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Trick-or-Treat Letters... the Direct Mail You Can Do Without

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I wouldn't use our limited time together to discuss these odd concepts, if it weren't for the fact that successful books have been written about them, and they're always handicapping a considerable number of people. Hence, this digression.

The "Tease-'Em-and-Spoof-'Em" Method ... a Short Letter, and No Resume Until Later executive job hunting that flourished in the '60s and early '70s, then went out of print for many years, and now has been reintroduced... helped along by a strong plug in a popular paperback job-hunting book.

Here's another deviant form of direct mail, which you've undoubtedly received and may even have considered sending. This one omits the "tease-'em" lead-in and skips all the way to the "spoof-'em" ending. The trick here is to avoid having a resume altogether, by writing a long letter, which will say just what you want to about your career... and no more.

Like the topically organized resume, this long letter lets you escape from the revealing contours of a chronological work history, so you can spotlight whatever you wish, and leave out whatever you want to conceal. Indeed, because it isn't labeled "Resume" at all, you're not even obliged to make a bow in the direction of chronology somewhere near the end, as most people feel they must in a topically organized resume.

If you're really desperate to bury your work history... which includes short jobs, bad references, and maybe a jail sentence... this is undoubtedly the best way to do it. Your reader will surely hanker for a revealing straightforward resume, and will presume that there must be a good reason why you've gone out of your way not to provide one. Nonetheless, you may get a long way into your "sale" before the demand for a specific chronology of prior employment comes up... especially if you send the long letter prior to your interview and handle yourself very smoothly during your visit.

An astute employer should very pointedly ask for your resume during the interview and... failing to get it... should ask you to take home and fill out one of those "Application for Employment" forms normally required only from lower-echelon people, which will smoke out your chronology. But if she doesn't, "Caveat emptor," as they say. "Let the buyer beware."

But now let's assume you have nothing to hide. Let's look at the long letter as a communication device, in comparison to a brief covering note and a "sales representative" resume. There's no contest. The two-, three-, or four-page- long letter lacks the crisp introduction a brief covering letter provides, and is not scannable the way a traditionally blocked-out resume would be. Because the long letter lacks visual organization and isn't broken up into familiar segments.

Personal and Confidential

Don't put "Personal and Confidential" on any envelope you mail to a stranger when you're job-hunting. People often try to attract attention that way, and it's always a dumb idea. (On the other hand, "Personal and Confidential" on your blackmail and extortion notes may be appreciated.)

If there's anything an assistant is trusted to do, it's open the mail. So, regardless of how your envelope is marked, it will be handled in the usual way. That's what happens in your office, isn't it? Attempting to bypass an assistant with such a warning just makes you look naive, even silly. And that's not what you had in mind.

There's only one way to get your mailing looked at when others are not. Make it more impressive. Write a shorter, clearer, more elegant cover note. Enclose a very succinctly worded, yet logical and factually persuasive, resume. And don't let whatever you send merely be the 50th of a common thing and no better than the 49 that preceded it.

Signing Letters

Remember when you and the other kids used to write your signatures every which way, trying to make them impressive? Girls dotted Vs with circles. Boys swooped up to cross r's. Swiss bankers, I'm told, are required to have an illegible signature. U.S. physicians too?

How you sign does make a difference.

Surely there's no harm in a confident, legible signature. (In Europe handwriting is often analyzed; here it's not.) But even more important than how you write is what you write. And judging by the mail I get, at least a third of all executives give no thought to the impression their signature makes.

They write, hoping for a friendly reaction... ideally a phone call. Indeed, they may even imply friendship or at least warmth by starting out, "Dear John." But look at their signature! It's "Wendleton P. Wellington III." Or "W. P. Wellington." Or "WPW." And maybe even with their secretary's initials added, to further stress that the reader is utterly insignificant.

Maybe these folks are not as arrogant as they appear. But it's obvious who they think is the lesser party in an as-yet-unformed relationship. Is that because I'm a headhunter? No, they probably write to CEOs the same way.

Please don't make their mistake. You're too nice a person to behave like that.

The One Best Way to Sign

Here's a simple rule for signing job-hunting letters to strangers: Sign informally, using the first name you'd like the recipient to call you.

If you sign Richard P. Smith, how can anyone know whether you go by Richard, Dick, Rich, Richie, Rick, RP, Bud, or Pete? Same with Katherine, Kathy, Kate, or Kay. Signing your preferred conversational name lets your reader become friendly and informal at the slightest impulse. And isn't that what you want?

But go back up to the top of the letter. What about the salutation when you write a stranger? This is strictly "feel" and judgment, and yours is as good as mine. But I veer toward caution. I hesitate to use a stranger's conversational name, even if I know it. Many folks aren't offended. I'm not. You're probably not. But what's the harm in extending a respectful Ms. or Mr. at the top of the letter, and then signing an unpretentious and friendly Jim Jones or Shirley Smith at the bottom?
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