The advantage of a personal visit-networking - is its human interaction. Your host may not have or know of a job that could advance your career. But seeing and befriending you...and wanting to do a favor for the person who referred you...she can usually be persuaded to pass you along to several others. Your contacts will, indeed, "increase geometrically." But "geometrically" only until you have more people to see than you have hours to go see them. After that, you've got strictly a linear progression of appointments to make, two or three a day...probably ten to fifteen a week.
The advantage of direct mail, on the other hand, is that you can reach an unlimited number of people simultaneously. Therefore, you can inflate that number to the point of very high probability that you'll reach some of the rare few who actually do need what you're selling at the very moment you happen to make your contact. And when you finally do reach someone with an immediate need for what you're offering, that person is likely to be interested-even though no mutual acquaintance made the introduction.
Is there a downside to direct mail? Will reaching the potential decision-makers in lots of companies make you seem: a. too available?
b. too eager?
c. unwanted and unloved?
e. none of the above?
The answer, of course is E, "none of the above." And the reasons why, when you think about them, are pretty obvious.
No chief executive nor anyone else in control of a job that might represent a valuable career advancement for you is sitting at his desk wishing a letter and resume from you would arrive...that is, unless he's one of the infinitesimally rare few who right now happens to have that job wide open, urgently needing someone like you to fill it.
The person who doesn't need what you're offering will merely throw away your mailing, or pass it along for filing and a courteous "no thank you." He's not going to pick up the phone and ask his peers in other companies and his contacts in the leading executive recruiting firms if they also got your mailing, and what did they think of it, and what are they going to do about it, and weren't you stupid not to have known in advance that he and they didn't need anyone like you right now.
The fact is, either he'll do you some good, or he'll do you no harm. And in the "some good" department, you may be pleasantly surprised. If a colleague in his own organization, or a friend, or an executive recruiter calling him for suggestions happens to mention a need for someone like you, the person who's just received your resume and doesn't need you himself will probably pass your resume along, just as one of your networking contacts would.
And if your mailing is so impressive that the recipient or his HR department saves a copy for a few weeks or months, he might wind up referring several inquirers to you. When extremely well done, direct mail can, with luck, take on a bit of the same "geometric" dimension networking has.
"But," you ask, "will I diminish my luster and usefulness to the prestigious retainer recruiting firms if I conduct a direct mail campaign?"
No. A lot of people worry needlessly about this possibility, so let's examine it.
Retainer recruiters actually expect you to send your mailing to the decision makers in a wide range of companies, because it's in your best interest to do so. They realize too, that you'll contact other retainer search firms. Since no two retainer firms are ever working simultaneously on the same project, you simply must send to additional firms to reach additional projects.
Of course, it's unthinkable that you would simultaneously be presented..."sold" at the rate of $8,000 to $30,000 and more per candidate...to more than one client of the same retainer recruiting firm for the reasons we looked at earlier. But there's no client PR damage to either firm when two different retainer firms present you to two different companies. If either or both of these companies should find out, they can't blame their own retainer firm for what a different one has done.
Moreover, the idea that you may have written to her client company won't scare away the one-and-only recruiter in a sizable retainer firm who, for the moment, has the right to deal with you. She always expects you to have taken that perfectly logical step. And she has no reason-or method-to reward you if you haven't. Indeed, going directly to companies is the only way you can possibly break through the barrier that confines you to this recruiter and her client company, while putting you "off-limits" to all the other recruiters in her firm and to all their client companies.
Believe it or not, if you're really a good candidate, a retainer recruiter is less worried that his client won't be amazed when he identifies you, than he is that the client will think he's a dope for not finding you when you've already made yourself obvious to the client company.
The bottom line on trying to be more attractive by being less known:
It doesn't work!
Known is like pregnant; you're known or you're not known...by each person individually. The way the relationships we're interested in work, each player in the game either knows of you or he doesn't; they're never going to gang up on you and take a poll to see how many know about you.
What will make you less attractive is being unemployed a long time, and the fewer people who know about your fine background and your availability, the more likely that might happen.
The only circumstance where being widely known is dangerous to your economic health is when a recruiter operating on contingency submits you... price-tag attached...to companies who never specifically engaged him to do so.
Getting around on your own is altogether different. It's great. Circulate!