In Quest to Stand Out, Take Care With Gimmicks
In Quest to Stand Out, Take Care With Gimmicks
By SARAH E. NEEDLEMAN, WSJ
In an era when many résumés share a standard email-friendly format, it’s no wonder some job hunters feel compelled to use creative tactics to stand out. But while a rare few succeed, most fail miserably, say recruiters and hiring managers.
A junior marketing professional tried sending his résumé to a company hiring manager via homing pigeon, says Cynthia Shapiro, a job-search coach in Chatsworth, Calif. But as far as the job hunter knows, the recruiter wasn’t interested, because the animal never returned, says Ms. Shapiro, who began working with the job hunter after the incident.
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Such oddball gimmicks are more commonly used by entry- and mid-level professionals than by managers and executives, say recruiters. Yet a miscue can be even costlier for senior folks, because “they should know better,” says Amy Hoover, an executive vice president and partner at Talent Zoo Inc., a recruiting agency with offices in New York and Atlanta. “Big gaffes certainly can give you an unflattering reputation regionally or across the board in your industry.”
Professionals typically resort to unconventional tactics after bouts of rejection, says Ms. Shapiro, who has 17 years of experience working in corporate human resources. “It’s really disheartening when you send your résumé out there and you get nothing in return,” she notes. “It just makes people feel like they have to do something crazy to get noticed.”
Among the more bizarre gimmicks hiring managers say they’ve seen: a cut-up résumé placed piece by piece inside a Russian stacking doll, a cover letter with an electronic key chain and a note saying, “The only noise you’ll hear out of me are the ones generated by this letter,” and a case in which a job candidate brought a Rubik’s Cube to an interview to demonstrate her quick problem-solving skills.
Ms. Shapiro says a job hunter in a gorilla suit once dropped off his résumé at her office at a construction company. Then, she recalls, he burst into a song describing why he would make a strong candidate. “The receptionist said he couldn’t come in, but he kept running around with balloons and calling my name,” she says. “Everyone thought it was my birthday. The CEO came out. It wasn’t cool.”
But even a relatively benign approach to dropping off a résumé may not work. Carrie Pryor, a senior client partner at Korn/Ferry International, an executive search firm, says professionals — usually in normal attire — show up at her New York office unannounced about once every three months. “It has a sense of desperation, which is not a good quality to be projecting to a recruiter,” she says, adding, “It’s also not terribly respectful of my time.”
Approaching recruiters in a social setting about job opportunities is also unwise. Ms. Pryor says she was recently cornered by a job hunter as she was searching for a seat at her daughter’s high-school volleyball game. “I was really more interested in focusing on seeing my child perform,” she says. An acceptable alternative would have been to ask to meet in a business setting at a later date, she adds.
Another strategy sometimes used by job seekers is to send a recruiter a cover letter inside an unsealed envelope with no résumé, says Ernest Feiteira, formerly a director of business development at NAS Recruitment Communications, a human-resources communications firm in Woodbridge, N.J. The goal is to make it appear that the person’s résumé fell out, prompting the recruiter to personally follow up, he explains. But this can also leave the impression that the job seeker is deceptive, incompetent or careless, he notes.
Some job seekers regularly email recruiters jokes, goofy photos or other unprofessional items just to stay on their radar, says Romayne P. Berry, a career consultant for Right Management in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and a former executive recruiter. Others send their résumés about once a month, noting that they made a change to the document even though the edits are usually minor.
Job candidates have also been known to offer recruiters free tickets to concerts or other events during interviews. Others send thank-you letters with a fruit basket or a bottle of champagne attached. Such actions are tantamount to bribery, which can be an automatic knock-out factor, recruiters say.
Still, the right attention-getting tactic can sometimes work, particularly when professionals tailor it for a specific recipient, says Harry Joiner, a recruiter in Atlanta who specializes in e-commerce. He recently received via FedEx a toy rubber sandwich wrapped in red cellophane with a note saying he wouldn’t have to brown bag his lunch the following week if he’d let the sender take him to a restaurant. The strategy worked, Mr. Joiner says, because his personality “screams kitsch,” a fact that can easily be discerned from reading his blog, www.marketingheadhunter.com, about careers in marketing. “This guy knew exactly who he was sending it to,” he says.
But Mr. Joiner acknowledges that such a tactic might have the opposite effect on other recruiters. “This is a judgment call,” he says. “Sometimes you’ve got to take some chances to break through the clutter.” He advises job seekers to research recruiters’ personal interests to identify ways to grab their attention using resources like the networking Web site LinkedIn.com.
Spend the bare minimum on your gimmick, adds Mr. Joiner. “You want to pick something that doesn’t cost so much that you look like you’re trying to buy the person.”
Recruiters in creative industries like advertising, marketing and public relations may be more receptive to gimmicks than others, says Dave Willmer, executive director at Creative Group, a division of the recruiter Robert Half International Inc. He recommends looking for clues in job descriptions. A call for creative types that includes terms like “cutting edge” or “fresh” might indicate openness to such an approach, he notes.
One easy way to stand out is to include a link to a personal Web site or blog in an email résumé, says Matt Schwartz, president of MJS Executive Search, an executive search firm in Tarrytown, N.Y. Just be sure the content on the site is appropriate. A professional seeking a head speechwriter job at a major consumer-goods company blew his candidacy by sending Mr. Schwartz a link to a blog that included a description of illegal drug use. Though this person was highly qualified for the $300,000 position, Mr. Schwartz says he was unwilling to overlook the faux pas.
It also is acceptable to send a card for a nondenominational holiday such as New Year’s to remind recruiters of your interest, Ms. Shapiro says.
But avoid any stunts that might be deemed crass or unprofessional, says Dale Winston, chief executive of Battalia Winston International, a retained executive-search firm. She once received a résumé with two Pepto-Bismol tablets attached and a note that read: “I’m one candidate that won’t nauseate you. However, since I don’t know how the rest of your day is going, accept some relief, compliments of me.” Ms. Winston keeps it and similar items in what she calls her “funny file,” she says.
And bear in mind that even if you do win a recruiter’s attention using a creative gimmick, that doesn’t mean you’re a shoo-in for a job, Mr. Joiner says. “You still have to be good,” he says. “There’s no getting around that.”
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