Leadership and career

Why Letters and Resumes Won’t Land You a Job

By February 8, 2016 No Comments

Following-up by phone and in person is most important

Q: I have been in electronics manufacturing for 30 years, during which time I progressed from assembler to director of manufacturing. Last year my job was eliminated, and I spent eight months searching for a new position. I’m now working, but at less than half my previous salary of $72,000.

Needless to say, my search for a more rewarding position is continuing. I’ve tried many tactics, including sending three different resumes and a sales letter. The resumes haven’t been very productive, but the sales letter has produced several interviews and many calls (see the sample letter below). How should I proceed?

sample letter

A; It appears that thus far in your search, you have relied on just two techniques to land interviews: broadcast letters and resumes. As part of an overall campaign, both are useful tools, but only if you follow up by telephone or in person. You must recognize that alone, letters and resumes won’t uncover the best positions.

A balanced job search campaign should include extensive networking (the single most effective job-hunting technique), answering ads (although the competition is extremely stiff), selectively using executive search firms and mailing out concisely worded resumes and broadcast letters. Relying on this last tactic alone can bring many lonely days waiting for a response. According to career and job search expert Richard Bolles, author of “What Color Is Your Parachute,” only one person lands a job for every 1,470 resumes sent out. Those are tough odds.

A review of your sales letter reveals how you can improve your chances. The success you’ve received so far is a testament to the fact that it covers three critical points:

  1. It explains your expertise in a variety of manufacturing activities.
  2. It quantifies your results.
  3. It is succinct and to the point.

While we say in Texas, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” your letter could be even more effective if you told readers specifically why you are interested in working for their companies and how your experience would be of immediate use. Such additions would require a few hours of research, but your more descriptive letter will be worth the effort.

The same approach works when writing resumes. You have an excellent background to sell, but your resume isn’t working probably because you aren’t zeroing in on the right target companies and aren’t explaining how your skills are relevant to their needs.

Think of your resume as a well-aimed sales tool. It should begin with a specific objective and include a summary of your experience, education and credentials to illustrate how you will successfully accomplish the job. It should list your experience in prioritized order and clearly follow the job description of the open position.

A company in search of a quality control manager, for example, will expect to see your background in quality control as the first listing on your resume. If that means using a functional resume to bring older experiences to the forefront, do it. And while writing three resumes is a good start, you should be able to adapt every resume you send to the company that receives it.

Your cover letters can also capture employers’ attention by including three key ingredients:

  1. State specifically why you are interested in the particular company. Mention their prominence in the field, their need for quality control experts and that your friend Bob Brown in engineering suggested that you apply.
  2. Explain why they should meet with you. Write that you have 15 years of experience in manufacturing control and testing and that you have successfully implemented the program that they are about to start.
  3. Then make clear that you will follow up with a call to schedule an appointment to discuss potential employment.

If a networking contact doesn’t have a specific name for you or if an ad is devoid of a name, call the company to find out who is in charge of the area where you’re applying. Then address your letter to that person. Even if it eventually makes its way to human resources, the person who does the hiring will have seen it and may remember you later on.

Once resumes and broadcast letters are out of the way, concentrate on developing personal contacts. Managers want to hire people with whom they are comfortable, particularly at the senior executive level. That’s why you must follow up every resume with a phone call. Face-to-face discussion can never be replaced by a piece of paper.

When phoning, be prepared to briefly reiterate your interest and qualifications for the job and your desire to schedule an appointment. Most managers will grant you a meeting following such a call even if you aren’t a perfect fit. If they like you, they may offer you the position, create an opening or refer you to someone else who can use your service or offer guidance.

As you follow up on resumes sent, increase your networking efforts with friends, relatives and business associates. They may know of unadvertised openings and can help you extend your contacts beyond people you already know personally or professionally. Don’t be afraid to go one step further by contacting acquaintances within professional organizations, your church, fraternal and civic groups, hobby clubs, fellow volunteers, the instructor and fellow students in a continuing education course and even those people you read about in your research.

Ask for 30-minute appointments with each contact and make sure to discuss your mutual interests from the very start. If you’re a generalist, emphasize your combination of talent and expertise. If the contact is unwilling to meet, ask for names of other people who may be helpful. Once a meeting is scheduled, create a proposal to bring along that outlines how you can help the contact’s company.

In your specific case, it may be wise to speak with a few recruiting firms that specialize in manufacturing. Use a directory of recruiters to identify the best prospects. Your experience will likely coincide with one of their searches.

One trap you should avoid, one that often plagues long-term job hunters, is lowering your sights because employment has been hard to find. While it’s true that director of manufacturing positions are relatively scarce, opportunities below that level may be both counterproductive and more difficult to land. Most companies are afraid to hire people for jobs below their capabilities. If you’ve been hearing, “We want someone with five to seven years of experience for his position. You’re tremendously overqualified,” it’s a sure sign that you need to aim higher.

Working your way up the ladder from assembler to manufacturing director required real initiative and strong communications skills. Use them now to find a management position that closely matches your abilities and background.


Taunee Besson headshotTaunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979, which works with individual and corporate clients in career change; job search; executive, small business and life coaching; college major selection and talent management.

“One of the smartest minds in the career field,” according to Tony Lee (VP of CareerCast Operations at Adicio and former publisher of the Wall Street Journal’s Online Vertical Network), Besson began writing for the Dallas Times Herald in the early 80s. Having read several of her columns, Lee asked her to contribute regular articles to the Journal’s National Business Employment Weekly (NBEW) as well. Since then, she has been a triple award-winning columnist for CareerJournal.com  and Senior Columnist for CareerCast.com, as well as WorkingWoman.com and Oxygen.com. At Lee’s request, Besson authored five editions  of NBEW’s Premier Guide to Resumes and three of its Premier Guide to Cover Letters. She has also written articles and/or been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money and Yahoo among others.

Taunee has worked on community nonprofit boards and committees for over 30 years including Girls Inc., Women’s Center of Dallas, Girl Scouts and Dallas Women’s Foundation, The Volunteers of America and Mortarboard, among others. She was a member of the Leadership Dallas in 1987 and Leadership America in 2003.

In 1994, the Dallas Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development chose her as its “Professional of the Year”. Her NBEW columns were selected for the “Ten Best Article Award” in 1990, 1994 and 1997.  
In 1999, Alpha Gamma Delta, a 200,000 member fraternal organization, named her as one of three “Distinguished Citizens” at its biannual international convention.

Published by Conselium Executive Search, the global leader in compliance search.  

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