Job searches almost always have some element of stress, but when you're sending cold emails to companies you've never interacted with, it can be difficult to know if you're saying the right thing. Communication is one of the most important aspects of any job, especially with companies looking for people to fit with their teams, rather than seeking candidates that necessarily have all of the trainable skills required for day-to-day work. Below are some business communication etiquette tips to get you started on your job search.
Your First Communication Is Your First Impression
Finding and applying to jobs is arguably the hardest part of any job search. This is mainly because it's hard to build momentum in the early stages, and reaching out to people you're unfamiliar with comes with a lot of second-guessing. Does an email count as a cover letter? The application says email or in person — so which is better? Figuring out the best way to outreach is intimidating.
The best way to jump head first into your job search outreach is to discard your fear of making mistakes. If you outreach the wrong way and lose an opportunity, you're no worse off than if you didn't outreach at all. That being said, there are some ways to determine the best communication tactics.
First of all, follow the job listing instructions. If it says "in-person applicants only," don't bother with an email, even to get information about the job. Go in person, even if you just have questions about the application process. This shows initiative and allows you to make a first impression in person. In person first impressions can be stronger because of body language, tone, and having a face to match with your name. When listings require one particular form of communication, they are often checking to see if you have respect for other people's requirements. If you can't follow simple, straightforward directions, you'll likely be ignored.
If the job posting asks for a cover letter, you should include one as an attachment to your application or email. If you're emailing a resume and a cover letter isn't required, the email can function as a cover letter, outlining your interest in the job. You shouldn't overthink the details too much, but you should be wary of what your professional communication reveals about you. It's hard to convey tone in writing, but you want your initial contact to show both personality and professionalism. You can do this by reading your writing out loud to yourself to see if it sounds natural in your voice. Avoid any words or phrases that might be misinterpreted. When inquiring about job listings, it's best to be succinct and leave a lot of the details for future discussions.
Respect Time, Both Yours and Theirs
Waiting to hear back on a job application is stressful. It's important not to overthink why you haven't gotten a reply. Unfortunately, many job applications go into the ether, never to be seen by human eyes. This can be due to over-filled inboxes, automatic filters, and other reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of your application. It's important to keep applying to jobs until you've secured one. Don't waste your time by waiting on responses that may never come.
If you have a good feeling about a specific opportunity, it's perfectly acceptable to follow up on whether your application was received. This can be done a week after your initial outreach. Sooner will make you look desperate and also show a lack of respect for the receiver's busy schedule. If you still don't get a response (or only get automated replies), it's best to move on. Nagging a hiring manager won't get you far, and sending multiple emails without a personal relationship or response isn't great business etiquette.
If you've received a response but are waiting on future steps, it's acceptable to check in after a week to make sure things are still progressing and inquire if any action is required of you. If you've been given a expected date of future contact, you can check in after that point. When someone says they'll follow up and they don't, it's fine for you to follow up instead. This shows initiative and interest, while serving as a reminder that you're waiting for them act in order to move forward. Always be polite and assume the person is busy and the follow-up just slipped their mind. As always, unless there is a personal relationship or extenuating circumstances have been alluded to, more than one follow up without a response is likely a waste of time.
With initial contact, a lot of communication etiquette relies on being respectful of people's time and clear in your intentions. Later in the job search process, communication becomes a lot more nuanced, which I'll cover in the next piece in this series: Business Communication Etiquette: The Interview Process.
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