Will Unusual Job Hunting Tactics Work for You?

Will Unusual Job Hunting Tactics Work for You?

When you’re trying to find a job, it can be tempting to do something out of the ordinary to set yourself apart from the crowd. Job search strategies of this nature aren’t always a bad idea, but they’re not always a good idea, either. As with so many things, whether a stunt or unusual tactic will work depends on variables such as your audience, your skills and your industry.  

For example, Steve Langerud, a career consultant and director of professional opportunities at DePauw University, had a client who wanted to become a business consultant. “He spent his days in high-end stores on Michigan Avenue in Chicago to meet business leaders,” Langerud says. “He discovered where all the consultants at his target firm drank after work and went every night until he met a VP. He developed the relationship, continued to pitch his skills, and, ultimately, was given a trial period to prove himself.” This atypical approach helped the candidate land an opportunity even though there were no advertised job openings.

Abby Kohut, president and lead staffing consultant for New York City-based Staffing Symphony, tells the tale of an applicant who landed an interview with her using social media and a ping-pong paddle. “He looked at my LinkedIn profile and saw that I won a ping-pong tournament,” she says. “He sent me a ping-pong paddle and wrote a cover letter with ping-pong-related language, including sentences like ‘I'd like to get in the GAME’ and ‘I bring energy, intelligence and motivation to the TABLE.’”

And when Neil Gussman sensed an interviewer was about to rule him out because she thought he wouldn’t dig the 62-mile commute, he decided to make a bold move. “I rode my bicycle back to her office,” says Gussman, now communications manager for the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. “I ride 7,000 to 10,000 miles a year, so it was a Brer Rabbit trick. She decided that if I could ride a bike to the office, I could drive a car.”

These tactics were successful. But before you decide to infuse your job hunting with some out-of- the-box activities, consider these pros and cons.

Pro: Take a Risk

Taking chances like these can show potential employers that you’re risk-tolerant and creative, and know how to get noticed. “Stunts work best when you’re in a profession that requires creativity,” Kohut says. The obvious choices are advertising/public relations, sales, marketing, and relationship or social-media management. Some companies in more conservative industries might also appreciate your off-the-wall thinking, but you’ll need to look for signs (on their Web site or by talking to people familiar with the company) to make sure they won’t see your antics as a bad thing.

“Overall, you have to have the professional chops to make a stunt work,” Langerud says. “Then it’s not really a stunt but a calculated strategy. You want to do something that makes a professional point without putting you or your contact in an embarrassing or compromising position.”

Con: Play It Straight

Unique tactics can make you stand out in the wrong way, too. “I’m not a fan of crazy job search tactics,” says Janis Von Culin, own and advisor with Von Culin Associates, an HR consulting firm in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. “There are lots of downsides to stunts that aren’t right on target: People don’t take the candidate seriously, they find [the tactic] off-putting -- especially accountants, engineers, scientists -- and they make the interviewer wonder about the candidate’s judgment and perceptiveness.” So research the industry and corporate culture prior to making contact.

Adding insult to injury, word of your miscue will likely be shared with HR and hiring managers at other companies. “A lasting impression will be made either way, and if it's not good then that will be [spread] to others in the interviewer’s network because people talk more about the bad experiences than the good ones,” says Trish Ruff-Cunningham, business-development manager for Houston’s Brookwoods Group, a staffing, recruiting and program-management firm. “So the best way to get attention is to keep one's reputation intact.”

Following these job search tips will help you decide if you want to play it safe or swing for the fences. No matter which approach you take, remember the goal is to showcase your value as an employee. Says Steve Siebold, author of How Rich People Think: “Any tactic you use to find jobs will fail if you fail to focus on the bottom line, which is how you are going to benefit the employer.”