Published: Jul 13, 2016
Networking letters are powerful tools you can use to get the job you want. They're typically written to friends of friends, colleagues of friends, family members of friends, and friends of former colleagues. Basically, they're written to those you don't know personally but those with whom you share a close contact, or perhaps the person you want to write a networking letter to is a new acquaintance (someone you just met).
In any case, these letters can take the form of an email or an old hard copy letter. Although email is more common these days, a hard copy letter can potentially help you stand out. Whichever method you use, there are a handful of things you need to keep in mind. To that end, here are five tips that will enable you to write effective networking letters.
1. Respect your reader's time.
When writing your networking letters, observe the same courtesy that you would in a phone call: keep it short. Rarely will you need to write a letter longer than one page. After some pleasantries, such as mentioning the last time you saw the contact and/or mentioning something or someone you have in common, get to the point: You're currently looking for a job, and because your contact is an expert in the field/has a large contact base (or whatever is appropriate), you're writing to inquire if the contact might have any suggestions for you in your search. Or you're writing to find out if the contact would be willing to provide information and pass your name along, and perhaps do so soon, as is appropriate for your situation.
2. Don't ask for an interview or a job.
Asking for an interview or a job is not the point of contacting your network and writing a networking letter. Your purpose is to gain information, conduct an informational interview, and perhaps gain a lead, but you must be careful with how you approach your reader. If you are unsure of your wording, have a friend or relative read the letter to give you an impression. At the end of your letter, ask if you can meet to discuss your job search or for an informational interview.
3. Sell your strengths.
Depending on how you know the reader and what exactly you're asking for, you might want to use the letter to reiterate points or make new ones. And as with all your job search correspondence, this is another opportunity to sell your strengths. Although you're not asking for a job, you do want to make sure you're presenting as much positive information about yourself as possible so that the contact can act appropriately on your behalf.
4. Consider the timing of your letter.
Be cognizant of your reader's busiest times, and avoid engaging when you're pretty sure you won't hear back. Even if you're currently not able to schedule an extended meeting with the person, don't hesitate to stay in touch via less invasive ways until you can, such as social networks or infrequent follow-up notes. And then, when you think it's a good time to hit up your new contact to ask for something more substantial, send that networking letter.
5. Stick to it.
Sometimes, a new contact may seem hesitant or disinterested in you or your information. If you're convinced the person is an important contact, don't give up on building a relationship. You don't want to stalk the person, but it's okay to touch base a few times before you consider the door closed. And don't let setbacks convince you networking isn't helpful. Even if several people fail to return your letters, look at your approach and identify what you can do differently the next time. Be persistent in pursuing contacts you need to help manage your career, and be flexible enough to shift your approach when what you're doing isn’t working.
This post was adapted from the new The Vault Guide to Resumes and Job-Hunting Skills and the Vault Guide to Networking.