As the Great Recession grows ever more reminiscent of the Great Depression, it's wise to take lessons from the generation who lived it first. Depression-era success stories are peppered with words like "gumption," "moxie," and "chutzpah." While the terms are quaint, their meanings are just as relevant in today's job market, and maybe even more so. Now that the initial stages of the job search process often lack face-to-face encounters, it's even easier for employers to rule out applicants.
Here are a few imaginative ways that determined candidates can stand out from the slush pile of resumes.
Demonstrate your skills. As an inexperienced writer, Dagny McKinley pitched an editor reluctant to take a chance on her. She offered to submit her article well before deadline, and if he didn’t like it, he wouldn't have to pay her. It worked, and after that, Dagny worked regularly for that editor.
Name your own job. When Stephanie Mayberry was between jobs, she landed in the office of an employment agency owner who had no work fitting her skills. She told him, "Honestly, your office looks like it exploded. I will come in and organize it for you." He hired her for the two-week task. Stephanie was memorable enough that years later, the agency owner called her to work with a federal agency on Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, a job she still holds today.
Position yourself for "chance encounters." One classic tactic is to hang around where your future coworkers go to socialize. Steve Langerud, director of professional opportunities at DePauw University, recalled a move his former intern made while she was waiting tables in Washington, D.C. "She gathered her courage and introduced herself to a table with her state senator and chief of staff, explaining who she was, why she was in D.C., and what she wanted to do for them." She got the job she wanted.
Try creative packaging. A contact of Kathy Simmons, CEO of Netshare, was trying to get in to see a Mr. Durkee regarding a sales position. After he didn't return her calls, she left a turkey with the receptionist and a note saying, "Okay, Mr. Durkee, let's talk turkey." Mr. Durkee hired her.
Talk to anyone who will listen. Attorney Erica Moore-Burton, author of The Little Professional P.I.N.K. Book of Success, once landed a law firm job by going door to door. Few lawyers would talk to her, but as she points out, she only needed to grab the ear of one.
When publicist Dana Gaiser couldn't find work in her new city, Philadelphia, she began seeking out "anyone in the industry in Philly that would talk to me—TV producers, magazine editors, bloggers—you name it. I would e-mail them and ask if they could give any advice, if they had any other contacts." A few of those people agreed to meet up, and one of their contacts led to the job she has now.
Be persistent. A slight "stalking" can have an effect, as long as it's not creepy. Tom Grubbs recently responded to an ad for a job that was exactly what he wanted. However, his email bounced back, the ad had disappeared from the job site, and there was no way to contact the unnamed firm. The only clues were that it was a small landscape architecture firm in an East Village storefront. That afternoon, he walked every East Village block for hours until he found the firm. He left with a working email address to send his portfolio, and a leg up in the hiring process for being memorable.
One rejection need not mean giving up on the employer. Myke Triebold dreamed of becoming a flight attendant, but he was turned down after two interviews. He wrote a thank-you letter stating his intention to reapply after the required six months had passed. One of the hiring employees replied, recommending a specific interview advice book. When Myke interviewed there the next time, the advice he'd read helped him land the job.
Remember not to cross the line. Kimberly Bishop, an executive recruiter and career management expert, cautions that some stunts can backfire. “Candidates are doing things to get interviews that are way too bold. They run the risk of irritating recruiters, damaging their credibility and ruining their careers.”
Among the misguided examples she cites are candidates who sing or act-out their resumes, those who claim a nonexistent personal connection, or who gain entry as a repairman, and those who launch into a sob story or offer proprietary information about former employers. "Ask yourself if you’d want to be on the receiving end of [your] tactic, “ Kimberly advises.
However, considering the deluge of success stories encountered while researching this article, a little ingenuity can make all the difference in the hunt.
What tactics have you tried to distinguish yourself as a job candidate? Share your stories in the comments.