Doeing email well and effectively is not optional because email is an essential form of business communication for most of us. Often, email is how we stay in touch with family and friends as well as our co-workers and other members of our network.
In a job search, email is often the first interaction with an employer, so doing it right is critical to success.
The way you communicate in your job search provides "work samples" for the employer, and demonstrates your ability to communicate well (or not). An email message can make or break your job search with a specific organization or person. Doing it well is required and assumed. Doing it poorly is the kiss of death.
TIP: To avoid embarrassment if you accidentally hit the "Send" button too soon, put your own email address in the "TO:" field until you are sure the message is ready to go.
Your subject really is the "headline" of your message, and it should contain enough information to catch the recipient's attention, in a positive way.
"Resume" or even "My Resume for Your Consideration"
"Resume Submitted for Your Senior Customer Service Representative position # 12345"
Best practice is to make it clear to the recipient the job you want - the job title, job identifier, and source are very helpful. Including the location of the job is very helpful if the employer has a number of locations.
In the very first paragraph, explain who you are and why you are contacting them. Don't expect them to read your whole message, particularly a long one, and don't expect them to read your mind.
"Attached are my resume and cover letter for your consideration."
Eh? Consideration for what? Where? And, I'm not likely to open up attachments from someone I don't know and trust, given how much malware is distributed that way.
"Below my signature, I have included a copy of my resume which I am submitting for your East Overshoe Senior Customer Service Representative position, # 12345. A Word 2010 version of the resume ([YOURNAME]-Customer-Service-Rep-resume.doc) is also attached for your convenience. Please let me know if anyother format is preferred."
Excellent! The resume is visible in the email message, and also attached with a useful file name that will be easy to save. And, the first sentence makes the purpose of the email message abundantly clear. The recipient will NOT need to figure out what job is being targeted. This paragraph supports the Subject line, too.
A job search is personal sales, so think and write like a good sales person!
Hint: Don't use many "I" sentences in your messages -
"I saw your job posting on CareerBuilder, and I want to apply for the job. I think that your company would be a great place to work, and I have attached my resume for your consideration."
Ouch! Four "I's in one paragraph!
"My 2 years of successful experience in online customer support with a Website processing 1,500 orders a day with an error rate of less than 1%, working closely with 7 team members to achieve 97% on-time shipments, and tracking the inventory levels of 265 products fit the requirements of the Senior Customer Support Representative opening (# 12345) you currently have posted on CareerBuilder."
Excellent! Not a single "I" - focusing on the employer's requirments, not the job seeker's needs.
Briefly summarize the most important points in the first paragraph of your message, as in "Good" above. Just like a newspaper article's "lead" paragraph, the first paragraph of your email should grab your recipient's attention so that the rest of the message (including your resume!) is read.
Saving your most important point for the last paragraph works only IF someone reads that far, and most people won't read very far in a message unless the first paragraph has grabbed their attention.
Provide the supporting information in the paragraphs below the first one.
An email message needs plenty of white space to be easy to read, especially for someone using a smart phone to read it.
Long fat paragraphs of dense text (a.k.a. "wall of words") are daunting to the reader, and not likely to be carefully read or easily comprehended. Break up the big paragraphs into smaller ones.
Summarize and highlight important points with bulleted lists and other conventions to help your reader see the most important points easily.
Particularly your first message to someone should be concise and clear.
Long messages are intimidating. If someone is in a hurry (or reading on a smart phone), a long message is less likely to be read or read completely -- it may be saved for "later," but later may never come. If they are expecting a long message, it is more likely to be read.
Send your job search messages from a serious address, like "MJSmith567@..." With a little marketing added, "MJSmith-MBA@..." or "MJSmith-CSRep@..."
Don't use your "smartypants@..." or "thebigboozer@..." accounts for your job search. Messages from silly or dumb email addresses may look like junk email (or jokes) and be deleted unread.
TIP: If you are over 40, DO NOT use numbers that could be interpreted as the year you were born! So, MJSmith1964@... is NOT a good idea.
Hopefully you have a person's name and their email address to use. If not, call to see what person/address is appropriate. If they've specified the recipient in their posting, ad, or instructions on their website, follow their instructions, AND try to find another, better address to use - preferably the hiring manager or the recruiter.
Add a few lines at the bottom of the message, below the closing, that are a combination of marketing and contact information.
Keep the lines short (fewer than 45 characters and spaces per line) so that it doesn't "wrap" and look ugly on a smart phone.
Don't use the tab key; type in every character, and then save it as a *.txt file. Your email software can probably add it automatically to the bottom of every message. You can delete it from the messages that don't need it, or have your email software insert it when appropriate.
Include the URL for your LinkedIn Profile - yes, you need to have a LinkedIn Profile, and you can edit the URL of your "public profile" on LinkedIn to make it unique and add marketing like Mary Jane did below.
A signature typically looks something like this:
Mary Jane Smith
Ecommerce Senior Customer Support Specialist
Keep your signature consistent with the job you are seeking.
Use spellcheck, of course. But, don't stop there. Particularly in your job search, you want to shine like a first-class employee - someone they need to hire ASAP. Ask someone else to proofread it with you.
If possible, wait an hour or longer between writing, initial proofreading, and sending so that you have a chance to proofread again with relatively "new eyes."
Or, send the message to yourself first, so that you can print it and proofread a printed copy. Proofreading in print seems to work better for me than proofreading on the computer screen. I also find that reading the text of a message out loud can help me catch errors.
Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn.