By: Joe Grimm

E&P’s Annual Career Guide

by Joe Grimm

Whether you’re hunting for talent or a job, e-mail is a great new arrow to have in your quiver. Use it the wrong way, though, and you’re going to shoot yourself in the foot.

First, understand that e-mail is not just a faster way to send a letter or a cheap replacement for a telephone call. E-mail is a fourth voice.

The first three are face-to-face, by phone, and by mail. (Although it is now put down as snail-mail, letters are still a very effective choice.)

Because e-mail is so much younger than its siblings, it is still learning its manners. It’s no wonder, then, that some people act as though what is right for the phone or the mailbox will be right for e-mail. It often isn’t.

First, keep the unique characteristics of e-mail in mind. It is instantaneous. It is free. It can be top-of-the-head conversational, yet it creates permanent records that can be copied, forwarded, and archived. Remember that, with e-mail, the sender has little control over what it looks like to the receiver. (If you’re e-mailing to the technologically clueless, neither party has any control over what the e-mail will look like.) E-mail makes it easier and cheaper for the sender to throw pictures, graphics, and sounds into the virtual envelope as attachments. It is harder, and can be impossible, for the receiver to get them out.

Understand what e-mail is best at, and you begin to understand when it is best to use it. There are many types of cameras, for example, but it does not make sense to use a Polaroid (where the advantage is instant images) when you want an archival-quality, high-definition image that will last for generations.

This implies that e-mail isn’t always your best bet. Before you even fill out that “To:” field, ask yourself whether a phone call or letter (remember them?) would be better. If you think the recruiter might need to forward copies of your cover letter and r?sum? to other people, ask yourself whether those colleagues will likely get this on paper or by forwarded e-mail. If there is any chance that the recruiter will want paper, send it that way. Otherwise, your carefully written and designed r?sum? will be at the mercy of whatever kind of printer is on the recruiter’s end of things.

If it doesn’t absolutely, positively have to be there right now, and if you can afford the stationery and postage, mail might be better. If you are sending an application and have no clue whether there is even a job available, the immediacy of e-mail is not an advantage. You’re just doing because it is easiest for yourself, without regard for the other person. This is not the kind of message you want to send.

If, on the other hand, you are maintaining an established, and less formal, relationship and are requesting immediate feedback on something, e-mail is perfect.

These are some rules then (OK, call them peeves, if you like) about how e-mail can best be used in the recruiting game.

For job seekers:

Address your e-mail message to someone. As a recruiter, I want to respond to everything I get. When it becomes clear that I will spend more time on my letter than the applicant spent on his or hers, I know that something is out of kilter. The volume of e-mail I get, some of it from people who live on other continents and who don’t even seem to know where they have sent the e-mail, makes me treat it like the messages we all get for get-rich-quick schemes, online porn, or miracle diets. I delete it without a twinge. E-mailed applications addressed, “Dear Sir,” get deleted, too. (Do my female counterparts get the same cheery salutation?) I figure, if the senders haven’t taken the time to find out who I am, they’re not serious.

Do not ask me to do your work. I kid you not when I tell you that someone e-mailed me this paragraph, with no salutation: “I have attached my cover letter and r?sum? in text-only format for you to review. I have also included some photos I hope you find interesting. I apologize in advance if the files took too long to download. Thank you for your time and consideration.”

To that one-paragraph e-mail message he had attached (in two other programs) 16 files, including the real cover letter, a r?sum?, and captions that he expected me to match up with the 12 JPEG files he had attached for his photos. This is not an application. This is an irritation. Can I open those files? Yes, one at a time. But did I spike the whole thing? Yes, I did. If you want to show photos, either build a Web site that a recruiter can easily explore or send them as transparencies or on a Zip disk. Do not presume that the “Dear Sir/Madam” wants to download a dozen files. And stop sending empty e-mail messages that have no words at all – just attachments.

I cannot tell you how many people send me files that, despite my conniptions, I cannot open without technical assistance. Do not assume that a recruiter is an acrobat – or that the program of the same name is loaded on his PC or her Mac. SimpleText or Microsoft Word should be safe, but once you get beyond that, you may doing little more than helping recruiters fill up their “Deleted Items” or “Trash” folders.

Watch your e-mail address and your automatic signer. They’re clever, they’re cute, but the person who sent me the e-mail with the vulgar name was embarrassed when I asked what that was all about. And so was the guy whose partner had built a signature for him that was an inside joke, not meant to be shared with outsiders. And what’s with the guy who has so far sent me four e-mails under four different accounts with similar names? How do I respond to him? One advantage of e-mail should be that your address doesn’t change, making it easy to find you.

I know that the Internet is informal and we’re all hip now 🙂 – but when, exactly, did we all forget how to spell? I know you’re in your jammies, dashing off a note at midnight, but use the spellcheck. Hey, you could even go so far as to edit the really important employment applications. These things can wind up as paper files.

For recruiters:

The best thing about e-mail is that it allows us to keep in touch with people in a way that is both more regular and less formal than anything we ever had before. We can ask our machines to remind us when to contact prospects, and we can then zip off an informal query or stay in touch in a way that somehow seems warmer than a phone call. This is a boon to recruiting. Still, there are hazards:

Recruiters, too, need to recognize that there are degrees of formality, and to choose the one that is appropriate. An introductory contact might best be made in a medium that allows instantaneous, two-way conversation. We call that the telephone, or talking face to face.

Rejection can be tough. Talk to some of the intern applicants who describe getting several in a day, 20 in a week. It can be demoralizing. E-mail may make that easier for you, but not for them. It is a brushoff. If someone has taken the time to pull together a hard-copy application, respond in kind. Don’t forget the value of a high-touch approach in a high-tech world. If, on the other hand, someone has applied by e-mail, I have no compunctions about replying in the same medium. If you do, use the same type of letter you would use on paper.

Spelling matters for us, too. Maybe even more. We reveal our true selves, foibles and all, when we fire off misspelled or ungrammatical missives into the great Internet job market, where they can be forwarded, printed out, and passed around among candidates. Keep it professional.

Recognize that the expectations for responses are much quicker with e-mail. This is really a challenge. E-mail messages have added to the workload for recruiters, who already were dealing with mail, the telephone, their appointments, and internal messaging systems. Now, there is a whole cloud of new messages in which the senders start waiting for an answer as soon as they hit “Send.” At least with snail-mail, there was a three- or four-day grace period. Although e-mail senders expect quick replies, the content of most e-mail messages makes it of a lower priority than the older forms of communication.

Recruiters who figure out how to manage and respond quickly and appropriately to their e-mail will benefit the most from it. The others will find that all they get is junk e-mail.

Joe Grimm (grimm@freepress) is recruiting and development editor at the Detroit Free Press.

E&P Annual Career Guide:


Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher.

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