A reader writes:
I think the thing that is so galling about networking for many people is that it takes a very unpleasant situation - being unemployed - and demands that it permeate every aspect of your life. Are you at your friend's wedding and having a casual conversation with someone you haven't seen in years? Make sure to mention that you're unemployed, try to discretely probe them about their job and if there's any open positions, find a way to rebuff their suggestions that there's only some entry level stuff that you're probably overqualified for?
Really, make sure they understand how desperate you are. Or watch them squirm as they try to find a way to tell you that they don't think you're qualified, or that they don't really relish the idea of seeing you every day at the water cooler. If you're lucky, it may get to the point where you're handing this casual acquaintance your resume, which they will invariably read and comment on. And because they have a job and you don't, you'll have to take their advice humbly and gratefully, even if it is your good for nothing brother-in-law or that guy who dated your wife before you. And then, their company won't hire you.
I do some of the hiring at my law firm. I would say that about 85% of the applications were rejected before I ever read the resume. I don't need marketing and branding - how about just a little common sense!?
There shouldn't be any typos in your cover letter. It should be addressed to the appropriate person. It should be well written - I assume when reading every cover letter this is the absolute best letter you can write. You've had all the time in the world to work on it, the opportunity to have friends, family, colleagues, career counselors, etc. review and critique it. So, if it's not perfect I am not going to interview you. I am not even going to read your resume. Why should I? If you can't get this most important to you letter perfect, what makes me think the work you do for me will even be passable?
When you do come in for an interview, be polite. Show up on time or a little early. Don't show up too early. 5-10 minutes early and I know you are a punctual person. 1/2 hour to 1 hour early and you are now a nuisance. I have to find a place to put you. I have to rearrange my schedule or make you wait. If you are that early, go get a cup of coffee around the corner. If you show up late, I'm not even going to bother interviewing you.
I used to be a receptionist for a large investment firm. When people would come in to fill out an application, they would come to me. If they asked me to borrow a pen, I'd lend it to them - but then I'd throw their application away as soon as they left. My boss wanted nothing to do with anyone who couldn't come prepared from the get go. Sometimes the smallest details count.
I do much of the hiring for a non-profit organization, and when we advertise positions, the first weeding out occurs with people who can’t follow instructions. If a cover letter is not included, or if it is misspelled or badly punctuated, it goes to the bottom of the pile or gets thrown out altogether. We are too busy and produce too many reports for me to have to clean up after someone who might be a brilliant analyst but doesn’t know the basics of subject-verb agreement. And I read so many resumes that I can pick up on BS and padding nine times out of ten. So don’t tell me you’re an expert in a highly specific software package that you’ve probably never even heard of, judging from your actual work experience.
On the other hand, for a recent position, an applicant applied and then hand-delivered her resume. She caught me at the very beginning of my work day, when I was checking my email and making my tea (in other words, excellent timing), and I looked her resume over. We were able to schedule an interview, and it was clear in the interview that she was the kind of personality that would fit well here (we do hire intending to train, so qualifications are not as important as work ethic and). She starts the week after next. The clincher was the handwritten thank-you note.
I’ve been on search committees for higher positions than this (department and division heads) whose applicants weren’t this proactive and courteous. But she really wanted this job it was a perfect fit for her education and ambitions and she managed to convey that desire without coming across as pushy or aggressive. And, no, she was not recommended, nor did she know anyone here, so no networking was involved, although it certainly is helpful if a current employee can recommend someone whose skill set fits what we’re looking for regarding internships, and those internships can turn into offers of permanent positions.