Career Audit

Killer Apps

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Beverly Hills lawyer Lee S. Smith says he likes to reserve his e-mail for important communications and doesn’t want it clogged with anything else.

So, job seekers, take note: Em­ployment applications to the law practice that Smith shares with his father should arrive the old-fashioned way–on traditional black-on-white bond paper, stamped and mailed.

“Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think direct mail is most appreciated,” says Smith, whose practice focuses on business counseling and family law. “If it’s worth me reading it, it should be worth them making it look nice and sending it through the mail.”

But even Smith will allow an exception, grudgingly. If the firm has advertised an open position–well, then OK. “Then that’s almost an invitation to get the resumé to the law firm as quickly as possible.”

Smith’s view reflects the general sentiment about e-mailing resumés. Even as employers and the search industry become more technologically sophisticated, e-mail should be used sparingly and cautiously.

True, e-mailing is fast, easy and inexpensive. But e-mail also is informal, may be overlooked in the recipient’s in-box, and lends itself to formatting glitches and, in a worst case, identity theft and cyberstalking.

Generic Application Spam

Prospective employers are especially scornful of e-mailed generic applications. “You consider it the worst kind of spam,” says cyberlaw expert Parry Aftab, a lawyer who runs consulting and nonprofit enterprises based in the New York City area. E-mailed resumés and cover letters sent to multiple employers are likely to be deleted without even being read, she says.

In addition, e-mailing generic job applications or posting a resumé on a personal Web site can be dangerous, Aftab says. Resumés contain personal information that can be used by identity thieves or latched onto by people who don’t like lawyers. A single misdirected e-mail could end up almost anywhere, she says.

“It’s not smart, it’s not safe, it’s not private and it’s not good for you because you may find yourself being vic­tim­ized,” Aftab says. “There are a lot of people out there who will cyberstalk lawyers.”

But responding to a specific job by e-mail may be appropriate. “If you’ve found a job in an online posting, it makes a lot of sense, especially if that’s what they ask for,” says Kathy Morris, a lawyer who directs the ABA Career Resource Center in Chicago. Beware, though, of formatting problems, Morris says. Even if the software used to draft a resumé translates to a variety of Internet browsers, send a test copy to yourself first to see how it looks.

But if a prospective employer asks for an e-mailed response, limit it to that. “What’s not necessary or appropriate is to send by e-mail, fax and hard copy,” says Morris. Multiple copies of a job application may only irritate the recipient and, likewise, “There’s no need to prodigiously follow up to confirm receipt,” Morris says.

Aftab notes, however, that e-mail can be a highly effective tool for pursuing potential contacts–which eventually could lead to a job.

Sending a thoughtful e-mail to a specific person is a great way to “meet” people who are well-known in the profession, she says. They are more likely to read their e-mail than to answer the phone or even read their mail.

Keep the message brief, says Aftab, speaking positively about, say, a specific case or appearance in which the person was involved.

Even prominent people are likely to respond, Aftab says. Then, once contact has been established, the sender can ask whether the person knows of any job openings at his or her own firm. If so, direct a brief e-mail of no more than one paragraph, with an attached resumé, to the appropriate contact stating, for example, that Mr. or Ms. Bigwig suggested e-mailing and asking for more information about how to apply.

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