Brave or Brazen? Bold Tactics Don't Always Get the Job

Originally posted in Wall Street Journal Online, 8/31/09

Recruiters say more job seekers are taking unusual steps to be noticed—almost always without success. Instead, the recruiters say candidates often hurt their chances by appearing brazen, overly persistent or rude.

In April, a job candidate scheduled an hourlong interview for himself by sending a meeting-request invite via Microsoft Outlook to New York executive recruiter Kim Bishop, who ignored the request. Ms. Bishop canceled the meeting and won’t speak with the job hunter. “I just thought it was inappropriate and too aggressive,” she says. “It would be like walking into someone’s office without an invite.”

In order to stand apart from the competition, Jim Winninger has sent packages to hiring managers with an embroidered shirt and a catchy gift tag.

Recruiters at Philips Electronics NV say a growing number of job candidates with scheduled phone interviews are instead appearing at the office uninvited. Russell Schramm, senior manager of recruiting for Philips Electronics North America, says candidates hope to meet and impress hiring managers. He says hiring managers generally interview the candidate in the lobby, but make a note of the incident. When people who have had no contact with the firm appear without warning, they’re told that staffers are unavailable.

Angela Mellow says she has twice shown up unannounced at the offices of hiring managers at two companies. Ms. Mellow was laid off from a San Diego accounting job in November and has since applied to more than 100 jobs, without luck. The unscheduled appearances didn’t help either. Ms. Mellow says one manager met her at the front desk and spoke to her for 10 minutes. In the other case, a staffer said the position had been filled. She hopes the visits helped create a connection, but admits recruiters “may be turned off if you’re not following protocol.”

Health insurer Cigna Corp. says some job seekers send resumes directly to Chief Executive H. Edward Hanway or top lieutenants, trying to appear as a friend to improve their chances. Hiring manager Eric Kaulfuss says such stunts will hurt a candidate. “We’re evaluating how they interact, and if there’s behavior we don’t want in our organization, we will filter that out,” he says.

Tory Johnson, chief executive of Women For Hire, which arranges job fairs and recruitment services for women, says two mothers of candidates recently called her on their children’s behalf. Ms. Johnson says she thinks neither candidate knew about the calls.

Career experts say patience is important, even in a tough job market. Lynn Berger, a New York career coach, says repeat phone calls to recruiters can seem burdensome. With caller ID, she notes, recruiters can know who is calling without answering. Ms. Bishop says candidates should be assertive when following up, but not aggressive.

Recruiters say candidates should understand that they are swamped with applications. If a recruiter offers a phone conversation rather than an in-person meeting, graciously accept it, says Eileen Finn, president of Eileen Finn & Associates, an executive-search firm in New York.

Recruiters say the best ways to stand out don’t change with the unemployment rate: network, craft a well-written resume and cover letter, and be prepared during interviews.

But Jim Winninger suspects his unusual tactic helped win an interview. Mr. Winninger, 60, has sent dress shirts to two hiring managers embroidered with his contact information, along with a note reading, “If you want a training manager willing to give you the shirt off his back to work for you, look inside.”

He says one hiring manager called, but didn’t mention the shirt. Mr. Winninger concedes that “I”m not going to get a job as a result of sending someone a shirt. All I’m trying to do with that is get an interview.”