Forget the fancy paper and piles of bullets -- and never grovelBy Liz Ryan
“Is it still correct to use ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ in a cover letter?” a reader asked in an e-mail.
“That isn’t such a great idea,” I wrote back. “No one uses ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ anymore, unless they’re actually writing to a madam, such as Heidi Fleiss.” I’m not sure my e-mail correspondent caught the joke.
It’s not that using out-of-date job-search approaches brands you as older. Rather, it’s that using no-longer-in-fashion job search techniques marks you as out of touch.
Employers pay us, in part, to be aware of trends and phenomena that affect the workplace. Working people (and job-seekers) should follow the news, keep a bead on our changing world, and stay abreast of changes in business, technology, politics, and cultural shifts. That isn’t an unreasonable expectation. If a job-seeker isn’t curious and perceptive enough to notice that the last time he saw “Dear Sir or Madam” on a letter was around the time Chevy Chase impersonated Gerald Ford falling down the stairs, how will he notice what’s changing in his field?
Here are five formerly useful, now dangerous job-search approaches that hark back to an earlier age. Get them out of your job-search repertoire, pronto.
1. Dedicated Résumé Paper and Envelopes. Don’t use nubbly beige or pink or stone-grey résumé paper, or any other kind of special paper or matching envelopes, in your job search. Dedicated-use résumé paper is a 1980s artifact. Most of your résumés will reach employers electronically, in which case the employer will print it out. For résumés you print on your own, use plain white bond paper. (If you want to use a heavier stock than usual, do it.) Keep résumé formatting simple. You don’t need horizontal lines or curlicues, unless you are yourself a creative person, in which case you can go hog-wild with artistic expression. What matters in your résumé is its content. You won’t win any points with a résumé or cover letter on fancy paper that whispers, “I have a stack of Christopher Cross cassettes in my car.”
2. Creaky Cover Letter Language. When I read “Dear Sir or Madam,” I instantly get a picture of a person wearing white gloves and carrying tiny mother-of-pearl opera glasses in her handbag. Don’t get me wrong—I have opera glasses and I wish white gloves were still in style. They’re not. Never use “Dear Sir or Madam”—or its cousin, “To Whom It May Concern”—in a cover letter for the same reason. In 2012, companies are porous. We can find our hiring manager’s name in two seconds using LinkedIn. We are obliged to try: Correspondence that begins “To Whom It May Concern” means death to a job search. “Dear Hiring Manager” is just as bad. Find the name of the relevant person or lob a résumé into the Black Hole and skip the cover letter altogether.
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