applying to so many jobs to follow up. Call your college buddy who works there. Seek out the company’s executives at the trade show. Get yourself noticed by the hiring manager by blogging about your work.

    Slow and steady wins the race, not the flash in the pan.

    Well, folks, those are my best bits of advice, gleaned from 365 weeks of writing, 365 weeks of reading your replies, comments, and questions, and 365 weeks of research into making your job hunt more successful.

    I enjoy being your guide, and I hope to continue doing so for 7, or 70!, years more.

    Thanks and have a great week in your search.

  • How not to embarrass yourself doing the elevator pitch

    ** From my weekly newsletter to TheLadders.com subscribers **

    It’s embarrassing, isn’t it?

    Doing “the elevator pitch” feels so awkward, embarrassing and unnatural — like you’re hawking a product on a late night infomercial. Yet it’s such an important part of the job search that everybody has to have one.

    You know, when I speak around the country to groups of job-seekers, it’s one of the most common questions I get: “How do I do the elevator pitch without sounding goofy, or hucksterish, or like I’m babbling?”

    I totally understand.

    Trying to sum up your professional career in thirty seconds gives many people pause.

    How do you stuff all that information into such a short time? And how do you do it effectively?

    So how about this?

    Let’s create an elevator pitch for me, Marc Cenedella. First, I’ll show you the wrong way, and then the right way, to go about it…

    So, like you, I’ve done a lot in my career. And I’m pretty proud of a lot of my accomplishments, and I want to get across everything I’ve done.

    I don’t have a resume right now, so let’s take my profile from TheLadders site and turn it into my elevator pitch.

    Now in order to teach you the right way to do it, first we’re going to do it the wrong way — the embarrassing, awkward, uncomfortable way.

    You’re not going to enjoy reading it, and I’m certainly not enjoying writing it, but in the interests of science, I need to take you through that experience of awkwardness and embarrassment in order to explain how and why to do it right.

    Our first effort, which is similar to what most of us try when we make our elevator pitch, is this:

    “I’m a serial entrepreneur that started a company exporting US-made pet food to Japan after college. I graduated in the top 5% of my class at Harvard Business School, and was then the lead corporate development guy on the sale of HotJobs to Yahoo in 2002 for $436 million. I founded TheLadders.com seven years ago to focus on bringing high-level talent together with $100K+ jobs, and the company has grown to be an international success with over 300 employees.”


    Frankly, you’re probably wondering: “Why is he telling me this? What his purpose for bragging like that? What a creep!”

    And I can tell you that, sitting here on a Saturday afternoon writing this, it makes me feel like a boasting, shilling, pompous stuffed shirt.

    And I know that’s how a lot of you feel about crafting your elevator pitch, too, so let’s understand why this is not an effective pitch.

    It focuses on accomplishments and achievements. In our culture here in the US, when you say something about yourself, particularly something positive, people look askance. When somebody tells us how wonderful they are, we instinctively worry about their reasons for doing so, and question their character, truthfulness, and personality.

    Sure, they might have a lot of nice accomplishments, but what if they’re as much of a braggart when they actually take the job?

    Ick, that’s not going to be somebody fun to work with.

    And it’s crafted in a “professional voice.” This is not how people talk to each other, so of course, if I were to say this out loud to somebody, it will sound awkward.

    When you speak in a professional, or announcer-like, or “official correspondence” voice, it dehumanizes you and puts a distance between you and the listener. They feel they have to put up their guard and be on the “watch out” for you because you must be trying to sell them something.

    Well now, of course we want the elevator pitch to help us get a job, so why don’t we take another crack at it? And this time, instead of trying to sound like a stuffed shirt, we’re going to be human and real:

    “My passion in life is jobs. I love everything about them. It combines the soft stuff — people’s dreams and hopes and ambitions — with the hard stuff — where the jobs are in the economy, the numbers and algorithms and technology that make it possible. I’ve been doing this for over a decade and I find that I’m learning something new about making job hunts successful every day. Helping people through what is one of the most stressful experiences in their lives is tremendously rewarding and fulfilling, and I love doing it.”

    OK, which dude do you want to work with? The professional accomplishment elevator pitch or the conversational motivations pitch? Which guy would you invite to an interview?

    I think you’ll agree with me that the second one is far more effective. Why?

    I’m speaking about my motivations. As opposed to crowing about accomplishments, I’m telling you why I like doing what I’m doing.

    And in our culture, we tend to trust people and believe them when they tell us what their motivations. It feels like they’re being open and honest, and that they are sharing with us something about themselves. And from a tactical standpoint, it helps the recruiter, HR person, or hiring manager know a little bit more about what makes you tick, and how and why you want this particular job.

    It looks to the future. If you were hiring a Chief Job Officer, the second pitch lets you know that this is somebody who is engaged and passionate and excited about doing more job-related work in the future. The first pitch doesn’t.

    It sounds like a human conversation. I call this “The Bud Test.” If you can’t say your elevator pitch to friends and acquaintances over a Bud, or a tasty Arnold Palmer, at the backyard barbeque, it is not an effective elevator pitch.

    Speaking like a regular human being makes you more approachable, believable, and likable. It feels less like a shill and more like an open-hearted conversation. And people want to help people that they believe and that they like.

    So if you agree that the second elevator pitch is better, how do you craft your own?

    Try this.

    Answer these questions in a “real” voice. Like you’re speaking to your mother, or your college buddies, or a couple of friends on the golf course. (You know, I might even recommend that you speak into a voice recorder, or just go ahead and call your own voicemail, and answer these questions out loud. That’s the best way to get a conversational tone….)

    • Say, why do you like your work?
    • Why have you been doing this for 10, 15, 20 years?
    • What is it that you find interesting about it?
    • No, seriously, don’t talk to me like I’m your boss, what do you really find interesting about it?
    • Why do you want to stay in this field?
    • What do you like about this industry?
    • When you’re in the shower in the morning, what types of challenges at work make you excited to get the heck to the office as soon as possible?
    • When are you having the most fun?

    And then take those bits and make a conversational elevator pitch that focuses on your motivations, not your accomplishments.

    So instead of rehashing your resume and job titles and greatest hits, your elevator pitch will sound real, and human, and be deadly effective.

    So please forgive the embarrassing first elevator pitch, Readers. I feel awfully goofy and awkward and uncomfortable sending that obnoxiousness out to all 4 million of you on Monday, but I do hope you’ll find the advice based on the comparison between the two helpful in your job hunt.

    Have a great week, I’ll be rooting for you!

  • Hired!

    ** From my weekly newsletter to TheLadders.com subscribers **
    Today is 8/9/10, so in keeping with the spirit of the day, let’s “count up” the latest successes for TheLadders.com subscribers! After all, that’s my favorite part of this job.

    So while I obviously can’t list every job that your peers have found through TheLadders, here’s a sample of fifty of the positions landed in the last couple of weeks alone!

    Title Salary
    Application Architect $123K
    Associate Director $150K
    Associate Director of Investor Education $130K
    Assistant Dean $140K
    Business Unit Manager $140K
    Controller $155K
    Director $140K
    Director $180K
    Director $170K
    Director $145K
    Director Business Development $130K
    Director Financial Reporting $150K
    Director Marketing Communications $175K
    Director of Digital Strategy $135K
    Director of Information Systems $180K
    Director of Information Technology $170K
    Director of Investments $175K
    Director of IT $125K
    Director of Marketing $135K
    Director of Operations $150K
    Director of Project Development $130K
    Director of Sales $106K
    Director, Cyber Security $172K
    Director, Digital Automation $225K
    Director, Renewable Fuels & Green Chemistry $175K
    Employeee Benefits Sales Representative $120K
    Enterprise Architect $130K
    Finance Director $135K
    Finance Manager $120K
    General Manager $170K
    Manager Enterprise Architecture $125K
    Marketing Director $120K
    National Account Manager $120K
    Product Manager $115K
    Project Manager $105K
    Project Manager $110K
    Regional Sales Manager $104K
    Sales Engineer $110K
    Senior Consultant $150K
    Senior Systems Engineer $165K
    Services Practice Director $155K
    Software Applications Engineer $102K
    Sr. Product Manager $120K
    Sr. Supply Planning Manager $110K
    Systems Manager, Technology $115K
    Vice President of Finance $135K
    Vice President of Sales $150K
    VP Global Quality $180K
    VP of Sales $160K
    VP of Sales $110K

    Now I’d like to see your new title added to the tally. I’m, yes, counting on you [groan].

    Good luck on your search this week and we’ll keep the jobs, advice, and recruiters coming your way.

    Have a great week!

  • I found the greatest tip on Twitter… from my colleagues!

    ** From my weekly newsletter to TheLadders.com subscribers **
    I’ve been in the jobs business for over a decade now, and have been writing this weekly newsletter on career advice for seven years. I’ve also done TV, hundreds of speaking gigs, and have a book coming out this fall with my Editor-in-Chief entitled “You’re Better Than Your Job Search.”

    So, hey, I do this for a living and I figured I’d heard it all, by now, you know? All the tips, tricks, and hints about how to get ahead in the job search.

    So I was pleasantly surprised when I was reading through TheLaddersNews Twitter feed — it’s put together by some of my very inquisitive and very insightful colleagues — Lisa Odierno, Jessica Carroll and John Hazard — and found a wealth of good new stuff.

    Last Thursday, they tweeted this:

    “Count the dollar and percent signs on your resume. Are you proving your potential ROI to employers?”

    And I was struck by what good, common sense advice that was. I’d never thought of that one before and it makes perfect sense that counting up the $ signs and % signs would be a good indicator for how well you’re showing “ROI” on hiring you. That’s pretty clever.

    It turns out that this quintet is regularly cranking out good job search information via Twitter. Here are a few other good ones:

    @TheLaddersNews: Lunch interview tips: How to choose the restaurant, and order a plate without getting flustered http://bit.ly/apElT4

    @TheLaddersNews: Jobless rates drop in half of metropolitan areas http://bit.ly/dvPCB5 via @Reuters

    @TheLaddersNews: You don’t need to be gregarious to network well. Introverts, use your temperament to your advantage http://bit.ly/cRcPTW

    And there’s much, much more over at TheLaddersNews Twitter feed.

    It just goes to show you: whatever your area of expertise, there’s always more to learn, and you’ll find it in the most unlikely places — including right under your nose!

    So many thanks to my very talented colleagues, and good luck to all of you this week on your job search!

  • The importance of mentors

    I drove up to New Hampshire last weekend to see my mentor from my old San Diego days. Tim has been a venture capitalist for almost thirty years now and took me, a freshly minted college graduate, under his wing as part of his leadership of the Yale alumni network in San Diego.

    It was wonderful to visit with him and Cindy again. We sat by the shore of Granite Lake talking about old times. And as we chatted, I realized that his stories about the old times had always been my foundational stories for learning about business, my career, and my place in the professional world.

    There’s the Story of the Recalcitrant Facilities Manager, or the lesson on Beware! the Big Company Acquirer, or the wonderful story about How to Start a Billion-Dollar Company with a Retired Cardiologist and an Ex-Nun. And these stories weren’t just great tales of human drama and conflict and achievement, but my own early-career personal seminar on how to make it in this world.

    What these stories, and dozens of others like them, taught me was the importance of seeing past appearances, understanding the nature of people and what they can achieve, the ability to succeed with hard work, cleverness, and passion, and the essence of life in the professional world.

    A mentor teaches you faster than you can teach yourself. The stories, the wisdom, the guidance that they provide gives you the benefit of understanding the world before you’ve actually lived through it. And the emotional support and reassurance that somebody who has “been there, done that” can offer to a wet-behind-the-ears greenhorn is comforting as you navigate your way through new experiences.

    It is important to seek out mentors. It’s no accident that Luke Skywalker needs his Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars saga, that Daniel-san learns from Mr. Miyagi in the classic Karate Kid, that Alexander the Great had Aristotle as his teacher and mentor, or that I had my Tim Wollaeger.

    The young hero — that’s you, whatever your age — needs to learn from a master, to grow in wisdom and learning while being guided by somebody with greater experience, to have a sounding board and sympathetic ear in times of turmoil.

    This is true for your career in general, and especially for your job hunt specifically. I’ve been in the job industry for over a decade and based on our experience, research, and best practices, we here at TheLadders can guide you through the strategy and tactics of a professional job hunt.

    But you also need, very importantly, guidance in the professional job hunt for your industry and field. And a mentor is the best resource for that type of wisdom. He or she can give you insight into the players, the personalities, the opportunities, and the challenges of various opportunities open to you.

    We can tell you how to interview, or how to craft a great resume, or how to follow up on your job applications.

    But what a mentor provides is wisdom and insight into whether you should go to that big company or the hot little start-up, whether you ought to stay in your area of functional expertise or move towards more general management, whether you’ll be better off working for the tough and demanding boss, or you’ll thrive in a more collegial atmosphere.

    So I’d urge you to cultivate your mentors. Whether she’s an old boss, or a more senior colleague, or somebody in the industry that you admire, developing those relationships can make your career growth much richer, better-informed, and savvy.

    And you can also get something back by giving back. As I’ve tweeted before, “The brighter the student, the more the teacher learns.” There’s no better way to learn, or re-learn, something than by teaching it. And by taking that bright young woman or man under your wing, you’ll not only be helping out the next generation, but you’ll be surprised at how much you’ve learned over the years!

    So thank you to Tim and Cindy for the wonderful weekend in New Hampshire and the chance to reconnect over some lovely home cooking and a few bottles of wine.

  • How to stop dreading networking calls…

    ** From my weekly newsletter to TheLadders.com subscribers **
    Even if you’re a sociable, gregarious, people-loving person, the “networking” phone call can be a dreaded task in the job search. You feel like you’re imposing, and it feels awkward to ring up your friends, former colleagues, and college buddies to ask for a favor from such a helpless position.

    So here’s how to stop worrying and learn to love the networking call.

    The tip, which I picked up from John Lucht in his book “Rites of Passage“, is this:

    “Don’t ask for a job, ask for a reference.”

    Asking someone to be a reference is an easy way to make networking a positive experience.

    You see, everybody hates to say “no” to a request from somebody they know. And when you call your contacts and ask if they know of any jobs out there, you’re putting them in the position where they have to say “no” to you. Because, as you’ve found out in your job search, digging up information on where the jobs are is tough (that, by the way, is why I invented TheLadders seven years ago). And it’s pretty unlikely that your friend has been spending as much time as you have hunting high and low to find out about new openings.

    So asking for job information or job leads makes networking uncomfortable for both of you.

    To make it easy for them to say “yes”, you need to ask them for something that is easy to say “yes” to.

    So when you call your old colleague or contact, ask them if, when the time is right in your job search, it would be possible to use them as a reference.

    It doesn’t cost them anything to say “yes” to that request, it’s an easy way for them to feel like they are being helpful, and it makes the call much more comfortable for both of you.

    And now that you’ve turned the networking call from a negative conversation to a positive one, both you and your contact will feel better about the interaction.

    That’s important, because positive interactions make your contacts more inclined to help you. They may even feel a little bit honored that you think highly enough of their opinion to ask them to be a reference.

    So now, as they go about their business, they’ll not be screening your calls to avoid further awkward interactions, but instead they’ll be a little bit more inclined to keep their eyes and ears open for opportunities that might make sense for you.

    If they overhear something at the club, if their cousin mentions a corporate expansion, if there’s some trade rag gossip on positions opening up, they’re much more likely to want to reach out to let you know that there might be an opportunity for you.

    So my best advice, handed down to me from an expert with forty years of recruiting experience, is this: don’t ask for a job, ask for a reference.

    And you may never dread a networking call again.

    Have a wonderful week, Readers!

  • Can I help you?

    ** From my weekly newsletter to TheLadders.com subscribers **

    I have a lot of quirky interests: the music of the Grateful Dead, 19th century American history, travelling to formerly Communist countries, historical linguistics, and providing directions to tourists around our Manhattan office.

    As I was walking to the office this weekend to write this newsletter, I stopped twice to provide directions: first to a family from Spain looking for the Angelika Theater and then to a group of girls from Iowa trying to find Balthazar. We’re located right in SoHo near the southern tip of Manhattan, so we get a lot of tourist traffic around our building.

    Having lived in New York City for over a decade, I’ve learned the ropes and can tell you why Houston is pronounced HOW-sten, and not like the city of the same name, or why we call it Greenwich Village when it’s in the middle of the biggest city in America.

    I really enjoy giving street directions, and my wife really enjoys teasing me about it. And I’ve thought about why it is that I like doing it — it seems a rather odd hobby.

    I suppose it’s because that hard-won knowledge of your city’s geography, and the pride you have in it, is so valuable, and so easy, to share with people who are unfamiliar with it. It greatly improves the afternoon of whomever I’ve helped out, and it’s a nice way to feel like you’re being helpful to your fellow man.

    Which got me to thinking about why I enjoy providing advice in the job hunt… I suppose there are similarities.

    I’ve been in the online recruitment business for over a decade, and during that time, I’ve picked up the knowledge of just exactly how difficult and confusing the job search can be for even very successful professionals — and the simple things they can do to make their search easier and better and shorter.

    The formula for success in the job hunt is pretty easy to describe, but it takes persistence and sticking to your plan.

    And when I’ve helped somebody in the job search it makes much more than just their afternoon brighter — it has such a positive impact on them, their outlook, their family and their whole life, that I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from it.

    Now, fortunately, I’m not doing it alone. My colleagues at TheLadders get the same sense of satisfaction and fulfillment from helping you through your job hunt.

    Today we have over 300 people here at TheLadders.com in New York City, and I’d like to ask you to reach out to them with any questions you might have at all. Whether it’s help with your resume, articles and advice on the job search, or assistance with making the most out of the site, my colleagues are here to help you.

    So give us a call, drop us a line, or chat with us online.

    We’re here to help you find your way.

  • We’re not gonna take it

    Happy Fifth of July,

    The day after the fireworks, the parades, the hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, is a good day to remember these words from a great American:

    “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

    Theodore Roosevelt said those words one hundred years ago at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1910.

    If you’re like me, no matter how many times you read the Bull Moose’s words, you feel a tingle, a stirring, an inspiration. We who have “strived valiantly” and know “the great enthusiasms, the great devotions” can identify with the man in the arena, and know the futility of listening to the countless, discountable critics.

    I’ve shared these words with you every year for the past seven years for three reasons. One, I’m a big Teddy Roosevelt fan. Two, it gets me off the hook for my usual Sunday 3 p.m. deadline for writing this newsletter (hey, I like to take the long weekend off too!) And most importantly because, if your reaction is similar to mine, you feel that Teddy gives voice to the best which is inside of us: perseverance, determination, resilience, and grand aspirations.

    Last week, I was driving around Southern California and thinking about writing this Fifth of July newsletter. I spoke on career management to the Kellogg Alumni Club of Los Angeles and a group of life science professionals in La Jolla, and I attended the big annual trade show for HR — the Society of Human Resources Management — in San Diego.

    As I was tooling around the highways in my Hertz rent-a-car, I hit “scan” on the radio. There’s something wonderful about the amalgam of languages that come across the airwaves here in our immigrant nation, and Los Angeles is home to stations broadcast in Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and Japanese, reflecting its Pacific connections.

    I eventually landed on a classic rock format, and smiled with nostalgia when these lyrics blasted out over the killer drum line:

    Oh, we’re not gonna take it
    No, we ain’t gonna take it
    Oh, we’re not gonna take it anymore

    We’ve got the right to choose and
    There ain’t now way we’ll lose it
    This is our life, this is our song

    We’ll fight the powers that be just
    Don’t pick our destiny ’cause
    You don’t know us, you don’t belong

    I found the video here on Bing later, complete with awesome double-jointed drumming and cameo from Animal House’s Neidermeyer.

    And I got to thinking about what this teen angst anthem means for us this Fourth of July (because nothing says “American democracy” like a 6′ 1″ rock star in terrifying drag, right?)

    Do you remember how you felt when you first heard “We’re Not Gonna Take It”? Do you remember shouting the chorus at the top of your lungs? Do you remember the defiance, the energy, the power that you felt you had within yourself, and against the world?

    Sure, perhaps the song is juvenile, and sophomoric, and just another entry in a litany of teen rebellion rock songs, and yet… and yet…

    There is a similarity to the defiance contained within Teddy’s words and Twisted Sister’s lyrics. There is a common connection across the years. There is a bond, an assertion of the American character that is expressed, however different the form.

    America was the first country in the history of the world to put the individual at the center of its power. By establishing a democracy 234 years ago, we said that it is the citizen him or herself who was the most important person in the country’s political system. And that assertion of the individual’s right to determine what to do with their own life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, is the basis for both Teddy and Twisted Sister’s words.

    It is only when the individual is at the center that you can have a man in the arena. Elsewhere in his Sorbonne speech, Roosevelt states “The good citizen will demand liberty for himself, and as a matter of pride he will see to it that others receive the liberty which he thus claims as his own.”

    It is only when the individual is at the center that you can rock out the lyric “We’re free” and have the right to say you won’t take it.

    What will you do this summer with that liberty which has been earned by others and given to you? Because your freedom cost somebody something, you know. Your liberty was paid for from somebody else’s account. Your fellow citizens today, and their predecessors from Valley Forge to Fallujah, gave and gave and gave in order to make this world you’re living in.

    So what will you do with it this summer?

    Will you take inspiration from Roosevelt’s calling to the “great devotions”? Will you declare your defiance of the status quo? Will you tap into that teenage energy that you once had and turn it towards creating success in your adult life? Will you be the man (or woman) in the arena, and refuse to “take” what the critics, the naysayers, those timid souls have to dish out for you?

    This summer is your summer to shine.

    This summer is your summer to spend yourself in a worthy cause.

    This summer is your summer to pick your destiny.

    And today is a day for reflection. Today is a day for you to find within yourself the power and the energy to achieve great things. Today is a day for you to consider what you will do with that liberty which has been given to you.

    Earn it.