Summer 2003, Vol. 10, No. 3
by Linda May Grobman, MSW, ACSW, LSW
In my role as editor of THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER, its accompanying Web site at http://www.socialworker.com, and its online job search site at http://www.socialworkjobbank.com, I receive e-mail every day from readers. I enjoy reading and responding to these e-mails. I like having that personal interaction with our readers and Web site visitors.
In this correspondence and my role as administrator of the online job board, I have seen a number of common “mistakes.” Although some of the following tips have been covered in previous Electronic Connection columns, and they seem like “common sense,” I see them violated often enough that I feel they are worth repeating. They may help you avoid making a mistake and, as a result, help your chances of making a good first impression on future employers, colleagues, and other important contacts.
These tips especially apply to your use of online job sites, such as our SocialWorkJobBank.com, but also apply to general correspondence with other professionals online.
- Use an e-mail address that is appropriate for professional communication. You probably wouldn’t send a job application letter on flowered stationery with little pink hearts on it-you would use that for personal correspondence. Similarly, it is best not to send a response to an online job listing using a “cute” (or possibly offensive) e-mail address like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. A simple, to-the-point e-mail address such as email@example.com will look much more professional.
- Be careful not to let your “professional” e-mail box get over quota. If you can, set up a special e-mail address just for professional correspondence. There are plenty of places (such as HoTMaiL) where you can get a free e-mail account for this purpose. Be sure to check this account regularly and respond promptly. Don’t let it get too full, or important e-mail that is sent to you will bounce back to the sender.
- Make sure you don’t have typos in your e-mail address when you give it to others or when you sign up for online job boards and other services. I’ve seen too many e-mail job alerts from our online job board bounce back for this reason. Just one wrong character in an e-mail address is enough for you to miss out on all your important mail.
- Use a descriptive subject line. “Hi there” has been used so much by “spammers” that it has begun to look suspicious, and the recipient might delete a message with this kind of subject line without even reading it. Something like “Application for your BSW position” would be much better.
- When requesting information or services, be specific, clear, and reasonable. If you’re writing to someone you’ve never met, ask yourself if it is reasonable to say, “I need someone to answer 20 questions for my assignment. It' due tomorrow.” If you’re requesting someone to do something, tell who, what, when, where, why, and how. Be realistic. I’ve received requests such as, “Can you come to our classroom tomorrow night?” from students across the country!
- Put your best foot forward. Online communication is often less formal than other types of communication, but when it comes to contacting possible future employers or colleagues, you must assume that every piece of correspondence from you is like a “mini” job interview. Proofread everything before you send it out, and think about how it might be perceived by someone who doesn’t know you.
- Avoid using “cute” graphics. Professional correspondence is not the place to show off your latest animated graphic file or a flowered background. A plain text e-mail is the safest bet.
- Use a dignified signature. Some e-mail programs allow you to attach a “signature” to your e-mail. For professional correspondence, the signature might include your name, degree/credentials, and contact information. It can include a short quote, but be careful that the quote is dignified and not potentially offensive.
- Follow instructions. If you see a job listing on an online job board, reply in the manner specified in the listing. Even if the site offers an “Apply Online” feature, the employer might list another method as preferred.
- Follow up, if appropriate. If you apply for a job online, you may want to follow up with an e-mail message, phone call, mailed, or faxed résumé and cover letter. Pay attention to the employer' preferences, however. If the ad says “No Phone Calls,” respect the employer' wishes.
Linda May Grobman, ACSW, LSW, is publisher/editor of THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER. She is also Webmaster for the magazine' sites and co-author of THE SOCIAL WORKER'S INTERNET HANDBOOK.