Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Communication

It ought to surprise none of you that even the mass of written communication you unleash in your job search–from emails and cover letters to thank-you notes and networking introductions–contains non-verbal messages.

Your various forms of communication include formatting, and there is also timing and tone, which can be either too casual or too formal. I’ve watched many job hunters write an unintended voice into their emails or their cover letters, without realizing they were conveying the wrong things about themselves and their priorities.

If you are looking to circumvent those cover letters or emails you are going to be disappointed. They are absolutely essential. The good news, though, is that you can follow some fairly easy steps to ensure that they present you positively.

The list that follows isn’t a set of hard-and-fast rules, but they are broad guidelines–each based years of experience and understanding people’s expectations–that will help you avoid compromising a great interview with a poor thank-you note. Or negatively influencing an enthusiastic advocate with careless or tardy communication.

  1. Time your thank-you note correctly. Many people have asked me when the right time to send a thank-you note is. Here’s my view. Sending the note immediately after the interview suggests that you didn’t take even a moment to reflect upon the meeting. Better to wait until the next day, but when you do send the note, remember that your task is to show excitement for the organization, the people you met and the position. Refer in your note to a few poignant examples of discussion points from each meeting, and always–always!–personalize each note for each person you met.
    You’d better believe that colleagues within the same organization will compare your emails. As far as tone, avoid being too informal–no starting with “Hey” or “Hi”–as this is a professional business communication, not a casual text to a friend.
  2. Your cover letter won’t win a Pulitzer, but make sure it’s not immature writing. As a rule, cover letters are rarely interesting. You will damage your cause significantly, though, if your letter contains grammatical errors. Unless there’s a vital reason to do so that you absolutely cannot write around, skip words like “totally” or “love,” and cool it on the exclamation points. Use your words to demonstrate your passion, and keep your writing tight. Don’t ramble; do stay focused.
  3. The etiquette of networking introductions. When I introduce people over email I have several expectations as the one doing the introducing. If I’m CCing you on an email to a colleague, I expect you to email that person that day. If I’m enlisting my network in your service, I believe you ought to express to the contact that you are genuinely interested in her or his help or advice. I also expect you to alert me when you have established contact and set a date and time to meet or to talk over the phone. As I am making the introductions, I have an interest in staying informed.

Since you are reaching out to this person for the first time, you should adhere to a more formal approach to your email communication. I am amazed how many times I have tried to facilitate an introduction only to find that days pass before any communication is initiated. That’s bad etiquette and it conveys a lack of enthusiasm. It also reflects very poorly on my judgment, which is no way to respond to my helpful gesture.

Of course, there are always exceptions, and to recognize those, pay attention to the style the other person uses as a guideline for how rigid or relaxed your responses should be.

Reading emails out loud and studying the tone of the message is a great way to approximate the person’s tone. If you are not sure how your own messages will come off, ask friends or relatives to read your note before you send it and to share their impressions.

Be meticulous about grammar, spelling and presentation, and if those sorts of things don’t come naturally to you–or even if they do–it’s well worth re-reading your email a few times before hitting send. Just as these sorts of errors in your resume can land you in the discard pile, the same is true of your other email correspondences.


Lesley is president and founder of Priority Candidates, which prepares college students and recent graduates nationwide to get hired for their first jobs.   Previously, Lesley spent more than 25 years in executive search, working with candidates from entry level to C-Suite executives in organizations ranging in size from small, family owned businesses to large international organizations.  Her fundamental knowledge of what hiring manager’s look for is the core of what Priority Candidates does to prepare college students/recent grads to get hired now.  An alumnus of Duke University who is based in New York City, Lesley has been featured in USA Today, ABC’s New York Viewpoint with Ken Rosato, ABC News with Art McFarland, The New York Times, NY Nightly News with NBC4’s Chuck Scarborough, eCampus News and John Tucker’s Small Business Report on Bloomberg Radio.   Lesley always welcomes connections via LinkedIn, on Twitter or by email or phone, available on her website.

Related posts:

  1. Valspeak and Professional Communication
  2. Workplace Basics: Business Communication and Etiquette 101
  3. So What You’re Really Saying Is…

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