I recently laid out the most outlandish résumé mistakes job seekers made in 2012, based on a survey conducted by CareerBuilder. One job candidate said his main objective was to “make dough,” another talked about her family being in the mob, and one even claimed to speak a nonexistent language.
So, why would job seekers include peculiar content like this on their résumés? At least in some cases, they were probably trying to stand out from the crowd. While these candidates did succeed in catching the attention of their prospective employers—it wasn’t for the right reasons.
OfficeTeam, a global staffing firm that specializes in the placement of highly skilled office and administrative professionals, found that creativity can work for job seekers, if it’s done right.
“Those who have tried to make inroads and haven’t been successful may want to take a risk, [which can work] as long as what they choose to do is in good taste,” says Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam. “Applicants who decide to use creative job hunting strategies should learn as much as possible about the company and the hiring manager in advance to make sure the approach fits. Anything that could potentially offend or disconcert a potential employer, or disrupt the office, is not a good idea.”
In a recent survey conducted by an independent research firm on behalf of OfficeTeam, human resources managers were asked to recount the most impressive action they have seen or heard an individual take to try to land a position.
The survey is based on telephone interviews with more than 650 HR managers in the U.S. and Canada. Here are some of their responses:
“An applicant walked in with coffee and donuts, and her resume underneath.”
“I’ve had someone outline what he planned to do for the company in his first six months.”
“One job seeker sent a handmade get well card when she heard the hiring manager was under the weather.”
“We had a candidate who contacted our board of directors to try to make his case for being hired.”
“I recall applicants who have impressed me with their overall marketing approach. A few have sent in fancy CDs that contained a video message explaining why they should get the job.”
“Someone applying for a position as a car detailer brought in his own vehicle to demonstrate his skills.”
“I was impressed by a candidate who prepared an elaborate online portfolio and presentation.”
“One woman showed up with, literally, a suitcase full of binders containing letters of reference, certificates of achievement and other accolades.”
“A job seeker brought in a performance review from his past employer.”
“Unusual job hunting tactics can sometimes help professionals get a foot in the door, but they do carry risk,” Hosking says. “Trying to be too creative can sometimes backfire, as the approach can either be construed as strange, inappropriate or cliché.”
That’s why some professionals shined by going back to basics. “Job seekers who want to play it safe should probably forgo the unusual strategies and focus on more traditional tactics, such as networking and creating a targeted resume,” Hosking says. “Often, perfecting job search basics can get you noticed. There is much to be said about showing up on time for interviews, dressing in professional attire and doing your homework.”
Here’s what impressed hiring managers about applicants who took a more conventional approach:
“One applicant explained what he knew about our company. I was very impressed with his knowledge and research.”
“I had a follow-up email from a candidate immediately after our meeting.”
“I liked the way one job seeker explained his skills in a way that correlated directly to what we needed for the position.”
“A candidate gave me a thank-you note right after the interview.”
“One woman didn’t just recite her skills — she provided many examples of her work.”
“The candidates I recall most are the ones who were persistent in calling to make sure they got the position.”
“An entry-level job applicant arrived for the interview in a three-piece suit.”
“I am impressed when a job seeker arrives on time and is well-dressed. It’s that simple.”
“The most impressive thing to me in any applicant is honesty.”
Consider your field when deciding whether to take a more creative approach or the traditional route, Hosking says. “In a creative industry such as advertising, for example, unorthodox strategies tend to be perceived more positively, but that doesn’t mean unusual tactics are required.”
Ultimately, most employers hire for substance over style. “That’s why it’s so important for applicants to focus on their qualifications,” Hosking says. Candidates should ask themselves, “What do I have to offer this potential employer?” and then look for ways to effectively convey those strengths.