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.