Question: “Does it really make sense to send unsolicited resumes to companies, as you suggest?  If a company is hiring, wouldn’t they just have a lead posted?  And won’t it hurt my candidacy and reputation if every organization in town becomes aware that I’m looking?”

For over a decade, we’ve had to deal with this question over and over, in many forms, and despite the dozens of passionate arguments we’ve heard for why it makes no logical sense for a candidate to reach out to companies in an unsolicited fashion, our answers haven’t changed.  They’re still yes, no, and no — respectively.  And since a recent client actually had the courage to raise this question with us, directly, versus just avoiding the use of unsolicited techniques entirely (as we suspect many candidates do), we felt this would another perfect job hunting myth to dispel in this month’s bulletin.

Let’s start with the notion that companies who aren’t running job leads must therefore not be hiring, and that approaching them is a total waste of time.  As almost everybody knows by now, only 15-20% of all hiring ever sees the light of day in the form of a published advertisement.  In fact, ask almost anyone you know how they got their last job, and the overwhelming odds are that it will NOT have been by sending in a resume in response to a posted job lead.   The simple truth is that companies hire people every day without ever giving the average candidate, sitting on the sidelines, the chance to weigh in or submit their credentials for consideration.  Sometimes the companies are consciously looking for these new employees, while in many other cases, the hiring manager simply hires somebody who has shown up in the right place, at the right time, to solve some pressing organizational challenges.  After all, it’s a lot cheaper and faster to hire somebody who is already knocking on your door and willing to work than it is to run a formal job ad — and spend weeks of time screening, contacting, and interviewing candidates.

At the same time, you’ve got to be smart about it.  If you approach companies for unsolicited leads the same way you would as if you were responding to a published opportunity, you’re not likely to have a lot of success.  Send most companies a resume and cover letter, and on average, you’ll trigger the kneejerk response of “we’re not hiring” and they’ll banish your materials to the bowels of the HR department — or perhaps to the literal or figurative version of a trash receptacle.  Nobody (especially Career Horizons) ever said that this was the right way to go about making an unsolicited job contact, however!  You’ve got to be much more clever about things.  For starters, don’t waste your time sending anything to a company unless you have the exact name and title of the specific hiring manager most likely to understand and value your potential contributions.  Get on the web, or get on the phone, and acquire this name for any of your employers of interest.  If you can’t get this info for any particular company, move on.  Secondly, when you reach out to companies directly, don’t rely on any form of resume or conventional job search correspondence.  Think hard about the specific value proposition you can offer, as well as the specific elements of your background most likely to catch their attention, then crystallize these thoughts into a compelling e-mail note, business letter, or phone script.  Have some ideas you want to discuss with them?  Want to offer your services as a consultant?  Have a burning question about their business model?  Have some useful insights or intelligence about one of their competitors?  Only you can decide what angle to lead with, but in each case be brief, focused, and do what it takes to pique their interest.

In the end, while you’re still not likely to generate more than a 5-10% response rate by applying this strategy, you’re gaining valuable penetration into many relevant organizations that otherwise wouldn’t even know that you exist.  What’s more, you might reach one (and it just takes one!) mere days or weeks before they publicize their needs on a public job board, in which case, you’d be too late — and would be going to the back of the line.  So ultimately, while unsolicited job prospecting (or direct marketing, as we call it in our programs) is not one of the first few job hunting tactics we’d encourage people to employ, it certainly deserves a place in any serious, well-rounded career marketing campaign.  It works, and we’ve got the success stories to prove it if you’d like us to bore you with them at any point.

As for whether sending out your resume “direct” to a bunch of local employers will sully your reputation or cause you to be the talk of the town water cooler, all we have to say is 1) you shouldn’t be sending out more than 40-50 pieces to begin with or you’re not being targeted enough; and 2) have you seen the number of e-mails and resumes that companies receive these days?  If you think that you’re suddenly going to set the employment world abuzz by sending a few dozen resumes out there, you’re either engaging in wishful thinking — or in serious denial about the number of candidates out in the market!