The Most Important Letter


All job-hunting correspondence is important, but the letter you send your friends is absolutely critical.

Here's why: When you're in a job-hunt you're selling personal services--what you can do--something intangible. People buy services based on trust. Marketing personal services is not like marketing a product. Shoppers buy products knowing they can return them if dissatisfied. But companies can't return employees who fail on the job. They have to terminate them and start over, both of which are costly. That's why employers are so cautious.

Crucial hiring decisions are generally made by a team. Key managers meet to define the duties and responsibilities and decide what sort of person they want. Then they ask, "Who do we know that could fill this slot?" Most of the time, someone in the group knows someone. That candidate is interviewed first, given preferential treatment, and usually hired.

The moral of the story is that managers hire their friends--known quantities, not shots-in-the-dark. No one likes to hire strangers--there's too much at stake. One wrong employment decision can ruin a manager's career.

  What does this mean to you?

It means your next job is probably going to come from one of your personal friends or business acquaintances--or else from one of their friends. Not from a recruiter. Not from a newspaper ad. Not from knocking on doors or pounding the pavement.

Your friends are your strongest marketing allies. That's why it's important to involve them in your campaign, not just notify them. Most job-seekers simply call and say, "I've lost my job. Let me know if you hear of anything." The friend says, "Sure I will." And that's the end of it. The phone never rings. Friends want to help, but they have to know exactly what kind of help you need. Tell them in a "friendship letter."

  Who are your friends?

When I say "friends," I mean "everyone you know." Not just your closest friends, but anyone who knows your name. I mean your contact network, both personal and business--especially people you've worked with on projects. Begin your marketing campaign by making a list of your friends. Use the following checklist to help you remember names. Record all names. Don't prejudge people, guessing which ones can help you (you'll often be wrong). Don't rule anyone out prematurely.

Go as far back as high school, even grade school. List your old college classmates and roommates. Look at your Christmas/Chanukah card list. Write names until your mind goes blank. Then stop and rest, and begin again.

  The Friendship Checklist Family (uncles, aunts, cousins, distant relatives)
Your significant other's family and friends
Close personal friends
Builders, plumbers, electricians, other tradespeople
PTA members
Students, fellow classmates, former college professors
Parents of your children's friends
Organizational groups
Professional societies
Club officers
Hobby groups
Social groups
Church groups
Religious leaders (pastor, priest, rabbi)
Current and former employers
Fellow jurors
Fellow employees (your peer group)
The staff, editors, and reporters of your local newspaper
Former clients, customers, buyers, suppliers,
and sales representatives
Consultants you've used
Financial Planner
Insurance Agent
Fellow vacationers or travelers
Chamber of Commerce members
Store owners
Former cellmates (just kidding)
Ex in-laws
High school buddies
Fraternity brothers/sorority sisters
Friends of your parents
Favorite waitpeople, bartenders, and hosts
Security guards
The person at the dry cleaners
Your hairdresser
Parents (yes, your parents!)
  Common Objections

Many job-hunters resist doing this exercise. They don't see the point. They find it time-consuming and come up with a variety of objections, like these:

I don't want to use my friends. Contact them and give them something: a journal article, an idea, an invitation to lunch, a compliment, a good listening. Find out how they're doing.
All my friends are in Chicago and I want to work in Dallas. People in Chicago have family and friends in Dallas.
I hate to call people and ask for favors. Same as answer to "I don't want to use my friends", above.
I can't remember all these people. Yes you can. You just don't want to.
I would be embarrassed to say I'm unemployed. Say something like "I have some great news. I'm finally leaving HighTek--it's about time. Their accounting system is snarled up, and I want to get into a company where I can bring the latest computer solutions into the picture. This is great! I've never been more excited in my life. I can't sleep at night. I feel like a kid again."
I would feel funny writing a letter to people I see in person all the time. Don't write them a letter. Talk with them face-to-face.

  Friends are important

The following stories show the importance of collecting the names of friends, even if it doesn't make logical sense.

    It doesn't matter where your friends live

    Ken Granger was a senior data processing manager in Denver. He wanted to relocate to Dallas because his wife had family there. I asked Ken to list his friends so he could send them something. He resisted doing the assignment.

    His reasoning went like this: "All my friends live in Chicago. I want to work in Dallas. Why should I write to people who can't help me?"

    Finally, after three weeks, Ken made his list. We sent a letter, and guess what? One of his contacts in Chicago had a brother who was president of a data processing company in Dallas. Ken flew down to interview and was hired. That's the kind of thing that often happens in networking.


    "You never know how many friends you have until you rent a place at the beach."

    Quoted by Wayne Norris in
    You Don't Have to Be Crazy to Work Here...But It Sure Helps


    Don't guess who your friends are

    I've seen hundreds of people contact their network to ask for help, and I see two patterns.

    First, friendship letters always work. You get some positive response from some of your friends. That's a big boost when you're feeling down. Second, it's impossible to accurately predict who will help you and who won't. You'll be wrong 50 percent of the time--maybe more.

    It's interesting, and sometimes disconcerting, to find out who can be counted on when you need a helping hand. Some of your "dearest friends" will let you down, and some people you have written off will come out of the woodwork and shower you with badly needed love and attention.

  Your friends will always help

I contacted my friends--especially former clients--in writing this book. I was announcing the project, asking for permission to use their materials, and looking for advice and ideas. I was reaching out for support.

I was surprised at the positive responses. They really lifted me and made me feel the whole project was worthwhile. There was one letter I will never forget.

Kay Tubbs said, "My advice: Go for it! It's perfect. I would buy it (and recommend it) in a heartbeat. It would also solve a personal problem I have, of not being physically close enough to utilize your services. (It's probably a good thing--I'd be tempted to mortgage the house to hire you as a permanent 'life consultant.')" That felt really good.

You'll find that most of your friends will help you, too, and their heartfelt response may surprise you.

  The world's greatest letter

I've always encouraged clients to contact their friends to ask for advice and ideas. They used a variety of letters, and I'm certain many of them worked. But one day in a workshop, I found the ultimate "friendship letter." It was a work of art.

The tone was right: It was warm and friendly and not too pushy or boring. It made you want to help.

I began distributing Dale Kreeger's letter in my classes. Students used it as a guide. (As you will see, many of the letters in this book incorporate some of Dale's words.) Dale was an accountant in a large oil company. At age 55 he was asked to take early retirement before he was ready.

The "friendship letter" penned by Dale Kreeger may be one of the best job-hunting letters ever written, because it can be modified slightly and used by nearly everyone. Dale first sent his letter to friends to look for a "real job." When he decided to go into business for himself, he rewrote the letter to sell consulting services. Many letters on this website borrow words from Dale.

Since this collection was first published, several English teachers have sent me copies of Dale's letter dripping in red ink. They claim it's full of grammatical errors, and fault me for publishing it as a good example. They're correct: it's not grammatically flawless. However, the thoughts and feelings come through, and that's what sells. Don't be concerned if your letter isn't perfect, as long as it's heartfelt.

Try to make your letter sound personal, one-of-a-kind, even if it will be mailed to several hundred friends. It takes time to write a "universal personal," but it's worth it. Don't send letters that sound cold and distant.

What makes this letter work? It's warm.
It's friendly.
It's interesting.
It's not begging.
It's enthusiastic.
It's humorous ("not ready to be put out to pasture yet...").
It's short.
It's everything a great letter should be.

But as good as it is, it can still be improved. The letter doesn't specify exactly what kind of job Dale wants. Friends can't help very well unless they know exactly, clearly, and specifically what kind of help you need. The more specific, the better.

Some job-seekers object to being specific. They want to keep their options open. They reason this way: "If I tell people exactly what I want, I might miss out on other things I might like."

That's true. But, on the other hand, if you tell people exactly what you want, you might get your ideal job. Wouldn't that be better?

  The anatomy of a friendship letter

If you write a letter to your network, limit yourself to about 250 words. You can use Dale and Jonathan's letters as models or you can invent your own. If you do your own letter--and I recommend that--here are five steps you should take:

    Establish rapport (about 20 words)


    Rebuild old fences. Make your reader feel good.
    Make them glad you're writing.

    "I can't help remembering the fun we had last time
    in Atlanta..."

    "New York hasn't been the same since you left
    town. We've missed you."

    "You've played a major role in my career
    development, and I can't thank you enough."

    Explain the situation (about 30 words)

      "I've decided I need more responsibility; so I'm
    seeking to move out of sales into sales

    "Sally's health is not good, and we feel we must
    leave Wisconsin to find a warmer climate." Don't
    simply say, "I left," "I resigned," or

    "My boss and I didn't see eye to eye." Those
    answers leave too many unanswered questions.
    The reader's mind will automatically think the
    worst: "Was she fired?" or "Is he a troublemaker?"

    Even if you left under the most unpleasant circumstances, try to frame the change in a positive light: "We were purchased by a Fortune 500 company, there was considerable overlap in staffing, the company was reorganized, 20 managers were laid off, and I lost my job at the end of December."

    Tell them what you want (about 30 words)

    This is your chance to paint a clear but brief picture of your ideal, perfect job. The more detail the better. Mention possible job title, size and philosophy of company, management style, preferred industries, duties and responsibilities, geographic preferences or restrictions--in short, anything that clarifies. Your friends can't help you unless they know what fits; and they don't know what fits unless you tell them!

    For example: "My expertise would best fit the high-reliability electronics industry, such as medical, automotive, industrial, or computers--although I also have considerable background in the metals and machining industries. Most of my experience with Boeing was related to electronics, but included materials such as glass and graphite epoxy composites, adhesives, coatings, and plastics.

    "I would prefer to remain in the Chicago metro area or relocate to the Pacific Northwest. I am most interested in a company in the startup phase or in a period of rapid growth. My recent experience with ChicagoTek during a 400% increase in business was very rewarding, and I find myself looking for another similar company."

    Ask for advice and ideas (about 20 words)

    "Your words of wisdom have always meant a great
    deal to me over the years."

    "I've always counted on you to spark
    my creativity."

    "Would you mind reviewing my resume and letters
    and giving me some honest opinions? Could you
    call me or jot some notes in the margins?"

    End on a warm, friendly, enthusiastic note

    "Should you be free in the near future, Jim and I would like to have you come to dinner."