A few weeks ago, a friend of mine mentioned he was looking for an internship in web design/computer programming. While I know next to nothing about computers or how they work, I do happen to know a woman who’s a senior project director in that field, so I said I’d happily refer him. Long story short, I gave him the woman’s email address and notified her ahead of time that he’d be reaching out.
He did indeed reach out. But his note was so thoughtless and unprofessional that it warranted an email to me from the woman insisting that I coach him on self-presentation and think twice about referring him in the future.
This is what he sent (with names and details removed):
Let me introduce myself, I am a computer science student at [college name]. I have worked for [company X, company Y, and company Z], all as summer internships. I have also been involved with the computer science club at [college] and at [high school]. I was also part of the Robotics team my 4 years at high school and we made it to world once.
I am actively looking for a internship where I would get more experience with working in a job that can further develop my skills as a computer scientist. I have worked a few other internships and have a bit of experience already. I am interested in front end web, but also any kind of database and backed programming as well. If the position fits what I am looking for I would love to hear back from you!
If you thought that was fine, chances are you need a primer on social intelligence. (This, this, or this is a good place to start). Ignore the heinous grammatical errors and 5th grade writing quality. It’s the blatant selfishness and lack of empathy that warranted a swift stroke of the “delete” key.
Notice how he focuses entirely on himself and how a potential internship could benefit him. There is no inquiry into what this woman’s work entails or how he could add value to her team. It doesn’t take much effort to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and realize he or she doesn’t want to hear your life story. They need to know how you can benefit them. Robert Green sums it up well in this excerpt:
“The art of asking people for help depends on your ability to understand the person you are dealing with, and to not confuse your needs with theirs. Know that even the most powerful person is locked inside needs of his own, and that if you make no appeal to his self-interest, he merely sees you as desperate or, at best, a waste of time.”
I could ramble about how written communication is a lost art or how employers are mad because they can’t find skilled writers. But that’s another article in itself. In short, here’s what must be kept in mind when reaching out to a potential employer, regardless of the field:
- Don’t focus exclusively on the past, but instead use it to demonstrate how you will add value in the future
- Don’t get trapped in your own wants or desires
- Don’t confuse your needs with theirs
- Show, don’t tell: testimonials and work samples are always better than “here’s what I’ve done”
I would say sending a shitty email is better than not sending one at all, but I’m not entirely convinced that’s true. After all, professionals who work in the same network share lots of information with each other. Information about the 19-year-old who told the project director that he wanted to hear back “if the position fit what he was looking for.”
Don’t be that person.
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