Leadership

This CEO launched her career by putting her resume on a milk carton

To get the attention of hiring managers, one current exec put her own face on a milk carton while job hunting in college. It's an unorthodox move not everyone can pull off, but it's one that underscores an important reality that more job hunters should recognize: you need to find ways to stand out.

"No one is going to promote you," says Sandy Rubinstein, currently the CEO of New Jersey creative firm DXagency.

As a junior at the University of Miami in the 1990s, Rubinstein fell in love with the music business. Knowing she wanted a job on the advertising and marketing side, she decided to "self-market" her skills to showcase her creativity and set herself apart from the competition.

At the time, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was posting "have you seen this child?" ads on the sides of milk cartons. "Those were very big," says Rubinstein, "so receiving one at your desk was very jarring."

Riffing off this idea, Rubinstein purchased pink stock paper and painstakingly handcrafted 100 milk cartons in the university's library.

The plan worked. Rubinstein recalls an interviewer describing her disbelief when she saw the milk carton in her mail pile. "She actually went to the milk carton first before the rest of her mail," which is what Rubinstein had hoped for. "I wanted to somehow connect with each person."

Thanks to her proactive approach, Rubinstein was working full-time for a music television network by her senior year in a role that combined her love for music and marketing. "I really believe it's because I used these types of tactics to engage the people that I wanted to work for," she explains, "rather than blindly sending my resume and hoping and praying that I got a phone call."

Unfortunately, says Rubinstein, many young people take the passive approach. They click a link, upload their resume and simply sit and wait.

Waiting for a job opportunity to come to you is akin to sitting in the passenger seat, says Rubinstein, and it ensures that you'll have no control. Instead, she says, you want to be the driver, the one who dictates the route and has control of his or her destiny.

"All of the people who take the passenger approach fall through the sifter," she adds. "But the people who are really out there fighting … those are the ones who are those larger kernels that don't fall through."

To be sure, not everyone should put their resumes on the sides of homemade milk cartons. Today's hiring managers might not recognize the vintage ad campaign or feel the shock value. Additionally, Rubinstein applied for a marketing role, and her approach proved she could grab people's attention. This tactic won't work for most industries.

Instead, find ways to stand out that work for you. Build familiarity and relationships over time with people you admire by complimenting their work on social media and commenting on their posts. Send an email with ideas to help a company expand its market and ask if you can talk more over coffee. And find ways to showcase your talents outside of a resume, through a blog or e-newsletter, or even through work samples on LinkedIn or another online portfolio.

"Finding a cadence that feels natural as opposed to aggressive and a little overbearing is something that each person needs to figure out," admits Rubinstein.

As a CEO, Rubinstein says that she sifts through thousands of resumes. "I open, I look, I click, I close," she says. "But the ones who stand out are the ones who do something above and beyond."

One applicant caught Rubinstein's attention by applying for every single job opening at her company, including positions he didn't have the qualifications for. She then opened her Facebook and saw targeted ads from the jobseeker saying "Sandy, you should hire me," "you should consider me" and "look at my resume."

This strategy worked because the job hunter's hustle matched Rubinstein's, fitting her style and her company's culture. "I was like, 'Oh my gosh. This person needs to work for me,'" she says.

Even if you're not a creative person, you can take a lesson from this applicant, says Rubinsten: "[He] kept following me and targeting me and finding ways to reach out to me. That's what makes him different and those are the sort of things that stand out: Somebody who not only is hungry, not only has fire in their belly but really wants to work here."

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