CareerBuilder Menu Search Search

Do Out-of-the-Box Tactics Really Work?

Hiring managers weigh in
Rachel Zupek, CareerBuilder.com writer

  • Email

From résumés accompanied by shoes to get candidates' "feet in the door," to candidates sending cakes designed as business cards, hiring managers have seen it all when it comes to memorable job-seeker tactics.

Facing the most difficult job market in decades, job seekers are often advised to stand out among the competition by using creative and unconventional tactics to grab an employer's attention. While that advice is sound and good, it raises the question of whether or not these avant-garde approaches actually work.

Well -- it depends.

"I personally like those candidates that think outside of the box. As an HR professional, nothing makes me happier than knowing a candidate for a marketing position has, for example, created a brochure that is actually his or her résumé," says Vani Colombo, HR director for VIPdesk, a customer and concierge service. "I'm always amazed when candidates break the rules with class to stand out. It shows they are resourceful and willing to go the extra mile."

Tactics that worked
Vinh Nguyen, 30, is a great example of someone who didn't want to fall prey to the same fate as other unsuccessful applicants -- but who stood out in a good way. Career Tiger, a service that helps people find a job through unique and unconventional methods, helped Nguyen come up with this tactic:

When asked a question during an interview with a health-care IT company, he surprised his interviewers by pulling out a whiteboard, writing down his thought process and taking control of the interview.

"Differentiating yourself from your competition makes sense. The idea is to show that you are a thought leader in your area and that your knowledge is valuable," Nguyen says. "It was awkward at first, but breaking away from the norm will pay off as long as you put in the work beforehand researching."

He got the job, and he is still working at the company as a project manager.

Dave Bowman, founder and chairman of TTG Consultants, a consulting firm, recalls a client who was a designer and really wanted to make an impression in an upcoming interview.

"As the interview began, he would wheel in a model of a previous theme-park exhibit he'd designed. He'd bring in with him three clowns who would be playing musical instruments. They would walk around the room for a minute or so, playing a song, and then exit, leaving the model for the interviewer to view in more detail," Bowman says. "The idea worked. His out-of-the-box tactics got him the job offer and at more money than he'd expected."

While both of these unconventional methods worked in these instances, many hiring managers say that alternative tactics often walk a fine line between admirable and creative and just plain inappropriate.

"I would consider a candidate who used a tactic if it was ethical and demonstrated a behavior that would be relevant to the job they were interested in," says Kim Lockhart, regional vice president for Spherion Corp., a recruiting and staffing provider. "For example, if someone was trying to get their name in consideration for a sales position and was using techniques to obtain an interview similar to the way they would approach securing a sale, I would consider it."

Tactics that didn't
Though many job seekers have successfully used creative job-search tactics, there seem to be an equal number of unsuccessful applicants, according to some hiring managers.

A few months ago, Carolyn Turner, a business coach in Portland, Ore., was helping a client hire an office manager.

"We had one applicant arrive unannounced at the office with a cherry pie she had baked that morning. She explained that she wanted to stand out from all the other applicants -- which she did, but just in a scary, stalkerish kind of way," Turner says. "I got a call from the business owner that day wondering what to do; no one wanted to eat the pie, but she left it in her own pie plate, which meant they had to get it back to her somehow. It was all just very awkward."

Turner says that having gone through hundreds of résumés for that position, it became clear that good candidates stand out just by how they present themselves in their cover letters and résumés.

"There's really no need to go over the top to get noticed," she says. "For the majority of businesses and positions, a really well-written cover letter is more than enough.  You'd be surprised at how many badly written cover letters and résumés there are."

Don't try this at home
Christine Bolzan, CEO of Graduate Career Coaching, agrees with Turner and strongly advises against extreme tactics in the job search. She says many applicants who use these methods end up with a permanent "Do Not Hire" label in their company file.

Bolzan recalls two examples of what not to try in your job-search efforts, one of which includes gift giving.

"I've received flowers, wine, perfume and the most memorable of all -- a pair of Ferragamo shoes, which was a generous attempt at a ping following our brief conversation of great things to buy at Heathrow Duty Free," Bolzan says. "This is never appropriate. In fact, many companies have a policy against accepting gifts of any sort."

Another job search no-no? Stalking the interviewer, which Bolzan says she's encountered on several different levels, including people who have waited in career fair parking lots and others who've waited outside the office building.

"The worst of all stalkers I've encountered followed me into the pool at my hotel at 10 p.m. when I was trying to get a break from a long day at a large-scale recruiting event," Bolzan says. "The same event where I found over 100 different résumés secured by the wipers on my rental car windshield, and woke in the morning to even more résumés slipped under my hotel room door."

Remember the rules
Barring stalker behavior and lavish gifts, out-of-the-box tactics can work if you play your cards right. Greg Masiewich, manager of marketing and online communications for IQ Partners Inc., offers these tips:

1. Make it relevant

"Whatever tactic you choose to use, make sure it's relevant to the position you're applying for," Masiewich says. "If you choose a tactic that you think will grab a hiring manager's attention but doesn't tie into the job, the industry, or what you're about, then it can come off as just seeming strange and weird instead of creative and clever."

2. Don't go too far

"It's important to walk that fine line between different, yet not going too far with trying to stand out. If you do something that's too overly crazy, you can come off seeming a little creepy and weird instead of like a star applicant with a sense of determination," Masiewich says. "Remember, you want to grab their attention, not become a joke in the office."

3. A good idea can get you an interview, but not a job

"Remember that no matter the tactic you use to try and gain the attention of a hiring manager, at the end of the day they're still going to hire the person who they feel can do the job best," Masiewich says. "An out-of-the-box tactic might get you an interview, but it's still up to you to show you're not only determined, but also the best person for the job."

Rachel Zupek is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/CBwriterRZ.



Last Updated: 21/04/2011 - 12:03 AM


Article Reprints
Permission must be obtained from CareerBuilder.com to reprint any of its articles. Please send a request to reprints@careerbuilder.com.