During the election cycle this past November, I often found a large postcard/promotional flyer from a candidate for elected office addressed to “Current Resident”. I sure felt special to be referred to as “Current Resident”! Sometimes the form letters opt for “To Whom it May Concern:” to which I would love to reply – thanks, but I am not concerned. Generic letters, mass mailings, impersonal communication often generates a strong negative reaction.
Here was an individual (a political candidate) who was trying to make a positive impression on someone whom he/she had never met, a piece of paper was trying to convey the candidate’s best attributes (if you have applied for a job lately, does this process sound familiar?) and my lasting impression was the “Current Resident” line. While resumes and cover letters may not use “To Whom it May Concern:”, a generic resume or letter will convey the same feeling to the reader.
Today I was working with a young alum who indicated he was interested in a variety of fields (publishing, financial services, advertising, public relations, and consulting to name a few) as he was open to anything. While being open to any and all opportunities may sound like a great idea on paper, it actually hurts in a job hunt. When an individual tries to job hunt in a variety of industries or a variety of job functions, the applicant spread himself/herself too thin. What ends up happening is the candidate looks ‘good’ but not ‘great’ to hiring managers; the application materials are not tailored to any specific industry and/or job function so the hiring manager is left to question if the applicant is really interested in the opportunity – in other words, it is like sending the “Current Resident” mailing. It conveys some information but it leaves doubts in the mind of the hiring manager.
I recommend focusing on an industry and/or job function to avoid sounding generic in your resume and cover letters. By focusing on an industry/job function, you can tailor your resume to highlight the most applicable skills…you can focus your networking efforts to a particular industry…you can pour your energy into a single mission. I often tell job hunters that being “open to anything” is like trying to take 10 courses per semester (Sorry, I work at a university so many of my analogies are school centered). Can you attend all the classes? Yes. How well will you do in those classes? Marginal. By focusing your job hunt efforts, it is like taking only one course per semester. You can focus your time and energy on the material, do all the reading, attend all the lectures, etc. How well will you do in that one class? Significantly better than trying to juggle 10 classes.
Avoid the “To Whom it May Concern”, shotgun, unfocused job hunt and focus your time and energy to help your job hunt.