When I went to college, I took a one or two credit course in letter writing. It turned out to be one of the most useful classes I took. I still have the text and refer to it constantly. But I fear that the art of real letter writing is disappearing. Pity, because there are still times when an old fashioned hand written or formally typed note is not only appropriate, but can cut right through.
If you ever read or studied Marshall McLuhan, who was a media philosopher back in the 1960’s, you will know about hot media and cool media. Email is a totally cool media. In his seminal book, Understanding Media he described cool media as that which is not involving – like television (during which you can be reading, talking, etc.); film is a hot media. Email is totally uninvolving. Some executives literally receive hundreds a day. They skip from one to another. Some are barely read, if at all. Few are absorbed.
So that is where a real letter can actually work for you to get attention and get noticed. I received a thank you note a few weeks ago which began, “Dear Paul; I thought I would send you a hand written note because I knew it would get your attention…” The writer was right. I have always believed that hand written thank you notes can garner attention.
These days 99% of correspondence is through email. So, a typed and mailed note with an attached résumé may just end up in the right hands if it is well written and appropriately asks for a meeting (never end a selling letter asking the reader to call you; you should ask for the meeting and call them).
But in either case, those notes had better be spelled properly and well formatted and easily read if typed. (Beware of spell check which does not differentiate between hear and here.) And don't overwrite. The letter should be visually appealing and easy to read.
Once upon a time, I received dozens of mailed résumés every week. Today, I rarely get any. Everything is email (which I have written about before). Even the best thank you notes via email are “cool”. It is not that I disavow emails. Quite the contrary. Emails are actually a wonderful way of communicating.
But because of the volume of email that everyone receives, if you really want to stand out and show real effort, a mailed note can attract attention and be really effective..