If you’re in the market for a new job, it’s imperative that you give off winning, confident signals to everybody you encounter and that you remain highly conscious of how you represent yourself in every professional interaction.  This includes all forms of written correspondence, as well, whether they involve sending a cover letter to a prospective employer, writing a LinkedIn “Request for Introduction” script, or e-mailing the friend of a friend for networking purposes.

Unfortunately, one doesn’t see a lot of confident communication these days in the job market arena.  I routinely receive e-mail notes, for example, that make a very poor first impression — and send off signals that the individual in question is lazy, ambivalent, sloppy, and/or extremely desperate in terms of how they’re approaching their next career move.

Here’s a quick case in point I received just the other day:

“A friend of mine recently forwarded along a newsletter relating to jobs that you have listed or identified as available. While I am currently employed, I am in a commission-based position in an intensely volatile industry. I would love to find a position that will allow me some security and consistency in my income. However, I don’t know that I am qualified in fields for which you secure placement.

I am a mortgage loan officer and have been since the late 1990’s. Prior to that I was broker of two real estate branches and had managed the relocation and property management departments before taking over the broker’s position. I am not looking for another position with a lending institution as a mortgage loan officer, but would not be averse to working in the lending industry in a non commission position. Of course, I am willing to step out of the lending industry and into other fields of endeavour if that option is available to me after all these many years in such a specific industry.

I have attached my resume to this e-mail. If you feel that you maintain job postings within your business structure that would allow you to be of assistance to me in my quest for a more secure job, please let me know. I am willing to extend my commute range into King County for a secure position and I am most certainly willing to learn new skills and try new fields of employment in which my existing skills can be applied.

I’m not very good at the whole job hunting thing, so I really do defer to your judgement on whether or not you feel your company can help me. If not, do you have a suggestion of another employment organization which might be more in line with my skill set?

My thanks for your consideration and assistance in this matter.”

Is this letter atrocious and without redeeming value?  By no means!  I’ve got an Outlook folder I could share with you that contains far worse examples of e-mail communication than this piece.  This one is actually pretty darn good, at least in terms of politeness, length, and grammar.  I chose to use it for illustration, in fact, for the very reason that it’s not a total train wreck like so many pieces.  Instead, I think it’s pretty average in terms of what people tend to be sending out there, and will therefore make for a more valuable teaching opportunity — since the mistakes it makes (in my opinion) are much more subtle ones.

So what the heck is so terribly wrong with this note, you may be wondering?  Well, for starters, the person writing it appears to be mistaking Career Horizons for a staffing or recruiting firm, as evidenced by phrases such as “I don’t know that I am qualified in fields for which you secure placement.”  This single sentence, at the end of the first paragraph, suggests that the author didn’t actually take the time to visit my website or figure out what I do before sending their note along.  This is a cardinal sin in today’s world.  Given the competition level out there, and the ease at which a simple web search can turn up everything you need to know about a company before you contact them, it just doesn’t cut it to show a lack of familiarity/understanding with your audience.

Additionally, you’ll notice that the letter reveals a complete lack of clarity on the individual’s part in terms of what they want to do next.  In fact, it’s worse than that.  By including statements such as “I am willing to step out of the lending industry” and “I am willing to extend my commute range” and “I am most certainly willing to learn new skills and try new fields of employment” it suggests that the person doesn’t really understand how the job market works in these modern times.  There are millions of people right now, sadly, who are willing to do just about anything to find steady, stable employment.  Such a sentiment is therefore of no real value to employers — and even less so to recruiters, were it actually the case that I happened to be one, as the author originally thought.  Companies simply aren’t looking for people who are willing to do something or who will try to do something; they are on the hunt for folks who actually can do something that’s useful, productive, and beneficial to the bottom line.  So figuring out the useful solutions you can offer is critical before engaging in any serious outreach to employers or the staffing community.  The market isn’t going to figure out what you want to be now that you’ve grown up, I’m afraid.  That decision is your responsibility!

Lastly, while a relatively minor issue, I did notice that there are two typos in the letter (I left them in there as originally written) — and I also think it’s pretty obvious why including a clause like “I’m not very good at the whole job hunting thing” is probably not the best idea.  Sure, as a career coach, it’s understandable that most of my potential clients would feel this way, and I appreciate the honesty at one level, but it still concerns me that a person would reveal this much vulnerability, confusion, and lack of confidence when writing to somebody they haven’t met before.  It makes me suspect they’re allowing these emotions to “leak” into other aspects of their job hunting effort, as well, which could account for a big chunk of the lack of success they’re likely experiencing.

At any rate, given the importance of written correspondence in the job search process, I’m hoping it was useful to provide this quick analysis around a pretty ‘typical’ type of letter that people might send out to recruiters, employers, and networking acquaintances.  These letters, for the variety of reasons I outlined, are not likely to produce a positive result.  As one of my clients said the other day, they are essentially “Hail Mary” passes where the person is just throwing all of their problems down on paper and hoping somebody out there, somewhere, will be able to solve them.  It’s just not going to happen.

So instead of trying to get ahead by playing on peoples’ sympathies, seize control of your communication and infuse it with the level of confidence, clarity, and self-respect that I’m sure you deserve.  Even if you don’t have a clue about what you want to do next, you can still show that you’re in control of your destiny by saying things like “I’m in the process of researching my next career move and would therefore like to sit down with you for 15-20 minutes, if you’re available, to bounce some ideas off you and get your feedback on the game plan I’ve put together for making a successful shift into a new field.”

Make sense?  See the difference?  Feel the change in tone/attitude that comes across?

P.S.  And in the off-chance you’re reading this blog, and happen to be the author of the above letter, let me know!  I’d be happy to extend a free coaching session to you in exchange for the usage of your text…