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Job Seekers: Start Out Strong and Persuasively

I received an email from a man who was interested in working with me as a business writing teacher. I could not consider him as a colleague because his message and his attachment started out wrong.

The email started this way:

Subject: Trainer Candidate

Dear Lynn,

I am a 60-year-old business executive who is just finishing up my latest assignment and interested in trying something new.

What part of the opening sentence gets your attention? For me, "60-year-old" grabbed all my attention, yet a person's age is rarely persuasive, especially when it leans toward retirement.

The sentence also focuses on his interest in trying something new–not on my interest in having qualified instructors in other parts of the country. It also emphasizes trying something new–not something he has done before–which does not win over a potential employer.

In an attachment in which the writer wanted to document his experience as a teacher-trainer, he began this way:

Never having been in a teaching position, I have, nevertheless, had significant academic, group presentation, and training experience.

He led with the weakest word possible: never. The opening phrase stomped out my interest in reading further. If he had begun strongly with "I have signficant training, group presentation, and academic experience," I would have kept reading with interest and building excitement.

If you are a job seeker or someone whose job requires persuasive communication (that includes just about all of us), remember that it is your responsibility to get and keep your reader's interest. That means focusing on the reader rather than yourself–even when the message is about you.

In the email from the trainer candidate, I would have read on eagerly with an opening like this: 

Subject: Instructor for Your East Coast Classes

Dear Lynn,

With a Google ranking near the top of the page for "business writing classes," you must be contacted by potential clients far from your Seattle base. As an executive with significant experience in written and oral communication, I am interested in working with you to deliver business writing classes for you on the East Coast.

Can you see what works in that opening? "Your East Coast Classes" focuses on me and my potential. The mention of my Google ranking is accurate and flattering. A brief mention of his qualifications inspires me to keep reading, and the phrases "working with you" and "classes for you" return the focus to me, the reader.

I always feel disappointed when someone with potential writes weakly about himself or herself. If this blog post helps even one person write a message more persuasively, I will be happy. 

If you have ideas for job seekers about writng persuasively, please share them.

Syntax Training  

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

6 comments on “Job Seekers: Start Out Strong and Persuasively”

  • You’re right. When you show that you’re willing to see things from your reader’s perspective, you can keep the door open for your persuasive message.

    We can often see more results by removing obstacles (like weak beginnings) rather than by generating hype.

    It’s amazing how small words like “never” can ruin a message before it has a chance to display strengths.

    Other small steps like working toward parallelism within a list, using typeface wisely, and revising for a natural-sounding style can keep a strong message from getting tripped up.

    More here:

  • Excellent tips. People making hiring decisions are rarely concerned about what you need or what you’re looking for. They are concerned about what their company is looking for. Most effective strategy in writing a resume/cover letter/inquiry: find out what need the reader has, and let them know how you can fill it. Great blog post!

  • I agree with you, sometimes we write and we don’t take the time to re-read and analyze the text.

  • Alfredo, I like your comment about removing obstacles. Job-seekers frequently get in the way of their own persuasive messages.

    Stephanie, thanks for mentioning the need to focus on the reader’s need and how the writer can fill it. Wise words.

    Lety and Bianca, thanks for stopping by and commenting.


  • Another point I was always find deeply irritating is when the writer uses overblown flattery to talk about my company, when clearly she or he hasn’t done the most basic of background research to find out what actually do.

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