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How to Respond to an Email That Could Determine Your Future

Just before he graduated college, one of my friends asked me to help him write a response email to the president of a company he really wanted to work for. This email could determine his future with (or without) this company. I spent quite a bit of time at my job writing emails and I spent a good deal of time helping my friend write this one. So, I thought I’d share my strategy with you too. The email went something like this:

Hello,

Thank you for reaching out to our company. We’re in the process of reviewing applicants for some open positions we have and I wanted to inquire about salary requirements and what you are looking to do with your career. Can you tell me a bit more about yourself, your talents, the type of work you want to do and where you want to go in your career? Looking forward to learning more.

– Mr. President

An email like this would startle most soon-to-be graduates. My friend was no exception. The majority of his concern was stemming from the phrase “salary requirements”. So, my advice began with breaking down the email into actionable items, much like a project. What questions were asked that actually required answers? Spoiler alert: none about salary requirements.

Assessment

Most people overlook the style and length of the email they have received as well as who it’s from. Proper assessment can offer valuable insight and help you draft an appropriate response. The first half of the email is merely introductory. The president stated why he was sending an email. This was a statement, not a question. It does require acknowledgement, but only briefly and not until later in the reply. The second half of the email posed 4 important questions:

  • Can you tell me about yourself?
  • Can you tell me about your talents?
  • Can you tell me about the type of work you want to do?
  • Can you tell me where you want to go in your career?

Those are serious questions that had my friends about-to-graduate brain on overload. Fortunately, I was able to help him recap. The email came directly from the president, not a human resources team. It is very concise because he doesn’t have much time on his hands. He sent it directly because this is a valuable hire for him. He wants 4 precise answers to his questions and hopefully some insight into how much this hire might cost him. Now that we understand more about the email, let’s start formulating an appropriate response.

Preparation

Remember, the main goal is to be professional and thoroughly answer the questions while being as succinct as possible. Here we go.

Can you tell me more about yourself?

Whatever you do, don’t babble. The president just wants to know what you bring to the table at his company and how well you will fit into their culture. It’s ok to give brief overviews of your hobbies and interests, because after all, he did ask about you, but keep it short and sweet. Paint him a broad picture of who he is hiring, then move on.

Can you tell me more about your talents?

This is your chance to sell yourself as a professional whatever. Make sure he knows what skills you can offer his company. Find out what they do and focus your words on the talents you possess that overlap with their portfolio or other job requirements.

Can you tell me about the type of work you want to do?

This is your chance to “redeem yourself” if you want to be working on something other than what you studied in college as was the case for my friend. This is a chance for you to share your secondary interests. Is there a particular area that you wish you had more time to focus on and learn about? Talk about it here. the president might be willing to hire someone with less expertise in an area that they are very eager to learn about.

Can you tell me where you want to go in your career?

Most students have no idea how to answer this question, especially when posed by the President/CEO of a company. They are so focused on landing a job that they forget about their future 3-5 years from now. Since most people have no clue, this is where I would recommend being purposefully vague. Don’t avoid the question, but instead give a more broad response, which is somewhat expected anyway. Talk about how you want to influence the industry you are in or where you want to be geographically. He probably just wants to know if he is about to hire someone who will stay for a few years or leave after 6 months.

“I am inquiring about salary requirements.”

Again, most students have absolutely no idea what to say here. This is even trickier because it wasn’t a direct question. You should acknowledge this with some response, but ideally, you want to push this back on him as professionally as possible. Whatever you do, don’t throw out a number. Always force the company to make you an offer. This will tell you what they think you are worth. Also, never accept an offer immediately. Always negotiate, unless the offer far exceeds your expectations, which it shouldn’t (otherwise it might be a red flag). Most importantly, remember that you can’t negotiate up from a price you already agreed to.

The Response

This is the actual response I helped my friend draft. It’s just long enough to show that great care was taken to write the response, but not so long that it will get skimmed and archived with other applicant responses.

Mr, President,

Thank you for the quick response and your interest in learning more about me.

I started out at [University] as a developer, but soon realized my true passion was design and transferred into the [program name] at [University]. I’m passionate about music, and I frequently like to practice my skills on the guitar and jam with others in my free time. Staying active is important to me, and you can frequently find me going bouldering, hiking, or playing in higher level ultimate frisbee leagues. I enjoy a good IPA after a long day of work or during football while rooting for the Buffalo Bills.

I love creating user experiences and pushing the boundaries of the industry. I focus on design, but I also play around in Processing, Arduino, and physical computing. I also have a knack for motion graphics and animation, skills I consider important as motion plays an increasingly pivotal role in how we interact with the world around us. I’m an excellent communicator and am empathetic with the users whose lives I want to improve.

I want to continue creating digital experiences, as well as further exploring my newfound excitement for natural user interfaces and physical computing. I thrive on innovative yet intuitive UX solutions, but also enjoy placing the pixels that make them visually intriguing. I always want to take on new challenges and I’m not afraid of going outside of my comfort zone to expand my skill sets.

In the immediate future I’m looking for my design talents to take me to new parts of the country, and maybe even outside of it. I want to continue using my creative skills and knowledge to contribute to the industry, while pushing the boundaries to create inspiring digital solutions for the world’s most well-known brands. (and maybe help some brands become well known).

As a soon to be graduate, I am still researching the the salary ranges and cost of living expenses. I am confident that if an offer were to be made, that it would reflect the skills and contributions I would bring to your company.

I look forward to hearing back from you.

Thanks,
[Your Name]

My friend got the job. I hope this gives a little insight into how to write a concise, effective email to a potentially intimidating recipient such as the president of a company.

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