The spiel of the Manhattan subway panhandler is usually pretty predictable: “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. I’m sorry to interrupt your ride …” (This is usually followed by jaded passengers pushing their iPod buds in tight and averting their eyes.)
One day, though, that familiar refrain was followed by a completely unexpected pitch: “I graduated from college with a degree in marketing three months ago, and I really need a job.”
As subway riders looked up cautiously, they saw an impeccably groomed young man — wearing a suit and freshly shined wingtips — holding a stack of résumés. “If you know of anyone who might have positions open, I’d really appreciate it if you’d take one of these and pass it along.”
The fate of this earnest young grad remains unknown. But what do recruiters and HR pros generally think of this kind of creativity and moxie when it comes to job hunting? Is it OK to let your search go rogue?
“We’ve all seen the reports on CNN of job seekers wearing sandwich boards advertising their skills,” says Margo Morgenlander, founder of Professional Recruitment Solutions, a staffing company based in Orange County, Calif. “But that technique can backfire, particularly if you’re targeting a fairly conservative company.”
And don’t even think of posting photos of yourself on Facebook wearing that sandwich board or, worse, the gorilla outfit you rented to generate attention in your dream company’s parking lot. “Hiring managers absolutely check out your Facebook profile,” says Morgenlander. “When they see a picture like that, they’re going to say, ‘I don’t want that wackadoodle in my company.’” (But then, do you really want to work at a company where people use the word wackadoodle?)
Deborah Bell, a private certified career counselor in Santa Rosa, Calif., who also conducts workshops for Sonoma County’s employment and job-training program, agrees. “One of the most unusual instances I saw was of a candidate who taped a résumé to a box of chocolates.” This Forest Gump–style move makes more sense once Bell explains that the job listing read: “Must have a sense of humor and love chocolate.” And then there was the applicant whose cover letter said, “I’m a shoe-in for the job. The résumé was delivered in — what else? — a shoe!
Another example of clever self-promotion was pulled off by Alec Brownstein, a job seeker who used Google AdWords to buy search ads containing the names of the creative directors whose attention he sought. Any time one of them Googled themselves, Brownstein’s ad appeared, calling out for attention — and a job. He ultimately landed a position at the white-glove Madison Avenue firm Young & Rubicam. What does Morgenlander think of this modern-day Mad Men scheme? “It was simply brilliant — for his target audience. Would I suggest this strategy for other professions? Not necessarily.”
Vicki Salemi, a New York–based career expert, public speaker and author of Big Career in the Big City, agrees. “These measures can work well if you’re applying for a job in a field that rewards that sort of thinking, such as advertising or marketing,” she says “Otherwise, it shows you to be a loose cannon.”
So how does a job seeker stand out in a market where, according to Bell, one job listing can attract 300 or more applicants? “Make sure your résumé contains all the keywords in the ad,” she says. Many companies use screening software that will immediately weed out your application if you don’t have the same skills enumerated in the job listing.
“Enable yourself to your network,” says Salemi. Every meeting, every graduation party, every birthday, every hour on the golf course is a potential networking opportunity. So have your elevator speech ready — wherever you go. And when you do get that interview, she advises, “Be polished. Shave. Don’t swear. And even if you normally wear three earrings, take them out.”
Few hiring managers could legally admit this, says Morgenlander, but “people always hire individuals whom they like and like to look at — even if they’re not the most qualified candidates for the position.” So it behooves you to find out as much about the hiring manager as you can in advance. Use Facebook and LinkedIn to investigate common ground you might have, and discuss those shared interests when you get a foot (not a shoe!) in the door for an interview.
In the long run, if you follow these proven techniques, you’ll have a much better shot at the job than you’ll have hanging out next to the headquarters of Intel or Bank of America in a rented gorilla suit. Besides, says Morgenlander, “Who wants to be wearing a gorilla suit in summertime anyway?”
Thomas P. Farley a writer for Men’s Life Today, is an etiquette and lifestyle expert and the editor of Modern Manners: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Social Graces.