Every so often I receive a message from a recent graduate or underclassman looking for an informational interview. I'm always happy to make time in my schedule to chat. In fact, I often look forward to it since I recall how important those conversations were for me at the start of my career.
Two weeks ago I received such a query. Except, it was so lacking in structure, format, professionalism, grammar, punctuation and general coherence that I needed to share it below as a cautionary example of what NOT to send. If you are graduating or if your kids are looking for opportunities – you must read this (and the rest of her correspondence) as a warning sign.
I don't know if you remember me, but my name's Elizabeth (clearly)! We met a few years ago when we were helping Michelle wrap things and get everything ready for Jessica's Bat Mitzvah! I hope you are doing well and everything is good with you!! My Mom had recently reminded me to get in touch with you after a recent run in and told me to message you, so I hope that that is okay! Michelle had also told me a few times to contact you and see if I could ask you some questions about what you do and just kind of get another perspective on different jobs that people have! I've been meaning to message you for a few weeks now and was hoping that maybe I could ask you some questions and get to really learn about what it is that you do!
A lot has changed since I met you! I'm now at Albany studying English! The school doesn't have Public Relations or Communications, so I'm taking the English track, and so far I really do like it. I'm taking two English courses right now that are really fun and interesting and I think that English was a good idea for me! I'm not entirely sure what I want to do with my English major, maybe something in PR, maybe something with blogging, or recently I've been thinking about being a company's social media person/twitter person since that is something I am very interested in. I'm a little bit all over the place hahaha so I guess not has much has changed over the last few years!
I remember you telling me that you work for Nicole Williams and I think I remember you mentioning blogging and writing some of the articles and posts for her website and company, which I think is so awesome and is kind of on the same path that I think I am interested in! Michelle has filled me in from time to time on what you do or what kinds of projects you have recently done at your job, but I'm not 100% on what you do. I'd really love to hear about exactly what it is that you do and all the different things that you have done! I'm sure as we get to talking I'm going to have a hundred different questions for you and how you got here and what you found helpful along the way to get to where you are today and things like that! I feel like the work that you are doing with Nicole and writing for a strong and interesting woman like Nicole could be something that I would be interested in and have a lot of fun with!
I do apologize for this crazy message and being all over the place! Hopefully you were able to follow what I was saying and see that I am very interested in getting to know what you do and how you enjoy the work that you are dealing with if you ever have the time to respond! I'm sure that you are super busy with work, so no need to rush to get back to me I just wanted to make sure that I sent this out to you!!!
Just wanted to say thanks so much and I hope me Facebook messaging you was okay! I figured it was the easiest and quickest way I could contact you!
Thanks so much for reading this Jill! Looking forward to hearing back from you, again no rush!
*Names have been changed.
I was shocked after reading this letter but I graciously set up a meeting with Elizabeth even though her email, as she admitted was "crazy and all over the place." I saw her as a women who really needed a career wakeup call and I wanted to help her. Her misuse of exclamation points and general lack of professionalism made me want to send her to career and grammar boot camp.
We set up a call for 10am the following week. To my dismay, I never heard from her - even after I emailed her at 10:05am to see if she was still calling. Four hours later, I receive the following email:
From: Elizabeth E. Smith
Sent: Monday, April 14, 2016 02:47 PM
To: Jill Jacinto
Subject: Re: Concerning Elizabeth E. Smithe
So so sorry about the phone call today, it completely slipped my mind today! Can I call you now or within the next few hours? Let me know!
Again so sorry I missed it Jill!!!
Sent from my iPhone
Clearly, this wasn't an important potentially life changing call for Elizabeth. And since she is a friend of a friend I was willing to give her another shot. Her response:
From: Elizabeth E. Smith
Sent: Tuesday, April 15, 2016 12:20 PM
To: Jill Jacinto
Subject: Re: Concerning Elizabeth Smithe
Just woke up a little while ago. Maybe tomorrow 10am?
When I received this email – I lost my sympathy. Why is she admitting to me that she is waking up after noon? I know college life can drain you but admitting sleeping the day away to a person you're asking for career help is a major no-no. Her tone had also become extremely loose and casual – as if I was her sorority sister asking to go shopping.
After all the emails, oversleeping and missed calls, I finally was able to get Elizabeth on the phone. Once we were chatting it was clear that she wasn't prepared and did very little research about me or the industry she was looking to become a part of. I did my best and offered her career advice. I told her to treat EVERY single informational interview as if it were a job interview. Every correspondence should be proofread out loud. I also advised her to reread her initial note to me and see how she might have written it better.
I advised her that journalism was extremely competitive and told her to join her school's paper and without question apply for internships. She let me know as a college student she needed money so is working at a day camp. I again urged her to try and see if she could get an internship in the writing field at least half the summer. Or see if the camp needs anyone to write up their memos or handle their social media account.
I'm worried about millennials like Elizabeth. I'm hopeful that I changed her mind and educated her about the career world. The job market is rough. One misuse of an exclamation point and her cover letter gets tossed aside. We all need to make these career mistakes and I'm sure my initial letters were not as eloquent as I would have liked. Graduates need a wake up call and I'm hopeful that after reading this they'll get one.