The world of job hunting moves fast. Once, you’d scour the newspaper for openings; now, you have your choice of online job boards. Resumes used to be printed on thick, quality cardstock, and now, they’re usually not printed at all. The standard uniform of a suit and tie isn’t even required anymore.
And it’s not just that the rules have changed. The new rules are: There are no rules.
So, if you’ve been following some dated (er, traditional) job search tips, it’s time to think again. Here are a few rules you may have heard, why you should break them, and when—on some very rare occasions—you should follow them anyway.
Rule #1: Cast the Widest Net Possible
Years ago, it was standard to print up several copies of a one-size-fits-all resume and mail it out to as many potential employers as possible. In theory, this game of odds made sense—the more resumes you sent out, the more chances you had for an employer to call you back.
But that strategy simply doesn’t work anymore. Between applicant tracking systemsthat filter for specific keywords and companies that are hyper-focused on culture, hiring managers are looking for a perfect fit. A generic resume points to a generic candidate—and that’s not what companies are looking for.
Instead, focus on fewer jobs—but make them count by tailoring each application to your target company.
Rule #2: Call or Stop By to Check on Your Application After a Few Days
If there was one piece of advice from my parents that I constantly raised an eyebrow at, it was this. To them, calling or stopping by a business to check on your application showed persistence and enthusiasm. But I couldn’t imagine that it did anything except annoy the hiring manager—and ultimately hurt my chances of landing the job.
In general, let your resume and cover letter speak for themselves. If you have a killer application (or better yet, a company connection that you made through networking), you’ll have a great chance of catching the hiring manager’s eye without the pestering follow-up.
That said, it can be OK to follow up if you applied blindly (i.e., you had no personal connection or applied through an online applicant tracking system) and haven’t heard back in a couple weeks. But via email. Please, only email.
Rule #3: Include an Objective Statement at the Top of Your Resume
Objective statements made a bit more sense when they were combined with Rule #1—as you were widely distributing your resume, your objective statement gave the company a better idea of what kind of role you were after.
But now, not only do they come across as vague (“I’m interested in a position where I can use my experience to expand my skills”) and generic (“I’m looking for an entry-level position with potential for growth”), they just don’t make much sense. if you’re tailoring your cover letter and resume to apply for an inside sales position, there’s no need to make a blanket statement that says the same thing at the top of your resume.
Rule #4: Use a Traditional Letter Format for Your Cover Letter
When I first learned how to create a cover letter, the format was standard. You’d include all your contact information first—including your full street address, home and cell phone numbers, and email address—then the same information for the hiring manager or company you were addressing the letter to. Only after all that (whew!) would you get to the meat of the letter.
The thing is, you don’t actually send your cover letters in the mail anymore—so the formal letter format isn’t necessary. Most times, you’ll either attach your cover letter to an email or use it as the body of your email, which has your resume attached. Yes, your contact information should be accessible, but skip the traditional formatting and put a line at the top of your resume and bottom of your email. They’ll find it—promise.
Rule #5: Write Your Resume and Cover Letter in Formal Language
Most cover letters used to start with a standard opening phrase along the lines of “Enclosed please find my resume as an application for the position of Marketing Director, as advertised on Monster.com.” Some even used the opening line of “Dear Sir or Madam.”
While hiring managers’ general opinions on cover letters vary widely (i.e., some prefer them over resumes, some refuse to read them at all), it’s best to start with something conversational and polite—then, depending on how well you understand the company culture, you can get a little creative.
Rule #6: Always Wear a Suit to an Interview
When it comes to interviews, the way you dress will play a big part in the first impression you make—which can set the stage for the rest of your interview and, ultimately, even play a role in whether or not you land the gig. And so, it’s not surprising that a suit is the go-to standard for such a high-stakes situation.
But it only takes one start-up interview to figure out that a suit can actually make you stick out in a bad way. If everyone at the company wears jeans and t-shirts on a regular basis, your suit is going to make you come across as stuffy and formal—or worse, a total mismatch for the company culture.
It’s more important to find out how company regulars dress on a daily basis, and then step it up just a notch for that first meeting (e.g., if everyone wears jeans, don a pair of pressed khakis). You’ll easily prove that you can fit right in.
One caveat: Follow this rule anyway if your target company is truly a business formal environment or if you can’t adequately gauge the dress code pre-interview. Too dressy is always better than too casual.
Rule #7: Always Send a Handwritten Thank You Note
A handwritten thank you note probably won’t hurt your chances of landing a new job (who doesn’t like receiving non-bank statement snail mail?). But to be honest, it’s not a necessity anymore. In fact, you can make just as good of an impression with a speedy (i.e., same day) email thank you. Plus, you’ll make it a lot easier for the interviewer to respond directly to your email, while a handwritten note will likely go unanswered.
Of course, use your best judgment here. If your interviewer comes across as fairly traditional or formal—or has beautiful notecards displayed visibly in the office—he or she may appreciate the charm of a handwritten note.