Note: This is a revised and updated version of an article originally published in April 2014.
Arguably, the English language is one of the more difficult modern languages to learn. Without delving too deeply into its evolution, we can safely state that our verbs do not like to conjugate, our adjectives are placed in front of, not after what they describe, and our homonyms are rampant. Our spelling and/or pronunciation often disagrees. We use the same word for different things and then to complicate matters more, we spell it differently each time. So if English is your second language, you have every excuse in the world for any confusion or errors. Heck, most of us who were raised speaking only English still make them all the time.
Which is why I wanted to write this article. Our grasp of the language and the way we communicate has changed drastically in the past decade. Between emailing from computers and texting with smartphones, we’ve taken a difficult language and dumbed it down to it’s most elemental form. We abbreviate words. We don’t write in complete sentences or use correct punctuation. We use tiny cartoon faces to convey emotions. And when we’re emailing our siblings or texting our friends, that might be ok. But IMHO, its annoying at wk. And ur missing a opportunity 2 show ur skills. & u need to use ALL ur skills in biz or when tryna get a job. (See how annoying that is?)
Courteous, professional, expressive writing is one of those skills. Some even consider it a dying art. My tone here is not meant to be glib, but ideally to remind new adjusters of something that ought to go unsaid, but unfortunately cannot.
Be professional. Always.
There are two primary aspects of professional communication: written and verbal. Strong competency in both areas is essential for success as an adjuster. But for this article, I wanted to spend some time on the written word. Specifically, I wanted to discuss content and tone, and grammar and errors.
CONTENT & TONE
In professional correspondence, whether you are applying for a job, a roster position, or simply reaching out to someone like me for guidance and help, bear in mind that ye will be judged. Even if accidentally. As humans, we often make split-second decisions based on what information is available. With the written word, there is no body language to read and no expression to add subtlety or convey a deeper meaning. There is only what you get at face value – the tone. Tone is the feeling you are creating with your writing. It sounds dramatic but stay with me. If you are demanding in your tone, you come off as entitled. If you are too apologetic in your tone, the reader can assume you lack confidence. So be sure the tone is appropriate for the purpose of your writing. Let me give you an example of an email I received:
I want to be an adjuster. How?”
This correspondence gives me zero information. In other words, there is no valuable content. There’s no background, no details on of what type of adjusting or line of authority, or on what motivates this individual. I can’t answer this question effectively without sending back a host of other questions for further clarification (more work for me.) Furthermore, the tone is pretty demanding. And while I generally love helping others (it’s why I got into this business,) it doesn’t make me feel like this person values my time or expertise. But what about a different approach:
I do not know much about adjusting but have done some primary research and feel it might be a great fit for me. I have a background with cars, so I think I would like to get into the automotive side of the adjusting industry. I’m not sure the best way to pursue this. Any information or direction you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.”
Gee-whiz, that makes me feel good. The tone is competent and nonabrasive. The letter clearly states a general intention, a motivation, and thanks me in advance for any efforts I put into the response. And here’s the thing: that second letter isn’t pages long. It doesn’t use an advanced vocabulary or overdo on formality. It probably took the writer 30 more seconds to create that second letter but look at the effect! It made them a much more approachable, desirable person to help – ultimately making their career movement a much quicker, smoother, and successful ride.
GRAMMAR & ERRORS
So now that we’ve covered a bit about tone and content, let’s step back in time to our school years and discuss errors and grammar. In this decadent age, one where we have the entire data bank of human knowledge at our fingertips, we mostly use it to look at funny cat pictures and argue with strangers. We’ve devolved into using text language for all our correspondence. “You” has become “u.” Questions are shortened to one word. “Meeting?” Choosing the words to convey the right tone has been replaced by 🙂 or a 🙁 . But what’s right for texting your wife about dinner is not appropriate for professional correspondence. (And honestly, I hope it never is.) Let’s look at another example.
“The honorable representative of Bob’s Big Claim Co. LLC,
I want to be put on your roster for placement to catastrophy claims, please tell me what I would need to do. Thank u!”
Some of you may be frowning at your screens, decrying the state of our society. Others may be laughing at the idea that any business has ever received such a ridiculous letter. The fact is, this happens – it happens all the time. The run-on sentence, the tentative grasp of punctuation, and the obvious spelling mishaps are enough to make most self-respecting HR reps wrinkle their noses. Try again:
“The honorable representative of Bob’s Big Claim Co. LLC,
I am in the process of entering the adjusting industry and have heard great things about your Firm. I would like the opportunity to be on your roster. I am licensed, capable of handling claims, and available to start immediately. What will be the best way to join Bob’s well-respected claims handling department? Thank you for your time.”
Again, the second draft doesn’t take an extreme amount of extra effort over the first letter…just a few extra minutes to be professional and give a bit more information, plus a little extra proofreading time.
It may seem obvious to incorporate the points we’ve listed above in say, a cover letter or an email to the CEO. But don’t neglect some of the more informal communication being used today. We’re not saying every one of your Facebook posts needs to observe the highest grammatical standards. However, companies are communicating through a host of channels today – texts, direct messaging, social media, etc. If you are communicating through these channels for work (or potential work), you should be abiding by professional writing standards.
One last word on social media. We’re all aware of the potential social and professional ramifications of our behavior on social media. I don’t need to go into specifics there. But it always surprises me that people aren’t a bit more professional on the industry pages and groups of social media. Let me give you one last example. There are a ton of great public and private Facebook groups available for insurance adjusters to use as a resource for career advice, job searches, mentoring opportunities, etc. Anytime I visit these groups, I always see a few posts similar to the ones below.
“In dallas and would like to shadow an adjuster. anyone available?” and “Looking for a mentor in georgia.”
It’s great to reach out for help but why not really go the extra mile? You potentially have someone’s attention. Use it wisely! For example, let’s look at another post from our Alumni Group asking for essentially the same thing.
“Hello alum. I just finished the 620 All-Lines Adjuster Florida course from AdjusterPro and am expecting the license any day now to pop up in my inbox. I’m actually a full time firefighter/medic and have been doing it for about 10 years now. I’m hoping I can find an adjuster to shadow and assist for the day. I’d be happy to help in any way I can, ladder assist, hold clipboards, data entry, or photo assist. Any knowledge I can gain would be awesome. I’ve taken Xactimate and am scheduled for the fire cert next month. If you’re willing to help a newbie – lunch is on me! Thanks in advance.”
There are a few points to make here. First, after reading the posts, which person are you most inclined to reach out and share your knowledge with? Perhaps let shadow you if you’re in the area? The firefighter, right? He isn’t just asking for something, he’s giving some details about himself and offering something in return as well. Plus, he took some time to explain his background so you know he’s serious about the job and the career. (Content and context!) The first two posters didn’t do anything wrong per se. They simply missed an opportunity to showcase more about themselves and what they have to offer.
Secondly, if you’re in a business-related group, remember who may be watching. Not just for the big bad social media no-no’s, but for the subtleties as well. Claims adjusting is a detailed job that requires organization and attention. Most of these groups contain people who, if not in a position to hire, may be in a position to recommend. Not taking the time to correct spelling mistakes or use punctuation shows you may not care about the details. Asking questions when the answers are simple and readily available online might indicate a lack of resourcefulness. Being a jerk to someone doesn’t exactly scream team player. These are traits are incredibly important to the job, so again, take the opportunity to showcase you’ve got what it takes. It doesn’t mean you need to be perfect or you can’t be yourself. Just take a little extra time when in professional or industry groups to be your best self.
I’m fairly certain the majority of you who made it this far in the article rarely fall into any of these pitfalls. In fact, you’re probably better at writing than I am! But it never hurts to be reminded about the basics and how important they truly are. Remember: you may be the most charming, influential, Xactimate-savvy person this side of Eden, but take care to portray yourself as such. Don’t waste any opportunity or let your potential be ignored due to poor first impressions.