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I've seen several job applicants who sends generic resumes to a bunch of companies (apparent from the to-field in the email). It is apparent that they're doing the mass distribution approach of their resumés.

Does this approach ever work?

Can these job applicants be swayed into a more effective behavior, such as tailoring the job application, or should they really be declined on the spot?

  • Thanks for editing your question; I've reopened it. The community will decide if this question is too open-ended and discussion-oriented. I think it is, but my vote is binding and I would like to give it a chance, perhaps for more edits. – jcmeloni Jun 25 '12 at 11:30
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    From my perspective it is a valid question. May be someone who used this approach might shed some light on this and it can be very beneficial to others. – enthusiast Jun 25 '12 at 18:48
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    My opinion is if you aren't savvy enough to use BCC: to hide your lazy shot gun approach, you get deleted out of my inbox immediately. – user718 Jul 17 '12 at 14:53
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From the Applicant's Perspective

I've tend to use several totally orthogonal techniques when sending applications. At times I would be downright "bulk-oriented" in my approach, at others I would efficiently target just a few select companies and make sure to write a custom resume and cover letter with a lot of insight about their business in it.

It depends what your end goal is:

  • do you need a job, any job, quick?
  • do you need your dream job for life?

The (E-)Mail Blast Technique

The first approach means you'll need to deal with hundreds of responses and requests, so be sure to not get names mixed up. It's not a bad approach, as you effectively weed out a lot of potential employers, and by having a few different cover letters and resumes for several roles you are interested in, you can send a lot of applications in little time. And the sheer number of responses that you get back increases the chances of a positive one. And if it doesn't work, and as long as your application was correct, not ridden with typos and bad grammar or addressing the wrong person or referring tot he wrong application and being really totally generic, you'll probably still be in their system. You have a foot in the door, and some contacts for later. Ok, maybe not a foot, but a toe.

Do not abuse this and push it so far as to get blacklisted!! Covering a lot of ground doesn't mean annoying people and sending botched applications.

The Surgical Strike

The second approach, I've used to target either dream positions OR small startups. Startups are usually looking for people with vague skillsets, have no clue how to hire people and conduct interviews, and are easily impressed, especially if they haven't found their core components yet (like their CTO or technical lead). So when you show up with a good resume with the keywords they want (that they might only vaguely understand based on an initial market research), and submit an extensive cover letter where you show that you've researched their activities, thought about new ways to improve what they already have, and can link recent or upcoming news to potential benefits or threats for their business, they'll be all hears, and you appear in a very positive light, and are on your way to an interview. And as mentioned above, they usually aren't so good at interviewing, being new to the field or not having the time to prepare for interviews, as their lifes are quite busy. So come very prepared again. It actually doesn't take too long. You can research a company decently in 2 hours. In 4 hours, you can have a solid background knowledge about them and their industry, and a solid case to help them improve.

I've done this successfully a few times, targeting very precisely some startups and I got 100% of positive returns. Truely. I only targeted a few, which were still in their infancy and prototyping stage, and they all contacting me back to meet and offer me the position. So you might still have the luxury of choice.


From the Recruiter's Perspective

I am actually also on the other side of the fence quite often, and have recruited people for several types of positions in different companies, acting a few times just as a mere complementary interviewer and sometimes as the recrtuiment lead for some projects.

About CVs / Resumes

What I can tell, from my experience, is that I will probably look at generic resumes (I need the "good generic" kind, not the cvtemplate.com kind) with a bit of disdain but it never really affected my decision if they didn't contain at herd of typos and bullsh*it. The reason for that is that we get a lot of even worse-looking resumes from recruitment agencies, who insist on using their dumbed-down formats or completely screw up the applicant's original design. So I've gotten used to go past that.

It's just a sheet of paper, the form is irrelevant. It's the content that matters. In terms of presentation, the quality and clarity of the writing go way further than any kind of pretty-printing or custom targeting.

About Cover Letters

Now, cover letters are a different story. I would still not care about form and design, and I'd prefer to see one that is obviously partially taken from a template if only for the formal fioritures over a badly-written one. But at the end of the day (well, or of the letter), what matters is: did the letter bring in any value? If yes, bonus points for the guy. If not... depends if it was requested by me (I don't request cover letters). If none were supplied, there are no "negative" points in my mind.

Having one supplied, which is concise, quick and easy to read and seems to show that you, bluntly punt, give a sh*t about your future job, is definitely a strong point that shows motivation and hard-work. But I don't take offense of mediocre ones.

I've received (and sent...) some where names got mixed up. I usually chuckle, and still look at it. There's no point in dismissing the applicant for that.

It might look strange, but I'm rather loose on this issue, while I'm quite strict on others like screening and test results. Primarily because the CV and cover-letter is mostly a social dance than a real tool. It's the base to weed out the exceptionally crap applicants. It doesn't help in any way to identify the good or exceptionally good applicants.


Bottom Line: Both approaches work. It's difficult to say whether one is more efficient than the other. It really depends on the quality of your resume and on the companies you target, and probably on your industry as well.

Also, there are no magic tricks: even the bulk-approach, to be efficient, requires some upfront work to get it going the right way. I doubt that brainless spamming of recruiters with completely crap resumes coming from an online template site will work or be beneficial in any way.

  • It's the base to weed out the exceptionally crap applicants. I think this is a very good way of putting this. When I have only a dozen applicants you can usually knock out 2-3 from CVs that don't pass the sniff test or simply aren't qualified. leaving you a more manageable number. It's only really hard to deal with CVs when you get dozens, there's just not enough time to burn through all of them, you weed out some then have to make your "short list" to pursue further. This always is hard. (I like your surgical strike method. with me that'd easily get you a job) – RualStorge Dec 15 '14 at 19:19
  • @RualStorge: Thanks for the comments. Yes, the surgical strike works quite well (with me included, when I hire), because you obviously see what the applicant can do and that he/she is really interested in the gig. But I'd say it's a risky thing to do if you want to target a company where the pool of applicants is too large, as even if your application is the best possible, you may simply run into people who are better than you, or your CV might be on the wrong side of the pile. Maybe the time investment isn't the best in that case. Of course, if it's for your dream job, then go all in... – haylem Feb 10 '15 at 9:38
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Does this approach ever work?

Maybe. I think this approach might work better for students applying for summer jobs mowing lawns, working in snack bars, movie theatres, etc... than people seeking professional long-term careers.

Can these job applicants be swayed into a more effective behavior, such as tailoring the job application, or should they really be declined on the spot?

Normally, I'd say "Why do you care?" because you're not their mother and it's not your job to help them get a job and generic resumes will work against them. BUT... I'm guessing you asked this question because some of the generic resumes you read piqued your interest enough that you want to give them a second chance to write a better resume. If they're good enough to warrant some interest, why not invite them in for an interview? It sounds like they got your attention despite having a generic, mass-mailed resume, so it might be worth following up on.

  • It could be the OP's job to help them get a job. – user8365 Dec 15 '14 at 12:45
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"filled out as much as I could" doesn't say a lot about the quality of the resume.

When you are job hunting the quality of the resume is much more important than the quantity because bad resumes don't make it past HR into the hands of those that matter. So while you might have been spamming (yes, I said it, spamming) a lot of companies the actual penetration level is very very low.

What you want is a good resume that will get you past the first level filtering if not make it all the way to the right person so no, mass resume distribution doesn't work if your resume isn't right in the first place.

BTW, "right" resumes can seldom be mass distributed anyway because they tend to be specific and targeted.

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    I changed the question now into something more specific. – Spoike Jun 25 '12 at 11:12
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Does it work? I guess that depends on your definition of work. If you throw out enough resumes you will find someone who will both look at your resume and find that your skills are what they need. So in that case the answer is yes.

However, your resume has quite a bit of personally identifiable information. Every copy you send out increases your risk of this information falling into the hands of someone who will use this information for nefarious purposes. There is generally enough information in a typical resume for a skilled social engineer to convince an unsuspecting dupe that they are you. This includes your former employers, creditors, banks, and utility companies. Further with all of the exposed PII out there in the hackersphere there is a good chance that your SS number has already been exposed. If they can match your SSN to your resume they can really do a lot of damage. '

Even if you are not worried about Identity theft this technique is far less effective at find you a position that you will be a good fit for. A targeted approach has a better chance to find a position you will enjoy and be a good fit for you. This link has some great tips for personalizing your search.

UPDATE: There is some confusion about the SSN. I am not suggesting that it is on the resume. However there have been a large number of data breaches that have exposed SSN's. It is not difficult if you know where to look to find some databases to cross reference a name and address to a SSN match. Further the information you provide in your resume provides a map of places to go look, and people to call to try and social engineer other information. By looking at your work history you can get a general area for residence for a given period. If I can find an apartment you rented I can call your old land lord with the pretense of doing a check and far too often get them to give me the SSN you provided them. HR is generally a bit better trained but they are still human and make mistakes to someone with a silver tongue that sounds convincing.

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    I agree with everything except the part about the social security number. If you hand out this information to everyone that asks for it, then thats a personal problem, most people who ask for this information don't actually need it. – Donald Jun 25 '12 at 14:59
  • I've never been asked to give a SIN/SSN on a job application or needed to put it on a resume, and I think I'd be more than a little suspicious if I was told I needed to. Is this actually done anywhere? – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jun 25 '12 at 15:03
  • @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner - Your SSN has been exposed else where unless you are in the minority. There is enough PII on your resume to match it up with your SSN from another db. Further a little bit of Social Engineering can get other information possibly including the SSN. No I would not put my SSN on my resume. But that does not mean it would be an extraordinary feat to match my resume with my SSN from another source... especially since i gave you places to look for it and date ranges to use. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jun 25 '12 at 15:45
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Mass mailed resumes will work in getting your name on recruiter mailing lists, multi-level marketing 'opportunities', and (as mentioned already) identify thieves.

I screen resumes, and I'm not the least bit interested in an email resume from someone who didn't take the time to at least look at our web site and get a general idea of the kind of work we do.

Any resume I get that looks like spam goes in the spam folder, so that hopefully I'll never be bothered by this idiot again.

I would suggest to anyone looking for a job to figure out what kind of job they want and are qualified for, and do the grunt working of finding the companies looking for your skill set. Write an email cover showing that you took the time to learn at least a bit about the company and attach a relevant resume.

As far as discouraging idiots with email clients, that an unsolvable problem.

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Mass Distribution doesn't work very well IMHO, because in my personal experience it leads to:

  • return phone calls where you can't recall all the company info on the spot.
  • more difficulty in answering the "why work for us" question when you've been going through a whole bunch of companies. (of course prep. will help with this).
  • lots of recruiters frequently getting your resume and adding it to their 'system'. Sometimes recruiters 'look' like company employees (obv. they get more returned calls, emails with that, e.g. things like company email address even though they aren't an employee).
  • The one or two "really good" matches get the generic treatment and most folks know that when recruiters make mass calls, the treatment gets extremely generic and usually mismatched for specific skills.
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Sorry if it causes confusion but for some reason I wrote this as advice to the would-be spammer rather than the potential employer wondering what is up with this phenomenon.


Job-Searching, especially when you're new in a field can be a soul-sucking endeavor. And there is really nothing quite so depressing IMO, as sending out resumes in bulk into a black hole and getting no interest. Yet it shouldn't be surprising because really, what are the odds one of your target companies actually happens to need specifically you to solve their problem right now. Even if they have a listing you're qualified for, how are you competitive with the candidate who actually writes an e-mail expressing interest in a way that clearly demonstrates they've bothered to look into the hiring company.

If you are going to spam resumes, I would advise not doing so, until you've exhausted every more sensible avenue. Hunt down leads on the internet. Talk to people. Make contacts on/offline as viable. If you have some means of demonstrating or demoing skills online, work on that when the rest of it is making you nuts. And when you find somebody who's looking and you might be a fit, send them an email/cover letter being as honest as you can about why you're interested and what you would hope you can do for the company/what the company can do for you with a link to your resume as a footnote, not the main attraction.

Job searching is a matching process. And there is no magical formatting or special powers you can endow your resume with that's going to make it stand out above other candidates when you're not even bothering to actually communicate with a potential employer. Likewise on the flip-side with employers who want you to rewrite your resume on a form on the internet. It basically sends the same message. You really couldn't give a damn about the other party. You just want your needs met with a minimum of effort.

And really how many more legit leads could you have found in the time that it took to rewrite your damn resume. So save the resume-spamming and also the web form resume re-filling-outing for the can't-think-of-anything-else-to-do-and-I-don't-need-a-break tasks because they're pretty much shots in the dark and the effort can be demoralizing.

Regardless of what side of the process you are on, think of what the other person wants. Think of the message you send through action/inaction or indifference.

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Well, I don't believe there is anything wrong with sending out a generic resume to many companies...but don't do it in a single email. Send it out individually to each and every company. This way, they can't tell you're shotgunning it, and it seems like you have genuine interest in the company.

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    That's what the BCC email field is for! ;) – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jun 25 '12 at 15:03
  • @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner can't you see inside that field if you look at the header info in an email? not that MOST hiring people would go that far...but still. – acolyte Jun 25 '12 at 15:38
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    Emailing between Outlook and Gmail - gmail recipient can't see the BCC field even when looking at full headers. – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jun 25 '12 at 15:44
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    BCC wouldn't be Blind if everyone could see everyone else, even in the headers would it? – user718 Jun 25 '12 at 15:52
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    Usually, if you send a message to more than one recipient, there will be Received headers which include no recipient email address where they otherwise would. That's going quite technical, though, and it's not directly related to BCC but rather to the multiple recipients. – a CVn Jun 27 '12 at 13:47

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