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Job search gimmicks get attention, maybe not jobs

Bebeto Matthews / AP file

In this file photo of Nov. 18, 2008, Paul Nawrocki looks for work in New York City wearing a sandwich board reading "Almost Homeless.'' Nawrocki found a job, but two years later he was still worried about his economic stability.

Desperate times make desperate people, and that includes job seekers who have resorted to crazy antics to grab the attention of potential employers.

Who can forget the guy who walked around New York City with a sandwich board, or the man who posted a billboard plea for someone to please hire his wife? And most recently, we have the guy who offered himself for sale in a faux Amazon.com listing.

The gimmicks are getting the general public's attention. But before you start baking that huge cake with your resume written on it, experts say you might want to consider whether it’s the kind of attention you want.

“It’s like getting on a dating site and putting up a naked picture of yourself,” said Jane Cranston, a New York career coach with Executive Coach NY.

You’re definitely going to get hits, she noted, but you have to wonder if you’re going to find the love of your life.

“You could attract a lot of waste-of-time wackos,” she said.

That attention you garner may even lead to a job, said Alison Green, who runs the blog Ask a Manager. But even in the current environment – with the unemployment rate at 7.8 percent and 12.2 million people looking for work - you may find that you don’t want to work for someone who would reward theatricalism over performance.

 “The big thing about them is that when they do work, they generally attract the exact wrong type of employer,” Green said.

Trying a crazy trick to get attention may even hurt your chances of landing a really good job, with an employer you want to work for.

“For most hiring managers, those things are a real turnoff. They reek of desperation or they reek of not understanding business norms or thinking they don’t apply to you,” Green said.

John J. Sullivan, a management professor at San Francisco State University, said you also risk making people feel uncomfortable. Recruiters may worry that finding a candidate via a billboard will put them in hot water with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which seeks to ensure that all candidates are given an equal shot.

Other tactics, such as presenting recruiters with gifts of food, may put hiring managers in an awkward position if they aren’t allowed to accept gifts, or just make them feel a little bit like they are being stalked.

“There’s a definite creep factor,” he said.

Even if you do get the job, he said another risk is that your new co-workers will resent your attempt to circumvent the usual hiring systems.

Experts say there are ways to get noticed even in the current environment, in which hundreds of people are submitting resumes for each job opening and many companies are relying on computers to weed out candidates. They just may be more boring than parachuting out of a plane with a sheaf of resumes.

“I think you can stand out without being a fool, you know?” said Cranston, the New York recruiter.

It may be not be as interesting, but experts say it’s probably more effective to spend your time on tried-and-true tasks like polishing up your resume, crafting a good cover letter and networking with potential employers.

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A good resume will be typo-free – that’s more of a rarity than you might think – and focus more on what you’ve accomplished than on the jobs that you’ve held, experts say.

Cranston also recommends an individualized cover letter that shows your excitement about the company and showcases the skills you could apply to that job.

She also says it helps to make a personal connection. If you attended the same university as the daughter of your potential manager, that’s worth mentioning. The same goes for any personal connection you have to the company, such as if everyone in your family uses the products it makes.

“It’s got to be true and show passion, rather than that you’re eccentric,” she said.

Sullivan said there are companies that might appreciate a daring or outlandish tactic, especially if you are the first one to think it up. That’s especially true of a gimmick that really showcases your skills, such as coming up with a new marketing campaign for the company or posting a YouTube video showing how you would improve something it does.

But he cautions that such tactics will probably only work with small startups, or in fields where the job is to garner attention, such as design or social media.

“Definitely not in Kansas,” he said. “Not in an accounting firm, certainly.”