Michael KreponCareer Counseling

Back in the day when dinosaurs roamed the earth, we used telephones with long cords and wrote personal letters. This dinosaur still abstains from Facebook, rarely texts, and doesn’t tweet. The transition from writing on a yellow legal pad to a six-lines-of-text training computer in the 1980s was a harrowing experience. My cell phone prompts derision, and my PC is old school.

Given this checkered and challenged relationship with modern technology, I am probably not the best person to offer aspiring wonks career counseling on how to improve communication skills. But here goes…

1. E-mails flood in-boxes like waves over a transom. If you want to separate yourself, try writing a personal letter – especially to a dinosaur, and especially to say ‘thank you.’

2. Your fingerprints are all over e-mail. Even a brief message offers insight into how you write at greater length. Is your message formulaic or interesting in some way? You don’t need length to demonstrate depth.

3. You can oversell or undersell on a job interview. Overselling is risky because it can be off-putting, and it’s senseless if you are blowing smoke. The most effective approach, in my view, is quiet confidence. You can afford to be low key if you are clear about what you’ve done and where you want to go. Whatever your situation, it’s not wise to pretend to be someone you’re not.

4. Listening skills are crucial, and you can’t learn them on the internet. But you can demonstrate the absence of listening skills via e-mail. Hint: If someone signs off as “Michael” or “Jeffrey” on an e-mail, you’ve messed up by addressing them as “Mike” and “‘Jeff.”

5. The telephone still works as an effective research tool, especially when internet searches fail to come up with a reliable answer. It seems that the more capable a researcher is on the internet, the harder it is for her or him to pick up the phone to find answers to questions. The internet is not a substitute for strong personal skills, unless you’re in the business of computing. The most effective wonks do not confine their networking to the internet.


  1. Trollop (History)

    What prompted this, Mike?

    • krepon (History)

      Cute. I periodically do this for aspiring wonks.

  2. gunboat_d (History)


    I love the post. This is how “dinosaurs” say “pwned!”

    and “listening skills are crucial, and you can’t learn them on the internet” is something i tell myself every day.


  3. Daniel Horner (History)

    As someone who has been involved in two hiring processes in the past two years (and is about to embark on a third), I would say this list should be required reading. Thanks, MIchael. (Disclosure: My level of technical sophistication is not that different from Michael’s.)

    • krepon (History)

      Thanks, Dan.
      One of the things I learned as a practitioner/teacher in the Politics Department at the University of Virginia was that the students interested in public policy had great teachers, but still did not receive much of an education about entering the job market.

  4. Jon (History)


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