Timeless (and Tired) Job Search Tips

Multiple pocket watches are hanging

Job seekers hear all kinds of advice, ranging from what a resume should look like to where the best online resources are for finding new openings. And now, with the ability to call, text, tweet, email and IM hiring managers, new best practices seem to emerge nearly every day.

But what's a candidate to do with the more old-fashioned ideas? Are the old-school ways passé? It might be easy to overlook the tactics from the past in these high-tech times. However, with a couple of exceptions, many job search tips from years ago have just as much relevance today as ever.

On the importance of a cover letter
Many job applicants assume a cover letter, or, nowadays, an introductory note submitted in an online job application system, won't matter. It does. In fact, a well-crafted cover letter can make you stand out from the crowd in three important ways:

  • It highlights that you can write with clarity and introduces your communication style to your potential employer.
  • Coupled with a targeted resume, it shows you took the time to tailor your application for the job.
  • You can "go longer" in explaining how your previous responsibilities or efforts on a specific project align with what the job opening requires.

Not all the old advice about cover letters holds true today, however. Recruiters and hiring managers have less time to read applications, including cover letters. That means job seekers should write only two or three short paragraphs, which is much shorter than what job seekers typically submitted in the past. Remember: Be brief and targeted!

About resumes
Let's review two outdated resume job search tips: the one-page resume and the "one-size-fits-all" resume.

The advice to keep your resume to just one page is still out there. More recent research on the subject of resume length, however, shows that a growing number of executives are open to receiving two-page resumes.

One reason to go long is to avoid having to arbitrarily decide what part of your work history to truncate or remove entirely. For midcareer professionals, such gaps might rule you out before you have a chance to explain your resume-trimming choices.

Then there's this familiar job search tip: Keep a general resume handy for sending out in bulk. The modern version of this is serially applying through job boards or company websites.

The truth is, a general resume is more likely to get discarded before ever getting in front of a recruiter or hiring manager because it has not been customized to fit a specific job opening. In most cases, humans are not doing the first sort, and a generic resume will be rejected by a software program looking for keywords pulled from the job posting.

With common courtesy
Digital communication has changed how you address a hiring manager when contacting the person for the first time or when sending a thank-you note after an interview. Yet, you need to attend to each of the following points of business etiquette with just as much care today as you did a decade ago:

  • Avoid the salutations "To whom it may concern" or "Dear Sir or Madam." Take the time to seek out the name of the recruiter or manager who is hiring, even if it means picking up the phone to find it.
  • If you make it to the interview stage, send a thank-you note promptly. A handwritten note may make you stand out, but perhaps not in the way you'd hoped. Because a snail-mail note takes longer to arrive and is more likely to be lost, it's better to email your thanks.
  • If you are tempted to thank by text or tweet, don't. While a speedy thanks is a good idea, using email keeps that communication on a much more professional level.

Most job search tips don't become completely "tired." They just need to be updated for the latest recruiting and hiring trends. Clarity in cover letters, specificity in resumes and good etiquette in pre- and post-interview communication have been vital to job seekers for decades, and they'll remain important to all who vie for jobs in the 21st century.