Career Advice, Interviews

Stop! Don't Send That Resume

When you spot a job that looks interesting on Monster or CareerBuilder or anywhere, it’s logical and tempting to apply for it. The job ad says “Apply Now!” and you think: I’ll do it!

It’s not a good idea to apply for the jobs we spot online – at least, not in the moment. It’s better to stop, reflect, and draw up an action plan to make your resume send-off count.

For one thing, the black hole is the last place we want our resume to be. When we spot a job that looks great for us, we’ve gained some valuable information – e.g., the knowledge that Vandalay Industries is hiring a Market Research Analyst. We may decide to apply for the job. If we do, we can almost always find a way to avoid pitching our resume into the black hole (i.e. the Receptacle Most Likely to Chew it Up and Spit it Out).

If we think the Vandalay Industries job is a good fit for us, it’s worth our time to do some research and learn more about the company than the skimpy bit of intelligence the job ad itself provides. If we think we’re a fit, we owe it to ourselves to go after the job in a more thoughtful way than to lob a resume into the HR void.

Let’s do this, instead:

  • Save the job – both the link to the job ad (as a Favorite) and the text of the job ad itself (in Word).
  • Research the employer, starting with the company’s own website. Who is the hiring manager for ‘your’ position most likely to be? Is this person’s bio and contact information listed on the employer’s website? If not, can we tease out the name of ‘our’ hiring manager on LinkedIn?
  • What can we learn about the employer? Do they have some good news in the Press section of their website, something we could mention in our cover letter?
  • Can we learn what the hiring manager is most likely to be facing business-challenge-wise — that is, the real reason for the job ad to exist in the first place?

The more we can learn before we blast off a resume and cover letter (I call it a Pain Letter) package, the better. We may not have to trifle with the black hole of HR at all. We may be able to reach the hiring manager via LinkedIn, email or snail mail, directly. What if we wrote to that hiring manager and in our letter, talked to him or her about what we believe to be the most pressing business issues, and mentioned our own most relevant successes? Could that approach get our resume more attention than the ten-second glance the hundred-or-so black hole resumes are getting?

And what if we took a few minutes to customize our resume for the specific job at hand? We could highlight the bullets from our past jobs that speak most directly to this job opening.

Blasting off resumes one after the other is satisfying, but it doesn’t work very well. We’re much more powerful on paper when we can tailor our resume-Pain letter package to a specific manager, a specific employer and an ultra-specific business need.

What if we wrote a letter to the hiring manager and sent it via U.S. mail? We might write:

Dear Ms. Johnson,

I was lucky enough to catch your CFO’s radio interview with Minnesota Business News, and to hear about Nutcracker Sweets’ plans to expand into dessert toppings in 2010. Congratulations on that exciting project!

I’d have to guess that, given the success of Nutcracker’s gluten-free toffee and your distribution deal with Whole Foods, your talented Marketing team is being taxed to the limit. The product line extensions you’re launching in 2010 are likely to require more in-depth and varied Marketing Research initiatives than ever.

When I led the Marketing Research charge at La Boheme Confections, we were under the gun to launch our Mimi’s Peanut Brittle for the 2007 holiday season, and in need of powerful research data nearly overnight. We kicked off a ten-city focus group series and a simultaneous round of in-store consumer opinion surveys that gave us the critical information we needed. Mimi’s Peanut Brittle launched on time with a few key, last-minute, research-driven pricing and promotion changes, and became one of our top sellers.

When your schedule allows, I’d love to talk about Nutcracker’s research needs and share a bit of my background with you.


Beverly Sills

You’re too smart and too savvy to send off one more boilerplate cover letter, and way too qualified to waste your time on the black hole where resumes languish. Instead of sending another resume on the spot, spend your time researching the need and spotting the decision-maker, to make your effort worth its while.