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Job-Search Carpet Bombing

A smartly dressed young woman walked into our Fort Lauderdale office a couple of weeks ago, unannounced, and handed her résumé and cover letter to Melinda Beckmann, our newest associate.

“Dear Hiring Manager,” she wrote, “I am very interested in applying for the career at your Corporation. My education and experience has previously added value to Fortune 500 corporations.”

Her education, according to her résumé, includes a recent M.B.A. in International Business from the University of Miami and an undergraduate degree in finance from the University of Florida. She wrote that she is seeking “a full-time position to help develop customer satisfaction and trust” and that she is “offering outstanding customer service skills, computer proficiency, and leadership experience to help obtain [she meant to say ‘attain’] corporate objectives.” Her résumé says she is currently working as a “Health & Life Insurance Broker” after having worked at several major banks after college and while getting her M.B.A.

Our office is on the 16th floor of a 24-story building. As I left for a meeting a few moments later I encountered the young woman near the elevator bank, briefcase in hand, waiting for her ride to the 17th floor, where I presume she left another copy of her résumé behind nearly every unlocked door.

Somewhere out there, even in this weak economy and terrible job market, is an executive or entrepreneur who could help this young woman get her career off to a good start. Our job-seeker has shown that she has the energy and determination to work her way through business school. She has demonstrated that she can work in the corporate environment of a major bank, yet is entrepreneurial enough to sell insurance. She has the poise and self-assurance to walk into a strange office and announce that she is available for hire, and the grit to do it over and over again in a 24-story office tower.

But her chances of finding the job that can give her the one big break she needs are not very good, and it appears to me that she is mainly to blame.

Strike one: She does not seem to know what she really wants to do. Her M.B.A. specialty was international business, but her résumé and cover letter make no other mention of international work. She says nothing about having studied abroad or having learned any foreign languages. Her international focus at school looks like mere window-dressing intended to attract interest from multinational companies. If she wants to work at a multinational enterprise, why was she in my office looking for a job?

Strike two: She did not make any effort to learn about my company, or to address her comments to me or the other executives here who do our hiring. Though we do not seek M.B.A.s for entry-level jobs, we do hire finance graduates and we have two who came from the same University of Florida program that our job-seeker attended. She could have learned this on our website. She also would have learned that our people practice financial planning across a broad range of disciplines, including investment planning, income taxes, estate taxes and other estate planning, and insurance, among others. Some of our job-seeker’s work experience is relevant to what we do. But she did not bother to learn anything about us or to tailor her cover letter to explain why the skills she offers might match the skills we need. Everything she writes is about her; none of it is about how she might be able to help us. She is not telling her target audience what it wants to know.

Strike three: Her form-letter materials are dreadfully careless. Her cover letter’s very first sentence, which refers to “...the career at your Corporation” rather than “...a career at your firm” includes a grammatical error, a misused capital letter, and a factual mistake — our business is not a corporation at all.

Add it all up, and our superficially polished job-seeker presents herself merely as a warm body in search of a job, which is likely to end with her obtaining a job that merely requires a warm body.

Rewarding careers seldom begin with such a match.

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