Q: I've followed your advice about developing a target list of people who could hire me. Now I need to reach out to them. What's best: E-mail? Snail mail? Phone call? Instant messaging? - Kyle
A: Kate: Let's start with what you do NOT want to do. First, IM is permission-based. People invite others on a one-to-one basis, often with great selectivity. Seeking out a hiring manager via IM is considered rude and intrusive. Second, there's the cell-phone problem. Try never to conduct an initial conversation by cell phone. Even if you don't have a dropped call or missed words, it's impossible to convey enthusiasm.
Dale: Of course, many people have a cell phone as their main or only source of contact, and an initial inquiry might come to you that way. If so, and you're in a restaurant or driving, you might need to say, "This is too important not to have a good connection - may I call you right back?" This also gives you a chance to collect your thoughts. Ideally, for a scheduled phone interview, you'll have a land-line phone and be at a desk or table with your notes in front of you - questions to ask, your resume, your list of accomplishments.
Kate: Now, for the BEST way to make an initial contact, it's the old-fashioned snail-mail letter. Every hiring manager is awash in e-mails, despite the filters to keep them out, and many routinely delete all the ones from senders they don't recognize. Then, even if your e-mail does get through and is opened, you can't be certain how it will look.
Dale: My computer likes to play punctuation roulette. My favorite is when it adds random question marks, and thus makes any message slightly droll: "I would love to work with you?"
Kate: That won't happen with old-fashioned paper mail; plus, a real letter has a better chance of getting looked at by the intended person. There are days when it could be the only piece of personal mail the hiring manager receives.
Dale: Then, you follow up with a phone call. If you say, "I sent you a letter last week," they just might remember it, as opposed to trying to remember one e-mail out of hundreds.
Kate: Lastly, once you have an interview, you might be able to determine how best to recontact the hiring manager - if the person has an ancient PC and looks puzzled by your reference to MySpace, you'd handle the follow-up differently than if you're interviewing with a "Crackberry" addict. Determine his or her techno-comfort and try to mirror it.