Make Sure You Fit
Before you reply, digest the job description and make sure you have the required experience and education, suggests Timothy Wujcik, chairman of Chase Winters Worldwide, a Chicago recruitment firm. He estimates about 10 percent of the candidates who e-mail their replies to Internet job postings don't do that. "We were looking for an individual with compensation of $450,000 and we received a resume from a candidate who was a messenger," Wujcik recalls as an example. "There was no correlation whatsoever between this job and his job as a messenger."
Sweat the Details
Recruiters get hundreds of resumes every day, so note the position name or ID number in the subject line of your e-mail, and repeat it in the body of your message. And don't forget the basics: Even before you start to write your cover note, attach your resume.
Also, keep attachments short, advises Judith Kallos, author of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Business E-Mail Etiquette. She's heard of applicants sending PowerPoint presentations in lieu of resumes, or documents so large they clog the recruiter's e-mail box. She sums up her advice on such practices in three words: Don't Do It.
Every e-mail needs a greeting. Cynthia Lott, executive director of the International Society of Protocol and Etiquette Professionals, says you should include at least "a Dear Sir or a Dear Madam, and if there's a name, a Mr. or a Ms." If the recruiter's name is gender-neutral name, use the whole name, as in "Dear Dana Jones."
Of course, you want to show passion for what you do and draw parallels between your current position and the one being advertised. However, that doesn't mean writing too much. "A cover letter should be a short note to wake me up," says Mitchell Feldman, president of A.E. Feldman, a New York recruitment firm. "Your passion has to come through, otherwise you're just another plain vanilla applicant. If you have technical skill, a license or a certification, put that first. In less than one second, I need to know you're a CPA, a series 7 or a 63, or you're zapped like in a computer game."
A great e-mail response does not include your personal philosophy or a story about Mark Twain. Wujcik wants a one-minute elevator speech, but says he often gets quotes from obscure Robert Frost works.
Remember this is business correspondence. "Refrain from using formatting in your e-mails," says Kallos. "No backgrounds. No changed colors. You pick a fancy font you think is impressive, but if the person doesn't have that font on their system, who knows what your e-mail will look like."
Finally, you should consider your e-mail a first step. "E-mail is just the beginning," says Shane Hill, senior vice president of Hudson Financial Solutions in New York. "It should act as a stimulus to further conversation, not be the conversation. You can't gauge tone, demeanor, inflection, etc. over e-mail. Once the facts have been shared, pick up the phone for real communication."