How to Write an Email in the Civilian Business World

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Everyone uses email. Whether it’s a cover letter, a note asking someone for an informational interview, or a thank you note for spending time over coffee talking about job prospects, you’re going to have to email someone.

But consider for a moment that like all things military, the way we communicate via email is vastly different than how the civilian world communicates. We tell veterans to “follow up with an email” but once in front of the keyboard, many vets are left wondering what exactly they should write.

Danny Rubin has the answer. He is the author of Wait, How Do I Write This Email: Game-Changing Templates for Networking and the Job Search. He wrote the book because military or not, most people know to send an email—they just don’t know how to craft it, or what it should include. To make things harder, the military uses email very differently. Acronyms, liberal use of the “cc” line and putting addressees in rank order are just some ways it’s different.

So we sat down with Danny and asked about some of the questions veterans face when staring at the blank screen and wondering what to write. Here is his very wise advice:

Military.com: What made you write “Wait, How Do I Write This Email”? Doesn’t everyone write emails?

Danny Rubin: In 2012, I started a blog called News To Live By in which I highlighted the career advice "hidden" in the news headlines. I covered all kinds of topics like health, money, politics, life hacks and communication tips.

I wrote a blog post in 2013 called "Five Email Templates for Awkward Work Situations" that played off of an email gaffe story in the news. The post began to generate about 100 organic views a day off of Google searches. I was confused. Why the sudden interest in my random post?

Then, the light bulb went off. People were searching Google for help with email templates and they would find my work.

So I pivoted. I began to only focus on step-by-step writing templates for networking, the job search and LinkedIn. I wrote 75 blog posts on the topic over the next 18 months, which generated one million organic views to my blog. That's when I knew I had to turn my collection of email guides into a book.

Flash forward to spring 2018 and my book, Wait, How Do I Write This Email?, which is now supported by the Association for Career and Technical Education, which oversees all vocational training in the US. FedEx Office locations nationwide also carry the book.

Yes, everyone writes emails. And because they do, my book gains relevance each day. The book is a product people need but wasn't available.

I now solve a specific, niche problem. It's much better than a blog (News To Live By) that tried to be all things to all people. Business lesson #274.

Military.com: You go into detail about how important being able to successfully communicate via email is in a job search, so you think candidates are losing out on opportunities because they are making mistakes?

Danny Rubin: Job candidates fail via email in two ways: 1) Job candidates only focus on themselves 2) Job candidates are too vague when they describe their own accomplishments.

Deeper explanation:

1) When you write an employer for the first time, your email must contain information about the business where you want to work. Visit the company's blog or Recent News page and learn about past projects and successes. Incorporate what you learned into your message. If you want people to take an interest in you, then you must first take and interest in them.

2) Too many candidates write lines like, "I am an energetic, motivated and passionate professional who..." blah blah blah. You must focus on the details that make you exceptional. How can you quantify your success (eg: dollar amounts, number of people you manage)? Stay away from generic language. Share your unique story and include a link to a portfolio or other URL that helps you shine. The details always make the difference.

Military.com: Why is this information so helpful to military members who are moving into the civilian sector and trying to find a new career?

Danny Rubin: As military members moving into the civilian sector, remember: you have a story no one else can share. You have experiences, hardships and triumphs unlike anyone else in the job market. But if you only tell employers you're "hardworking and motivated," then you lump yourself in with the masses.

Share the details of your duties while in military service. Give a clear example of how you pushed through a challenge. Let employers visualize how hard you work in crunch time.

Once you start to tell your story, doors will open.

Military.com: What are the three biggest mistakes people make in email when they are looking for a job?

Danny Rubin:

1) People only focus on themselves and don't spend time discussing the company's recent successes. The "ME ME ME" approach falls flat.

2) People are too vague about their own successes and instead lean on adjectives like "motivated" and "energetic."

3) People write the same generic email to every employer, which is inauthentic and a turn-off. Make the email customized every single time. There are no shortcuts in the job search, so don't go looking for them.

Military.com: What is the single most important thing you should do with your email?

Danny Rubin: Prove you spent time learning about the employer's background and/or the company's recent successes. You must give before you get.

Military.com: How to sign off on an email is hotly debated. What are your thoughts about what sign-off should be used in what situations?

Danny Rubin: Every situation is different, but if you write an employer to request, for example, an informational interview, you're always safe with:

"Thanks for the consideration" or "Thanks so much."

I would not use V/R because many employers in the civilian world don't know what that means.

On my blog, THE TEMPLATE, I discuss proper closing lines for different work-related situations.

Military.com: Finally, military style and format when it comes to email is different (using acronyms, signing off with “V/r” or making sure the precedence in the “to” line follows military protocol) than how civilian businesses use email, how long does it take to understand how to write emails in a non-military style and should someone ever use military jargon when they are emailing? What if they know the person they are emailing is also a veteran?

Danny Rubin: Yes, the writing style in the military differs from the civilian world. For starters, do NOT use abbreviations unless you spell out what they mean.

The right way: I worked on Project ABC (then in the parenthesis write out what "ABC" means).

You will then want to write one more sentence that explains what Project ABC was all about. NEVER assume the reader understands the work you have done to this point — even another veteran. Start from scratch with everyone.

Yes, you should leverage your military experience in the job search, but you must go out of your way to explain what everything means.

Not-so-shameless plug: If you want to know how to write 100 different job search writing situations in civilian language, then buy my book! That's the exact problem I solve.

Like I said at the top, it's always better to have a niche. Business lesson #274.

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