Career Advice, Interviews

How To Circumvent The Resume Black Hole

Forget the black hole — that’s a terrible way to get a job. People say “But I called the HR department, and they told me that I have to put my resume into the company’s ‘careers’ website in order for it to be considered.”

Of course they told you that! They are amoebae – it’s their job to make that speech. They have their priorities, and those priorities have everything to do with bureaucratic practices designed to keep job-seekers coloring inside the lines. Luckily, the hiring manager has other concerns. The hiring manager is the person we need to reach. The black hole and its amoeba tenders are not our friends.

The hiring manager has pain. If he or she did not have some kind of pain, there would be no job. Our job is to spot the pain, and address it in a pithy Pain Letter that will go with our resume directly to the hiring manager’s desk. If we can spot the pain and speak to it, we can get that hiring manager’s attention. Not every hiring manager has the budget to hire us, either as a W-2 employee or a consultant. Those opportunities, unfortunately, may be unavailable to us for financial reasons. But if the particular pain we solve is keeping the hiring manager awake at night, and driving him crazy by day, we may be able to convince that hiring manager to create a job opening where none existed, just yesterday. Thus, we can send a targeted Pain Letter to any decision-maker whose pain is likely to be related to our expertise. We don’t need to respond only to posted job openings. We can reach out to hiring managers who don’t have jobs posted, as well.

Here’s a Pain Letter story to illustrate the process…

Caroline had been a bookkeeper for ten years and the president of her homeowner’s association for five years when she began her job search. Caroline was based in Atlanta. We decided to build on her bookkeeping background and the valuable HOA stint by creating a property management resume and pursuing commercial property management jobs. Caroline hadn’t held a paid property management role at that point — and so what? We wrote the property management resume, emphasizing Caroline’s most relevant accomplishments. We made a list of commercial property owners who might need her help.  For each firm, we dug around to find the name of the most likely hiring manager. We didn’t bother looking at job ads. We knew that any job ads we might spot at these enormous national firms would only direct us into a deadly black hole. We found the head honcho’s name for each company, and wrote to him or her directly.

For one large firm, we couldn’t find the names of any Atlanta managers, but we could see the names and bios of each of the firm’s top execs, right on the organization’s website. We wrote a Pain Letter to the COO of the firm (using the logic that the COO is less likely than the CEO to have an admin standing by ready to toss all unsolicited correspondence) and sent it to him via snail mail with Caroline’s property management resume. About a week after that letter was mailed, Caroline got a phone call from the company’s regional VP in Atlanta.

“I’d like you to come for an interview,” he said, and off Caroline went. When she got to the interview, she saw her Pain Letter and resume, folded in thirds, sitting on the VP’s desk. The COO in New York must have shipped it off to the Atlanta fellow through the inter-office mail system. Caroline had her interview, and she got the offer. Until that moment, she hadn’t had one second of official property management experience. What got her over that substantial credentialing hump?

It was Caroline’s Pain Letter that did the trick. She didn’t write the typical boring, boilerplate cover letter to tell the COO and his VP all about her accomplishments. She figured that those guys get dozens of those letters every day. Instead, she wrote a letter that talked about them. She talked about the company’s news (she found it on their own website) and made an educated guess about their property management pain. It wasn’t hard to guess what that pain might be. Their company is growing, and commercial tenants are hard to find and keep. They’ve got to be kept happy, and a diligent property manager keeps tenants happy by working proactively to make sure their needs are met. A good property manager looks out over the horizon to stop any signs of trouble and stamp them out before they can do damage. Caroline talked about the business pain she imagined this company to have, and her own relevant (and specific!) experience slaying the very same dragon in other assignments. She sent her super-targeted Pain Letter along with her super-targeted resume directly to the guy with the pain, and wasted no time nor words talking about all the other fabulous, unrelated things she’s done.

There may well be a property management certification. Caroline doesn’t have that certification, if there is one. So what? She came prepared to talk about the issue at hand. She got the job, and here’s the best part: she had no competition, because there was no job posted. We can use Pain Letters and targeted resumes to reach decision-makers when there’s no job posted, and when there is one.

In my job search approach, the important points to remember are:

  • Write to the decision-maker directly, not to the black hole address or to HR. Use LinkedIn, ZoomInfo and the employer’s own website to find that decision-maker.
  • Write a Pain Letter that talks more about them than about you. Speak directly to the decision-making manager in a conversational tone. Make an educated guess about the business pain the employer is facing. (Next week in this space, we’ll share a Pain Letter example.)
  • Use one concrete, highly relevant example to illustrate your past success solving a nearly identical variety of business pain — a la “I slew that same type of dragon last year in Romania.”
  • Keep your Pain Letter short and simple. Don’t veer off into a litany of your skills and accolades. End with a simple call to action, e.g. “I’d love to talk when your schedule allows.”
  • If you are writing a Pain Letter to a decision-maker in response to a posted job ad, remember to keep your focus on the pain — NOT on the list of requirements specified in the job ad. That list of requirements is trivial — the belief that you can solve the decision-maker’s pain is not.
  • Send your Pain Letter with your highly-targeted resume (not the generic resume you send out in response to every job ad you see – you’re going to burn that thing and never, ever use it again). A snail mail letter to the decision-maker’s desk is the best choice if you can’t find a personal connection. If you can — via your 3-D network or LinkedIn – use that trusted-colleague avenue first, of course.

We cannot always locate ‘our’ hiring manager’s name. In an enormous organization like IBM, it may be nearly impossible to do that. For organizations of about 10,000 employees and fewer, we have a decent chance of locating ‘our’ decision-maker, and for organizations of 1,000 employees and fewer, it should be a slam-dunk exercise that takes about five minutes. More on that topic — finding the decision-maker — along with a sample Pain Letter in next week’s blog post. The big message for this week: no more resumes wasted in the black hole!