Job Hunters, Forget the Gimmicks

Wearing sandwich-board advertisements and pursuing other such antics sap job seekers’ self-esteem and don’t attract enough employer interest to merit the trouble. Pro or con?

Pro: Don’t Make a Spectacle

There’s a new designer cologne on the market that’s become fashionable almost overnight. While advertisements for this product are highly seductive—appealing to our deepest fears—I just can’t bring myself to endorse it. The claims are predictably too good to be true: One scent and potential employers won’t be able to resist you. It’s called “Desperation”® and is now available almost everywhere you look.

Never mind what you’ve heard about differentiating yourself in this business climate. There are some basic guidelines for self-advancement, even under the worst of conditions. Radiating pure hysteria is not among them. What is? Be yourself. Do your homework and try to understand what the company needs. Talk about your successes, providing concrete examples. Smile occasionally. And curb your impulse to bring the hiring manager an adorable puppy.

Think how your filter kicks in when you encounter media hype. Do you like to be sold to in strident tones? Neither do hiring managers and recruiters. Unless you’re trying to land a sales job where the chief qualification is gonzo self-promotion, recognize that cheesy inventiveness and shameless gimmicks—yes, including the now-famous sandwich board—will usually work against you. Less is more, and always will be.

The sole purpose of a résumé, for example, is to get you an interview, period. It’s not an autobiography. If you blurt everything out now, why should anyone want to meet you? Rather, think of it as wrapping paper that will make its recipient eager to tear open the package and see what’s inside. Once you’ve accomplished that, take a bow and start working on your interview skills.

Seriously—if your 401K has dwindled to a 20lK and your real estate has gone soft, it’s possible that the two most important things you own right now are your résumé and your dignity. Don’t throw either of them under the bus.

Con: Try a New Tack

As someone who put on a sandwich board and hit the street to hand out my résumé, then wound up on CNN three times, on BusinessWeek.com, and on Web sites all over the world (at one time, some 31,000 sites) along with just about every major international news outlet, I think I’m more than qualified to address this issue.

At the time I went out with my sandwich-board, I was down to my last month of unemployment. (Fortunately, it was extended numerous times after that.) I had tried all the recommended methods of job searching: networking, posting my résumé everywhere, social networking sites, headhunters, searching job listings, even using a fax service to send my resumè and cover letter to 7,000 companies in the metropolitan New York area. Nothing was working and I believe that if what you are doing is not working, you need to ask yourself why and to try something else.

In my case, putting on the sandwich board got a huge and immediate response. Did it get me work? Not immediately. Not for another year-and-a-half. However, my current employer, Roger Dreyer at Fantasma Toys, a Manhattan wholesale toy company specializing in magic items, said: “When I saw someone resort to a Houdini-like stunt to get a job and health care for himself and his family, I knew he was someone who I wanted to meet and who would fit in very well at Fantasma.” So, although I was out of work for 25 months altogether, in my case it had a very positive effect on my finally getting rehired.

As for “self-esteem,” I don’t even get that question. When should someone feel humiliated to ask for work? Isn’t it more humiliating to be lost in some computer search engine that totally ignores the person behind the key words on the résumé? I stood up, got seen, and now have a job. I was spiritually and physically transformed by the process. But that’s another story.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the Bloomberg BusinessWeek Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, BusinessWeek.com, or Bloomberg LP.

Reader Comments

Paul

The sandwich board stunt got notoriety and months more unemployment. Most jobs for professionals come from their network. If you're going to spend time looking for a job, focus where they are--among the people you already know and the people you need to meet. If you do this deliberately, effectively and--above all--gently, you will find a job a lot faster than with a sandwich board on a street corner.

Paul Nawrocki

There are companies on line now who you can pay (a lot of money) to tell you how to find a job....just like everyone else. They will have you reformat your resume so the search engines pick it out, they will tell you to network (which is excellent advice and will improve your chances, I agree) and a whole variety of things we can all do the same way...and still not find work. I am not saying to put on a sandwich board, just try something new. Do the tried and true stuff, but also be original and maybe stand out. If nothing else, I opened up a new world to myself and am a revitalized person for it. As my job coach, Lauren Zander from The Handel Group says, "Do one outrageous thing a day" in addition to all the tried and true methods. You'll be surprised at what can happen.

george

According to the topic, it does affect one's esteem, but about the employer it depends on what kind of an employer it is. So if you want to keep up self esteem, it's better to upgrade your skills: network, associate with others, and advertise yourself. Firms would come after you.

Frankie

Dignity is a form of pride. There are a lot of proud people living with friends, relatives, or in their cars. Wearing a sandwich board is only undignified to someone who has never been to the point where they are willing to try anything to provide for their family. You have obviously never been in a desperate situation Mr. Jaffe, that's why it's so easy for you to write about the "indignity" of asking for work.

Clifton Simmons

I believe "gimmick" is a bad way to phrase it. I work in advertising, and I also work with a lot of students and job seekers. I tell them if you can't promote yourself well enough to stand out, it will be more difficult to convince an agency you can do great promotional work for their clients. Be smart, but not outlandish, to get noticed. That's not being gimmicky. That's cutting through the clutter. In my world, a resume and a cover letter just isn't enough anymore.

sue

It may sound ridiculous to someone who is out of work and looking, but volunteering can be a great way to find a job. It provides an opportunity to showcase your skills to a potential future employer and gives a chance to meet people who are already working in the business.

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