Woman at computer looking stressed

How I know I'm not going to hire you before I even meet you

Elizabeth Bromstein|

Back when I ran a little content mill, a woman wrote to me looking for a job.

“Hey, Elizabeth,” her message began, before she proceeded to tell me that she’d gotten my name from someone I vaguely knew, that she “needed” a job, and that she was “thinking of moving into writing and editing.” She didn’t have any writing samples to attach, or a resume, but I was to let her know when a good time was for us to meet and discuss the matter further.

Obviously I immediately leapt at such an opportunity and set up a meeting for the following day!

I’m kidding, of course. I deleted the message.

Her approach was pretty much a landmine of don’ts. Not only would I not hire her, she made me actively dislike her. The only positive she has going is that I’ve forgotten her name.

Here’s the thing: when reaching out to a potential professional connection via any form of written communication – be it email, LinkedIn, or other social media – you need to be hyper-aware of the impression you’re making, as much so as if you were meeting in person, maybe even more so, since you can’t wow them with your winning smile and warm handshake.

That person is going to decide whether they want to know more of you from that one communication. And it is very easy to blow it.

Here are some of the mistakes you might be making when reaching out to strangers.

You’re too casual. I know I harp about this but it is almost always better to err on the side of formality, particularly when asking someone for something.

“Hey, Elizabeth!” is a turnoff for me. It’s rude. Granted, a younger person might be less irritated but, since you don’t know, it’s wiser to be more polite and lead off with “Dear So and So,” or “Hello WhatHisName.”

You’re presumptuous. As I’ve said before, you wouldn’t walk up to someone at a networking event, plop yourself down next to them and say, “Hey, Mary. I need a job and am thinking of moving into your field. I don’t have a resume or portfolio. Let me know when a good time is for you to sit down over lunch and discuss my career options. Cheers!” So, why on Earth would you type it in a message?

Career “experts” all over the place are always suggesting you close with a meeting proposal, but you have to do it right. Say something like “I would like to buy you a coffee or lunch sometime soon if you can spare the time. Please let me know if this is possible.”

Another presumptuous thing people do is reach out to complete strangers on LinkedIn and ask for endorsements. This seems insane, but they do it. Do not do this.

You’re sloppy. If you can’t take five minutes to proofread your message, or even expend the energy to pay attention to spellcheck, you show a glaring lack of respect for the person you’re contacting. I mean, come on. There’s a squiggly red line that appears below your spelling errors. All you have to do is notice it.

You’re random/haven’t done your research. Do you know what the person you’re contacting actually does? Someone recently contacted my boss, the editor in chief of Workopolis, to inquire about a job in marketing. Why would you do that? He doesn’t do the hiring in marketing.

Don’t ask a zookeeper for a job in a bank. Do some basic research.

You’re asking for something and offering nothing. We’ve talked before about how the worst answer you can give to the question “Why should I hire you?” is “Because I need the job.” The job market is not the place to beg.

It’s OK to ask for something. If you need help, or advice, you should ask for it – politely, from the right person. But you must make a gesture of reciprocity, such as the offer to purchase lunch.

I’m a believer in offering your skills as a preliminary gift – write an article, design something, organize something, for free, and hope it leads to something in return later.

Research has shown that doing someone a favour, no matter how small, results in a feeling of indebtedness disproportionately larger than the size of the original favour. So, it is always a good idea to be generous.

You need to offer something – your wonderful skills, your incredible insight, your energy and tireless work ethic. Failing that, lunch. If you can’t afford lunch, coffee.

Be polite, target the right people, don’t be demanding, think about what you can do for someone else, not what they can do for you – proofread – then hit send.

It’s been said time and time again that you only get one chance to make a first impression. Some people are still not getting the message.

For an example of someone who did it right, click here.

Category: Job Search Strategies, Latest News & Advice
  • Meera

    There is a typo in the paragraph about spelling errors and another at the end of the article where the author talks about the importance of proofreading. Is it meant to be a joke?

    • Ruth Elizabeth Bromstein

      Fixed! Thanks Meera.

      • Ninko Kostovski

        Sigmund Freud explained the mechanics of our mistakes … but in a way agree with the main points, young BA-s are simply not aware that hiring them is an investment in their development that they get free of charge from their employer and are too concentrated on the short therm benefits …

        • tongster

          At the same time, we don’t even know how long we will be in the company. We don’t have much experience to show for while our debts are racking faster than paycheques.

          On the flipside, what’s five years of debt payment when you’re only 23, right?

  • jordan684

    Something that bugs me is getting LinkedIn connection requests from people I don’t know and have never worked with. I generally ignore them. One time, however, I accepted an invitation from someone whose name was familiar to me (we had both worked in the same business). I sent them a message asking where we had met and got no reply. I deleted the contact right away.

    • Sandra Canada

      I send connection requests to people with whom I have common connections and in most cases, they accept. I find people with 500+ connections accept also, whether or not they know me.

  • Nathan W

    In many areas of work, “I need a job, I’m willing to train and willing to work. Please call tomorrow so I can come in for a day and prove it” (you get the gist) will get you the job.

    But probably these are not the same jobs where careful presentation of a cover letter or CV are relevant.

  • Kate Shaw

    We had a woman come in as a temp to our law office, with a view toward being hired permanently. The first thing she did when she settled at “her” desk for the day was whip out her SmartPhone and make a personal call — in a very loud voice riddled with vulgarity. My boss, whose office was quite near her desk, actually came out of the office and instructed her that personal calls were not permitted during working hours, that her language was unacceptable, and that if she had no work to do, perhaps her presence was not required. She did wise up, but she had ruined any chance she might have had, regardless of the quality of her work, by her total lack of manners.

    • tongster

      all sorts of people out there lol 😀

  • Wayne

    There is a time and place for formality, especially in the workplace. However it is presumptuous to assume you will get an interview by bribing to pay for anything. It is ethically wrong for any associate, manager or anyone in a company to accept any “gifts” that may support a decision in someone’s favor. I wouldn’t want to do business with anyone who offers me a bribe.

    • tongster

      Agreed. Offering lunch or coffee is really more for networking in general and is probably more suitable for higher level positions. I don’t see how office clerks, retail clerks and manufacturing machine operators can get far attempting to offer coffee to the HR generalist…

  • Rosa Di Marco

    I could not agree more!

  • tongster

    The thing about many of these workopolis articles is that they are often geared more towards white collar jobs and/or jobs that are intermediate level and above.

  • Pierre Hamel

    I’m sorry, but asking me to do something for “free” is just as unprofessional of you than anything else you comment on. I am an educated professional and my work is my living. What I bring to the table is a professional attitude, skills, talent and experience. If the first thing you do with that is ask me for a freebie, then I’m afraid I have other, more important leads to follow up. Write you an article as reciprocity? I’m sorry, this one argument dissolved any credibility you may have brought forward.

  • saabwe harrison

    This is wonderfully informative ,I totally agree with the philosophy of genuine generosity how it makes the recipient feel indebted .My fear is that if it is ill-timed ,it might irritatingly look like a bribe and end up turning off the person whose audience you are trying to win.