Innovative job search techniques: Are they effective?

It’s no secret the struggle to find a job is the most intense in decades. As we creep out of the Great Recession, we find not just the usual ranks of the unemployed and those seeking to upgrade their career path, we find people changing careers in record numbers. Throw in job seekers forced to downgrade and take a position below the one they lost and the competitive soup thickens.

The old way of searching for work — submitting resumes, networking, filling out applications and even responding to ads — is still landing jobs. That much will never go away, however, tough times have forced some to elevate their job search to new levels. Many have turned to innovative techniques to get their resume or job application moved from "lost among the masses" to the "top of the pile."

So what works and what doesn’t? The short answer is no surprise: "It depends." It depends on the type of position you’re looking for. Whether your job search is in the creative arts, focused on accounting or working in a warehouse will influence your inspiration. It depends on the creative genius at work between your ears. And it depends on whether your finest effort falls in front of someone who shares your penchant for ingenuity or whose senses are dulled by the mountain of responses to each open position.

If your search is for an unadvertised opportunity and you haven’t developed the requisite network of contacts, your "it depends" list has lengthened. Regardless of where you fall on the job search continuum, the greatest "it depends" is how much effort you’re willing to put into the hunt. If you simply fire a few creative volleys across a small number of corporate bows, then sit back and wait for the invitations to flow in, you have entered the battle unarmed.

A recruiter is lucky if she can simply get the candidate to switch from paragraphs to bullet points and stay with a single professional-looking font. She must contend with difficult to read script, fancy paper and overused descriptors. We’ve all heard of tactics like using colored paper, photographs, scented paper, bold type and capitalizations. Not only are they ineffective and in some cases expose the prospective employer to legal problems, they can bring unintended consequences.

"Professional recruiters can read between the lines of any resume," said Jeffrey Adamson, professional recruiter for Manpower. "One of the better resumes I’ve seen didn’t try to make the person sound like they had single-handedly pulled a struggling company out of near bankruptcy or were instrumental (whatever that means) in tripling sales in six months. It contained simply a bulleted list of past job titles and employers.

"Based on that information, I determined that the person might have the kind of experience we were seeking. During the interview I obtained answers to questions pertinent to the position without having to dredge for nuggets in a stream filled with superfluous pebbles. Had that resume contained paragraphs of self-glorification it likely would not have made it to the top of the stack."

Make certain that your job search strategy is truly a strategy and not just a stunt. The latter may be memorable, but it could leave the wrong impression in the mind of the recruiter. If you send a shoe with your resume and your cover letter explains that you’re simply trying to get a foot in the door, it might work if you were applying for a position at Zappos, but you likely will leave a sour taste with a law firm.

Make sure you know the culture of your target. Including unusual items with your resume may make them remember you, but, will they take you seriously?

Some applicants have successfully made it through the back door dressed in a delivery outfit. Once inside, the work clothes come off to reveal the suit underneath. While this might get you past security it could backfire by labeling you as a trickster or worse, getting you tossed out on a trespass. This will not likely impress a prospective employer.

If you simply find it impossible to get through to the decision-maker because you can’t get past the receptionist, here’s a tactic that has worked before. When they answer your call ask for the sales department. If they think you’re a customer you likely won’t get screened. A sales person is usually friendly and outgoing.

After a brief chat, you say, "I’ve en joyed talking with you but, actually, can you help me contact so and so. I wonder if you can transfer me." The decision-maker sees this call coming from an inside line so they’re more likely to pick it up. This could be risky. However, if you’ve exhausted all other avenues to contact him, it might be worth a try.

Now, don’t suppress your creative juices. Just make sure that what you choose to do fits the opportunity you seek. Personally, I like to see someone come across as a creative thinker, unafraid to express themselves beyond their horizons. Be innovative, don’t just "think out of the box." That phrase is so overused it sounds trite. Come up with something new and different.

"Candidates have a short window to make a lasting impression on potential employers," said Jason Ferrara, senior career adviser at CareerBuilder.com. "Those who apply resourcefulness and an inventive approach to their job search may have a better chance of standing out in the minds of hiring managers. The key is making sure you are maintaining an appropriate balance of creativity and professionalism so you are remembered for the right reasons."

A relatively new innovative job search technique is the video resume. These are not for the faint of heart. They also can give human resources managers heartburn. Many HR personnel recommend strongly against including a photo of yourself with your written resume. Putting yourself in front of a camera shatters this rule. You should seriously weigh the pros and cons before you dip your toe into video waters.

Regardless of your personal aura someone is likely to judge you on your appearance, your federally protected or unprotected class, your presentation skills, etc. Nevertheless, this technique has proven successful for some candidates. You can find many examples of video resumes on YouTube.

For those who spend their day working in cyberspace, you have the technology at your fingertips to be as creative as you like. Some are doing things like embedding links and adding visual examples of work product.  If this is your gig, the Internet opens up marvelous and promising results.

To the right is an example of a candidate searching for an opportunity with an advanced technology company. By clicking on any word the reader is taken to a link that describes in detail the qualifications that its creator wishes to portray.

One enterprising Web developer discovered a career in an unintended way. After working for himself for several years he wanted a full-time job. He received the usual noncommittal and unpromising responses to his resume submittals.

Then he came up with the idea of selecting the company he wanted to work for, and he created a blog and began to write positive things about them. Shortly, an executive with the company contacted him and he landed a contract to continue his writing. He discovered he had a knack for writing and enjoyed it. While it didn’t land him the original job he wanted, it did point him in a new direction that he has developed into a successful and fulfilling career.

If you go out on a limb with your approach, keep it professional. Highlight your skills and show the employer what you have to offer.

For example:

n If you’re a chef and you want a position with a particular restaurant, create a recipe that fits with their menu.

n If you’re in sales, present yourself as a product and show them why they should buy.

n If you’re retiring or exiting from the military, emphasize that you not only can carry out orders, you have the ability to lead as well.

"In my experience, 80 percent of job openings aren’t advertised in the media or job boards," said Gary Hopkins, transportation manager with Staffmark in Las Vegas. "Many of these opportunities are found through word of mouth and networking.

"Tell everyone you know what you are looking for. People underestimate the value of social network websites. Clean up your Facebook and Twitter pages. Make them G-rated. No drunken party pics, bragging about wild nights, etc. Show you are respectable because it is likely you’ll be checked out."

While FaceBook has taken a rap for creating negative impressions of employees because of people’s propensity to include information that should remain unheralded, one entrepreneur takes a different approach.

Willy Franzen, founder of One Day, One Job, writes articles about online job search techniques. He recently suggested that using Facebook is an excellent way to find a job. Job seekers can use Facebook’s advertising platform to target specific employers they want to work for.

"They write a short ad, include a picture of themselves and link to an online version of their resume. The level of interest for the ads has been outstanding," Franzen said.

Don’t underestimate your network. You might not even know you have one.

"I’ve had people come to me and say they’ve applied at companies only to be turned down at the reception desk. Then they find they know an employee and ask who is hiring and who makes the hiring decisions. They get a recommendation from that employee and land a job by going through the back door," said Hopkins.

Sometimes you have to read between the lines of a job ad and see what is not being said. Is someone creating a new department or startup company?

One enterprising job seeker noticed that a company had advertised for a number of engineers, designers and other technical jobs. He wrote a letter directly to the person responsible for the expansion and explained that if they were hiring technical people as fast as they were, they would soon need support people, too.  He received a call the next day. The executive said he’d never received an application from someone for a job that didn’t exist.

Finally, regardless of whether you come up with that unique, never-before-attempted tactic that works, you still need to rely on some time tested techniques that are essential to any job search.

You will need to be persistent without overdoing it. One job candidate called the company’s HR department every day for three weeks to express continued interest in the position he applied for. Contacting a hiring manager after submitting your resume is a must. However, in today’s market, don’t let a one-time post-interview contact suffice. Don’t be a pest. Strike a balance. In most cases, daily contact is too much; once every week or two is sufficient.

Show that you have value for your target. Take the initiative to show how you can benefit the employer. For example, prepare a presentation specific to the company’s business needs. If you’re an IT professional, bring in samples of improvements in the firm’s website. Employers want people who can make immediate contributions.

Creating a personal business card is a good idea. Pass them out at as many networking events that make sense to attend. On the card, include links for your LinkedIn page, Facebook page, online portfolio and your Twitter page. Make your presence known, both in person and online.

Any kind of job search is all about getting noticed. Conducting a creative job search is about getting noticed in a fun and unforgettable way. Just make the unforgettable part something positive.

Times are different and the challenges may seem daunting. Don’t let that scare you away. Show your fun side, enjoy the effort. You are different; you have abilities no one else possesses in exactly the same measure. Highlight them and show the company why you’re the best selection for the job.

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