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Your Resume: Before You Press "Send"

Man sitting in front of a laptop holding one hand up to indicate stop

I'd like to talk about the unsolicited email. Specifically, the one with a resume attached, and not referencing any specific search we are managing. We receive lots of those at The Alexander Group, as you might well imagine. As a retained, boutique search firm working with a small select group of clients on specialized leadership positions, there is unfortunately only a microscopically slim chance that we can make a match with any of our searches, present or future. I can smell the cold, unfamiliar tone of these emails from a mile away. I will make a quick scan, 99% of the time realize it's not a match for anything we are presently managing, and send it on to the database, perhaps for future reference.

Now some of these emails get my attention, but unfortunately not for the right reasons. Here is a sampling:

  1. "Dear Alfred," the opening read. I'm not sure who Alfred is, but apparently, the writer had been referred to me by a "venture capitalist" in Atlanta who has worked with me in the past. Unnamed, of course, and on an unspecified project. If you think you are on a first name basis, be sure you've got the first name right.
  2. Subject line: SUPER BOWL WINNER LOSES JOB!!! Well now, that is news. I'm not a sports fan particularly, but even I know how unjust that would be. How could someone win the Super Bowl and then get fired? Well, in this case, the "Super Bowl Winner" was a director with an architecture firm who, despite having turned around countless failing teams, had been let go from three positions in as many years. If you are going to use that as your opening line, be sure you have actually, in fact, won the Super Bowl, or I'm going to sense that you aren't exactly being straight with me.
  3. Expanding on #2 for a moment... a particular gem is the ALL CAPS EMAIL. I understand, you really want that perfect job, and you're growing frustrated with your search. But yelling is never the right start to a productive dialogue.
  4. The pink email. I would say any color of type other than black or navy is inappropriate, but I don't find a green or a purple email as off-putting as I do the email crafted lovingly in 11pt Script MT Bold... in pink. More people do this than you realize. And it's not just the ladies.
  5. The thousand-word email that began with "I sat in my car for almost 4.5 hours and went through 17 pages of listings of rankings; and did not stop until I found 100 of you to send 100 individual emails to today..." (Gee, I feel special.) And ended, four pages later, with "Namaste." I admit I read the whole email, but primarily for the entertainment value.
  6. A colleague received the following bold and assuming series (names changed to protect the innocent):
Dear Ruth, today I received what I believe was some critical advice in the way I have been searching for a new position. And as a result, I have 'tweaked' my resume. Apologies for sending yet another email to you (15 in the last 24 months), but please delete the previous one, and use the attached version against your current and incoming opportunities for...
Dear Ruth, can you please take 30 mins to contact all the companies and other recruiters or contacts you have a relationship with to ask if they have any current or imminent opportunities that I can take advantage of, I am willing and very able to entertain any and all opportunities?

And then finally...

I'll give an extra $2,000 bonus to the first recruiter to set up an interview for me. If I can get the interview, I can get the job, I just need help getting past the gatekeeper.

I don't really know where to start with this, except to say that the smell of desperation comes through on all operating systems.

Those are examples of what not to do, clearly. While we may not be able to respond to everyone who sends us an unsolicited resume, here is an example of an email that gets to the point and might even get a response:


I was referred to you by X so thank you in advance for your time.

I am currently (name position) at ABC Company and have extensive experience in all facets of X in XYZ industries. I have enclosed my resume. Please let me know if there any searches, present or future, that would be a fit for my qualifications. In turn, please know that I am happy to offer any assistance with other searches you are currently conducting.

I have attached my resume for your review.

Best regards,

The key here is the recognition that you have something of value to offer as well, which is your professional network. And when you are asking for a favor, a little quid pro quo goes a long way.

Article updated October 1, 2019.

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