Everyone knows first impressions can be hard to shake.
When you email a potential employer, you’ve got one shot to convince them that you’re smart, competent, ambitious, and exactly what’s missing from their company. (But no pressure.)
It’s easier than it seems — as long as you follow certain etiquette and avoid the most common mistakes that modern job-seekers make.
We consulted Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume, about how to send a clear and compelling message to a company you’re dying to work for. Read on for 10 tips that will get you one step closer to your dream job.
Write a clear subject line
Augustine advised against getting catchy with subject lines. Instead, make it obvious that you’re submitting a job application.
If there are no specific directions in the job posting, something as simple as, “Application for Strategy Reporter (ID #12345): Shana Lebowitz” should work.
However, if you’re cold emailing a potential employer, you should get a bit more creative in your subject line.
Talk about the value you can provide — for example, “would love to share my ideas on increasing sales team productivity.” Consider what the person you’re emailing cares about and why she would want to read your message.
“The worst thing you could do is put, ‘Dear Madam’ or ‘Dear Sir’ as your opening,” Augustine said, “because it shows you didn’t put any effort into researching the right person.”
You can do some sleuth work on LinkedIn and find out the name of the company recruiter or hiring manager who originally posted the job. If that doesn’t work, you can leverage your network — do you know anyone who works there? — and find out who the appropriate addressee is.
In the rare case that the job is anonymously posted, you can say, “Dear HR Professional” or “Dear Hiring Manager.”
Talk about what you can provide the employer
Keep in mind, Augustine said, that the employer is the target audience. So think about what type of value you’re offering them, as opposed to the other way around.
In the body of your email, mention exactly what you can do for the employer and what you’ve learned about that company.
Show some passion
Let the company know how excited you are about the chance to work there.
In an email, Augustine explained: “Were you inspired to apply for this job after attending an event where a company representative spoke, or after you saw an interview with the CEO? Work this information into the first part of your message to demonstrate your genuine passion for the business.”
You’ll have a leg up over equally qualified candidates who don’t seem as enthused about the job.
Customize the email to the individual employer
Augustine said it’s important to tailor your message to each individual job and company.
“The more you talk about their specific needs and how your skill set does make you a really good solution to those needs, the more likely your message is to be read.”
And it might sound obvious, but make sure you include the name of the correct company in your email, especially if you’re emailing multiple employers at once.
“Oftentimes that can put you out of the running,” Augustine said. “Employers are looking for reasons to get rid of those applications.”
Augustine recommends mentioning if you’ve previously worked for one of the company’s competitors or any of their current clients, for example.
“It tells the reader that you understand the work they’re doing and could add immediate value with little ramp-up time, which is always a great selling point,” she said in an email.
That said, you don’t need to mention that one time you met a famous person in the industry and hit it off. A 2009 paper from researchers at the University of Zurich found that name-dropping makes people seem less likeable and less competent.
Leverage your network when possible
“If you know someone who works at the company and is thriving, mention this person in your cover letter,” Augustine said in an email.
You can either explain that the person recommended you apply for the position or told you what it’s like to work at the company.
Augustine also suggests asking your contact to send a copy of your application directly to the hiring manager. According to a Glassdoor study, your chances of getting hired are up to 6.6% higher if you were referred by a current employee than if you weren’t.
Don’t copy and paste your resume
Augustine recommended not cutting and pasting your resume into the body of the email because the formatting ends up “atrocious.”
Instead, you should either attach a document or provide a link to a Google Doc. (You can hyperlink a few words so that you don’t end up with a long string of letters and numbers.) If you choose to submit a Google Doc, make sure you select the “view only” option for the employer.
“The sooner you get your job application in, the better,” Augustine said.
In general, you’ll want to submit it within 72 hours of the posting going up, because employers start to get inundated with applications after that and might not even open yours.
Follow up promptly
Augustine recommends including a sentence in your email that says, “I will follow up with you on [whatever date] once you’ve had time to review my application.”
She advises planning to follow up one week after you send the application or, if there’s a close date on the job posting, planning to follow up a week after that. Make sure you mark the date on your calendar, so you don’t say you’re going to follow up and then forget.
Shana is a strategy reporter for Business Insider. Before joining Business Insider in April 2015, she covered mental health for Greatist and personal finance for LearnVest.