If you haven’t needed to look for a job in many years, I can virtually guarantee you’re going to be shocked by one particular aspect of the job market once you start hunting around for a new position in earnest.  You’ll be stunned by how often you send people an e-mail, or leave them a voice-mail, and get totally blown off.

For better or worse, most professionals today (possibly even including yourself?) receive far more inbound information on a 24-hour basis than they can comfortably deal with.  For all its convenience, the invention of e-mail technology has made it possible for millions of random people, located all around the globe, to bug complete strangers at all hours of the day — without even the minor friction of having to attach a 35-cent stamp.

We’ve also seen our mailboxes fill up with crap.  And cringe when answering phone calls from unfamiliar numbers, given how often these turn out to be from solicitors.

As a result, blow-off behavior seems to be at an all-time high, and important correspondence of all varieties can easily get missed as we scan through our communications receptacles at breakneck speed, trying to separate the legitimate and worthy material from stuff that might be a virus — or that deserves speedy banishment to the spam folder.

So if you’re looking for job, it’s IMPERATIVE that you take the extra time to customize your messages.  You’ve got to demonstrate you have something relevant to say to the audience in question and explain why you’re interested in talking to them, specifically, instead of keeping things vague and/or relying on generic form letters.  Fail to do this, and you’re unlikely to get much traction in your search efforts, whether we’re talking about submitting a cover letter to an employer or using a site like LinkedIn to initiate a networking introduction.

By way of illustration, here are three e-mails I’ve received in the past few weeks from “people” who have expressed interest in submitting a guest post for my blog:

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E-Mail Example #1:

Hi Matt,

I hope this e-mail finds you well.  I’m writing regarding the possibility of my team and I possibly guest posting on your website.  I just wanted to follow up and see if you were interested in this collaboration.  Please let me know your thoughts – I know sometimes e-mails can get caught in your spam filter.

A little about me: I work for an education company

[name withheld] and help manage our community building. My team and I have been lucky to be able to share our love of writing on many different blogs. We’re passionate about sharing our voices and look forward to trying a new outlet on your website!

All the best,

Regina Stevens

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E-Mail Example #2:

Matt:

Are you currently looking for a guest writer by chance? If so, I’d love to contribute some content to your blog.  Let me know if you want me to send you some writing samples.

Thanks for your time,

Michael

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E-Mail Example #3:

Hi Matt:

Love your blog!  Really wish I had found it back when I was job hunting. Wondering if you accept guest blog posts?

Either way, let me know and have a great week!

Bob Crandall

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So here’s the question.  Which of these e-mail messages do I think I responded to?

Answer: none of them.

Happy talk and cute little “conversational” phrases aside, not a single one of the notes above (assuming they’re even written by real people in the first place) demonstrates a shred of evidence that they know anything about my blog, my readership profile, or that they have a genuine interest in collaboration.  They’re insanely generic — and for all practical purposes, appear to simply be automated form letters where my first name was merged into the file.  Even the third example, which at least acknowledges I author a career-related blog, could easily be mass-produced by a publicist attempting to spam every career blogger in the country in the hopes they’ll run some self-serving promotional piece for one of their clients.

The takeaway from these examples?  If you’re out there in the job market banging out “canned” correspondence, without taking the time to personalize your messages carefully, your response rate is going to be downright abysmal.  So make sure you’re infusing your cover letters, networking notes, and voicemail messages with an ample dose of relevance and context about your intentions — and your recipient — to instantly prove that they shouldn’t be overlooked.

Take the easy way out, and you’re toast!

P.S.  Incidentally, as an experiment, when one of these “guest bloggers” followed up with yet another note, I decided to engage — and sent him back a short message telling him I suspected he was an automated mailing service, but would hear him out if he had a real proposal to offer.  In response, I got an immediate reply, without the slightest hint of personalization, asking me to run a promotional puff piece about a truck-driver school.  “Move to Trash” button, anyone?