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Business And Personal Etiquette:
Habit That Annoy
Personal Appearance
Faring Forth To A Tea
At Dinner
Voice And Conversation

Personality And Background

( Originally Published 1940 )

What are some of the personality defects often mentioned by employers? Such comments as these are often heard:

"He has had excellent technical training but, unfortunately, no background for this position"; or "We cannot employ her; she was highly recommended to us, but during the interview I found that her background is very limited. She has no outside interests. She has never traveled and apparently has never read much, not even the daily papers. She was uninformed on every topic that I mentioned. She knows only shorthand, typing, and accounting; her knowledge is insufficient for this position."

What is this important factor in personality growth called "background"? Background is that fund of knowledge and experience that determines your understanding and appreciation of the world about you. The more you know, the greater is your ability to form authentic opinions and to recognize and take advantage of the many opportunities that are open to each one of us.


Background, the total of your experiences to date, is acquired in many ways. The home furnishes the initiatory experiences; next, the immediate neighborhood contributes; then, the. school; and, finally, the world at large. Of necessity, many of your experiences must be vicarious-and books, probably more than any other single agency, help you to procure background.

Acquire a broad background, so that you will be of value in your chosen vocation. You should read social-science books in order to interpret current happenings and, in a measure, predict future events. Books of travel, biography, art, music, science, religion, philosophy-all contribute to the well-rounded personality that may be yours if you wish to attain it. Too, the more diversified your interests, the more pleasure you will derive from your work and from your leisure.

"I don't have time to read," is the excuse of those who are self-satisfied or are poor managers of their time. These persons should visit the public libraries in the evening and observe the tired, hard-working men and women, young and old, who stop there to spend a short time in a pleasant atmosphere where they may read books, newspapers, and magazines. In addition to books of fiction, librarians say that these readers ask for books of history, economics, travel, biography, philosophy, and religion. The demand for these books far exceeds the supply. The calls for books of science, art, and music are greater, too, than ever before. Many of these people have had little opportunity to acquire background; but now that the opportunity is before. them, they are taking advantage of it. If you care to extend your interests, trained librarians will help yoL! plan your reading. In this modern age, with its school, city, township, county, regional, state, and public library commission libraries, there is unlimited opportunity for you who care to read.

Current News

The busy person can keep himself informed on current topics by reading the headlines and the first paragraphs of newspaper stories or by listening to the news reports on the radio. Mere listening or reading is not enough, however. You must not accept without question everything you hear or read. Try to understand the cause and effect; ask yourself: "What is behind that?" "How does that fit in with what I already know?" "Is that problem an important one, or is it being agitated at this time just to becloud some other issue?" Think and reason as you read. Do not believe everything that you see in print just because it is in print. Try to "get behind the words," so that you can determine the actual purpose of the article. If you know something about the authors of the books or the control of the newspapers or magazines, you are better able to interpret what you read.


The radio is an invaluable aid in acquiring background. The value of news reports and comments on current events has just been mentioned. In addition, education in good music may be gained by listening to the musical broadcasts. The commentators' talks on the history and development of music and their discussions of the lives and personalities of the composers are most informing. By means of the radio, it is also possible to hear classic plays and keep informed on contemporary plays and players.

The radio also offers a splendid way to learn the correct pronunciation of words. If unfamiliar words are used, look up the meanings and broaden your vocabulary by using these words as you learn them. It is important that you use preferred pronunciations. The young man who insisted on pronouncing "finance," "fi'nance," even after his employer had informed him of the preferred pronunciation, did not evaluate the impression he was making on his employer. Determined not to change because he knew he wasn't wrong, the young man was finally discharged by his irritated employer.

There are radio lectures on almost every subject. If you are attempting to acquire background by means of the radio, refer to the list of programs in a daily newspaper and make a plan of what you want to hear each week: Then, when you have time, you can listen to a program that really is worth while.

If you have no radio, but are fortunate enough to live in a city where there is a "Listening Room" in the public library, you can go to this room to hear dramatic productions, reviews of old and new books, or round-table discussions on current topics. The annotated lists of books given to you at these programs will assist you materially in planning your background reading.

Motion Pictures

The motion picture is another educational medium. Vital information concerning your own country and the other countries of the world and their inhabitants may be obtained from motion pictures. For those who can travel, the newsreel and travelogue often intensify the desire to visit the countries that are shown on the screen. For those who cannot travel yet, these pictures are indispensable, for in the meantime they can be "seeing" the world.

The achievements of science as shown in motion pictures may create in you the desire to know more about the subject through reading and study. Classics, too, as well as other types of literary works, are shown on the screen. After reading reviews and criticisms of films, you can attend the ones that you think will be of the most value to you.


The manner in which you spend your time outside of school or business hours is important to you and your associates. In fact, some employers consider this matter of so much importance that they have included it on their application blanks under the guise of hobbies. In this way you give valuable information about yourself, since your personality is reflected by your interests.

A hobby is a pleasurable undertaking-something that you do in your leisure time just because you enjoy doing it. Your hobby may be some competitive outdoor or indoor sport; or it may be walking, swimming, skating, or any of a number of other sports.

The way in which you conduct yourself in a competitive indoor or outdoor game reveals your true personality. In your unguarded moments you show whether or not you have a sense of humor, whether you "can take it" when the joke is on you. Are you a good sport when you lose, or do you always have to win in order to enjoy the game? Do you co-operate with your partner when you are playing, or do you try to show off your special skill by trying to win alone? Competitive sports, in addition to the often much needed exercise, provide splendid opportunities to develop such qualities as leadership, co-operation, and self-discipline. If you have never played, learn to play. You need the mental and physical relaxation that comes from it. In addition, you really get to know the persons you meet during your leisure hours, and your companions have the opportunity to know you.

If you do not care for sports or games, there are various kinds of creative hobbies that may interest you: painting, drawing, writing, leather work, dress design, interior decoration, and gardening are a few of them. Your hobby may be anything that gives you an outlet for self-expression. How far you go with your hobby depends upon you.

People have always liked to collect things; and whether you collect stamps, coins, guns, or buttons, your hobby can be made both interesting and educational. You should obtain all pertinent information before you classify your collection; then attempt to set up your display in a manner that will be both attractive and original. Join a club to meet others who are interested in the same hobby. Learn as much from the members as you can and be able to tell them something in return. Read the hobby magazines to get new ideas, try them out, and, if they are worth anything, pass them along.

If you have a camera, don't just snap a picture "to finish this roll." Pay some attention to detail-try to get pictures that really tell something. Learn to develop your own pictures-it is fascinating-then arrange them in your album in a way that will be interesting to others as well as to yourself.

Whether your leisure is enforced or planned, spend the time in something that will refresh you physically and mentally. The contacts-social, geographical, historical, or otherwise-that you make by means of your hobbies will broaden your background amazingly.

Ability to Experience

There are innumerable other ways of acquiring background in addition to those already mentioned. Attend night school and evening lectures in order to become more proficient in your chosen vocation. Visit industrial plants and public institutions of all kinds. Visit the art galleries. If you know nothing about art, get A Child's History o f Art, by V. M. Hillyer and E. G. Huey. Read and study it until you have acquired a foundation; you will be surprised to find how much more a visit to the art gallery will mean to you. Learn how an etching is made. Perhaps you may even want to make one. Each of you, if you will, can find much in your own community to increase your knowledge. The more you know, the more you will see and the more you can do. Growth in ability to experience depends on a developed sensitivity.

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