As part of my job search, I've been answering ads in the newspaper. It seems like I've sent out hundreds of letters and resumes without getting even one response. What am I doing wrong? --Written Out

Dear Out:

Maybe nothing.

Answering classified ads is like buying a lottery ticket: There are winners, but the odds are long.

But there is some good news. The odds, in fact, are getting a little better. More companies are conducting their own searches these days to save on recruiter fees, says Patricia Browne-Zak, vice president of client relations at outplacement firm Lee Hecht Harrison.

And be assured that there are ways to increase your chances of getting a response. For starters, don't send form letters. Customize both your resume and cover letter to what the ad asks for. If you don't, you are sending your material off into the ozone - and frankly, you should not expect to get a response.

Avoiding the Round File

These letters are screened by someone who is not the hiring manager, says Connie Baher, author of a videotape series called "Ten Surefire Tips to a Better Job." The screeners are trained to disregard the letter that is not a close or perfect fit.

Customizing resumes can really pay off, Rita E. Previtali, formerly of Citibank, told job seekers at a recent meeting of the association Financial Women International.

In a six-month period she responded to 80 ads, received 15 acknowledgments, had six or seven serious interviews, and landed a job.

"I had 10 different resumes in my computer," she says. "It was a lot of work," but finding a job is full-time occupation.

Mrs. Previtali, who was hired as a senior foreign exchange analyst at Ingersoll-Rand, also spent plenty of time networking.

Get Someone's Name

Another thing to avoid is greeting the letter reader with "Dear Sir" or "Dear Madam."

If the ad mentions the company, call to find out the name of the hiring manager. Otherwise, just leave out the salutation, advises Tony Lee, editor of the National Business Employment Weekly. In that way you avoid sounding too general - and getting the reader miffed.

Next, say: "I am responding to your ad for a (position) in (publication) on (date). Chances are the company has placed more than one ad for more than one position.

Then say: "I am a banker (or lending officer, or marketing executive, etc.) with the following experience." And then provide a list of your skills, set off by bullets, that correspond to those asked for in the ad.

"Bankers spend a lot of time reading long, dense paragraphs on loan documents," says Ms. Baher, who is president of U.S. Business Communications in San Diego. "But they have to look at this as a professional advertisement for themselves that should have visual appeal."

If it's feasible to hand-deliver your material to the company, do it. You might meet the person in charge of the search.

Soliciting Feedback

And to further increase chances of getting a response, advises Mr. Lee, include a pre-printed, self-addressed, stamped postcard and ask the hiring manager to check off one of these responses:

-- We have received your resume but do not plan to set up an interview.

-- We have received your resume and plan to contact you for an interview.

-- We have received your resume and have nothing appropriate at the moment but will keep it on file.

-- We have received your resume and your experience does not match our immediate needs, but please contact (leave a blank), who might have an interest.

When it comes to ads that don't mention the company's name, and tread carefully.

If you are worried about answering a blind and placed by your own company, you can call the post office to find out what firm is renting the post office box. But if there is no post office box number and if you are employed, Mr. Lee's advice is to forget it.

As one senior banker in the South says, "What do I have to lose? My job!"

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