Cell phones and "crackberries" — omnipresent PDAs — should take our written communication back to the future.
The small, handheld wireless devices demand terse, almost telegraphic, writing. Instead, most users blather on endlessly, defeating the immediacy of the communication.
"If the sender doesn't grab my attention in the first three to five seconds, the message is deleted," says Evan Scott, president of The Evan Scott Group International, a Philadelphia-based retained executive search firm specializing in senior level searches for technology companies. "I get many long-winded messages filled with buzzwords such as 'strategic,' 'leading edge,' 'innovative,' 'creative' and 'results oriented.' Who doesn't 'hit their numbers?' Such language tells me nothing about the individual."
Scott says many users forget how their message will be received and read. He's frequently away from the office and checks his e-mail on a BlackBerry while on the run. The screen on some Verizon, Vodafone, MCI, Sprint Nextel or Cingular cell phones is even smaller. In the first five lines of your message, Scott needs to know who you are, what type of job you seek and what you offer prospective employers. If you don't make those points quickly, your message is deleted, and this part of your job search is down the rabbit hole.
"The first line of the message should tell me your name, title and company," Scott says. "If you're in the software business, and vice president for technology at a publicly traded company — bam! — I'm interested."
A grabber first-inquiry message tailored to a hand-held device might read: Zonus Pixel, chief technology officer, Mofo Corp., Palo Alto, Calif. Seek job with major company. Now earning six figures. Have master's, systems engineering, U.C. Berkeley. Built secure systems from scratch and buttoned up others. Will relocate. 650-555-1212."
Think back to dispatches covering the Civil War. The news from the battlefield was sent by telegraph to New York or other major cities. This meant the reporter's story had to be short and tight. The reporter had to tell the editor — and eventually the newspaper's readers — what happened, where it happened, when it happened and what it meant. Details and quotes had to be pointed and quickly sketched because keying the story letter-by-letter by hand was slow and expensive. In short, the essence of news writing is selection and compression. This terse style continues today in crisp wire stories about hurricanes, financial markets and world events.
Scott says job seekers should adopt the old style of writing when sending a job inquiry note to a search firm such as his. Instead, most candidates crank up their Dell, Hewlett-Packard or Apple Computer computers and, thanks to easy communication created by Microsoft, Yahoo!, AOL Time Warner and Google, stack the clichés like firewood. Users of the niftiest gizmos miss a basic point: No one reads all that dreary stuff.
Scott says he scans all his messages, but responds only to strong candidates who know how to package their initial pitch in a few lines. If you send a detailed cover letter and résumé in the first note, make them attachments — not plain text. But in most cases, if Scott is interested, he contacts hot prospects and asks for supporting material.
"People react to job titles and who you work for," says Scott whose clients include Oracle, Lockheed Martin and Nextel. "I need to know that you're good. Your current position and employer tell me that. Endless blather isn't helpful because everyone says the same thing using the same tired words, and I'm not going to read it."
In a follow-up note, Scott will tell likely candidates how to send supporting material. Some firms use a separate e-mail address to distinguish the thundering herd from strong prospects.
It's also important to be concise when responding to blind ads that ask you to put a job number in the message line.
Think of the subject line on your e-mail as a newspaper headline: You've got to grab the reader's attention. At this point in your search, you're nothing but a text message and the recruiter hasn't yet matched your note to a face or even a voice on the phone. So, the subject line on your e-mail might read: Zonus Pixel, software engineer, Mofo, seeks to move up w/ larger 6-figure salary.
That's enough because your cover letter and résumé, to be sent upon request or included as attachments, will detail your accomplishments and educational background. (See: "A Resume That Gets You In The Door" and "Uncovering Cover Letters.")
The smart job seeker does another old-fashioned thing: Pick up the phone.
"If you've made the first cut, a phone call is helpful," says Scott, whose company also has an office in Washington, D.C. "Few job seekers call any more. I like it because it shows initiative and seriousness. Keep the calls short and straightforward. Sometimes, you have to balance the use of the latest technology with the old ways of doing business." (See: "Job Hunting Tips From Recruiters.")
Scott says he often finds that a teleconference of limited duration is more productive than an open-ended face-to-face meeting. The reason is simple: When the clock is ticking, there's no time for chit-chat, and participants get down to brass tacks immediately. (See: "Catastrophic Job Hunting Flubs" and "Is Your Body Betraying You In Job Interviews?")
Think back to the telegrapher tapping out a reporter's dispatches from the Civil War. The writing was simple, direct and unpretentious.
That--not billowy sentences stuffed with buzzwords--is informative and delivers a punch.