let’s ring the death knell for postal mail in the hiring process

Several people have asked me recently about whether there’s any advantage to sending your resume — or later follow-up — by postal mail.

I’m sure there are still some hiring managers out there who would disagree, but I hate postal mail in the hiring process for the following reasons:

1. It takes extra time. I keep everything electronically, so getting something by postal mail (or fax, for that matter) requires extra effort to integrate it with the rest of my files.

2. I can’t forward it electronically. I like being able to forward a resume to others to get input, or even to say “hey, this guy applied for position X, but you might like him for position Y that you’re hiring for.”

3. To me, it feels a little old-school, even almost oddly naive. Like you might have read a job-hunting guide from 1987.

If you’re using postal mail to try to stand out, consider that that might not be the way to achieve it.

In fact, if you ever find yourself thinking “I’m going to do ___ to stand out from all the other candidates,” you better be referring to (a) being an incredibly qualified candidate, (b) writing a great cover letter, and/or (c) being friendly, responsive, thoughtful, and enthusiastic. If you’re filling in the blank in that sentence with anything not related to the actual quality of your candidacy, you’re probably getting too gimmicky and losing focus on what really does stand out.

{ 26 comments… read them below }

  1. Kelly O*

    Do you think it's better to send Word Documents or pdf files? I've heard different opinions on the subject and am curious what you think.

  2. Anonymous*

    To semi-answer Kelly, I've heard that PDFs are better since no one can manipulate it. But I don't know what the true opinion is out there.

    As for sending things via snail mail, there are plenty of places that still ask for things that way. And these places are reputable. I'd suggest applying the way the company advertises in the position posting.

  3. Ask a Manager*

    Kelly: Everyone has their own preferences, of course, but I'd recommend using a PDF, at least for your resume. If you send it in Word, the formatting can look totally different on their end than it does in yours — whereas in a PDF it'll always look identical. For something like a resume that usually has a lot of formatting, I think a PDF is much better.

    Anonymous: Well, absolutely. If someone requests it in a particular format — mail or whatever — that's how you should go.

  4. Anonymous*

    I think people want to send by mail because they believe those HR databases feel like black holes that lead to know where

  5. Waldo*

    This is a very subjective on the part of the hiring manager, and of course accept that that is your preference to not receive dead-tree messages. For my past two positions I had received very positive feedback regarding the post-interview thank you letters that I had sent the Hiring Manager. (Though I did email the same message as well.) I was told that the letters did make me stand out (though in both cases I was already their top choice.)

    I personally recommend sending both, and for the hard-copy, do it right. Nice paper (resume paper), printed at a very fine setting (not fast draft / ink-saving), and pay for First Class or Priority postage, even if it is local mail. I believe that this last plants an impression that you care enough about this to pay extra for postage.

    I admit that these can all be considered gimmicks, however they can add to the overall impression of thoroughness.

    Additionally, when planning the face-to-face interview, I find out how many people that I will be interviewing with, and print out x+1 resumes on said high-quality resume paper, and distribute them to all interviewers in nice folders. Again, something of a gimmick, but it does have tangible benefits. First, it doesn't fit in with a stack of resumes, and if it does, it's on much heavier paper stock. Second, it ensures that the interviewer sees your resume as you intended it; I've seen my own resume butchered by Headhunters and HR departments, and most interviewers comment that 'this looks very different from what I'd received.' in positive tones. Finally, it gives them a place to take notes, directly in-line with the items displayed on the resume. It's a subtle tactile reminder of the effort put forth, and their having taken notes on it gives them a reason to not throw it away.

    In any case, I love the blog. Many thanks,

  6. Interviewer*

    If you send a paper resume to me via priority mail, I would assume you are extremely frivolous your own cash, and that you would behave similarly with the company budget. Thus, your resume stands out for a bad reason, and the best resume paper in the world with the sharpest ink in the world would not help you.

    And if you are emailing AND snail mailing your resume – I would assume you think I am not doing my job by sending it to me two ways. Emailing, then calling to follow up is appropriate. Emailing, then snail mailing – highly annoying.

    Bringing extra copies of your resume to the interview is appreciated, but I always have one to use, and I make notes on it from our phone interview that I want to refer to during our in-person meeting. So I will set your copy aside. Also, part of my job is to give copies to the other people who will interview you. Rarely, they forget one, or bring extra team members in to interview who might need one, so in that instance, it's helpful to provide it.

    However, headhunters don't want you to bring your own copy, because your version invariably has your contact info on it. A big no-no when they want the client to call the headhunter, not the prospect directly. When dealing with a headhunter, ask them how they want you to handle the situation. They will gladly send you copies of your resume to use, with their contact info. You could even discuss with them how the resume looks after they format it with their contact info, and make sure they're sending out a version that you like.

    I throw out envelopes and folders that come with resumes. By the way, if they're glossy I can't put them in the recycling bin. That's kind of annoying, and again, a waste of money.

    People are polite and say thank you when you give them nice resume copies, because that's what you're supposed to do when you receive something. I don't act annoyed when people give me a folder I can't recycle, and I don't berate candidates for sending the same resume to me two different ways. But this blog is a perfect opportunity for me to say out loud, you shouldn't do it, and here's why it's annoying.

  7. Anonymous*

    In regards to Waldo's comment:

    I only put my resume on actual resume paper once, and it wasn't even for a paying job. I've been interviewed other times when using regular paper.

    I use draft most of the time, but I leave it on normal for resumes. However, I don't think my printer settings matter as long as it works.

    As for sending via priority mail, I don't think the person who receives it will think much of it. They see "priority" and think about its importance, and then, no offense, see it as just another resume.

    And with the way the economy is right now, if I applied to a ton of jobs and kept spending my money like this to stand out, I won't survive. There's got to be a balance. Yes, make your resume stand out, but I want my skills, experience, and education to get me the job, not how much my postage stamp cost.

    AAM – What's your view on this? Did anyone's use of particular paper, ink, and postage make you more interested in them than the other resumes?

  8. Ask a Manager*

    Anonymous at 8:09 PM: I agree wholeheartedly. The day that I'm giving candidates extra credit for using nice paper or high-quality ink or sending an application by priority mail is the day that someone needs to ban me from hiring, because I'm no longer doing my job right.

    My job is to discern who the best candidate is. At best, gimmicks don't matter. At worst, they get in the way or even hurt. At least if you're dealing with someone who's good at their job (which, admittedly, you may not be).

    By the way, bravo to Interviewer's point that "people are polite and say thank you when you give them nice resume copies, because that's what you're supposed to do when you receive something."

  9. Ask a Manager*

    By the way, Waldo, sorry to beat up on you :) Especially after you said nice things about my blog — I have no manners. I hope you will continue to love me anyway!

  10. Waldo*

    I find it interesting that my comments elicit such a strong negative reaction. �While these are subtle manipulations (which I can admit they are; however they are not malicious), they are intended to convince you to have a positive opinion of me, the interviewee. �That is, after all, the point of the interviewee; all things being equal between myself and another candidate, you're supposed to prefer me.

    This to me is a far less insidious means of manipulation recommended to 'game the interview' than social engineering ploys such as effective smalltalk and matching body language. �This is an example of thoroughness and being "detail oriented". �If being a stronger candidate was all that mattered, I wouldn't typically need to wear a suit, would I…?

    I would hope that the stronger candidate won the offer; I certainly don't want to work with someone who was chosen because of their smile or who their Golf partner is.

    Before today's comments, if two separate equally-strong candidates were left to select from, and one of them was me, I would be surprised if you thought of the letter as an annoyance rather than considering this an example of the documentation and communication that you could expect. �I'm not trying to tell you how to feel; I'm just saying that I would be surprised.


  11. Waldo*

    No worries about beating up on me; I have a thick skin. Besides, as I said, these are manipulation tactics. But from the candidates' perspective, it is an attempt to tip the scales in my favor. Most people get upset when they found that they've been tricked. Most of the time, it is too late, and harm has been done. Of the positions that I've held, I have been an excellent employee, and the companies have been better off for my service. (The word "manipulation" has such nasty connotations, doesn't it…)

    Your manners are fine and your reputation intact. I do not mind people disagreeing with me as long as they can either elucidate why or just admit they they have no reason but that "it just feels wrong."

  12. Ask a Manager*

    Waldo, I think the suit comparison is a really good one. I can definitely see why you've reached the conclusions you have — there is a logical path to get there, for sure. It's tied to the idea of putting your best face forward.

    But somehow it's not the same thing. In some ways, sending a resume by priority mail (to use the most extreme of the examples being debated) signifies that the candidate hasn't thought through the fact that it's easier for most employers to have the application electronically, for instance, and that in their attempt to stand out, they're sacrificing convenience and efficiency on the employer's end.

    I'm overstating it a bit; it's more subtle than that, but it's definitely tied into a sense of putting more of an emphasis on appearances over substance.

    How about this: Showing that you pay attention to the surface details like this does matter and it does count — it's why you wear a suit. But some of these tactics would be the equivalent of wearing a tuxedo to an interview — the candidate was right that they should dress up, but they applied it in a way that wasn't quite right.

    I can tell I'm not articulating this perfectly; I'll keep trying.

  13. Kelly O*

    I will say that I've never gone to the lengths that Waldo has in sending resumes, however I do bring copies with me to interviews, just in case. I don't present them when I sit down, however if the interviewer doesn't have a copy with him/her (and it's happened more times than I can really get my head around, but that's another post comment) I have one at the ready. They're certainly not in individual folders, but they're easily accessible to me should they be needed.

    I'll also add that I really dislike when third party recruiters send a resume out and don't tell the candidate, because it really makes you look rather dumb when you have no idea something is on your resume. During one interview I actually asked if that was my resume, and handed over the same resume I'd sent the recruiter. We both got an education when we saw what had been changed – I certainly wasn't a fit for that position, and we both were given pause about a recruiter's actions.

  14. Waldo*

    The point of the dead-tree letter is to provide a tangible reminder of me, and the point of the extra postage is to signify that I assign enough value to this message and our meeting to put forth the extra effort to make a trip to the Post Office. I covered being efficient by sending the contents of the message after I finished composing the letter, printing it for a final proof-read, and placing in an envelope.

    How many emails do you receive in a day? I receive a couple of hundred on a typical day. As with most people with such a high volume, not all of them apply directly to me, and sometimes items that I mark for followup get lost in the mix or lose the mindshare that I'd like them to have.

    How many letters do you receive at work in the course of a day? (That is, addressed to you, by name.)

    As you said, it's tied to putting my best face forward. Yes, I can see how, especially if you selected another candidate you don't want to hear from me, and my letter is an inconvenience to you. I agree about the 'inconsideration' involved; I belong to a couple of area community mailing lists and advocate staying on topic, marking "off topic" items clearly, but still keeping those to a minimum. Otherwise they impinge on my time and attention. It can be a classic example of "Death by a thousand cuts".

    However, from an Advertising standpoint (disclaimer: I'm not in advertising, so I may be waaaaay off, but from what I see in real life) repetition works. How can I get your eyes on me?

    I find it interesting that you find this part of my interviewing strategy so offensive to your sensibilities, as you have validated everything else that I do in advice that you have given in other posts. I wonder if it would have been different if I had phrased it differently; I intended my use of the terms gimmick and manipulation to be brutally honest, but if I had themed the conversation around "quaint courtesies", would the opinion be different? (Email quantity vs Post quantity again?)

    Again, this isn't intended or expected to turn a "don't hire" to an offer; it's a detail like straightening my tie or making sure there's no spinach in my teeth, or a finishing touch like polishing my shoes.

    As I write this, I think the wording really has colored my intentions, and I'm perfectly willing to take that as failure on my part to communicate effectively. In any case, I think that I agree with you more often than I don't. However on this issue of preference, I will have to respectfully disagree.

    In any case, I am glad to have shared this dialogue with you, and hope you keep up the great work.

    Respectfully Submitted,

  15. Ask a Manager*

    No, no, not offensive at all! But from my standpoint, you've made all that effort, but when it gets to me it elicits this reaction: "Sigh, now I need to find a way to get this into my electronic system." Which isn't the reaction you're going for.

    But yes, we can agree to disagree, and I too am grateful for the dialogue. I do think you're making the strongest case possible for the other side of this.

  16. Anonymous*

    Before I write again, I'm just talking strictly from the standpoint of when you are sending a resume via snail mail. I'm not talking about sending it along with an email version. Some places do ask for snail mail when they only offer a physical address. That being said, I'll move on.

    Waldo, while written word might be taken the wrong way, I just want to say that everything I write here is meant respectfully.

    After some thought, I can see your point with the ink and paper. It can bring a touch of professionalism to your paperwork. However, I don't know if that exactly guarantees a higher chance since in my own past, I have used regular paper and ink and received interviews. I highly doubt (or at least I hope to doubt) paper and ink didn't tip the scales in someone else's favor. If that was or were to be the case, that would be a low and cheap blow, and I would be beyond angry. So I guess you can say that I'm on the fence.

    As for priority mail, to me, that's an effort you might be seeing and no one else will note (especially about taking it to the post office). I don't think the receiver cares where you sent the resume from – whether it was at the post office, your home mailbox, or the one outside your local grocery store; they aren't going to know besides the town stamped in the postmark. Furthermore, I don't know if you are sending the right message by having priority mail attached to the envelope. It might make you look desperate. They might think you're overdoing the "look at me, I'm important" bit. I wouldn't want to jeopardize my chances because I paid a few extra pennies for a stamp.

    Of course, there might be people out there who will agree with you. But in my opinion, especially with the extremeness of the priority mail, you might be paying attention to detail in the wrong places, even in an act of manipulation. It can possibly backfire.

    You have plenty of other opportunities to stand out, including the interview, and the thank you note following the original sending of your resume.

    And finally, as for comparing the interview to what you have written, at the interview, you are showing how well put together you are – you aren't going to show up in your pjs looking as if you rolled out of bed at work. I can see your paper and ink comparison lining a little bit here, but if your resume/cover letter are well organized, it might not be as much. But the stamp is way out of the league; like I've said, it's detail in the wrong place.

    Respectfully ~Anonymous 8:09

  17. Waldo*

    Thank you, Alison.

    Anon, your comments make it clear to me that I have left out a very important point: I typically reserve the special paper and postage treatment for the Thank You Letter (Again, a failure to be completely clear…) Thank you for your input. I do appreciate you seeing the point that I am attempting to make. I acknowledge that it could quite possibly be a detail that nobody notices. Daily life is full of invisible details! I am fine with this, but it is a valid point.

    My resume is typically sent electronically to the hiring manager, by a headhunter, by me directly, or via a submission process. I don't think I've ever mailed in a resume… I do print out the nice resume portfolio to hand out to the interviewers for use in the face-to-face interview. Finally, in the evening after the interview, I compose the letter, emailing it after careful proofing.

    I don't know that this makes any difference, but I wrote most of my responses thinking in terms of the Thank You letter.

    As a clarification regarding inks: I only wanted to say to not use the lowest print setting, so that characters are printed more fully and completely. At least in printers more than a couple of years old, there can be gaps and incomplete letters at lower print quality settings. I certainly don't recommend anyone go out to buy special "resume ink cartridges"!

    As Interviewer said, it is merely polite to thank someone for being given something. I acknowledge that. But there are many people who fail to show basic courtesies. Hearing the presence or lack of words "thank you" and their tone tells much about the interviewer as well. In what has long since cemented this being part of my practice, I have often received appreciation for my copy of my resume. I've been told that the formatting often doesn't survive submission, and headhunters will often change the styling and even the content of my resume without consulting with me first. For better or worse, my resume is a more accurate representation of me. For all my usage of "gimmick" and "manipulation", I really do look for "the right job", and so have ended interviews when it has become clear that the opportunity and I are not compatible. I would rather be up-front about a mismatch than continue a farce. It is just a matter of respecting one-another's valuable time. (These still get a thank you letter and email. "While I regret that it does not seem that I would be the best fit to fulfill your need for a [person], I do thank you for taking the time to speak with me. So on, and so forth… Hugs and kisses, me"

    With that, I feel that I've monopolized the comments on this topic, so unless I'm addressed directly in a response, I'll quietly withdraw. Good luck all!


    P.S. I have never signed off a business letter with "Hugs and Kisses".

  18. Emily*

    I, too, wasted paper during my job search but only for thank you notes. I sent thank you emails the day after my interview and then sent, via postal mail, handwritten thank you notes the next day. Do you think hard copies of thank you notes are too cheesy/outdated/annoying for the employer? Was writing them out by hand even cheesier/more outdated/more annoying?

  19. thomast*

    As a hiring manager, and as the person who posts all openings for my company, I always specify that applications should come by email. I don't specify, but strongly prefer, cover letter in the body, and a PDF attachment of the resume. I would say use Word DOC/DOCX only if it is specifically requested.

    I'm more flexible on thank-you notes, but would find redundancy a little off-putting. Another word on thank you notes – those that are strictly pro-forma (thanks for your time, I enjoyed meeting you and learning about the job, etc) are as useless as sending none at all, regardless of format. Mention something from the interview, take the time to make your case again in the context of what you learned during the interview.

    My favorite story about someone trying to "stand out": once I got a hand-delivered hard copy resume a couple of hours after I posted a job opening (which had specified applications by email). I looked at the resume, on very nice bond paper, and realized that his current position was in the same office building. Indeed, we'd recently gotten some official correspondence from his company, and I was able to see that he'd printed his letter and resume on company second-sheet letterhead. So, in trying to impress with his speed, in-person delivery, and non-standard format, he instead identified himself as someone who looks for and applies to new jobs on company time with company equipment and materials. No sale.

  20. Ask a Manager*

    Waldo, I didn't realize you were talking only about thank-you notes! This whole time, I've been picturing resumes!

    Emily (and Waldo), I do not think that hard copy thank-you notes are cheesy/annoying at all. But I don't think they'll necessarily make you stand out more than a well-written email thank-you would … and email has the advantage of getting there faster. I know that I've sometimes made a hiring decision and extended an offer by the time the hard copy thank-you's arrive.

  21. Emily*

    (Very belated) thank you, Alison! I need to toss all those job search books I've been reading.

  22. Jocephis*

    Just a quick note on the Word Doc versus PDF debate: Word documents can contain meta data detailing the edits that have been made to the file. Though it may be unlikely, this data could be accessed by anyone who receives the file via email. This could be bad if you've been editing the same resume file for years.

    There are ways to get rid of the meta data, but the most surefire method of ensuring you don't unwittingly send this information to hiring managers is to send PDFs.

    Thanks for the blog!

  23. GC {God's Child}*

    I've been feeling like nobody is reading my cover letters or resumes. I think the robots are kicking me out of the applicant pool or not showing me to the hiring manager at all.

    My feeling is that sending a hard copy to the department head or hiring manager if I can find them, is a way to make sure they actually see my resume at all.
    In addition, it occasionally happens that an e-mail never arrives at it's destination.

    I have used priority mail once or twice to make sure my resume got to someone in the organization at all, and also added delivery confirmation so I would know it got there rather than waiting weeks only to have it return to me, mangled and bruised.

    In these times when people don't respond to any applications ever, that's the only way I can think of to ensure I've even been assessed and cast aside.

  24. Anonymous*

    While I appreciate the comments made by the author of this article and several respondents, I’d like to point out how this looks to a candidate such as myself who is attempting to “stand out” from other candidates. I recently trudged all the way downtown to drop off two resumes for specific positions in two different companies, so they could see what they were getting. One of these was for a marketing position, so thinking of my entire self as being a product I thought they might like to know physically that they were getting someone who looked professional.
    At both companies I was turned away, saying that they only accept resumes online, along with an application. These were not entry level positions, and perhaps I am aging myself a bit, but applications only used to be for entry level positions. I’ve also been told by Workforce Centers and a class I took at university that what takes more work to get a job has a better rate proportionally than what takes less work. I could sit at my computer all day and send off resumes/cover letters (which I have also done), but that takes very little effort on my part compared to grabbing a bus and showing my face at a place of business.
    At the very least, I feel that the gatekeepers could have taken my resume/cover letter/references and business card I designed myself, but also respectfully yet strongly inform me to send one electronically. I realize times have changed, but if either of these places had taken the time to develop a rapport with me (particularly the second one, in which I told the gatekeeper that I had found this position online and that’s why I was down there), rather than just dismissing me out of hand, they would have seen that I am a creative and possibly great resource for them to have. Instead, it felt more like they would have preferred that I think like the rest of the herd, which is what I have been repeatedly told NOT to do.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The people telling you to stand out by doing something like showing up in person are doing you a disservice. You stand out by being a highly qualified candidate, having a strong resume, and writing a great cover letter, not by ignoring the processes that employers have made it clear they prefer to use.

    2. Liz in a library*

      If the “gatekeepers” are telling you to apply online, there is a good reason for it. When our department is hiring, we specifically ask candidates to contact us via e-mail or by filling out the application on the corporate website. There are good reasons, including the fact that we are a customer-facing department and do not have time (EVER) for unscheduled appointments or drop-ins from non-customers.

      As an example, on Friday one of our vendors showed up, unannounced. Our head had to drop all business to deal with him. Later, all of us had a conversation about how rude it was for that guy to come by without an appointment. We will all remember when we see him next that he is the rude guy who didn’t respect our departmental communication boundaries.

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