2,000 hours. That's how long it took Alexander J. Velicky to create a video game résumé with the hope that it would score him at least an interview with his dream company, Bethesda Game Studios.
Velicky is but the latest job hunter who's garnered national headlines for the lengths to which he's gone just to land a job. He joins the likes of such other intrepid employment seekers as Liz Hickok, who decorated her house with her résumé spelled out in Christmas lights; Brandon Stuard, an Ohio deputy sheriff who rented a billboard emblazoned with a Please Hire My Wife message; and Paul Nawrocki, who famously donned a suit, tie, and sandwich board in the middle of midtown Manhattan when his unemployment benefits were on the verge of running out.
Although the national unemployment rate is dropping — it's currently hovering around 7.3 percent — the job market is still highly competitive for those who are searching. And if you've been out of work for a stretch of time, you may be getting desperate enough to wonder: Should I try something truly wild to separate myself from the competition?
Experts say not necessarily.
"Like everything in life, it depends," says Dr. Michael Woodward, an executive coach and author of The YOU Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Taking Charge of Your Career in the New Economy. "If you act like a clown or do something ludicrous just to stand out, then it's disingenuous and can put people off."
Jean Baur, author of The Essential Job Interview Handbook, agrees. "For the most part, I don't recommend stunts or crazy behavior as it's risky," she says. "I had a client who was in pharmaceutical sales, and after searching for several months and getting really frustrated, he built small wooden boxes for his résumé. Inside each box he placed a hunting arrow on top of a copy of his résumé. Then he delivered these strange objects to companies, telling the receptionists, 'I always hit the mark!' Unfortunately, this didn't lead to interviews or offers ... and some of those companies may have thought he was a bit out-there."
So before you pay a skywriter to blast your C.V. into the air above the company you want to work for, try these five tips to stand out — without going overboard.
Standout job seeker tip #1: Rewrite your résumé
Don't just blindly send the same curriculum vitae over and over again. Instead, do your research and specifically look into what problems the company is currently facing. "Then write both the opening line for your cover letter and the top line in your resume to very clearly state to the company that you're the solution to those problems," advises Woodward. "Demonstrate right off the bat the specific value that you will bring to them."
Standout job seeker tip #2: Build your "who you know" network
"Every person you interact with on an interview — and in life — is a potential gateway to another opportunity," says Woodward. "So take the time to make meaningful connections." LinkedIn is a great start, but it’s not enough to just have a profile and 485 "connections." Instead, join LinkedIn groups that are relevant to your business and career goals. It’s a fast way to expand your network with people who are in the same industry as you, notes Baur.
And when you're networking via LinkedIn or even in the real world, don’t just pass along your résumé. "It’s not an effective marketing tool because they’re overused," says Baur. "Instead, ask the person if they’d be willing to look at the companies and managers whom you’d like to know more about or be connected with." And remember: "Never take anyone for granted, because you never know who they may know—and how those connections can help you in the future," says Woodward.
Standout job seeker tip #3: Impress the right people
Always be sure to identify the decision makers in your network, as well as at the companies that interest you. "Find out who makes the hiring decisions, and do what you can to get on their radar," suggests Woodward. And if you don't have any contacts who can refer you, send an email directly to that person — even if the company isn't advertising any positions.
"Consider sending it without your résumé attached, so that you come across as a problem-solver, instead of a job seeker," says Baur. This way, there's less of a chance that the person will just forward it to human resources. And "make sure to demonstrate your enthusiasm," says Woodward. "Let them know about the skills and experiences you have to offer beyond what they may be able to directly observe."
Standout job seeker tip #4: Volunteer for a career cause
"Volunteering or even interning can be a great way to pay it forward, and show how genuine your interest is in the target industry and company you want to join," says Woodward. "It's also a great way to get in front of decision makers."
Go to Internships.com or Dosomething.org to find opportunities related to your industry. The bonus? "Volunteering is a great way to stay active while on the job search," says Woodward. "You can't spend all of your time surfing job boards, so getting out there can be a nice change of pace. Also, it's a way to connect with local community leaders." And those people just may be connected to heads of companies whom you'd like to work for — and they'll be able to attest to your strong work ethic.
Standout job seeker tip #5: Ask really good questions
"A colleague of mine once interviewed for a job and asked the hiring committee how they tracked their success. When they gave a vague non-answer, he said that he wasn't sure that he'd want to work for an organization that couldn't measure where their dollars went and their effectiveness," says Baur. "They called him the next day, offering him that job."
If all else fails, and you find yourself drawn to trying a stunt that could garner national headlines, remember to be authentic. Another thing to keep in mind: Even the best of intentions can backfire. Take the video game designer, Alexander J. Velicky. Although he did get the attention of Bethesda Game Studios — along with the nation — he didn't get the job.
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