Email is often how we first interact 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.
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.
10 Email Dos
1. Use an effective subject.
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.
"My Resume for Your Consideration"
"Resume Submitted for 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.
2. Connect the dots for the recipient in the first paragraph.
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, without a good reason, 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 another 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.
3. Focus on what's important to the recipient.
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 three 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 percent, working closely with seven team members to achieve 97 percent 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 requirements, not your needs.
4. Organize your message like a newspaper article -- top down.
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.
5. Use short paragraphs.
An email message needs plenty of white space to be easy to read. 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.
6. Keep the message short, too...
Particularly your first message to someone should be short and clear.
Long messages are intimidating. If someone is in a hurry, 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.
7. Send from a "good" email address.
Send your job search messages from a serious address, like "MJSmith@..." 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.
8. Send your message to the "right" addressee.
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.
9. Include a business "signature" section at the bottom.
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. 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.
10. Proofread -- again -- before you hit that send button.
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.
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Susan P. Joyce is president of NETability, Inc. and the editor and chief technology writer for Job - Hunt.org and WorkCoachCafe.com. This article first appeared on Job-Hunt.org.