How to write an email

Sounds simple but so many people screw it up. Seth talks about writing a personal email. But I see these mistakes in the emails I get from job seekers and people trying to get my attention for some other professional reason. Listen up staffing tools vendors, agency recruiters and the people that want me to introduce them to some nameless person within Microsoft that they can contact about their business idea/product concept, etc. Yeah, let me get right on that. I have a ton of extra time and absolutely no priorities. And I definitely would not rather be spending my time doing something else. Ooh, snarky.

I think the worst offenders are the folks that contact me through LinkedIn looking for a job. I can't even tell you how many of these rules have been broken. But let's just say that cut and paste isn't always your friend. If you don't take the time to craft an email that, say, addresses me by name and/or references my company, then can you really expect that I will take the time to review your resume and forward it along to the recruiters here? Really?

I get a lot of mail from people that don't really know what they want to do at Microsoft. Oh yes, I actually do. If they don't know, how the hell am I supposed to know? I always send them to our career site to find some positions that they could be interested in. I would like to believe that they are just experiencing a momentary lapse of reason and are not expecting me to wade through all of our open positions in order to find the ones that would be a fit for their background and that they would personally enjoy. You know, because I know them personally.

The thing is that I actually want to help people. But not if it's a waste of my time. And helping people that don't have the good sense to not spam a bunch of staffing folks or do a little research so they know who they are asking for help is definitely wasting time. So here are some of my rules for sending a job search email:

1) Address me personally. If you don't, I know....KNOW that you are cutting and pasting. And if that is the case, I know that you think that your job search is a numbers game. Knock on enough doors, etc. That makes me think that you are not a sought after prospect. Or, it makes me think you are lazy. Either way... not good.

2) When and if you do address me by name, make sure it's my name. We all know what mail merge is. Refer to #1 above. And on the same note, that whole "Sir/Madam" thing? Come on! Even if you are not from the US, you have access to the same interwebs I do and can identify "Heather" as a female name. Nobody has ever called me "madam" to my face...ever! Or "sir" for that matter.

3) You don't have to send me a long email with a narrative of your professional life. It's best to tell me where you work and what you do plus a little about any previous work that is relevant to the position that you are looking for ("I am currently working as an account manager at XYZ and previously worked at ABC in tech support."), plus any experience with specific markets ("My experience is primarily in the healthcare and biomedical industries.") and what you are looking to do ("I would like to get back into a role where I can utilize both my account management and technical expertise. I noticed a position open at Microsoft for a Technical Account Manager, focused in healthcare and feel I would be a good fit."). The goal is to get the recruiters to view your resume, not to restate the resume. The email is, at most, a teaser.

4) If you are open to relocation, state it up front. It's one of the first questions we will ask you.

5) If you reference specific positions or groups, include a job code from our career site. You should spend time on our career site looking regardless. Including job codes helps me get your resume to the right person. It also shows me that you are serious.

6) Don't tell me you are willing to "do anything." Wow, that is a red flag! OK, well first, nobody is qualified to do any/every job. So it's not smart. And it sounds desperate. I know that it's hard if you are out of work; that is probably an understatement. But despite this fact, you want to make employers feel that they would be fortunate to get you. Because you got skillz.

7) Don't tell me about your personal life. There is some stuff that I am more comfortable not knowing. If you are sending an email to inquire about open positions, include only information that is relevant to the position. I know that people ask for advice and include a little personal info, and that is fine. But if you are reaching out to me about a position, I don't need to know that the reason you want to relocate is that your mother-in-law is living with you and you'd like to leave her behind because she chews loudly. Just sayin'.

8) Attach your resume from the beginning. I'll look at it and forward it along to any appropriate recruiters. It's how I roll. So withholding it and asking me to tell you more about the position is just going to result in extra emails.

9) You can ask me to spend some time talking to you about a position or group, but it's not going to happen. Of course we all want that. It might be reasonable if you are reaching out to a recruiter and you have all of the requirements of an open position (be honest with yourself about that too), but consider whether the person you are reaching out to is the recruiter for the open positions or even a recruiter at all. And to that end...

10) When you are reaching out to someone at a company, especially when you are asking for something, take a little time to research them. Just search on their name (might I recommend that you Bing them?).  It might inform how you engage that person. For example, if someone did a search on my name, they would find that I am not currently a recruiter but I do work in Staffing, that I am female (picture frequently accompanying my contact info), that I am a blogger, that I am open to forwarding resumes and that I provided a list of how to write an effective job inquiry email.

I don't mean to be overly critical. Any one of these things is not a deal-breaker but most of it seems like common sense. You obviously want to make a good impression and get your resume in the right place ASAP. So yeah, consider this a little email tough love.

Comments (10)

  1. Donna says:

    You’ve said it all! Great post, Heather!

  2. Kim says:

    You would think that all of it is common sense.  But I’ve heard about people wearing flip flops to job fairs and chewing gum at interviews so I really wonder is any kind of sense is common anymore.

  3. HeatherLeigh says:

    Donna – thanks!

    Kim – word!

  4. Derek Z says:

    Heather – Great post! Quick question: How about a short hand written note directly to you? What is your take? I have had a couple hit my desk this last month and frankly I was impressed. They were short, well written, on-point and sincere. Its almost like a flyer on the windshield of your car, you toss about 90% of them, but once in a while one grabs you long enough to read it. I am interested in your opinion on this approach.


  5. HeatherLeigh says:

    Derek – hmmmm, old school. I like the idea of it. And I think that it could be effecetive in a scenario where you don’t think the person is going to see your resume at all. But not so sure it would help if they have seen it. Just using myself as an example, I do look at all the resumes I get. So a note is more quaint than helpful. But if there is a way it could draw attention to the unviewed resume, that would be good.

    Why doesn’t anyone send cupcakes? Don’t they know that’s all the recruiters want? (I kid)

  6. Derek Z says:

    Cupcakes = hired (I guess I’m easy).

  7. HeatherLeigh says:

    If it was that easy my butt would be HUGE! Like really, really HUGE. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  8. Derek Z says:

    Second career – Rap video back-up dancer …. Easy Peasy cupcake easy!

  9. HeatherLeigh says:

    Where’s my yellow…what was that? Satin?

  10. FR says:

    Heather, great blog.  Maybe I am reading this wrong and if I am, I apologize.  The way I read this, I have a small problem with your first item.  What is it with recruiters' mindsets that everyone should know how to run an effective job search or instinctively know what format of resume you love?  And how much white space? I would have a hard time believing you have never been in a social setting where you were introduced to someone and a few minutes later, could not remember their name or called them a different name.  Does that make you suck at your job or lazy? (1 of 4)

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