When you're phoning to check name-spellings, title, address, etc., there's absolutely no harm in asking what the person likes to be called:
"Does she prefer Suzannah, or Sue, or what does she prefer?"
"I notice his name is William. Does he go by Bill or Will, or something else?"
The answer you get may surprise you.
"He's the finest dearest person you can imagine, and we all love him. But he's from the old school. People who don't know better will sometimes call him Bill. He's so polite, he just doesn't say a word. But inside you know he's seething. Nobody here ever calls him anything but Mr. Kennedy... to his face or behind his back."
Now you know something important that others will not know.
There's a trend, but preferences are continually changing.
These days, most job search firms accept and, indeed, prefer emailed submissions. A few demand you visit their Web site to input your resume. All accept by mail. A very few accept by fax. Thisite.com continually monitors this changing scene and provides a unique computerized service, Email My Resume, which takes virtually all the effort out of emailing. You automatically send (1) to your choice of This-Honored firms, (2) in precisely the format each demands (attached document or body-of-the-email). Moreover, you (3) send from your email address, not Thisite's and thus you (4) bypass your Internet service provider's ban on multiple emails. Thisite also provides a list of active links to the Web sites of the This-Honored firms, and also down-loadable data so you can, if you wish, do a mail merge and send to a prominent member at every location of every firm.
Try To Get Up Close and Personal ... as Soon as You Can, but Not Too Soon
Your objective every time you reach out to a potentially helpful stranger is to establish communication, congeniality, respect, trust... perhaps even a relationship as customer, mentor, employer, friend.
But be careful. Don't go too fast. Everyone is surrounded by zones of privacy... their own space, ringed by invisible barriers at inner distances known only to them.
As they gradually accept you, they drop one barrier after another, inviting you each time to come a bit closer. Unfortunately they relax-and stiffen-those barriers subconsciously. And even more unfortunately, they expect (again subconsciously) that you'll recognize each new freedom to come closer without offending. And if you don't proceed, you seem like a wimp!
But beware. There's another barrier right inside the one that just went down. If you barge through the next one prematurely, you're an insensitive, pushy boor!
Become a wimp or a boor, and your progress with this person-potential customer, mentor, employer, friend - is set back, maybe ended. I'd love to write a whole book about that. But for now, these tips:
Get on a First Name Basis Right Away
Be alert. Go "first name" as soon as you politely can. Suppose you're entering Mr. or Ms. Big's office. He or she is very prominent and powerful and perhaps the key to a major new job or customer relationship. With warm handshake and sparkling eye-contact, the Great One says:
"Hi, Bill, I'm delighted to meet you. Sit down."
Surprise! You expected formality, standoffishness. You expected you'd always have to call him Mr. Big. Instead, here's your chance to go right onto a first-name basis. Seize it:
"Thank you. I'm delighted to meet you, Mr. Big; may I call you Ken?"
If he hadn't been so spontaneous and warm, you couldn't have done this. But at this moment, it's hard for him not to grant you first-name permission, after so buoyantly using your first name. Awkwardness and ambiguity are ended. To you he's "Ken," today and forever.
Notice how much weaker your position becomes with the passage of time. Suppose Mr. Big never again uses your first name during the entire meeting. Now try to look him in the eyes and ask, "May I call you Ken?" How pushy... and even weird!
Suppose on the other hand that he goes on to use your first name several more times, and you continue calling him "Mr. Big." Your subservient role becomes etched in stone. Now you can only hope he'll voluntarily pull you up off your knees, saying "Please, call me Ken." Will he?
Suppose instead that he keeps using your name, and you self-consciously avoid calling him anything. Now you pipe up and ask for equality. It'd be a devastating put-down to refuse, and Big's not a sadist. But surely he'll think, "What a Milktoast! I never gave any indication that he couldn't treat me as an equal, and now he asks permission. I doubt he's got the guts to take over that division."
Who Are You Dealing With?
Mr. Big was a convenient example, because he's clearly more powerful and prestigious than you are. But don't get me wrong. Just because someone has the power to hire you or to sponsor your progress does not mean you must ask permission to use his or her first name.
With someone anywhere nearly equivalent to you, use their nickname without asking. Indeed, you'll look like a wimp if you don't. On the other hand, if you want to do a subtly flattering and respectful genuflect, just leave out the preliminary "Mr." or "Ms." and still ask permission:
"I'm very pleased to meet you; may I call you Ellen?"
First-Naming on the Phone
Never is it easier... nor more important... to get onto a first-name basis than when your initial conversation with a stranger occurs on the phone.
Why? Because, there'll be follow-up. Whether it's your new-business proposal or a letter-and-resume, chances are you'll be sending an e-mail or a snail mail almost as soon as you hang up. Handle yourself right, and your letter begins, "Dear Lisa" or "Dear Adam." Fumble, and you wind up feeling and looking far less confident as you write to "Ms." or "Mr."
Actually, first-naming is easy over the phone. If there's no need to be deferential, you just start using the person's preferred name if you know it, and inquire if you don't. If that feels awkward, you'll get another chance when you wind up the call and offer to mail something:
"Now, your address is"... (get it or confirm it). "And may I call you Fred... or what do you prefer?"... (ANSWER). "Thanks, Fred, I'll get that to you by overnight mail."