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Correction to This Article
This article about striking the proper tone in communicating with potential employers misspelled the last name of Rob Hellmann, a vice president of the Five O'Clock Club and associate director of its career coaches' guild.
When applying 4 a job, watch ur tone

By Vickie Elmer
Sunday, April 4, 2010; K01

U don't want to sound 2 formal or 2 dull when you apply for the ID-l cr8v job.

So you write your cover letter like a text message, then follow up with a text to a hiring manager, whose contact information you dug up to show your resourcefulness and persistence.

That approach may work wonders. More likely, though, it could blast your résumé into Neverland.

Striking the right tone in job search communications gets complicated in the era of Facebook and text messaging. The ideal approach is to sound confident and professional, but not stiff or stuffy.

"You can be professional and not be uptight," said Rob Lockard, who volunteers as a vice president of the Human Resource Association of the National Capital Area and is looking for work. "Keeping a professional tone is always positive."

In the same way that you drag out your suit for a job interview, you should pull out your polished, grammatically correct sentences for cover letters and follow-up e-mails.

"Even though the world is becoming more casual, the hiring process is not," said Patrice Rice, owner of the Annapolis-based Patrice & Associates, a recruiting firm for hospitality and restaurant businesses.

A few organizations and sectors may appreciate text shorthand or slang or at least accept it. But it may not be easy to tell which ones they are.

So skip the slang and spell check your e-mail or letter before sending it, Rice said. "That correspondence is going to be viewed just as critically as [applicants'] appearance, the interview, their résumé."

"Most résumés are very poorly written," she said. Don't just slap a résumé together, she said. Think through your accomplishments and explain why you're a good manager or graphic artist or policy analyst.

Rob Hellman, a Five O'Clock Club vice president and associate director of its career coaches' guild, tells job seekers that their central message must answer employers' question: "How can you help me?"

"Don't put anything in that's going to distract from that message," said Hellman, a New York City career coach since 2003. "You can put yourself in your writing. What you're passionate about, what you want to do, will make it a stronger case." And, he said, "don't defer to e-mail all the time."

A résumé and cover letter sent with a stamp and envelope may help you stand out. Or use Priority Mail or a mailing tube. There's a better chance that your résumé will be read and considered.

Some sectors such as new media and technology may not appreciate the paper résumé, and some companies will review only applications submitted online. But text messages generally should be avoided unless there's a problem, such as that you're running late for the interview. "There's too much potential for miscommunication if you don't know the person well," Hellman said.

Plus, texts suggest "a little too personal of an approach" to the hiring manager, Lockard said. They can also indicate an urgency -- "I want a faster response than I would get with e-mail" -- that can be presumptuous, he said.

Hellman sees two inappropriate tones from job seekers: the stiff, cold type who uses too many big words and the arrogant expert. "People think they're showing how they can help. . . . They think they know the answers" to the would-be employer's problems, he said. But they don't have a complete picture, and they come across as overbearing and arrogant.

If you want your tone to show you know the lingo and can tweet like a songbird, point out your Twitter name and how you use it to build your reputation or sell your services. You can demonstrate friendliness and enthusiasm with examples and stories, not with exclamation points and smiling emoticons dotting your cover letter.

Lockard said he used to see a tone of entitlement and aggressiveness that turned him off as an HR manager. "When I was hiring, people who were polite to me, nine times out of 10, I wanted to help them even further," he said.

Elmer is a freelance writer.

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