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Friendly Advice for Job Seekers

I got an email this week from someone who is looking for an opportunity to become a business writing teacher. The individual happens to live just a two-minute walk from my house. She introduced herself briefly, attached a cover letter and resume, and signed her email this way:

your unemployed neighbor,

Jane Doe [not her real name, of course]

Seeing Jane's signoff, can you guess my friendly advice for job seekers?

Friendly advice: Don't be overly friendly!

Even if a friend recommends that you contact someone (which was not the case with Jane), be friendly but professional–not informal. You are not writing to a friend or family member. Follow standard rules for business writing such as capitalizing the first word of the complimentary close. And use a standard close such as "Best regards"–not "Your unemployed neighbor." If you have doubts about your message, ask someone in your professional network to review it for you.

In Jane's email, she said "informality seemed more appropriate" than a formal business letter, since I live one block from her. But Jane was writing to me about the possibility of a professional job. Is informality appropriate in such a job-search message?  


Do you have business writing advice for job seekers? Please share it.

Syntax Training

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
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. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

9 comments on “Friendly Advice for Job Seekers”

  • My advice is to display confidence.

    Those who are unemployed can feel drained. But if they communicate that they are weighed down by their unemployed status, others will not be enthusiastic about employing them or even helping them out.

    On the other hand, those who are optimistic about the future often display a passion that is contagious and that others want to see more of in their own environment. It is easy to welcome such people.

  • Objective ..but not totally detatched!

    I totally agree with Alfredo,the potential employer should never detect your “bad need” for a job, nor should you share your despair for an income with him.Market your strength with elegance…not arrogance of course, or you will illiminate your chances.
    However a tiny human touch in your writing(maybe a word, maybe just being your real self for a second) , can work wonders and give strength to your business letter.

  • It doesnt matter whether or not you are unemployed. I believe being professional in instances as these find the strength to do so. The “being drained because of unemployment” excuse is of no consequence.

  • Hi, Haifa. I like your advice to “market your strength with elegance.” Thanks for that lovely string of words.

    Nisha, I do think unemployment can be very draining. Sometimes people’s despair about their situation is hard to keep hidden. But your advice to be professional makes sense.


  • Sometimes, job seekers tend to overstate their expertize or experience with some additional skills, rewards or accomplishments. All of these can be easily checked, especially when you start to work with a person. Most of the applicants could still be hired without those unnecessary embellishments, but once they are revealed, employer’s trust for such person is seriously damaged.

  • I have to disagree with the formal letter close Lynn.

    Whilst I agree “unemployed neighbour” is not a good close, it is not because I think it has a lack of formality, rather it is wrong because of the negative mindset.

    I have employed hundreds of people over the years, and got bombarded by CVs every time I advertised. The heap of paper was always swelled by unwanted paper from those annoying and very unwelcome recruitment consultants, so as a result the unusual helped to differentiate to get me to look harder at one applicant in a very big pile.

    What caught my eye amongst the letters were people who displayed enthusiasm, passion and humanity.

    I think “Best Regards” is either too formal or, worse still , too familiar for my liking.

    On the other hand the close “Enthusiastic neighbour looking forward to meeting

    Jane Doe” might work for me.

    I would urge all applicants to try to stand out, for example using the classic direct marketing tricks like using light pastel shade unusual sized envelopes and paper in order to catch the readers eye.

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