Think Beyond Resumes and Cover Letters

We're living in a world where managers tend to hire from within – and where their colleagues can vouch for a candidate. When an internal candidate can't be found, they'll look to hire people in their network. It's like social media – word of mouth from trusted sources.

Long gone are the days of sending boatloads of cover letters and resumes to as many job postings as you can find in hopes of getting an interview. In the popular book What Color Is Your Parachute?, author Richard Bolles discusses this as well as a few recruiters and managers who I chatted with. And through my own experiences and those of my friends.

Unfortunately, it seems more common now not to receive any response whatsoever. No matter how much your skills and experience fit the job description. Remember, you're just another faceless resume among hundreds. So why use up all that valuable networking time with crafting cover letter after cover letter, tailoring resume after resume?

Fun Fact: You might recognize Daniele's amazing illustrations from my book, Improve with Improv. I love his work! 

Lately, I’ve been coming across blog posts advising to forget cover letters and resumes altogether and rely solely on networking. Well, I’m advising not to completely give up on the practice just yet.

While their effectiveness has plummeted in the traditional method, they are still requested in correspondence within your network. At least that has been my experience.

Resumes and cover letters are just one tool in your job search toolbox. Just don't make them sending them to job postings your only tactic. Chances are:

The HR person who wrote the job description may not fully understand the needs of the hiring manager

I spoke with one recruiter who works in a government agency and conducts regular surveys of hiring managers to gauge the job market in the greater Toronto area. She shared that hiring managers are reporting of having trouble finding the right people with the right skills. Huh? How is that possible in my city of over 3 million and growing? Her theory is of a missing link between hiring managers and HR personnel understanding their needs.

My recruiter explained that when an HR professional researches the position, chances are, he or she will turn to Google. And ends up copying bits from other job postings. After all, “I need someone to update the website” can mean textual changes or enhancing online interactivity (community management or creating games?). “I need someone who also knows how to use Excel since one small part of the job uses Excel” doesn't necessarily require someone with “Advanced knowledge of Excel”.

So in this scenario, the hiring managers who know exactly what they need aren't doing the screening of the river of cover letters and resumes that flood in.

Don't write your cover letter to the job description either

So if the job description is just a Frankenstein made up of other job descriptions (copies of a copy of a copy?), don't even bother with the old rule of writing to the job description. Instead, show the value that you bring to the company, advises my government recruiter/researcher. But be sure to use the right keywords because...

Your cover letter and resume aren't necessarily being read by a human

It's no secret that most incoming job applications are sent directly to scanning software. Imagine having to go through hundreds of resumes for a job description you only half understand. Every one of those resumes is just another blank face in a mountain taking up time to find proof that one of those blank faces who pay strong attention to detail are in fact the winning candidate.

Some job postings may not even be real

You know that certain process in offices which make things “fair” for everyone in and outside of the company to have a chance at a job. “First we post internally then if no one applies, we post externally”. Right. It's more like “we need to show on paper that we followed procedure”. I've heard that many times over the years. Recently, one of my cousins witnessed a parade of job interviews at his workplace despite the job having already been filled.

I'm not saying all this happens with every job posted out there (well, as far as I will ever know) but it sure does add more weight to the benefits of networking over solely relying on job postings.

You're not a blank face to the people in your network

As the new people in your network come to know you and the many values that you bring, you will have a much higher chance at getting referrals even to those overworked HR people. But be prepared to follow up with a request to email them your resume and cover letter.

What are your experiences like with this? Do you still use resumes and cover letters? 


Guest post by Daniele Rossi.