Write a Networking Letter – Yes, an Actual Letter |
By John Lundberg | director of events at RecruitMilitary and a former gunnery sergeant in the United States Marine Corps |
Published in the March/April 2012 issue of print Search & Employ® |
Let’s say you have decided to use the job-search technique known as networking, you have assembled and prioritized a list of people in your network, and you are ready to initiate contact with those people.
I recommend that you write actual, physical letters to them, asking them to meet with you.
In this email-centric era, it may sound strange to have someone recommend that course of action. But person-to-person letters – as opposed to business-to-person letters – have become so rare that they can make a big impression. But there’s a catch. If you are going to trouble the recipient of your letter to open and read it (I know, not so long ago, that was no bother), the letter needs to be very, very good.
Paper and inkjet – or toner
Physically, that means you must print out the letter on good stationery and mail it in a matching envelope. If you are not sure what I mean by “good,” go to your local office-supply store or copying center, explain your situation to a reasonably experienced clerk, and ask for a recommendation. You won’t want anything flashy – just something that says “quality.” If you can buy a few sheets and envelopes at a time, buy enough for two letters to each network contact – to allow for typos, mistakes in printer settings, etc.
Print the letter in black – and I mean black, not gray. If your black imprints are turning gray, spend the money to get back to black.
What about formatting?
Hit the Internet and search for business-letter formatting. Here’s a great page put up by the Purdue Online Writing Lab: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/653/01/ . The people at the lab obviously put a lot of work into the page. So if you use it, you might drop them a line.
You should also search for envelope-addressing formats.
What about content?
Your networking letter should contain three distinct sections: an opening, the body, and a closing. If you have read the “prequel” article, you will note that I have recommended similar sections for the meeting itself. In both cases, the format has logical sequence, clarity, and brevity going for it.
The opening of the letter will be your opportunity to make a connection with the contact and state your purpose. In making a connection with someone who does not know you well, you may want to bring up the nature of your relationship – just as a helpful reminder.
In some instances, it will be appropriate to make a connection with someone you have never met. Many groups of people have fairly close connections even though they have never been personally introduced. Individuals who have held the same rank or rate in the same branch of the armed forces are a good case in point. Whatever the bond between yourself and a contact you have not yet met in person, use enough words in the opening to make the relationship clear.
In stating the purpose of your letter, keep in mind that, at this point, your purpose is to set up a meeting to gather information. It would be premature to use the letter to ask for a job or even an employment interview.
In the body of the letter, make a brief personal statement. The usual recommendation is to use two or three sentences giving a little information about yourself and what you hope to talk about in a face-to-face meeting. But I am going beyond that. I am recommending four or five sentences because I want you not only to tell the contact that you are transitioning or veteran military but also to state in general terms what you did in the military. This is important because I want the contact to think about how your military background might relate to specific civilian jobs.
In closing your networking letter, propose a follow-up action. Typically, you will be requesting a meeting. State that you will be calling within the next few days to set up this meeting. Be respectful of your contact’s time, but don’t wait so long to call that the contact might not remember your letter right away.
During your follow-up phone conversation, state up front how much time you expect the meeting to take. And on the day of the meeting, stick to the time prescribed.
What about spelling and grammar?
Run a spell check and follow whatever grammar recommendations your spell-checker makes. Then print out a draft-quality sample on regular paper, show it to a friend who you are sure is “good in English,” and ask him or her to fix it up.
This step is important – in fact, it is make-or-break. If you are hesitant, consider this:
* Your friend will almost certainly be flattered by your request and therefore will be more than willing to help.
* Your friend may already know that he or she is “better in English” than you are – so it won’t be as if you were letting your guard down.
* Don’t worry that the friend will change your letter so much that it won’t sound like you. That is not likely to happen – but if the possibility does worry you, mention it when you make the request.
Why print out the sample instead of just emailing the letter document as an attachment? Your friend will probably want to know exactly how the letter will appear on a sheet of paper. He or she can always ask for an electronic copy to edit.