Email is trapped in a strange place. It’s possible you have an ageing Gran who still thinks it’s post that comes from Yorkshire, whilst at the other end of the continuum some companies are now engaging with potential recruits via apps such as Snapchat. Current hype would have you believe that Outlook is a graveyard, complete with a zombie theme.
So called experts implore you to tweet your way to a job. Or how about Instagramming a CV tattooed on your chest? You could stage a séance and YouTube a dead relative delivering a character reference via a Ouija board. Hip examples of creativity abound and email is clearly wounded. Shouldn’t we just bayonet it and get creative with the latest tools?
Don’t be fooled. When it comes to job-hunting, more candidates have died with the first step of their opening communication salvo than troops have fallen at The Somme whilst going over the top. Email is still a major tool and new apps can be seductive, but cruelly deceptive. When semaphore, the Aldis Lamp and the megaphone were invented, very few people used them as the means to open up a dialogue with potential employers, or as a candidate attraction tool.
True, email is definitely not brilliant for ongoing conversations and discussions, but its near-universal use in the vast majority of organisations does mean it’s great for starting them up. You might meet a contact via social media, but the odds are you’ll switch to email as the most efficient means of getting the maximum information across in the shortest space of time.
Let’s look at how you can make sure your email stands at least a fair chance of opening a door of opportunity for you when you apply for a job or approach an employer speculatively.
Any opening communication demonstrates your personal brand, regardless of whether you consciously focus on that fact. “Awight m8, got any jobs?” says as much about you as, “Yea, verily doth my application portray my virtuosity.” Unsurprisingly, both will elicit, ”Hmmn, I don’t think so.”
What values do you hold most dear? What do you stand up for? What positive qualities does the role you’re after call for? Plan to show those throughout your opening email and subsequent exchanges.
Think about what you want. Are you responding to a job ad or are you trying to open up a new relationship? What outcome do you hope for? People don’t HAVE to do anything for you so consider why they should help you, or even bother to respond. To make your brand bankable, you need to make yourself distinctive, genuine and interesting. Email gives you the space to do that, unlike many social media and messaging apps.
When you respond to a job ad, the company is trying to recruit a professional, so be that person. Everything about your opening email needs to show you as a positive, to the point go-getter. Ironically, it’s not all about you, it’s what you can do for them, so mark yourself out as a no-risk candidate by showing respect and sticking to the rules of convention.
Give the reader what they expect – a properly structured communication. Firstly, it proves you’re house-trained and a fully integrated member of society, and that will buy you their full attention. Secondly, it’s way more efficient to deal with a communication that’s built around a predictable format. Playing to that shows you as a sharp, focused individual.
There are things everyone expects to see – a title, a ‘Hi’ or ‘Dear’, an introductory paragraph, a closing paragraph, a respectful sign off and probably further contact details. If you provide all of that in a thoroughly conventional way, a busy recruiter, or prospective line manager, can read the lot in less than a second or so. In truth, they won’t read it, they’ll ignore it, because they know exactly what it is.
If you sandwich your points between the intro and the outro, their attention will go straight to the meat. Make good, clear, concise points and you’ve got the consideration you want.
You can’t be sure what device, operating system and email client the recipient will be using and so a good rule of thumb is to format for easy reading on a mobile screen as it will cover all of your bases.
Use white space, bullets and bold as you would on a CV. Correct punctuation, spelling and grammar are even more vital in your opening email as it’s a first-impression moment for the reader.
Every recruiter is burdened with a range of pet hates, so always play safe. You poke the nest at your peril. Weird or inappropriate email addresses unbelievably still sit top of the list of hates. Don’t use them. Terse comments – “Thoughts?” – and sign-offs – “BR” or, even worse, “br” – aren’t far behind. Why use a sentence when you can get by with an imperious command that shows an arrogant belief in your dominance?
That leads neatly to irony. It’s a desperate shame, but even when you know the recipient well, irony is dangerous and open to misinterpretation. Leave it well alone and save it for the interview.
In conclusion, sending an email is all about managing risk. That can be immensely difficult since you don’t yet know what the recipient of your mail is like, nor what demons possess them. If you imagine how nervous and conservative you’d be, meeting your prospective in-laws for the first time, you’ll be in the right frame of mind when drafting that door-opening email.
About the author: Jon Gregory is an author, editor, blogger & trainer on all things job hunting, interview prep & career development.