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
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
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.