Resume Help/Application strategy


Hi Dr. Converse,

My question is about strategy in submitting job applications.  I have just graduated from college and it seems to me that sending out applications to as many employers as I can is a good way to go since that would get my name out there to a lot of people.  After all, the more applications I send out, the better my chances of getting offers or interviews, right?

Hi Rich,

Though your strategy may seem like the best option, it is actually a counterproductive way to accomplish what you want.  However, you aren't alone; a lot of people adopt this approach.  

The reasons it doesn't work so well are many, but it is the wrong approach chiefly because it defeats the very purpose of both a resume and cover letter.  The main focus of both those documents should be to target SPECIFIC needs that each institution has.  In other words, not every employer is looking for the same thing even if the job titles are identical.  So, when you send out identical documents to every employer you miss the opportunity - indeed you default on your obligation - to tell each employer why you are the best candidate to fill the need that they - and only they - have open.

Let's take a hypothetical example: suppose you write a resume and letter that details your expertise in ABC and XYZ.  The only jobs for which you will look like the perfect candidate are those in which the employer specifically needs ABC and XYZ.  But what if the employer's preference is for someone who can do DEF or has experience in KLM?  You see the problem.  Even more to the point, what if the employer is looking for someone who can do not exactly ABC but rather CDE?  You're close but actually only about one-third qualified for that job.

The problem for many job seekers is that they fail to adequately read the job announcement in detail AND fail to read between the lines to discover the exact nature of the job advertised and how their education and experience qualify them for the position.  We used to refer to what you are describing as "mudslinging;" that is, throw a lot of mud at a wall and some of it is bound to stick.  By sending out dozens of job applications you are hoping that one or two of them "stick."  But why not use your time and energy to target a few employers - the ones where you have absolutely the best chance of success?  Spend your time tailoring your resume and letter to the EXACT specifications that each of the employers want.  When an employer sees that you have taken the time to describe your suitability in terms that make you a great candidate, your documents will inspire much more attention than those that have the appearance of being generic (which is what they are).  Today we describe this tactic of sending out an avalanche of apps to nearly everyone as "firebombing."  Literary agencies use the same term to describe authors who send their work to everyone on the planet instead of to those few agencies who may actually been interested in the kind of work the author has produced.

Firebombing also contains within it the potential for real glitches.  If you are doing what you are supposed to do, you are addressing the cover letter to a specific person at a specific address.   You ARE doing that, right?  And further suppose that in one or more of the packages you send, you forget to change the name and address so that an application intended for Ms. Alvarez at Acme is sent instead to Mr. Adams at Apex.  Not a good thing.  And don't think that doesn't happen.  In decades of reviewing job app packages, I have lost track of the number of people who sent us a cover letter with someone else's name on it.  When someone makes a mistake like that, they get their application dumped into the shredder in record time.  And there are other mistakes just as damaging, so what I am telling you is: don't firebomb.

A lot of employers use ATS or Applicant Tracking Software, the sole function of which is to flag applications that use the exact words contained in the job announcement under "Qualifications Needed" or "Experience Required" or whatever term is in the announcement that tells you what you need to be able to do to qualify for this position.  That is simply another reason to write your documents using the specific terms taken right out of the job announcement.  You can't possibly do this (except by coincidence) unless you are focusing on one app and one employer at a time.

If you'd like me to take a look at your res and letter before you send them, I'll be happy to give you a free critique.  Just attach them to an email and send it to me at the address below.  

Best wishes,  

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Ralph D. Converse, Ph.D.


I can answer questions about general job searches, resume construction, crafting an effective cover letter, and how to prepare for, and conduct, a winning interview. My speciality is the field of education, but I also have extensive background in business and administration. I know what works and what doesn't work and I can make your application package stand out from the rest ... because that is what you have to do.


I have interviewed for, and held, dozens of jobs in a career going back more than 42 years. I have taught at all educational levels including middle school, high school, community college, and university. In more than 42 years of experience on both sides of the job-search process, I have interviewed hundreds of applicants and have reviewed literally tens of thousands of job application packages. I am the author of 12 Mistakes That Got Your Job Application Rejected ... And How To Fix Them! I conduct workshops for job seekers in a variety of locations every year.

Music Educator's Journal, Teaching Music, Music and American Culture (forthcoming, 2013), Last Teacher Standing: The Job is Yours Now! and 12 Mistakes That Got Your Job Application Rejected ... And How To Fix Them!

B.A. New Mexico State University; M.Mus. Southern Illinois University; Ph.D. University of California and University of North Texas

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