With spam reportedly counting for over 98 percent of email these days, and with much of it also carrying computer viruses, most public and private systems are protected by software filters.
These spam filters stand guard at the entrances to email systems, separating “good” email messages from “bad” ones by analyzing both the headers and content. In most cases, a human being never sees the messages or may see only the contents of the Subject, the From, and the To fields.
Unfortunately, spam filters are not perfect. So a “good” message, like the one from you responding to a job lead, may not be received. That’s called a “false positive,” and it happens more frequently than you think.
Usually, you won’t receive a response letting you know that your message was not delivered. So you never know what happened to your message.
These strategies should help to minimize spam filter impact:
- When you have made a friendly contact inside your target organization, ask them to add your email address to their address book and/or to the company’s email “friends” list (also called a “whitelist”).
- Follow whatever directions an employer may provide about sending them your resume.
- Expect that some of your messages may not get through to the recipient, and use that fact as a reason to follow up with a phone call.
There are, however, seven steps you can take to avoid spam filters. Unfortunately, following them is not fail-safe. But, they will help to reduce the probability that your email will be blocked.
Note: A potential employer’s directions should always be followed when applying to that employer regardless of what is written here.
1. Pick your email provider carefully.
A “bad” Internet Service Provider (ISP) will stop your email from getting through.
Your messages may get killed just because the source is considered “bad.” ISPs are blacklisted for a variety of reasons, often including that either they are, or appear to be, a source of spam. Check out your ISP’s domain name at spam-fighting sites like the Spamhaus Project to see if your ISP is listed as a source of spam or an "open mail relay."
The good news is that most ISPs work hard to get off a blacklist if they get put on one. Sometimes the blacklisting only lasts a few days. If it lasts longer, find a better ISP.
2. Avoid sending a message to a large number of addressees simultaneously.
If you try to send a message to 50 or more addressees, your ISP may stop your message going out because they’ll flag it as spam (they don’t want to be added to the “bad ISP” list, as in #1, above).
On the receiving end, spam filters may view the large number of addressees the same way, and kill or divert your message to an infrequently visited probable spam folder.
Sending an email message with your resume to 50 addressees at once is really not a good idea, anyway. Customized messages and resumes are MUCH more effective.
3. Keep the “Subject” field simple, but don’t leave it blank.
- Don’t put punctuation in your messages subjects, particularly exclamation marks.
- Don’t use words with all the letters capitalized in the subject.
- Don’t use the words abused by spammers, like “free,” “great offer,” “investment,” “prescription,” “medication,” “mortgage,” etc. in the Subject—or the body—of the message.
- Don’t use numbers or dollar amounts.
Here’s an example of a BAD subject line: “FREE RESUME OF $100,000 EXECUTIVE!”
Whereas here’s a GOOD subject line: “Retail manager w/10 years of experience”
4. Send “plain text” email as often as possible with minimal links.
If you can specify the font face, size, and color in your email, you are sending out an HTML email which is not plain text. Spammers often use HTML email (with hypertext links in them), so best practice is to use plain text.
5. Watch your language!
Avoid words and phrases which are used in spam.
Think of the products and services most frequently offered in junk messages (e.g. popular prescription drugs, mortgages, body parts enlargement products, insurance, money-making opportunities), claims often made (e.g., making lots of money), and words regularly used in those messages like “free” and “spam” (as in “this message is not spam”). Exclude those words from your messages if you can.
Pay attention to the words and phrases you would typically use on a resume. Appropriate phrases like “increased sales by $xxxxxx” can trigger the spam filters which see the dollar amounts in your message as characteristic of spam (as in “make $10,000 a month from home working part time”).
6. Avoid attaching your resume to the initial email you send out, unless specified by the employer, and, particularly, don't attach it as a compressed file (.zip, .tar).
Copy and paste your resume into the body of your email message.
If attaching your resume, stick to safe file formats such as PDF, RTF, or DOCX. Ensure the file is no larger than 1 MB.
7. If possible, follow-up your email with a “snail mail” version sent to the real postal address.
This is a great way to establish contact and stay in touch with a person! Reference the emailed version you sent (including the date, time, and subject).
MOST software filters stop messages that demonstrate several of these characteristics, not any single one (except the first one). And, the triggers will change over time as spammers also change their tactics to beat the filters. As the spammers modify their approaches, the filters will change as well to defeat them. This could be called a “vicious cycle.” So stay alert, and stay tuned!
Yes, this is a major annoyance! But ignoring the possibility that your message won’t reach the addressee is like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand to avoid seeing what it doesn’t want to see. The problem exists. It’s much better to be aware of it and do what you can to overcome it.
THE SILVER LINING: Use this situation to your advantage! It is a legitimate reason to call an employer to check to see if they received your message. And, MAYBE, when you have them on the phone, you can:
- Connect with a live person who will help you get that job, and
- Ask when and where they post their job openings, and
- Do a soft-selling job to , or
- Discover the reason you didn’t get interviewed, and
- Learn what are the “next steps” in their hiring process, or
- Ask if anyone had a reservation about hiring you and what it might be, or...
BOTTOM LINE: Observe the common characteristics of the spam you receive, and do your best to avoid having your email demonstrate the same characteristics. If you have your own spam filter, pay attention to what it accepts and what it rejects.
Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org since 1998.
This article was originally published on careercast.com