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The Five Emails You Need to Send Before New Year’s to Boost Your Career

There’s no better time than now to refresh your roster of professional contacts

Wed, Dec 21, 2022 9:16amGrey Clock 4 min

Yes, you’re busy checking off your year-end, to-do list. But here’s an easy item to add that could pay dividends down the road: connect with five people who, in different ways, could boost your career in 2023.

There’s no better time of year than right now to power up that roster of professional allies. So many people have changed jobs, and entire careers, recently that even the strongest networks need some tending. And while the job market remains strong, the number of companies embarking on layoffs is climbing, and many business leaders predict more job cuts are coming.

It can be daunting to message someone you haven’t spoken to in years or develop a distant contact into a relationship. Here are five people to email, with scripts to do it gracefully.

1) A member of your inner power circle

These are the professional Samaritans for when you need urgent advice, job leads or referrals—and fast. Ask yourself who could help if you were suddenly laid off, and get results?

Try this quick exercise to figure out who belongs here: Imagine you’ve just learned your job is on the chopping block. Take five minutes to write the names of six to eight people you would email first for help.

These are folks who know you well—close colleagues, former co-workers, mentors. Focus your list on the half-dozen who are enthusiastic networkers and have a proven record delivering good intel on industry developments.

Pick one person to email. Remember, this is someone you’d have no qualms asking to tap his or her network on your behalf—so don’t sweat the email too much. Ask them to lunch or a drink in the new year, or a 20-minute catch-up call.

Be clear about why you want to connect. You’re considering ways to grow your career, and would love his or her advice. Or, you want to hear about his recent transition to a new field because you’re interested in a similar move.

2) The influencer

Next, pick a strategic contact you know could be helpful to your career…if only you had a more solid rapport.

Don’t waste valuable words in the opening on compliments or lengthy explanations.

Make your ask, quickly and politely. And please avoid the cliché phrase, “Can I pick your brain?” Instead, try one of the following:

  • “I’d really appreciate your insight because you’ve been there.”
  • “I heard you speak/enjoyed what you wrote/liked what you said at the meeting, especially___. I would love to hear more.
  • “I’ve followed your work closely. What you did with____really resonated with me because I’m doing something similar.”

Point out any shared experiences, and be specific. You went to the same university, or are both women who trained in civil engineering. Mentioning commonalities might give them a better sense of how to help you.

“If you’re an Air Force Academy grad and you ask for time, I’m going to find it,” says Trier Bryant, co-founder of workplace consulting firm Just Work and an Academy grad who spent more than 15 years in the military.

3) The VIP

This is a higher-level professional with the ability to open the right doors, or get you to someone who can. It could be a fast-rising executive in your network. The former boss of your boss. That entrepreneur who commented on your LinkedIn post.

If you’ve never met, can a mutual acquaintance connect you? If so, offer to craft the note, or go ahead and send a brief paragraph on your bona fides and goals to guide them.

Get to the point quickly about who you are and what you want. The goal is to have your target respond “thoughtfully, in the moment, rather than delaying it indefinitely,” says Dorie Clark, an author who teaches executive education at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Columbia Business School.

For example: “I’m looking to go in this direction in my career and would like your advice.” Or, “I’m interested in how you overcame this business challenge as I navigate this industry.”

Make it easy for them to accept your request. “If you ask for a phone call, make it a 10-minute phone call,” Ms. Clark says.

4) That long-lost contact

Cue the awkwardness! You haven’t talked to this person in years and suddenly you’re parachuting into their inbox, hoping they’ll remember you and, ideally, forget how much time has passed since you’ve been in touch.

Don’t dance around the fact that it’s been a while, just embrace it, says Aimee Cohen, who runs Minneapolis executive-coaching and leadership-development firm ON Point Next Level Leadership. She’s opened notes with “Blast from the past,” or “I know you might faint at seeing my name in your inbox but___.”

You can also play on the pandemic whirlwind of the past few years: “I know that it’s only been three years but it feels like 100 since we’ve last connected.”

Make clear that you remain clued into their interests and expertise, and could be helpful. For example: “I’d love to catch up and hear more about what you’re on the hunt for these days.” Or, “I know it’s been a while, but I saw this podcast about triathlons and immediately thought of you. Are you still competing?”

The classic error is to reach out after a significant amount of time with a direct ask, such as wanting help with a job search or a recommendation. You want to be approaching them, “from a position of power, not panic,” Ms. Cohen says. Explain that you’re not looking yet, but would love to learn more about their role and experience.

5) The departing co-worker

When a co-worker says goodbye, it’s an opening. “Leaving a job is a moment of vulnerability” no matter how fabulous their next step is, says Michele Woodward, a Washington, D.C.-area executive coach.

Reaching out immediately is best, but responding to a goodbye note from further back can work, too. Try starting with, “I made a note to ask you what the first 90 days was like,” Ms. Woodward suggests, or, “I made a note to ask you how work is going.”

You could also pose a timely question such as, “How are you all handling return-to-office over there?” The goal is to reconnect, picking up where you left off and moving the relationship forward.

Plan for the Future

Master the cadence of keeping up with different kinds of contacts. Here’s how often Ms. Cohen, the executive coach in Minneapolis, recommends touching base:

  • Close contacts (your team colleague turned friend who left for a different company): Monthly
  • Midlevel contacts (The boss you worked with for a year before they got transferred to another department): Quarterly
  • Extended contacts (The guy from accounting you used to joke with by the water cooler): Twice yearly
  • Acquaintances (A vendor you worked with once, years ago): Annually, sending them a note around the holidays, for example

Set a goal of contacting three contacts every week. They can be someone already in your network who’s due for their check-in, or someone new you’re adding to the rotation.

—Kathryn Dill contributed to this article.


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While most U.S. workers are putting in fewer hours, men in the top 10% of earners cut back their time on the job the most, according to a new study

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Fri, Jan 27, 2023 4 min

American workers have cut the number of hours they spend in their jobs since 2019, but no group has dialled back its time on the clock more than young, high-earning men whose jobs typically demand long hours.

The top-earning 10% of men in the U.S. labor market logged 77 fewer work hours in 2022, on average, than those in the same earnings group in 2019, according to a new study of federal data by the economics department at Washington University in St. Louis. That translates to 1.5 hours less time on the job each workweek, or a 3% reduction in hours. Over the same three-year period, the top-earning 10% of women cut back time at work by 29 hours, which translates to about half an hour less work each week, or a 1% reduction.

High-earning men in the 25-to-39 age range who could be described as “workaholics” were pulling back, often by choice, says Yongseok Shin, a professor of economics, who co-wrote the paper. Since this group already put in longer hours than the typical U.S. worker—and women at the highest income levels—these high earners had longer work days to trim, Dr. Shin says, and still worked more hours than the average.

The drop in working hours among high-earning men and women helps explain why the U.S. job market is even tighter than what would be expected given the current levels of unemployment and labour force participation, Dr. Shin says.

“These are the people who have that bargaining power,” Dr. Shin says of the leverage many workers have had over their employers in a tight job market. “They have the privilege to decide how many hours they want to work without worrying too much about their economic livelihood.”

The paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which isn’t yet peer reviewed, suggests high earners were more likely to benefit from flexible working arrangements, which could be a factor in reduced work hours.

Before the pandemic, Eli Albrecht, a lawyer in the Washington, D.C., area, says he worked between 80 to 90 hours a week. Now, he says he puts in 60 to 70 hours each week. That’s still more than most men in America, who averaged 40.5 hours a week in 2021, according to federal data.

Mr. Albrecht’s schedule changed when he shared Zoom school duties for two of his young children with his wife. He’s maintained the reduced hours because it’s making his relationship more equitable, he says, and gives him family time.

“I used to feel—and a lot of dads used to feel—that just by providing for the family financially, that was sufficient. And it’s just not,” Mr. Albrecht says.

The downshift documented by Dr. Shin and his colleagues occurred as many professionals have been reassessing their ambitions and the value of working long hours. Emboldened by a strong job market, millions of Americans quit their jobs in search of better hours and more flexibility.

Overall, U.S. employees worked 18 fewer hours a year, on average, in 2022 compared with 2019, with employed men putting in 28 fewer hours last year and employed women cutting their time by nine hours, data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey show. The average male worker put in 2,006 hours last year, while the average female worker logged 1,758 hours.

Separate data from the Census Bureau suggests that men with families, in particular, are working less. Between 2019 and 2021, married men devoted roughly 13 fewer minutes, on average, to work each day, according to the American Time Use Survey, which hasn’t yet published 2022 figures. They spent more time on socialising and relaxing, as well as household activities, according to men surveyed by the Census Bureau. The amount of time unmarried men spent on work changed little during that same period.

As high-earning workers in the U.S. cut back, low-wage workers increased their hours, according to Dr. Shin’s research. The bottom-earning 10% of working men logged 41 hours more in 2022, on average, than in 2019. Women in the lowest earning group boosted their hours worked by 52 last year compared with 2019.

While women work fewer hours than men, the unpaid labor they perform outside of their jobs has been well documented. Many working mothers take what’s termed a “second shift,” devoting more time outside work hours to child care and housework.

Maryann B. Zaki, a mother of three who has worked at several firms, including in big law, recently launched her own practice in Houston, giving her more control over her hours. She says she’s noticed more men in her field opting for reduced schedules, sometimes working 80% of the hours normally expected—which can range from 40 to more than 80 a week—in exchange for a 20% pay cut. For the average lawyer, that would amount to a salary reduction of tens of thousands of dollars each year; such arrangements were initially offered to aid working mothers.

Responding to new expectations of work-life balance may be particularly vexing for industries already facing staffing shortages, such as those in medicine. Dr. Lotte Dyrbye, the chief well-being officer for the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said she often hears from early-career physicians and other medical professionals who want to work fewer hours to avoid burnout.

These medical workers are deciding that to be in it for the long haul requires a day every week or two to decompress, Dr. Dyrbye says. But as staff cut back their hours, it costs medical organisations money and may compromise access to care.

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