TAO Self-help

Title:6 Rules for Smarter Email for Your Job Search

Author:Susan P. Joyce

Date:June 2017


Effective e-mail is critical to your job search success, and it's not difficult to achieve. When you are conducting a job search, try to think like someone in your "target market."

Put yourself in the position of the recipient of your message. Why would they read your message? How will they react if they do read it?

The Rules for Improving Your Job Search Email.

It's surprising how poorly email is used for job search. Remember whenever you are in any interaction with a potential employer — what you do in your job search is viewed as a "sample" of your work. So, show them your best!

  1. Follow the employer's directions, if there are any.

    Duh, you say — who wouldn't do that? LOTS of people! Missing this seemingly obvious point is emphasized as a significant, but common, error by many recruiters. If the directions are not followed, you appear either inept (can't follow directions) or lazy (didn't bother to read the directions). Obviously, neither is good for your job prospects in that company.

    You look particularly "clueless" if the job posting specified that you address your message to a particular person or e-mail address, but you sent your message to another address or you didn't address it to the person specified ("Dear Sir or Madam").

  2. Don't send job search messages from your employer's network or system, using your work e-mail address.

    If you lose your job (and using your employer's assets for your job search will definitely increase that possibility), you lose your identity, your address book, and your ability to stay in touch with the people you've contacted.

    Don't assume that e-mail you send from your employer's e-mail system is private, even if you haven't been warned that it's not.

    Before the Internet, employers viewed job-hunting employees with suspicion (and, unfortunately, with some justification), often firing those employees before the job search was successfully concluded. Such an employee usually was (and still is) considered a security risk — client lists, company trade secrets, etc. could be copied and taken to the new (competing) employer.

    Monitoring of employee e-mail and Internet use just makes it easier, now, to identify those who are job hunting.

    So, use a personal account for sending and receiving job search e-mail — for privacy, control, and continuity. If possible, don't use that account with your employer's computer, network access, or any other company asset, even if you are doing your job search during "personal time."

  3. Be very careful of mass e-mailing! It is full of traps, even for the technologically savvy.

    Cookie-cutter messages can't be customized for each specific opportunity and are less effective because they can't address the unique situation and needs each opportunity represents.

    Think of the different "spins" you would use describing your new "significant other" to your mother, your best friend, and a co-worker in an e-mail message. You would probably use different words and emphasize different things in each message, although you would be accurately describing the same person. You would be customizing the description to the differing interests of your audience.

    This is the same approach you should take with cover letters and resumes. You should customize your cover letter/message and resume for the separate interests and needs represented by each different job opportunity.

    Mass e-mailing has other disadvantages in addition to lack of customization. These messages are more likely to get caught in "spam filters." Messages that look like spam frequently get deleted by system-wide filters before they enter an organization's e-mail system. These days, with the dramatic growth in spam, a second set of filters may reside on individuals' computers, customized to the spam sensitivities of the person using the computer.

    If someone thinks that you have spammed him or her, they could report you to a site like spamcop.net. As the result of such a report, your e-mail address could be added to one of the blacklists of "known spammers" accessed by the system-wide spam filters used by many ISP's and other organizations.

    If you are blacklisted, e-mail from you will be stopped before it enters any protected systems, for at least a week. This could be particularly embarrassing if you are using your employer's e-mail address for your job search, and your job search mass mailings result in your employer's entire domain being blacklisted.

  4. Address your messages like a marketing consultant / journalist.

    Unless the recipient is expecting a message from you, you've got to get their attention to get your message opened to be read. So, pay attention to the messages header — it's as important as the contents of your message. If it fails, so does your message.

    You want MOST of the words in your subject to be visible when your recipient sees your message in their inbox, so make the subject line a short attention-getter (in a positive way).

    Think "headline!" For your message to standout among all the other messages, the subject must be a "grabber" like the headline for a news story. A message with a nondescript subject like "Information" or "Resume" will probably be ignored. Your subject should be honest and accurate, but interesting enough to have someone open it.

    Good subject lines:

    • "Follow-up to schedule next interview" — just in case they've forgotten your name, this is a reminder too.
    • "Experienced CRM project manager" — hopefully you've seen jobs posted by this company that indicate they are looking for CRM project managers or some other clue to you that they would be interested in CRM project managers.
    • "B.U. engineering alum resume" — sent to a fellow B.U. (or any school) alum greatly increases the probability that your message will get opened because it indicates some knowledge of the person to whom the message is being sent (and some degree of effort expended by the sender).
  5. Complete the "TO" field LAST (applies to the "CC:" addressees, too, if you have any).

    This rule is based on painful, personal experience. Don't put the recipient's address in the "TO:" field until your message is perfect and ready to go. This way you won't embarrass yourself if you accidentally hit the "Send" button before your message is ready. Sending "Ignore last message!" messages are ineffective and credibility destroying (or, possibly, a clever-but-very-risky ploy).

  6. Use the CC function to keep people in the information loop and to increase your personal credibility.

    Copying relevant people on your messages is good professional courtesy (maybe that's why it's now called "courtesy copy" vs. the "carbon copy" of the past). Hopefully, it's also good marketing. For example —

    • Send an interview follow-up message TO the hiring manager and CC the recruiter or HR manager
    • Send an introductory message TO the contact person and CC the person who referred you.

If you've already committed all of the errors above, don't jump off a bridge. The good news is that you aren't alone in committing them — most employers receive hundreds or thousands of unsolicited resumes, and most just get deleted. So the "silver lining" in this e-mail avalanche is that its very size makes it difficult to be so outstandingly bad that you are memorable. Obviously, that's the challenge, as well as the benefit.


More About Effective Email

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff "graduate" who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased WorkCoachCafe.com, and Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then. Susan also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org, is a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and a columnist on HuffingtonPost. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.

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