We have two questions from readers about advice they’re getting from their parents.
Here’s the first one:
Have the rules about hardcopy resumes changed? I came across a posting for a position that would like to have resumes and cover letters mailed to the company’s HR department. My parents insist that I should print my resume and cover letter on heavy stock paper and mail it in a large envelope so as to not have to fold the documents. They also said I should mail it priority to ensure that it is received. Would a reasonable hiring manager reject a candidate for sending in their documentation on regular white printer paper or for having the gall to tri-fold it to fit into a regular envelope? Does it really matter all that much?
Your parents are following job search rules from the 1980s. But this employer is following rules from the 80s too — it’s very rare to be asked to mail in a hard copy resume these days. It’s so rare that I’m wondering if you came across this ad in an old newspaper from 1989 that your parents have lying around?
In any case … even when an employer is asking for resumes to be mailed in, very few are going care one bit about what kind of paper your materials are printed on. They care about whether you’re the strongest candidate for the job. (And really, would you even want to work for someone who gave you an advantage for using heavy stock paper or cared that you folded them to fit them into a standard envelope? That person will be a manager who gives your coworker a raise because she turns in all her reports in those awful old plastic binders, while you email them like a normal person.)
Send it by normal mail, on normal paper, in a normal envelope. Trust that if you’re a strong candidate for the job, your normal paper will not get in the way of the employer seeing that. At least not any employer who you want to work for.
Your parents are well-intentioned here, but their advice is from a different time.
Here’s the second letter:
I don’t know if the latest advice from my parents is right on or another example of outdated job-searching advice. I should also mention that I live with my parents and they financially support me, so I’m much more inclined to at least consider their advice.
They have been encouraging me to back off on looking for jobs I might be qualified for in the already-posted job ads and instead identify organizations I might like to work for and send them a cover letter and resume, even if they have no jobs posted. They think that if I get myself in front of a hiring manager before a job is even posted, then I will be on their mind when a job becomes open. I am willing to consider this because I know what I am doing presently (applying to online postings) isn’t the most effective way to search. However, I also don’t want to burn bridges with organizations I am interested in because I came across as too pushy or desperate (even though I am desperate. I’m so ready to be employed like, yesterday).
I could also contact these organizations, express my interest and ask for “advice for my search.” I have been doing that for the past year however, and it’s led absolutely nowhere. Maybe I’m doing something wrong here?
Ugh. After all this time, I still have no idea how to network.
Your parents aren’t totally off-base about it being useful to make direct contacts with hiring managers so that they think of you when they have an opening. It’s true that pitching yourself directly to a hiring manager can be effective. But it can’t be a typical cover letter — in order for this to work, it has to be really customized to the person you’re writing to. Either customized to why you really want to work for them (and it has to sound genuine and not in the least bit generic), or customized to how you think you could help them (which can be hard if you’re a recent or semi-recent grad, because you probably aren’t super marketable yet — although who knows, maybe you are).
If you don’t do it that way and instead just send in a fairly typical cover letter, they’re not likely to pay much attention to it.
Your parents are off-base when they tell you to ask these organizations for advice for your search. Most people who do hiring are busy and aren’t going to take time away from their jobs to respond to a request for job search advice from someone they’ve never spoken to. After all, they’re not in the business of giving job search advice; they have something else that they’re focused on getting done. They might give advice to candidates who they’ve interviewed (although plenty don’t even do it then), and they might do it for people in their network, but you’re unlikely to get responses just going in cold. (Also, is it their advice that you’re really seeking? It sounds like your parents are recommending it as a back-door way to build relationships with people who hire, sort of like people who ask for informational interviews when they really want jobs. That rarely works, and it’s usually pretty transparent.)
What I would recommend instead is to take a hard look at your resume and cover letter, using the advice in this post. As I wrote in that post, whenever I talk to people who are frustrated that they’re not getting interviews, the problem is nearly always their resume and cover letter. Nearly always, seriously, even when they think those things are fine. And when they fix them, they start getting interviews. So I’d start there, and be brutally honest with yourself about whether you’ve really done the things that that post will tell you to do.
Meanwhile, regarding parents: While some have great, up-to-date advice, an awful lot don’t. And that’s not just true of parents, of course — it’s true of most people who don’t have significant and recent experience hiring. But you do tend to hear a lot of outdated advice from parents because they’re so invested in helping their kids and will push them to do whatever they think will help, even if their knowledge is outdated.