How to Deal With Misguided Job Inquiries

Posted June 22, 2018 1:52 p.m. EDT

Q: I work for a small nonprofit, and one of my duties is sorting through our email inbox. I’m surprised at how often people send email to the general inbox with vague messages about how they like what we do, and saying that if we have any jobs that would be good for them, we should let them know.

What’s a polite way of pointing out to them that they’re not exactly putting their best foot forward? And that a little initiative, such as searching with the name of our company and “jobs,” will lead them to positions we’re hiring for? And that they should make a case for themselves there with a cover letter and a résumé if they see a position that appeals?

I’d also like to tell them that I have a job already, and it’s not as a recruiter for them. And besides, I have no way of knowing if, after they hit send on that email, they got hit by a bus and I’m monitoring our jobs site for nothing.

How do I reconcile my obligation to respond politely as a representative of my organization with my tendency toward snark? — MARY, CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS

A: The idea of using a general email address to ask a company to let you know if there are any job openings is silly. But, of course, completely ignoring complimentary correspondence is most likely at odds with the values your organization wishes to project.

Clearly, a detailed but borderline snarky response combines the worst possible options: It wastes your time, and it risks sending an unfriendly message. Maybe you just need a short, polite, to-the-point form response that you can use (tweaked as necessary) for such inquiries.

Work out a basic, friendly, boilerplate text, and run it by your manager so everybody is comfortable. It should thank the correspondent for the interest, link to your job listings and, more important, close with language that minimizes the possibility of a follow-up: “That page is always the best source of current information about job openings,” or something similar. You could add that kind of language to your contact page.

I assume these inquiries aren’t coming from people who mention outstanding qualifications, but, if it seems appropriate, perhaps some recruiting manager should be blind-copied on your responses.

Admittedly, some people might find a form response irritating. I use this method in certain circumstances, and I’ve had one or two complaints that I should have made a more individual reply.

I sympathize. But really, I suspect we may all be hypocrites when it comes to professional email. It bugs me when my work-related missives go unanswered — but at any given moment, my own inbox is likely to be cluttered with notes I haven’t responded to, some of them months old.

So a form response beats no response. Minimize the effort you spend fending off misguided inquiries, and focus on correspondents who most deserve attention.

Kept in the Dark

Q: I just started a government job that assists clients in person, helping them get various benefits. We all have offices with no windows and solid doors. The culture is that workers turn off their overhead lights and use only a small desk lamp and the light from their computers. The offices are superdark.

I find it so odd that clients have to sit in these dark offices and talk to clerks across what’s basically a “wall” of two computer monitors. (We all have these.) They can barely see us or the room they are sitting in.

Even management does this. The bosses seem more interested in dress code infractions than in thinking how our clients perceive the oddness of clerks hiding in vampire-like caves working and talking to them in the dark. Thoughts? — ANONYMOUS

A: That sounds unpleasant. I’m not sure if you’re exaggerating for effect, but there are actually Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations about available lighting in various work settings, which you can explore at, along with information about how to contact the agency.

But it sounds as if your colleagues are simply making a decision not to turn on the presumably adequate overhead lighting in their own offices. And individual preferences on such things vary: A lot of people find standard office lighting very off-putting. (Some research suggests that natural light is really the best option, but that doesn’t seem to figure into your space.)

Changing your entire organization’s culture on this matter, in other words, might be tough. You could bring some version of the case you’re making here to a manager, framing this not as something that bugs you but as something that sends the wrong message to clients. If the problem is harsh lighting, think about solutions: Different overhead bulbs? Brighter lamps?

Or just ignore the office norm and turn on the lights in your own office anyway. Maybe rearrange your space in a way that doesn’t create a barrier between you and the people you serve. Set an example — and be ready and eager to talk about your reasons for doing so. Perhaps, in time, your colleagues will see the light.