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Sofia Theodorou, vice-president of human resources at Toronto's LoyaltyOne Inc. had one job candidate offer to clean her home in her spare time. Leanne James, senior vice-president of HR at Apex Public Relations Inc., recalls one job seeker who sent in a note and a photo of herself before attending a group interview so Ms. James could "pick her out of the crowd."

Yes, the economy may be improving, but it's still a tough job market and the competition among job seekers remains fierce. And that has some of them getting creative, trying more unconventional methods to catch the eye of hiring managers.

Nearly one-quarter (22 per cent) of 2,778 hiring managers surveyed recently by online job site CareerBuilder.com reported that they are seeing more candidates try unusual methods to capture their attention. That's up from 18 per cent in 2009, and 12 per cent in 2008.

Nearly one-in-10 said they had hired someone who used a creative tactic to stand out from the crowd.

But when it comes to job-search tactics, there's a fine line between creative and crazy, said Ms. James. What appeals to one hiring manager, may turn off another.

While stepping off the conventional path may be welcome or even expected in creative fields such as marketing or PR, human resource experts suggest ditching the over-the-top antics when it comes to more traditional sectors such as insurance or banking.

That doesn't mean you can't differentiate yourself though, Ms. James said. "If I have a pile of résumés to go through, even using a different font or a really nice paper can stand out."

No matter which method you use to stand out, it must be professional. You want to be remembered for your skills and what you can offer an organization, not simply for an unusual antic.

Which creative search tactics impressed hiring managers enough to land the candidate an interview? We asked a few hiring managers to share the most memorable tactics that worked:



SOFIA THEODOROU

Title: Vice-president, human resources, LoyaltyOne Inc., Toronto

The tactic: One job candidate sent in what appeared to be a Starbucks gift card. But when you looked closely, one side carried the hiring company's logo and included his name and how his skills could contribute to the company. The other side of the card had the Starbucks logo and offered a $15 gift card –and included an online link to where it could be redeemed. The link took you to the applicant website where he'd posted his résumé. You had to read the résumé to get the gift card.

Why it worked: Ms. Theodorou said the tactic was creative and unique, while still tasteful. The amount of effort put into the conceptual design was impressive. It was a great way to demonstrate that his skills went beyond the basics.

The lesson: "Nowadays it's not just marketing people who need to think creatively; every employee has to think that way," she said. If you can demonstrate such creativity up-front, hiring managers will be much more confident that it will cross over into your everyday work, she added.



BRUCE POON TIP

Title: CEO, Gap Adventures, Toronto

The tactic: One candidate sent Gap a vintage suitcase. Tucked inside was a series of boarding passes she had designed. Each one included information about herself and her skills and achievements.

Why it worked: The candidate had put a lot of thought into it, Mr. Poon Tip said. "The boarding passes were amazing. It was unique, very creative, very innovative and beautifully done."

The lesson: Know your audience and the culture of the organization to which you are applying. "Creativity and innovation is part of our business model. To work here, you have to be able to look for creative ways to tackle your job," Mr. Poon Tip said.



JENNIFER OSBOURNE

Title: Senior vice-president, business development, Search Engine People Inc., Ajax, Ont.

The tactic: One candidate applying for an account manager role at Search Engine People sent a PowerPoint presentation, rather than a paper résumé.

Why it worked: In a sea of résumés, receiving the presentation was a breath of fresh air, Ms. Osbourne said. "It conveyed all the information you'd find on a résumé, but it was better. This stood out." The presentation was well thought out, had great design and the word choices spoke to the needs of the position, she added.

The lesson: Applicants have to put yourself in the hiring person's shoes and figure out what they're looking for, Ms. Osbourne said. "You want to differentiate yourself, but it has to be tailored to the job you're applying for."



STEVE WALLACE

Title: Vice-president, North American sales, Coastal Contacts Inc., Vancouver

The tactic: "One woman who wrote her covering letter in the form of a press release with the headline: 'For Immediate Release: HIRED Clearly Contacts Welcomes New Customer Service Representative,' which was the job she was applying for," Mr. Wallace recalled.

Why it worked: "It was fun, which tied into our culture. It demonstrated she was a great communicator; it highlighted strengths that fit with the position. And even though it wasn't a PR job she was after, it demonstrated she had transferable skills and could grow into other areas of the company," he said.

The lesson: Before applying for any position, make sure you understand what the position entails and the skills you need to do the job. Then demonstrate how your abilities are relevant, Mr. Wallace said.



LEANNE JAMES

Title: Senior vice-president human resources, Apex Public Relations Inc., Toronto

The tactic: "One candidate branded himself: He'd created a stylized logo using his initials, which he then used on business cards, his résumé, and his cover letter. Even the CD he sent in had a stylized label," Ms. James said.

Why it worked: She was impressed by the effort the candidate had put in to branding himself. "It was beautifully packaged, professional and just really well executed."

The lesson: If you are going to take the unconventional route, make sure it's done well. Ms. James said she has seen many applicants who come up with good ideas that are poorly executed. A great idea that is rough around the edges and lacks professionalism only undermines the effort.



LARA DODO

Title: Vice-president, the Creative Group, Toronto

The tactic: Ms. Dodo recalled one job seeker she dubbed the "simple stalker," who pursued her like a sales prospect. He phoned or e-mailed her two or three times a week, for weeks. "He was relentless with his follow-ups."

Why it worked: She said that when the man called it was never simply, "Do you have anything for me?" Instead, he followed up and linked back to previous conversations and feedback, always relaying how his skill set was relevant.

The lesson: Persistence and perseverance can pay off, Ms. Dodo said, especially if you're professional and polite, rather than pushy.

Special to The Globe and Mail