On the job hunt? Ditch the bunny suit

Desperate times call for desperate measures – and in these times, more job seekers are resorting to more bizarre measures to stand out from the crowd.

Fierce competition is driving more people on the employment hunt to figure they’ve got to do whatever it takes to get noticed. Eighteen per cent of 2,543 U.S. hiring managers polled by online job site CareerBuilder.com reported they are seeing more candidates resort to “unusual tactics” to capture the attention of hiring managers. That’s up from 12 per cent of managers polled last spring.

The survey described about a dozen of the more memorable measures that hiring managers reported. Is a job seeker who goes to such extremes crazy – or crazy like a fox?

We asked a few experts to evaluate some of the antics CareerBuilder reported to gauge whether they’d get those who used them the attention they desired – or attention they’d regret. Here are the pros’ assessments on what is good, bad or just plain ugly about the ploys, and, if you’re on the job hunt, how you could tweak the tactics to advantage:

Tactic: Candidate sent a shoe with a résumé to “get my foot in the door”

Verdict: Bad. Cheesy and potentially politically incorrect, after last December’s incident in which an Iraqi journalist threw two shoes at former U.S. President George W. Bush during a press conference.

What works/doesn’t work: The foot-in-the-door pun might showcase out-of-the-box thinking to a creative employer, such as an advertising agency. But if you were applying for a job in a conservative industry, such as finance, you’d be more likely to get the boot for being unprofessional.

What it achieves/fails to achieve: The underlying goal of any approach should be to get noticed for your professional abilities. A loafer in the box says nothing about your expertise, other than as a prankster.

What would work better: A résumé delivered in a creatively decorated or colourful envelope might help it stand out. More attention-grabbing would be to accompany your résumé with something demonstrating your industry knowledge, such as a relevant article, with a note that says, “I saw this and thought you might find it useful.”

Tactic: Candidate staged a sit-in in the lobby to get a meeting with a director

Verdict: Good, sort of. It could get you an audience for a sales role.

What works/doesn’t work: It shows that you are persistent and serious enough about the job to go to lengths to get an audience. But your protest-like move could be seen as belligerent and get you branded a trouble-maker. The only audience you might get is with a security guard escorting you out of the building.

What it achieves/fails to achieve: Your persistence demonstrates sincerity and dedication; your physical presence might just make a busy manager succumb to a meeting. But you are also demonstrating pigheadedness more than co-operation.

What would work better: Less confrontation is more effective. So is approaching an executive when he or she may have the time and headspace to focus on you. If you want an off-guard moment, consider a deliberate “chance encounter” out of the office. For instance, find out where they go to lunch; sit at a table nearby reading a relevant industry report. Strike up an informal conversation, demonstrating your knowledge and insights, and asking about their needs. Or try something similar during a gym workout. Your target will have more time and the setting is more casual and non-threatening.

Tactic: Candidate handed out résumés at stoplights

Verdict: Bad. A waste of time.

What works/doesn’t work: Talk about a scattergun approach. You aren’t approaching anyone you are certain has a potential job waiting. It just says you want a job, and any job will do. Odds are long you’ll find meaningful work from an anonymous street corner encounter – unless you’re in the squeegee business.

What it achieves/fails to achieve: Unless serendipity steps in, you will fail to get the attention of people in a position to hire.

What would work better: Targetting is even more critical when jobs are scarce and employers are less likely to come looking for you. Be clear about what kind of job you want and what types of employers might need your specific skills. Then research companies you want to approach and find out the names of their hiring managers. That can be as simple as going to the company’s web site or calling the reception desk. Address your résumé to them, with a cover letter laying out why you believe your skills can help the company meet its current challenges. That reaches someone who can actually help you and demonstrates your knowledge, interests and enthusiasm to work for the company.

Tactic: Candidate went to the same barber as the chairman of the board and had the barber speak on his behalf

Verdict: Good strategy, poor execution.

What works/doesn’t work: Doing the research to find out where the brass gets groomed shows initiative. But your message loses impact if it’s delivered by others.

What it achieves/doesn’t achieve: While getting a referral is preferable to making a cold call, a barber’s opinion of your business savvy is not likely to have much traction with a high-powered exec.

What would work better: Face to face is the best way to deliver your “elevator speech.” Ask the barber about the chairman’s usual schedule and set your next appointment at the same time. This gives you a golden opportunity to approach him or her with your pitch in person.

Tactic: Candidate handed out personalized coffee cups

Verdict: Good. This can be an excellent attention-getter.

What works/doesn’t work: It gets your name in front of the manager and gives you a reason to follow up. But you’d better make sure that the gift is of good quality, shows you have taste and is not so personalized that it is unusable by others.

What it achieves/doesn’t achieve: It does get your name and résumé directly into the hands of the people you want to reach. A bonus is that it is a reusable accessory at a time of high ecoconsciousness. But it’s only a first step: if you want to keep job possibilities percolating, you’d better follow up.

What would work better: Following up: In his book Guerrilla Marketing, executive recruiter David Perry recommends sending a mug containing your résumé and contact information by courier to the manager you want to reach, then asking the courier company to e-mail an immediate notification of delivery. As soon as you get that, call the cup recipient and ask: “Did you get the coffee cup I sent?” The answer will be yes. Then ask, “So, are we on for coffee? What morning this week will work for you?” Mr. Perry claims that such an approach gets candidates interviews more than 60 per cent of the time.

Tactic: Candidate came dressed in a bunny suit because it was near Easter

Verdict: Ugly. Dressing like a cartoon character will make you look foolish.

What works/doesn’t work: Maybe, maybe if you’re trying out to be a costume designer, you might be showing off some talent. But even then, and for every other situation, a costume will strike hiring managers as so ridiculous that it takes any credibility away from a candidate.

What it achieves/doesn’t achieve: It doesn’t set you up as a professional: You always want to come to work dressed for work. Trying to persuade a company to hire you is not the time to say you don’t take things very seriously.

What would work better: You always should dress like the person you want to become. A good rule of thumb is to find out what type of outfit the manager you want to reach typically wears and dress in a similar mode. You’ll be wearing something that the person doing the hiring will respect and will recognize you as someone he or she can relate to. And you will stand out at a time when many other candidates think that casual Friday lasts all week.

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Our panel of pros

David Perry, a partner in Ottawa-based executive search firm Perry Martel International Inc. and author of Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 2.0

Career coach Randall Craig, president of Pinetree Advisors in Toronto and author of Personal Balance Sheet

Gerlinde Herrmann, president of Toronto-based human resources consultancy Herrmann Group Ltd. and past chairperson of the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario

Warren Lundy, a partner with recruiters Feldman Daxon Partners Inc. in Toronto.

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