by Laura Rowley
Gail Neal worked for 12 years placing laid-off workers in new jobs before she got her own pink slip in March 2008. That September, she found a commission-only job selling cemetery plots, an industry she thought would be recession-proof. She was wrong.
"With the economy the way it was, people were doing direct cremations," she says. She persisted for more than a year before launching a new job search. At a networking event, she heard about an ad sales job at a Detroit radio station. She sent a cover letter and one-page resume in a pretty, invitation-sized envelope with a gold sticker, which got the manager's attention. She was hired a few weeks later.
"I'd worked in job placement for long time but did the same thing everyone else does -- sent out a plain resume based on knowledge of a job opening and made phone calls," she says. "I didn't stand out. The competition is such in this area that you've got to do something very different."
Doing something very different seems to be the name of the game in a job market in which unemployment remains stubbornly high. Nearly a quarter of hiring managers say they are seeing unique tactics by candidates -- up from 12 percent in 2008, according to a recent survey by CareerBuilder.com.
Sometimes these gimmicks work: One in 10 managers surveyed said they have hired someone who used an unusual stunt to get their attention. Consider Alec Brownstein, the 29-year-old advertising copyrighter who got a job by targeting the names of a few creative directors he wanted to hire him, and paying $6 for a Google ad that would appear when those individuals Googled themselves. It read: "Hey, Googling yourself is a lot of fun. Hiring me is fun, too" and linked back to his Web site.
"I thought it was brilliant," says David Perry, managing partner of Perry Martell, an executive search firm in Ontario, Canada. "But he did something that most people who are job hunters don't do -- he had focus. When looking for a job, you need to know who you want to work for and what you want to do, and that means spending the time to identify and research your top 20 employers instead of going to the job boards to click and apply all day long."
Jeff Donaldson, a former Chrysler engineer with two decades of experience, worked with Perry on "extreme networking" after taking a buyout from the automaker last summer.
"The technique that paid off was writing a smart letter in email and snail-mail form," Donaldson says. "I chose 20 people I was friendly with who might be in a position to help me, including people who owned their own companies and executives that I had worked with who would be in a position to affect the decisions of others. I asked them to forward the letter if they knew of somebody who might be in a position to help -- trying to grow exponentially the number of people who knew I was looking for a job. I expected most people to set it aside and shrug their shoulders, but what I found was they were more than happy to help."
Six weeks later, Donaldson found a three-month contract job in his field, which has been renewed several times. "You can't do what everyone else is doing and expect they are going to find you, even if you are the most qualified candidate," he says.
Perry's firm also assisted a Pennsylvania banker who was laid off after three decades with the same firm. He had sent out 1,500 resumes and landed just three interviews and no offers. Perry suggested the client focus on a dozen companies, and find and contact former employees through LinkedIn or Facebook, letting them know he was interested in working for the firm and asking if they would be willing to discuss its issues and challenges.
The banker then crafted a cover letter outlining how he had solved similar issues in his career, and sent it with a one-page resume in a Starbucks coffee cup through Fedex, so the target would have to sign for it. Within 30 minutes of receiving delivery confirmation by email, the banker called and asked if the recipient would meet him for coffee to talk about how he could help the company.
"The whole point is to get them to agree to have coffee, not an interview," Perry says. "An interview request automatically makes the (recipient) uncomfortable because there's an expectation of a job offer." The banker sent the coffee cup to 10 companies, got eight interviews and six offers in five weeks.
Knowing the Limits
Other career experts warn that extreme gimmicks can backfire. "There are bad ways to get noticed and good ways to get noticed," says Cynthia Shapiro, career strategist and author of "What Does Somebody Have to Do to Get a Job Around Here: 44 Insider Secrets."
In her book she notes some flops -- resumes on pink paper; singing telegrams with lyrics about the candidate's qualifications; a resume tied to a bottle of champagne; and even a job seeker who sent his resume by homing pigeon.
"The number one thing in this economy is to look confident, and you can't look confident by sending singing telegrams," Shapiro says. "A hiring manager's job is on the line every time they recommend someone. I'm a laughingstock if I bring the singing telegram guy in for an interview. If he's that desperate I'm going to assume he's unemployable."
She suggests job seekers post articles on a LinkedIn group frequented by potential employers, or volunteer for the board of an industry association. "If someone sees your face or name in a professional capacity, that's great way to get noticed," she says.
Moreover, attention-getting stunts may also distract a job seeker from focusing on the hard work of networking, says John Challenger, chief executive officer of Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas.
"People can spend a lot of time trying to stand out when all the needles in the haystack look the same -- rather than focus on constantly going out and seeing people," Challenger says. "Nobody wants to do that. You get rejected all day long. It's a lot more fun to sit around and come up with something really inventive or creative. But you have to realize you're not going to find your job by getting into that haystack. You find jobs through other people."
Once Gail Neal got her foot in the door at the radio station, she focused on ways to add value. Neal noticed the station had numerous advertisers in the security category -- alarms, gun stores, surveillance-equipment companies. One afternoon while doing laundry, she got on her cell phone and cold-called firms in the security business, asking if they had ever considered radio advertising.
"I kept dialing until I found three businesses who agreed to appointments," she says. She brought the leads to the second interview, which sealed the deal.
Seven months later, Neal is creating events, promotions and other new sources of revenue, along with selling "plain vanilla commercials," she says. "You've got to do something that makes you stand out and show you can shine." For more job-hunting tips, see my blog.