THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Desperation station: Your job search is direct mail 2.0

There came a point in my career when my company went bankrupt, the economy was in the dumps, and my network of friends and acquaintances was getting me nowhere. Like all job hunters, I had good days and bad days. On good days, I brewed coffee for that caffeinated, I-can-overcome-anything feeling. On bad days, I never got out of bed. 

Finally, after a string of bad days, I called the phone number in a small ad I had come across in a bunch of business publications. The number was for WSA Resumes. 

I told my contact at WSA that I needed a job. I told him I attribute my career success in part to the fact that I have always been able to write a very effective resume, but I have hit a wall. 

WSA sold me the executive pack, which was $1,000 for someone to rewrite my resume in three days. (They had less expensive packages, but I was in a moment of panic.) I talked to someone for a couple of hours, and she rewrote the resume in a way that smacks of a piece of direct mail: headlines, bullets, italics, and bold lines. The resume did not look like one I had ever seen. My friends said it looked cheesy. They said, "Don't send it." 

But I started to trust the writers at WSA because they noticed patterns and accomplishments in my career that I had't noticed. They phrased achievements in ways that I would't have thought of. They were able to frame my work life in a way that could open new fields to me. But most of all, I wanted to take a risk. I realized that I was getting nowhere, and I needed to try something new. This was the only new thing I could think of. 

To my surprise, my executive package came with a cover letter. It began, "If you can use my... skills on your management team, then I'd like to talk to you." I cringed. I told WSA the letter is not my style. 

There are actually a few more things I told WSA. You know how when you're spending a lot of money you get cranky? That's how I was. I argued about file formatting, I argued about hyphens and semicolons. (I'm sure I argued about more– I just can't remember.)

Finally, I ran out of things to argue about. And armed with my new resume I started my job search again. I found no openings. 

So I called WSA, and I was hoping they would not remember me– the person who argued about everything– but they remembered. "Yes, we can help," my contact said. 

They send out resumes cold. Which is, of course, in keeping with their direct mail perspective. So I signed up. It cost $1.50 a resume. My contact recommended sending out 8,000 resumes. I wanted 500. He said direct mail is an odds game. I picked 500 companies. Then I changed my mind. Then I picked a new 500. Then I asked for some more lists. I was nervous. The cost worried me, but I took to heart the saying, "You have to spend money to make money." 

Finally WSA printed all 500 cover letters, stuffed envelopes, and slapped on address labels. Everything was ready to go. Then I sent an email to WSA with the subject head: emergency. I told them that I have a lot of direct mail experience, and they should send the letter out on Tuesday, not Friday. 

WSA dumped me. They tore up my letters and my check. They said I should find someone else to help me. So I took WSA's cover letter and the resume they wrote for me, and I spent a week finding email addresses for CEOs, and I sent my resume myself– cold– to 500 CEOs. And guess what? I got 15 responses and two job offers. 

So I recommend that you hire a company like WSA. You will get a standout resume, and you will see yourself differently, so you will summarize your career differently, and you have a new chance at landing a job. And this is the other thing. Unless your network is coming up roses for you, job hunting is, really, an exercise in direct mail. Once I admitted that I was not above a direct mail campaign for myself, things started happening. 

I think WSA hates me, but luckily, I am not proud, so check out their web site:


Penelope Trunk has started several companies and worked for many more. She penned this column several years ago, but she's busy with new things–- too busy to write new things.