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25 May

Minimum Viable Hygiene

I'm someone who receives a lot of cold DMs, emails, pitches, and replies to my tweets and LinkedIn posts.

And if you've been following my journey building Stoa from a long time, you probably have interacted with me in some capacity in the past.

If not me, then you may have for sure interacted with someone you were trying to impress online: be it a love interest, someone you were infatuated with, a recruiter, a mentor, or just an influencer who could open doors for you, only if you managed to get in their good books.

So today, let me share some aspects of your approach that these people perceive — often unconsciously — as signals for your competence (or incompetence).

These are signals that actually may or may not be directly relevant to your competence. But the tyranny of unconscious biases even smart people are guilty of is that they still assign a lot of value to these subtle signals.

Now I'm not claiming that these unconscious value judgments are right or wrong, they are what they are. And if you wish to make a good first impression, you better make sure you fare well on these.

Write in good English.

This is, by far, the most bitter pill to swallow — especially in a country like India where a lot of primary schooling is still done in vernacular languages, not English.

But the fact remains that knowing how to write and speak well in English massively improves your chances of impressing most people, if not all.

And by good English, I mean:

Not being careless and sloppy in your writing.Sloppy writers are also unconsciously perceived as sloppy thinkers and workers.

If you do not follow proper grammar, sentence structure, and basic punctuation, the person you're writing to will make a value judgment quickly and unconsciously about you: they will have already decided that you're probably not someone worth paying a lot of attention to.

Don't confuse “its” with “it's”,“loose” with “lose”,"your" with "you're", "their" with "there"...

Don't TYPE IN ALL CAPS. Don't spam your messages with emojis. Use fullstops wherever necessary, don't text like


are u founder of STOA

what does STOA do

am luking for 12 lakhs job

in consulting

call me 91245693454

Texting like this is a recipe for immediately getting ignored. I might lose out on a gem once in every 100 DMs like these, but the odds of a person who texts like this being smart are so low, I'm willing to take those odds.

If you want some assistance, you can use tools like Grammarly to do a basic hygiene check before you send out any message.

Be precise and informative about your problem.

This means:

Describe precisely what problem you're facing in what context and what kind of help you're looking for. I wish to know your call-to-action (CTA) and I wish to know why I would specifically be the right person to help you with this problem.

The way you do this is by describing the research you did to try and understand the problem before you asked the question. What have you already tried to solve your problem? Why do you think it didn't work?

If I feel you're a person who just wants some spoon-feeding, I likely won't respond to you. You aren't informative enough for me to develop sufficient interest to engage with you.

Whining is no excuse for not doing the work.

Some people are arrogant about opinions they already hold.

Some overcompensate in the opposite direction and become "woe is me" type of people.Neither work in your favour.

“I know I'm a clueless fresher who doesn't have any strong skills, but...”

Forced humility is distracting and doesn't help you in any way. Because it's not related to your problem. And it gets especially annoying when you go on and on about your woes and end your rant with a vague question.

If you come ill-prepared, with generic and vague questions that could have a thousand different answers, it signals laziness.

And complaining is not a substitute for doing your homework. If you think that you will act like a humble loser and gain sympathy, let me tell you that it is irrelevant. Don't waste your time and mine playing these games.

Instead, present the background facts and your question as clearly as you can. That is a better way to position yourself than by grovelling.

Don't sprinkle your message with random fortune-cookie platitudes.

People worth their salt admire brevity and directness. Why waste time saying things the other person knows you do not understand?

Don't get me wrong, your lack of understanding is not a problem. Even I do not understand a lot about the world. But pretending like you know when you don't is just cringe. Avoid.

Do some research instead. Show initiative. It helps me gauge your seriousness toward finding a solution to the problem.

Focus on the goal, don't be too attached to your current approach.

Before you text or email me, you might have already invested significantly in an approach, which you will spend time convincing me of. But it's not my problem, you should not try to convince me about your approach.

Instead, your aim should be to find out if I think your current approach is the right one or if there are any better approaches for the goal you have in mind.

Often, people who need help have a high-level goal in mind and get stuck on what they think is the best approach to reach that goal. They come for help already biased toward their approach and don't realize that the approach itself is wrong.

When you text someone you know has more experience than you, do keep an open mind. No point debating around approaches, I do not care. It's not my problem.

Try to find the correct solution, not the "right" solution that massages your ego and fuels your preconceived beliefs.

Take care of these small things and you're already halfway there to getting useful help from the person.

In fact, doing this is so rare that if you do them, you immediately put yourself in the top 2% of people.

Related read:

How to stop wasting people's time

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