Sunday, October 22, 2006

Following Up

Whether you attend an organized networking reception, meet someone through a mutual friend or family member, or chat up a stranger, you want to follow up on any encounter where your career is discussed, and someone offers to help you out in any way. This is always a tricky situation, because you don't want to come out and ask for a job, but you also want to make it clear that you want any advice or connections this person can give.

There is a right way and a wrong way to write a follow-up e-mail in this situation.

Wrong way:

Hey Mr. Buffett,

You probably don't remember me, but we met 2 weekends ago on the Long Island Railroad. We talked about your job and what I want to do with my life, and you said you could help me out, either by finding me a job or putting me in touch with someone who can give me a job. This is really important to me, because I'm graduating soon and if I don't have a job I'll have to live at home and work at the mall, and that is definitely a waste of my private, east coast liberal arts education. You asked me for my resume, and I attached it to this e-mail, but please don't hold it against me that I don't have much work experience. Anyway, it was great meeting you, if you could help me out I'd really appreciate it.

-Stupid Frat Boy

Okay, I'll admit that no one would actually write a letter like this, but a lot of real follow-up letters suffer from similar kinds of common mistakes. What are the common mistakes here? To start, it's way too casual. Your e-mail has to have a respectful, professional tone. Use "Dear So and So" and "Sincerely", and avoid slang or talking too much about yourself. You also want to compliment the person and show how appreciative you are that they offered to help you at all, but don't go over the top by going on and on about how wonderful and fantastic they are. Sucking up won't help you. You also don't want to ever explicitly mention getting a job from this person. While your goal may be to get a job, you have to act like you just want to learn about what someone does, and get advice from them about how you can succeed in your field of interest. It's also important to contact someone as soon as possible after you've met them. The longer you wait to e-mail them, the less likely they'll remember you.

Right way:

Dear Mr. Gates,

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to come and speak to Anonymous College students at the Alumni Networking Reception today. I really enjoyed meeting you and hearing about your experiences and advice related to entering the anonymous industry.

I've attached my resume, and I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have. I would greatly appreciate any additional advice you may have related to graduate school or my job search, or suggestions of people I could contact who might be good resources. Thank you again, I hope the rest of your weekend at Anonymous goes well.



This is an actual e-mail I sent out on Friday. It's not perfect, but I spent a long time working on it so that it would have the right tone, and it's professional without being stiff and boring. The first paragraph focuses on thanking the person and expressing interest in them and what they talked about with you. The second asks for nothing more than advice and suggestions of people who could serve as resources. Resources for what, you don't have to say. The person you're writing to will understand what you mean. It's important to end on a friendly note, thanking them and personalizing the note a bit- I knew this person was visiting his daughter at my college and would be here for the whole weekend.

Most of all, don't forget that in most cases, people will be happy to hear from you, or at the worst won't care. Successful professionals are often interested in giving advice and assistance to young adults- sometimes out of a natural desire to help, and sometimes just because it makes people feel important to be seen as a mentor. Either way, you benefit.

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