Now that the New Professionals Conference 2010 has been officially advertised, I think its legitimate to give you my thoughts on the process and on what made the proposals we selected the ones we selected.
First I’m going to outline some of the qualities that the ones we selected had in common, and then I’m going to make some points about proposals in general.
The proposals we selected all said something quite clear. Having read them, it was easy to scrawl what they were saying in a few words at the top of the page. This is not to say that more complicated proposals were frowned on, but just that even if they were complicated (and at least one of the ones we chose was relatively complicated), the salient points were easy to draw out.
The selected ones all adhered to the themes of the conference quite strictly. It has to be said that when a proposal started to be overly interpretive with the phrases that we had used in the call for papers, I was put off. Unlike in the 2009 conference, what we were looking for in papers this year was quite clearly set out. Obviously the call for papers was not overly prescriptive, but it was easier to spot off topic papers and, interestingly, we did get quite a few.
All the papers we chose had a healthy mix of the universal and the specific. Either a point about employability in general was made and then something that the writer had personal experience was mentioned. Or a subjective observation was made, which was then shown to be more objective. This point is relevant to applying for jobs as well, where employers often (always?) look for someone who knows about the job in general, but can also demonstrate that they have the personal skills to make them relevant to it.
Another very important factor linking all the ones we selected that I had not initially even considered, but which became apparent as the process went on, was the overall tone. Without exception, the selected papers were generally positive. Challenges were viewed as opportunities, set-backs as ways to learn and change for the better, problems as spurs to ingenuity. I refuse to use those wordle things, but if I did I’m sure the lexical set of the selected papers would be more Lester and less McNulty, more Homer and less Old Gil, more Obama and less McCain.
General tips (I must add that this only comes from my very limited experience of applying for things and from choosing papers for this conference):
- Use a few short paragraphs. Long blocks of text can be frightening, as @therealwikiman pointed out. Also bullet points don’t add a great deal that you can’t say in short paras (ignore the bullet point).
- References don’t add a great deal either, particularly for a conference like this where the approach is not particularly academic – obviously writing up accepted proposals is a different matter.
- Don’t include a biography in the actual proposal. Biographies are very useful to have, but put them separately, either in the body of an email, or at the end of the proposal, clearly delineated from it.
- Use words from the call for papers blurb – obvious, but a startling number of proposals we received did not mention ‘new professionals’ at all.