Job Search: Leads by Mail

Sometimes you have to have your own job leads that get you an interview and finally land you in the job. Here it is how you can create your own leads.

A strong letter, written to the right person, is an extremely effective way of creating your own job leads. Some people argue that next to having a direct personal contact to someone in a hiring capacity, a letter (assuming it does its job) offers you your best chance of getting into the interview situation. Our Burke survey showed that nearly 100 percent of unsolicited letters to top management are read, and that 80 percent produce some sort of response, even though the response, in many cases, is nothing more than an acknowledgment that your letter was received.

The beauty of a letter is that it goes directly to the person with the power to hire you. It thus bypasses some of the people who have the power to say no. I've been saying all along that a key to successful job hunting is keeping to a minimum the number of people who can say no to you. No other approach except a personal introduction can do this. You can't simply pick up the phone and arrange for an interview with the person who has the power to hire you. You probably wouldn't get by the secretary. Even if you did, the executive you get to is likely to resent the intrusion. A letter gives you a chance to present your story the way you want it presented. Never underestimate the power of a letter. It is an approach to which most executives are reasonably receptive. Not every letter you send is going to produce the response you're looking for, but you can be fairly certain that the letter will be read. That's more than can be said for resumes sent in response to want ads.

Strategic Approaches to Letter Writing

Mounting a solid letter-writing campaign takes time and effort and, in some cases, sizeable expense. But I'm convinced that the time, the effort, and the expense are more than worth it.

There are different types of letters. The most effective generally are directed to a specific individual in a particular company. I call these "customized letters." They are directly keyed to a person in a company, to a problem the company is facing, or to some change in that individual's role in the company. You might write such a letter in response to a statement the individual has made that's been printed in a magazine or newspaper, or a speech you heard at an association meeting. You might write such a letter in response to a promotion announcement you read about in a newspaper or trade magazine.

Your letter should use the statement or the promotion announcement as a springboard to present your story-what you think you can offer and why you think it is in the best interests of this individual to arrange an interview with you. The only problem with this kind of letter is time: the time you spend writing that letter is time invested in that job situation alone. So, unless you're prepared to spend several hours a day writing letters, you're not going to be able to send out more than a half-dozen letters a week.

A second type of letter is generally known as the "broadcast letter," but I prefer to call it an "action letter." This is sent to an individual at a particular company, but the content never changes. The advantage of this type of letter is that once you've written it, you can send it out in large quantities, as long as you're willing to incur the mailing expense. There are ways of preparing these so that each has the appearance of being writ-ten specifically for an individual, but most executives can nonetheless tell the difference between a truly personal letter and an action letter that's going out to a lot of other people. Some executives won't hold this against you, if your letter presents a compelling enough case; but there's no question that this isn't as strong or strategic an approach as the first letter.

A third type of letter-and one you don't hear much about- combines elements of the action letter and the individualized letter. Let's call this the "customized action letter." The bulk of the letter (the part that describes your qualifications) is the same in all of the letters you send. But you personalize this letter with an opening paragraph-and perhaps a closing paragraph-that is keyed to the person you're writing. This is a little more expensive and a little more time-consuming than a straight action letter, but less expensive and time-consuming than an individualized letter.

Making Your Letters Look Professional

In order to launch a letter-writing campaign of any consequence, you're going to need professional assistance. An individualized letter, of course, has to be typed on an individual basis, but your action and customized letters can be mechanically reproduced, in a way that will let you add the address and salutation without making it appear that these have been tacked on. Standard photocopying, ditto process, or photo offset will not accomplish this. You may match up the typeface, but the shading is likely to differ. Word processors are probably the best means at present of giving an individualized appearance to mechanically reproduced letters. Consult a copying specialist before making any final decisions.

The main thing to remember here is that having letters reproduced in a way that looks professional and doesn't have the obvious appearance of boiler-plate may be more expensive than photocopy, but if you can afford it, it's worth the extra money.

Making a Persuasive Case

Whichever form of letter you use in a direct mail campaign, the basic purpose of the letter remains the same: you want the letter to lead to an interview.

Based on the figures I cited above from our Burke study, you can expect 80 percent of your letters to produce a response. Other studies suggest that while most of these responses will be polite refusals, anywhere from 2 to 10 percent of your letters should take you a step further in your quest. Naturally, the better and more persuasive the letter, the better your chances of getting this kind of favorable response.

A good action letter should do what a good resume does: it should present a convincing case on your behalf. It should say to the person reading this letter that you're someone who is worth seeing. Your ability to get this message across will depend not only on the information contained in the letter but on the way the letter is written-particularly its tone. There are definite skills involved in writing a good letter. I'll point out what I consider to be the most important features of the kinds of letters we're talking about, and then talk briefly about how to write an effective letter.
  1. Be direct and to the point. Your letter is the vehicle by which you hope to get an interview. It should arouse the interest of the reader, not tell the story of your life or present a detailed explanation of your philosophies or views. Keep the letter to no more than two pages, but don't let it be so brief that it doesn't make a convincing case in your behalf.

  2. Stress accomplishments, not experience. In the same way that a good resum6 should stress what you've accomplished, not just what jobs you've held, a letter should do more than simply describe your experience. Assume that there is any number of candidates who, on paper, look as good as you do. Your job in this letter is to single yourself out. You do this by describing specific, tangible accomplishments.

  3. Don't oversell yourself. As good as you think you are, don't make the mistake of tooting your horn too loudly in the letter. Statements like: "You'll be making a terrible mistake if you don't set up an interview for me as soon as possible" will usually scare off most managers. Let your accomplishments make their own point. It shouldn't be necessary for you to come out and say how good you are. The facts should speak for themselves.

  4. Make absolutely sure you have the company's name, the executive's name, and the executive's position correct. Check and double check. Is it The Evans Company, Evans Company, Evans Company, Inc., or The Evans Corporation? Is the executive you're writing to the Director of Marketing, the Director of the Marketing Division, or the Marketing Division Director? Don't take any chances misplacing a letter or a comma. (The first thing I often noticed when I received action letters was a mispricing of the company name, and it always made me less receptive to the content of the letter. It looked as if the letter was hastily done.)

If you don't know the name of an executive you want to contact, there's an easy enough way to find out: call the company. Simply say that you have a letter you want to send to the director of sales (or whatever position), and could somebody give the spelling of the person's name and the exact title.

Writing an Effective Letter

You don't have to be Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald to write letters that can produce job leads. It's a matter of knowing what to say and saying it in as simple and direct a way as possible. You may have your own style of writing letters, but what follows is a general guide that should work well in most situations.

The Opening: Your opening paragraph should tell the person reading the letter why it is worth his or her time to read on. Your purpose in this first paragraph is to make some connection to the person reading the letter. Any time you can use a familiar name as an introduction, do so. For example:

I am writing you at the suggestion of a mutual friend, Roger Phillips, who felt that it might be to our advantage to meet,

Do your best to intrigue the person immediately:

Some people might think it is bad time to be looking for a position in the automotive industry, but I have some ideas that might interest you and I'd love the chance to talk them over with you.

Everybody who gives a statement likes to know that that statement was read. It's a perfect opening for a job candidate writing a letter:

Your comments in the Business Week article on the difficulty some companies are having recruiting young people with technical skills (October 14, 1981) were provocative and especially interesting to me since I may have been one of the very people you were referring to.

Each of these three openings is superior to the following, which, unfortunately, is the opening most job seekers use in letters:

Are you looking for an experienced marketing executive with ten years of experience and a record of solid accomplishment?

Now, there's nothing wrong with this opening. But it's not nearly as intriguing as the other three, and gives the reader a convenient reason for not going any further.

The Presentation: Your second paragraph should get to the meat of your message. It should offer a brief general explanation of why it's worth the reader's time to get together with you, followed by (if you can supply the data) three or four brief examples of accomplishments. Here are some examples:

My background-ten years with an electronics firm-has given me a broad range of experience in all phases of marketing electronics products. Some of my career accomplishments to date include:
  • Launching new line of mini-calculators that now are second-largest selling line in field.

  • Creating, developing, and supervising the merchandising campaign for the new "little bug" cassette microphone.

  • Instrumental, during the four years I worked for Abe Electronics, in boosting gross sales by 30 percent.
I am currently working for a company roughly similar to yours-a $40 million retail chain store. When I began with them five years ago, they had no useable budget, antiquated data processing, and spiraling costs as a result of poor controls. I reversed this pattern and accomplished it within a period of fourteen months.

I have to confess that I do not have any "direct" background in your industry, but I've worked on a number of plastic company accounts, I know the industry, and I feel I could do for your company what I've done for my present company, which includes: (list several accomplishments)

Notice the directness of each of these paragraphs. They motivate. They give information that shows off your strong selling points.

Closing: The last part of the letter should express your desire for a direct meeting. Don't make the mistake here of being over apologetic. Don't undersell yourself. For instance, I don't approve of either of the following passages, frequently found in letters sent by candidates:

If you think my qualifications are suitable for the job you're seeking to fill . . .

If you feel that a personal interview would help my chances for being hired. .

The problem with each of these approaches is that they don't express enough confidence. Be positive in your closing. Show enthusiasm. Some examples follow:

I'd like to be able to discuss some of the problems our industry is having and would be happy at that time to share with you some more of my ideas on how you can increase sales and reduce costs. You can expect my call within a week.

I can appreciate how busy you are, but I wouldn't prevail upon your time if I didn't think it was in our mutual interest to get together and discuss the possibility of my coming to work for your company.

I have a lot of ideas on how an experienced and fresh-thinking training supervisor could help your company during this inflationary period, and I would like the chance to talk them over with you in person. Perhaps we can set up an appointment to meet sometime next week? I'll work my schedule around yours.

The Total Effect

Here, finally, are three examples of complete letters:

December 28,

Harlan K. Fieldcroft, President Widget Industries" Inc. 1800 Washington Street Fairfield, CT. 06953

Dear Mr. Fieldcroft:

Your comments in the Business Week article on the difficulty some companies are having recruiting young people with technical skills (October 14, 1981) were provocative and especially interesting to me since I may have been one of the very people you were referring to.

As it happens, I'm finishing up my MA degree in electrical engineering, and yours is a firm that has always interested me because of the innovative approach you've taken to the marketing of new products. I think my training could help your company to develop products that would enable you to maintain your leadership in the industry.

I would very much welcome the opportunity to discuss the possibility of coming to work for your company, and will contact you within a week or so to see about making the necessary arrangements.

Thank you for your attention and consideration.

Sincerely yours,

Frank Adams

January 5,

Ms. Leslie Robertson Director of Marketing, Sun Ray Cosmetics Corp. 48 East 50th Street New York, N.Y. 10022

Dear Ms. Robertson:

I found the talk you gave earlier this week at the Marketing Women of America luncheon meeting very interesting-particularly your comments about the hesitance of some women to pursue high-level marketing positions. I agree with you that many women fail to pursue opportunities not because the opportunities aren't there, but because of their own uncertainty about their ability to do the job.

Well, I'm very serious about moving into a high-level marketing position. Although I have several years of direct marketing experience, I've been involved in business in one way or another for the past six years. I can handle a lower to mid-level marketing job right now and am able to make an immediate contribution.

I appreciate how busy you are, but I would very much welcome being able to talk to you personally about a job with Sun Ray. Or, if no position is currently available, I would greatly appreciate the chance to talk with you, in general, about marketing and the cosmetics field.

I'll call your secretary early next week to set up a possible appointment. I appreciate whatever help you're able to give me, and I look forward to meeting with you.

Sincerely yours,

Emily Foster

January 29,

Mr. Edward L. Oxford, President

Oxford Industries, Inc. 160 West

Fielding Street Denver, CO. 86709

Dear Mr. Oxford:

For the past two years, I have been following with a great deal of interest the growth of Oxford Industries, Inc., and I'm writing you today be-cause I think I could play a role in its continued growth over the next several years.

For the past five years, I have been a training supervisor in a $30 million food products company in suburban Chicago. During this period, I have:
  • Established training programs that have cut down the employee dismissal rate by 35 percent.

  • Introduced a supervisory sensitivity program that has been written up in two trade journals (I enclose the articles).

  • Reorganized basic evaluation procedures for supervisors that has cut down on the paperwork they must do by 30 to 40 percent.
I'm thirty-five, am married and have two children. I have 12 years of experience in human relations. I would have no problem relocating and would be happy to come to Denver, at my own expense, to discuss job possibilities with you.

If you feel that a personal meeting might prove mutually beneficial, please contact me at your convenience so that we can set up a specific time and place.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely yours, Robert Darwin

Getting Out-of-Town Leads

Looking for a job out of town presents some rather obvious logistical problems, not the least of which is the added expense of travel and phone calls. Yet you may be in an area of the country or in a field in which looking out of town gives you the best chance of finding a good job. Here are some suggestions:
  1. Subscribe to the papers in the two or three cities you're most interested in.

  2. Get a mail drop in the particular cities. It's easy and not too expensive. Most telephone answering services will provide you with a local mailing address and even send mail to you. An in-town address won't scare away a potential employer as much as an out-of-town address will.

  3. Get a copy of the cities Yellow Pages. Have a friend ship it to you, or talk to your local phone company. They might be able to get them for you.

  4. Contact the significant agencies and recruiters in each area. Send each of them a letter outlining what you're looking for and your background. Include your resumed
Plan your visits to each city carefully. Telephone recruiters and agencies are ahead of time. Do the same with key companies. Interestingly enough, a lot of companies will be impressed by the fact that you're from out of town but are looking in their city- especially when you're making the trip at your expense. Early in the interview make known your willingness to pay your own relocation expenses, if necessary.

Other Lead Sources

There are a number of other sources for leads in addition to the ones I've already listed. I'll mention them briefly, but keep in mind that these are sources you shouldn't spend much time pursuing unless you have the time or everything else you're doing is producing no results.
  1. Your college placement office. Worth a visit, if for no other reason than to get names of people you might contact for job leads.

  2. State employment agencies. Usually a depressing experience because the leads are for low-level jobs.

  3. Situation-wanted ads. There's mixed opinion on these kinds of ads. My feeling is that if nothing else is working, try one; but place it in a trade magazine, not a general newspaper. Spend time on the language. Make it strong but not gimmicky. (Then again, if the strong approach doesn't work, go ahead and make it gimmicky: what do you have to lose?)

  4. Company outplacement. More and more firms are now offering outplacement services for dismissed employees. The intentions are good but, from what I've seen, often the execution leaves quite a bit to be desired. Given a choice, I'd suggest that you take extra severance pay in lieu of the outplacement service.