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An Email Caution for Job Seekers

The other day I had coffee with a man I will call Ryan to talk about his search for a new job. When I suggested a company that sounded like a perfect fit with Ryan's goals and expertise, he told me he had already written to the relevant manager there but had spoiled his chances.

How could Ryan have spoiled his chances for an interview, especially since he seemed highly qualified and enthusiastic about the company?

Ryan had written a fine email to the manager, but he had done two things wrong: He had sent the message from his email account at his current employer, and he had done it at 10 o'clock in the morning–on a workday.

The manager responded this way:

Why should I hire somebody who cheats his current employer by looking for a job on company time using company resources? Get lost!  

Ouch. Double ouch. Ryan learned a hard lesson fast. 

Please spread the word so other overeager job seekers don't commit the same costly error.

If you have cautionary tales for job seekers, 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.

8 comments on “An Email Caution for Job Seekers”

  • Hi Lynn,

    I am a long time subscriber; I really enjoy your newsletter and find it very valuable.

    In this case, the prospective employer sounds like a bit of a jerk. At best, he has been highly presumptuous. I’m not sure I would be keen to work for someone who finds it appropriate to insult someone they know nothing about, in the absence of any facts.

    In today’s world, many of us take work home and use a mix of employer/personal technology. Maybe your friend works nights for all we know.

    For many, the separation of work and private time are not clearly defined. A lot of times I send work related emails from my personal devices on my own time. It’s also very easy to simply “send-as” from the wrong email account.

    To avoid the perception of cheating or other potential embarrassments, it’s wise to be extra diligent when it comes to sending resumes.

  • I agree with Wayne on this one. I think Ryan learned more about the type of employer this person would be than the potential employer learned about Ryan. Even if the employer knew Ryan was wasting company time, which he really didn’t (what if Ryan had taken a personal day?), there’s no need to be so nasty when confronting someone.

  • Hi, Wayne, DM, and George. Thanks for dropping in with a comment.

    Wayne and DM, I agree with you that the response from the prospective employer told a lot about him. He made an assumption and attacked the applicant. Still, the experience taught “Ryan” a lesson about communicating with potential employers using his current company’s email. Even the time of day might cause speculation among other readers.

    George, thanks for showing us the other side of the timing issue.


  • Lynn —

    I don’t think the prospective employer was wrong that Ryan shouldn’t be obviously looking for a job on his current employer’s time. It was his response that was in appropriate. It reflected badly on him and his company.

    Ryan was not a candidate he valued highly. If he was, he might have picked up the phone to discuss his concerns about Ryan writing on the company’s time. There could have been an acceptable reason (he was on a break).

    So instead of blowing him off that way, he should have simply written to Ryan that he wasn’t interested in his candidacy.

  • While I agree with previous commenters that the manager Ryan emailed doesn’t really seem to be a nice person, I think Ryan did make an error of judgement by using his email account at his current employer. Employers generally have full access to all email accounts in their system, so they could have easily found out that Ryan was looking for another job- and possibly even let him go because of it.

  • One of the employers I was in touch with as a candidate recently responded to all my emails somewhere between 10pm and 12am. It sure told me a lot about the way they do business at that company (and how efficient or not they are).

    Email timing and the use of email accounts is very telling both ways. — Especially now that we have email-timing services like Boomerang for gmail available to send email at a given time in the future.

  • Hello, Jeannette, Lisa Marie, and Johanne. Thanks for sharing your views.

    Jeannette, I agree that the employer came across as a brute. He did not need to teach Ryan that lesson so harshly. As you noted, he might simply have declined to interview him.

    Lisa Marie, I am glad you mentioned employer access to emails.

    Johanne, one of my friends had the same experience as an applicant. Her view was that the company hired workaholics.


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