Some career experts tell you it’s imperative to send a thank-you card after your interview. Others claim an email is a fine follow-up. Still others advise that both are necessary. In the same way, some insist that a resume must never exceed a page. Others advise that multiple pages are perfectly acceptable. How is a job seeker supposed to muster up any confidence when advice abounds, but often conflicts?
First, look at the project itself. It’s a communications exercise, it’s not an exact science. Certain strategies work for particular hiring managers at different companies in various industries. When you read employment advice, you are consulting a panel of experts to learn about the range of possibilities for your communications project. What works well for one hiring manager may not have the same impact for another.
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Then, find your voice. Think about your audience and your industry. Examine this project as you go. Routinely access what is working and what is not. Advice abounds, but this is your project. No one can hand you a fully equipped user’s guide for your job search. You blaze that trail, guided by the input of experts.
Here’s how to make sense of career advice:
Know your audience.
Virginia Woolf famously remarked: “To know whom to write for is to know how to write.” Correspondence pieces are more likely to hit the mark when crafted with the recipient in mind. So imagine who is on the receiving end of your piece and communicate to that person.
A cover letter from a teacher to a school principal, for example, may be meaningful if it includes an anecdote about a well-received class activity. The same piece from an inside-sales engineer, aiming to turn the head of a district manager, may land well if it includes data about successfully-managed work volume.
If you are an entry level professional, and may not yet have the experience to draw from, think about how you communicated with your professors or those you’ve observed in the industry.
Also imagine your audience when you decide how to follow up. Do you think the accountants you interviewed with would value a hand-written thank you note, or do you think an email is a better fit in that case?
If you interviewed for a donor relations position where writing thank you notes is part of the job, then HR guru Liz Ryan’s advice is perfectly on point: “I recommend that you thank your hiring manager twice—once in a quick-written thank-you note card and again in a longer, more substantive email message.”
You have a range of options with these correspondences, so choose the one that best suits your audience.
Understand your expert.
The career advice you read is the best practices of a particular expert coming at it from a certain perspective. He or she may be a human resources, communications, or leadership expert. He or she may have experience in the non-profit, medical, legal, higher education or engineering field.
Experts in all of these fields are well-positioned to post advice about job seeking, but their advice will slightly differ because successful communications in their fields are constructed differently.
In some cases, you may not see an author bio. Then look at the website and decide how much you value that website and that author’s input. In other words, is this your go-to site or expert or is it one that you marginally consult?
Most communications projects require thorough research. The complex project of preparing materials, interviewing for a job, accepting an offer and starting a new job is no different. So decide which websites and which authors best suit your needs as a job seeker.
Recognize that things change.
Make sure that what you’re reading is current. Hiring practices continually evolve, and best practices mirror those advancements.
Managing editor of Business News Daily Nicole Fallon Taylor writes: “High-quality analytics programs already have been applied to customer data to help businesses make better strategic decisions. Candidate information will increasingly get the ‘big data treatment’ so recruiters can quickly and easily locate the best people for the job, experts say.”
Perhaps in the near future, the cover letter and resume won’t even be necessary as our imperfect communications efforts are absorbed by a more powerful application. Until then, keep accessing your practice and refining your approach.