Networking Letters

Your written correspondence with a potential employer does not end with the cover letter that you send with your résumé. Nor does your contact with networking associates end with a phone call. Your job search and subsequent career is filled with written correspondence. Letter writing is a fact of business life. With the tips presented here, and a little practice, you can become an expert letter writer.

When it comes to your job search, letter writing can be used as a powerful tool. These letters can take the form of hard copy or e-mail; while e-mail is more likely these days, a hard copy letter can potentially help you stand out. Whichever methods you employ (and it will probably be both), use the opportunities for additional contact to your advantage. It is yet another way to put your name in front of an employer's eyes. Letters are also a method to remind an employer of your qualifications and the reasons why you are the person for the job.

The following is an overview of some of the letters you may find yourself writing (some are not optional!). Much of what is written here is common sense. But if you are caught up in the angst of looking for a job, or if you have not thought much about it before, some reminders follow to keep in mind as you develop your job search and subsequent career.

Networking Letters

Networking letters are very similar to networking phone calls, except in written form. For those who are extremely shy, writing a letter to a networking contact before making a phone call can help ease nerves. Your contact has an idea that you will be calling (because you will have told him or her) and can be prepared for your call. The letter helps reduce the fear of "cold calling" your contacts.

The letter can also be a useful tool if you are unable to contact a network associate by phone. People are very busy; if you find yourself continually running into voice mail, the letter can be a useful alternative.

When writing your networking letters, observe the same courtesies in the letter as you would in a phone call. Respect the reader's time. Rarely will you need to write a letter longer than one page. Following some pleasantries, such as mentioning the last time you saw the contact or something you have in common, get to the point. You are currently looking for a job, and because your contact is an expert in the field/has a large contact base/whatever is appropriate, you are writing to inquire if the contact may have any suggestions for you in your search or if he/she would be willing to provide information, pass your name along, and so on, as is appropriate for your situation. Do not ask for an interview or for a job! This is not the point of contacting your network. Your purpose is to gain information, conduct an informational interview, and perhaps gain a lead, but you must be careful with how you approach your reader. If you are unsure of your wording, have a friend or relative read the letter to give you an impression. At the end of your letter, ask if you can meet to discuss your job search or for an informational interview.

Thank You to a Networking Contact

Whenever you have contact with someone in your networking circle directly related to your job search and career, send that person a thank you letter. Thank him or her for the time and effort put into helping you and for any information that you took away from the conversation (or e-mail or letter).

As you will do for a follow-up thank you letter after an interview, you may want to highlight a few areas in your letter as a result of your communications with this person. If you were given an immediate lead, or if the contact agreed to read and critique or forward your résumé, be sure to say a thank you for this as well. If the conversation led a certain way, or did not go as you planned, you can use this opportunity to reiterate points or make new ones. As with all your job search correspondence, this is another opportunity to sell your strengths. Although you are not asking for a job, you do want to make sure you are presenting as much positive information about yourself as possible so that the contact can act appropriately on your behalf.