Contacting employees at your potential workplace: 5 mistakes to avoid
May 30, 2022
Let’s be honest, who doesn’t like asking for opinions and advice from others? Whether it’s choosing a new restaurant or discovering a neighborhood, this curious reflex we experience in our personal lives is seeping into our professional lives as well. “How’s the work atmosphere? What about the management? Are you really encouraged to take initiative? What about the bonuses for reaching objectives, are they worth it?” Many of us want to ask these questions before applying for a job or when we’re interviewing. Connecting with one or more employees from the company you’re applying to is a great way to understand the company’s culture and direction, and also distinguish yourself from other candidates. Be warned though; this technique seems promising, but it can turn against you if you don’t go about it the right way. Avoid these five mistakes if you want to contact company employees without getting burned by recruiters.
1. Contacting the wrong person
This is the most costly mistake you can make. Contacting the wrong person may mislead you in your quest to receive the best answers to your questions, and can also damage your reputation.
Avoid contacting the following people:
An employee who knows nothing about your potential future team: If you’re planning to join the HR department and you contact a Social Media Manager, for example, the chances of receiving feedback that meets your expectations accurately and reliably are low.
An employee above you: It’s risky to contact one of your future supervisors directly. Not only may they be biased but let’s face it, it’s rare for managers to say anything bad about their team or their management. Moreover, many managers won’t know everything about the specific daily tasks of their team members, and depending on the different personalities of each manager, your approach could be perceived as too bold or even intrusive, and this will not be appreciated.
An employee with the same position as the one you’re applying for: This depends on the size of the company and its culture. Some companies encourage competition between employees. If this is the case, don’t expect your potential future colleagues to share their experiences with you objectively.
An employee involved in your recruitment: In some cases, the people on the team you’re looking for may be involved in the recruitment process as well. It’s not the best idea to contact them because they may not be impartial in the answers they give and they’ll undoubtedly look for reasons to recruit you or not to recruit you based on your questions and responses.
Your ideal contact could be:
Someone you already know: Your contact could be a friend of a friend, a graduate from your school, or a former coworker. It’s always easier to talk to someone in your network than a complete stranger.
An online connection: Explore social media and the company’s website to find a person who works with or within your future team.
A person with similar background: Choose a person with the same or similar professional background to yours and ideally someone within your age bracket.
An employee with seniority: Select a person who’s been with the company for a while, preferably at least a year, because they’ve gained enough experience with the company to know and understand its culture and organization.
2. Choosing the wrong method of communication
There are a plethora of ways to connect with people these days. Social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are widely used. You could also shoot an email, make an old-fashioned phone call, or even meet someone face-to-face (imagine that!). Because there are many options out there, it can be difficult to choose the best one for a professional connection.
A risk you take is appearing intrusive. Approaching a person you barely know or don’t know at all can be tricky. Avoid personal social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram unless the context is suitable for a professional connection. For example, it’s probably okay to connect with someone on the Facebook group of graduates from your college or university.
Resist the urge to call or email your newly found connections. Even if you’ve managed to acquire their personal information, try not to contact them directly unless they gave you their info previously. Even more so than before, people are cautious with their personal contact information, and being pursued by phone or email by a stranger can be perceived as distasteful at best and unsafe at worst.
For professional connections, opt for one of these solutions:
LinkedIn: It’s common and encouraged to make professional connections here. That’s what LinkedIn is for! Send the person a message or an invitation to join your network, add a brief introduction, and wait for their response. Be aware, though, that unless you have a premium LinkedIn account, the number of characters will be limited, so your message must be short. It should grab the person’s attention and make them want to know more about you. To accomplish this, avoid generic messages and the shortcut of copy-pasting as much as possible. Personalize your words: be creative and insightful. At the end of your message, you can ask for their email address to further explain your request.
Face-to-face: This is the most effective option. You don’t need to be reminded that a face-to-face meeting is usually a hundred times better than a virtual one. Aren’t we all in need of a real human connection after two years on Zoom? To increase your chances of meeting in person, check out any events that the company participates in such as job fairs, trade shows, conferences, etc. If you’re really feeling brave, invite your contact to chat over lunch.
3. Botching your first written message
Once you’ve taken the time to select the person or people to contact and the best method of doing so, you’ll want to find the right words to say to them. This step is as crucial as the first two because no matter how much time you spend choosing the right employees to contact, if you make a bad first impression with your words, your efforts will not be rewarded.
Whether you’re using LinkedIn, Facebook, or email, write a clear and concise introduction that will intrigue your contacts and encourage them to keep reading.
What should your first message include?
A greeting: It seems trivial, but starting a message directly with a request or a question is prohibitive. Opt for a simple greeting and keep it professional: “Hello [name],” or “Hi [name],” and avoid greetings like “Hey!” or “What’s up?”
The reason you’re writing: Explain how you found their contact information and why you’re getting in touch with them. If it’s someone in your network, remind them of how you know each other: “I’m contacting you because …” or “We went to the same college and I’m reaching out to you for …”
A little (sincere) flattery: Let’s admit it, most of us like a bit of flattery. Emphasize your interest in the person and their professional background. This will increase your chances of receiving a response.
A brief presentation: Introduce yourself in a few words. Remember that this is not the place to broadcast your resume or revel in your work experience.
A thoughtful conclusion: Wrap up your message with a polite request for information or further connection: “Do you have some time to talk to me about the position?” or “Are you available to answer a few questions?” Refrain from asking too many questions or ones that are too specific in your first message and sign off with a thank you.
4. Failing to ask good questions
Almost there: your contact has accepted your request and is ready to answer your questions. The hardest part is complete … well, almost! Choosing your questions is just as important as the previous points to consider because not only will good questions allow you to receive good answers, but they also say a lot about your personality. Engaging and relevant questions will spark interest in your contact and increase your chances of being highlighted among other job candidates.
Here are some tips on asking good questions:
Direct your conversation in the form of a discussion rather than a questionnaire. Don’t ask one question after another without following a common thread.
Stay professional. Even if the person you’re talking to seems nice, remember that this is a professional contact; you’re not friends yet. Keep your eye on the ball and demonstrate competence, respect, and professionalism.
Make a list of all your questions beforehand so you don’t forget any. However, be prudent here as asking too many questions could be interpreted as a sign of anxiety, a lack of confidence, or doubts that you have about the company.
Prioritize your questions and make sure to address main issues like work-life balance, management style, work atmosphere, benefits, career prospects, the financial health of the company, etc.
5. Trusting everything you’re told
Once you have your answers, take a step back. You’ve just received very personal feedback. It may be far from unbiased.
When you sit down to process the answers you’ve received, take into consideration that they contain an element of preference in favor or not in favor of the company.
For example, an employee, after struggling over a disagreement with their manager, may seek to harm the company’s reputation. On the contrary, an employee who has a privileged relationship with their superiors may try to oversell the company and the position.
To counterbalance the subjectivity of the answers obtained, you may decide to contact other people. However, don’t fall into the trap of sending a copy-pasted message to everyone on the team at once, especially if it’s a smaller organization. You risk being called out and becoming the topic of discussion during a coffee break. Take time to consider the people you should contact. Choose two or three at most and don’t write to all of them at the same time. Remember the importance of personalizing your words each time.
After choosing who to contact, how to contact them, and what to say, leave a good impression of yourself. Affirm your motivation and your genuine interest in the position, and make sure they know you value their time. Use the situation as an opportunity to stand out, not to burn out!
Translated by Lorraine Posthuma
Photo: Welcome to the Jungle
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