But sometimes a resume and cover letter simply aren’t enough. You’ve answered countless advertisements, either from the newspaper or on line; uploaded your resume to Monster.com, Career.com, and other places; networked without success, and attended job fairs. Nothing has worked so far.
By now you’re feeling thoroughly discouraged by seeing ads for jobs for which you have five of the seven listed requirements—BUT you don’t know anything about real estate. Or three of the five listed requirements—BUT you don’t know anything about financial services. Or insurance. Or whatever the field is.
Also, after a prolonged period of unsuccessful job-hunting, you are probably feeling more unpopular than a stinkbug. Corporations are heartless and rude; they don’t contact you after receiving your resume or sometimes even after asking you in for an interview. You’re left with a feeling that corporations are all-powerful and you’re lucky if they’ll deign to let you even pass through their doors, let alone offer you a job.
Well, there is something you can do, and that’s a marketing letter campaign.
So your qualifications don’t “fit” the classified ad? All right, why don’t we turn this upside down and start with what YOU want, for a change?
What do you want? Do you want a work environment that’s so fast-paced and dynamic that you hardly have time to sit down after you arrive in the morning? An atmosphere that’s so filled with exciting meetings and brainstorming sessions that you don’t even notice when it’s lunchtime? By the time you realize you’re hungry and glance at the clock, you see it’s already 3 p.m.
Or do you prefer an orderly, structured atmosphere in which everything is predictable? Do you like to know that you’ll arrive at 8 a.m., go to lunch from 12 to 1, and reach for your car keys at 5 p.m.?
Everyone wants something different. Some people are looking to put in their 40 hours a week, after which their time is their own, thank you very much: time for family, hobbies, evening classes, or even a second job.
Others want to know they’re making a difference and they’re ready to sacrifice predictability, regular hours, and even free time to feel that they’re doing something important as well as interesting.
Okay. You know what you want. Now—where do you want to work? What makes the difference for you? In my own case, it was always location, location, location. As the family cook I wanted to work close to home so I could spend as little time as possible commuting.
With other people, it’s benefits. Company A might offer four weeks’ vacation time. Company B might offer 90 percent tuition reimbursement. Company C might offer superior health insurance. Everyone has different priorities.
Okay, once you’ve identified your work environment and your priorities, which companies have what you want? Some companies will mention their benefits on their Web sites, just as they used to mention them in huge display ads in the Sunday classifieds before the Internet came along. Unless the company is privately held, it shouldn’t be too hard to find out which benefits they offer.
Some people are particular about the company’s mission. There was a certain lobbying group, headquartered in Virginia, for which I would have refused to work if an agency had tried to send me there when I was a temporary editor. Some people refuse to work for defense contractors, or fossil fuel-based industries, and so forth. You know your own preferences.
One thing to bear in mind: what we’re about to do works best with small companies, say those consisting of no more than 150 employees, including the president and vice president. Large, hierarchical companies are not receptive to this type of approach.
So let’s say after doing some thinking you’ve identified 20 to 40 small companies at which you’d be happy to work. You like the sound of them so much you wouldn’t have to fake enthusiasm for their company mission or product. Pick the top 20 for your “A” list. Remember, we’re about to embark on a highly targeted campaign, so although 20 companies wouldn’t constitute a big enough target if you were just going to indiscriminately spray your resume at them, it’s a great number for our purpose.
Now—what could you do for them? What do they need? In your research you may have uncovered information about the companies’ missions or needs. You already have some idea how they’d fit your needs—how could you fit theirs? How can the companies on your target list benefit from your time and talent?
Let me cite two examples from my own experience. The first time I did a marketing letter I found a company of interest because I’d been given a stack of annual reports to look through, preparatory to writing my own employer’s annual report. From my study of the other company’s annual report it appeared they had contracts in the energy and environmental field. I had some experience as an editor in that field, and the company I was working for was getting on my nerves. First of all, there was hardly any work to do and second, it was a horrendous drive from my house. I wanted to be closer to home.
When a company’s primary mission is that of contractor, it has a special way of obtaining contracts. Obtaining a contract requires responding to the government’s or the private sector company’s issuance of a request for proposal. I knew that technical people grudgingly consent to write proposal sections and attend proposal meetings on top of doing their regular jobs because they have to, if they want to keep working. I also knew that technical people hate having to deal with the nitty-gritty of proposal work—the proofreading, the editing, the page layout, and so forth.
So I wrote to the president of this company, telling him that he may not have been aware of it, but he needed someone like me to mastermind the nitty-gritty of editing and proofreading proposals and contract deliverables. I pointed out that technical professionals were highly paid people who had deadlines to meet and that their valuable time shouldn’t be taken up with publications work when I was perfectly capable of relieving them of that burden.
It was a two-page letter, incorporating a lot of the “you-oriented” phrases in my standard cover letter and some of the material in my resume. After I sent it, I sat back and waited for things to happen. And waited. And waited. Ten weeks later, when I had given up hope that anything at all was going to happen, a telephone call came from a director in that company, requesting that I come in for an interview.
I interviewed for a position (which they created for me) and was hired. The director who called me (by the way, this was a large company, not a small one) had got his job somewhat the same way: he’d decided that this company was where he wanted to work, so he called the president and told him what he could do for him.
The next time I needed a marketing letter, some years had passed. I left the first company when it turned out they’d only put energy and environmental-related photos on the cover of their annual report because they couldn’t talk about what they really did—it was classified. To make a long story short, I left the company, worked a few temporary jobs, and then decided to market myself again.
By this time it was 1982, which was a rotten time to be looking for work. The Ronnie Reagan Recession was in full sway even in my area (metropolitan Washington, DC), which usually has a low unemployment rate. I wanted to work for a small computer company in Tysons Corner, Virginia. By this time I’d learned a couple of things: one, never leave the action up to the recipient of the letter—you have to call him. For another, you have to write to a person two levels above the position you want. Thus, if you’re applying for the job of accountant, you’d write to a director. If you’re a manager, you’d need to write to the vice president. (When I used the marketing letter technique the first time, I wrote to the president, as I said, and my letter was kicked down the chain until it reached the man who interviewed and hired me. That’s why it took 10 weeks.)
Although my field was editing, I knew the prospects of getting work with a small computer company as an editor were slim. What such a company would need, however, was a well-trained office manager. I figured out what the beleaguered president of such a company would need: someone who could receive visitors and direct telephone calls; someone who could set up luncheons and conferences and make hotel reservations; someone who could track all office correspondence and keep records of what went out and when; and so on.
So I wrote a one-page letter that packed a wallop. I wish I still had a copy of it, but this was Before the Internet (BTI), as I said, and paper files have a way of disappearing. All I can tell you is that my one-page letter impressed not only the recipients, but also the word processing operator I paid to type it.
As I remember it, the letter began, “As president of a dynamic, growing company, do you need someone who can do A, B, and C? If so, you may be interested in my background. Then, for every task mentioned, I cited a successful past project I’d performed.
In the penultimate paragraph, I didn’t invite the recipient to call me. I said, “In a few days I will call your office to see whether there is any interest in a short meeting.”
Do you see the difference here? I didn’t say, “I’ll call you,” I said “I’ll call your office.” It’s a lot less presumptuous.
And I didn’t say “interview,” I said “meeting.” Why? Because no job has been advertised. The potential need for my services existed only in the recipient’s mind.
And that brings me to a crucial point: not everyone on your “A” list is going to need someone like you. They may be on the way to bankruptcy, they may have hired someone exactly like you last month, they may hire only people their mother-in-law approves of. But there will be others on that list who are praying that someone just like YOU, with YOUR talents and skills, will walk through their door.
These people are so frantically busy they don’t have time to sit down and fill out a purchase requisition for HR or write a description of the function that needs to be performed. They may get to it eventually, but right now, although the need is strong, the time to set about filling the need is scant or nonexistent, so the job hasn’t been formalized or posted.
And that’s perfect! You want to intercept this need before it’s imprisoned in black and white on paper. That way, the position will be tailored to YOUR qualifications, not to the wish list of every manager in the company. “Oh, great, a new accountant! He should be able to run spreadsheets in Swahili, that’s always so useful.” “Oh, absolutely, and he should speak Lithuanian fluently and have visited Tallin at least once.” “Oh, right, and why shouldn’t he be able to program, too? Then we could fill two positions for the price of one.”
Before you get to the point of sending out letters, though, you have a lot of homework to do. You must find out who has the power to hire you—remember, the person two levels above you—and you have to get that person’s exact name and title. You can’t send it to “Accounting Manager, ABC Company,” because the mailroom guy will slot that right into the dead letter file. I obtained the exact names and titles by calling at 9 a.m., pretending to be an admin who was checking information for her boss. “My manager is going to be sending your manager some correspondence,” I’d say in a bubbly, girlish voice, “and we just wanted to verify the spelling. Is it Mr. Hieronymus Thistle that’s the Accounting Manager at your company? Yes? And is his name spelled---” You get the idea. I called at that hour of the morning to be sure I’d get the receptionist and not the recipient. The receptionist never demanded to know who I was and why I was calling. It’s to be hoped you’ll have equal luck!
I figured out when each recipient would have received the letter and one week later I started calling. This time I called at 8 a.m. or a little after 5:30 p.m., calculating that people at this level would be at their desks early in the morning and after 5 in the evening. Believe me, I had to steel myself to do this—I’m a Pisces, and we’d rather do anything than draw attention to ourselves—but I told myself this was about a job, and I needed one. And at least, having received my letter, the recipient would know who I was and why I was calling. He’d either need someone like me or he wouldn’t.
So what was the result? One of the recipients did call me (my “personalized” stationery included my name, address, and telephone number), but it turned out he needed a secretary. I was going for the position of office manager.
A few of the 20 companies were duds—they were transferring operations to another city or going out of business, or whatever. One man I talked to told me that he wasn’t actually running an IT company, but a company that recruited IT professionals. “I read your letter,” he said. Then he added, with emphasis, “I don’t think you’ll have any trouble finding a job.”
Out of my 20 letters I netted three interviews, all of which were held over lunch. One person made me an offer a day later, one a week later, and one a month later. I took the first one, since that was the job I really wanted.
Let me add a couple of caveats here: first, undertaking this type of campaign is not for the faint of heart. It involves considerable research, a certain amount of chutzpah, and the realization that it will take three or four weeks to see results. It took me two weeks to do the research, write the letter and get it typed and sent out. But from the time I started calling until the time I started work was…two weeks.
Second, these ideas are not original with me. In the late 1970s and early 1980s I was all about Advancing My Career. In pursuit of this, I read book after book from the library about how to get the job of my choice despite being working class and lacking a network. (We didn’t call it a “network” in those days, we called it “having connections.”)
One commenter on my first diary in this series, Writing A Resume That’ll Make You Look Good, stated that he didn’t believe resumes were necessary. In his view—an interesting point of view, I’ll admit—the only way to get a job is through networking.
However, I’m here to tell you that when I looked for a job in the private sector I found employment in four different ways: answering classified ads in the newspaper; going through the yellow pages of the telephone directory; using marketing letters; and networking. (This, of course, was BTI.)
In every instance when it came to finding work in the private sector, I was asked to supply a resume.
So let us assume that you filled out the interview form supplied in my diary (First Step in Preparing Your Resume—Filling Out the Interview Form), from that you’ve created a resume that shows your skills and background to best advantage, and you’ve created a “you-oriented” cover letter. These are the basic tools you’re going to need for the marketing letter campaign.
For the office manager position, I kept the letter to one page because I didn’t want the recipients to sit through a dull catalogue of administrative tasks. For the editorial position I used a two-page marketing letter.
What I did was create a scenario in the first couple of paragraphs, like this:
September 15, 2011
Dear Mr. Thistle,
As president of a software company, your day is filled with meetings, e-mail, decisions, interaction with your employees, and travel. You work from early until late and probably wish either the day was twice as long, or you had expert help to relieve you of some of the tasks that fill your time. You may be concerned about the efficiency of your back office operations—the accounting, the contracts administration, and the human resources—and the seeming impossibility of melding them into one smoothly functioning department.
You’re in luck, because I’m an experienced business manager with skills in contracts administration, staffing, and office administration.
Do you need someone who can supervise your junior accountants and bookkeepers to ensure reports are delivered accurately and on time? If so, you may be interested to know that in my present position I supervise two junior accountants who prepare monthly GAAP and statutory financial statements as well as filing quarterly statutory reports with state insurance departments. In the past five years we have met every deadline and even earned bonuses for three consecutive years for accuracy and timeliness.
Are you looking for someone who can quickly and efficiently evaluate contracts and verify compliance with state and federal regulations? In my previous position I worked with the Internal Revenue Service and Department of Labor to ensure compliance with such regulations as well as analyzing and clarifying contract terms.
If you need an experienced human resources person who can evaluate high-quality candidates and process applications efficiently, you might be interested to know that in my previous position I recruited, interviewed, and hired 14 employees, achieving a retention record of 80 percent.
My career spans 15 years, from 1997 to the present. With a B.S. in Accounting from George Mason University, I went on to earn certificates in contracts administration, human resources, and project management from Montgomery College in Maryland. My current position will end soon owing to a reduction in force, which is why I’m seeking a new challenge.
In a few days I will call your office to see whether there is any interest in arranging a short meeting.
Thank you for your consideration in reading this letter. I’m looking forward to talking with you.
Very truly yours,
You see what we’re doing here? We’re setting up a (completely imaginary) scenario of what the recipient’s day is like and we’re offering to relieve him or her of some of his burdens. In my experience very few people object to being told they’re overworked. The fact that you’re offering to take on some of that load is quite appealing.
You can adapt a letter like this to your own situation after you’ve figured out what the recipient needs and how you can supply the need. Of course I put Personal and Confidential on the outside of the letter so the admin wouldn’t open it and read it. As with cover letters, be sure to use the word “you” frequently. Avoid beginning sentences with the word “I” as much as possible.
There are times when an easier approach will work. Back when I was working for a big company and doing resumes in my spare time, I heard of a young woman who was a proofreader but wanted to be an editor. She had the background and skills to do the job, but was stuck with low pay in an office that wasn’t even in her state: she lived in Maryland and worked in Virginia. As the mother of a young son, she wanted to work closer to home.
I told her to study the display ads in the Sunday classifieds, noting which companies had the best benefits and which were the closest to her house. I pointed out that if they were hiring engineers and other professionals to staff a contract, those contracts would have deliverables, and those deliverables would often take the form of written reports.
She came back a week later with three ads. We picked one and I wrote a cover letter for her using the same technique that had worked for me. The letter pointed out that engineers had more important tasks than editing contract deliverables and arranging for their publication, and so on. However, she, the applicant, would be pleased to handle this task for them. (Of course, I’d already rewritten the resume to highlight her qualifications and achievements.)
She didn’t even need to bother with the other two prospects. The company she wrote to asked her in for an interview and hired her as an editor on the spot. Three months later they took her to lunch, told her they’d underestimated the responsibilities of her job, and proposed to give her a $3,000 raise. “I almost fell off my chair!” she told me later on the telephone. “They told me it was my cover letter and resume that got me the job. I thought you’d like to know that,” she added, “seeing that you wrote them both.
This approach works best with employers who are entrepreneurial and innovative themselves; it generally doesn’t work on a “by the book” human resources manager in a big company. This type of person looks first for a degree, then for a particular job title, then at everything else. Therefore, I’d advise using this approach with fairly small companies. If you need benefits, of course, you’ll to want to target companies of sufficient size to offer benefits but which still retain a “small company” culture.
In conclusion, I hope these ideas will help you get a job. Unfortunately, unemployment is too widespread for this method to be effective for everyone. It’s hard to steel yourself to undertake a task like this that involves research on such a scale, and it’s hard to adopt a cheery “Gee, everything’s wonderful” tone of voice when you talk to the recipients of your letter. After all, you’re unemployed.
But the good part of a campaign like this is that YOU are in control. The people you’re talking to are working for companies that YOU respect and would like to work for. You don’t have to fake enthusiasm for their mission or their product. And should you strike gold, the position you take will be tailored to your particular talents and skills, not anyone else’s.
So best of luck to you who are venturesome enough to try this method—it did work for me, twice—and when you get that job, tell us about it in a diary!