As recruiters and hiring professionals, it can be easy to forget how hard the job search can be for candidates. Research from the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found that 52 percent of interviewers make their decision within five to 15 minutes of the interview starting. And a 2016 CareerBuilder study found that 38 percent of job seekers never hear from employers after applying for a job.
No wonder so many resort to creative job search tactics in order to get noticed. They’re looking for a way to stand out among a sea of other applicants. However, all too often, job seekers take things a little too far, making the entire hiring process awkward and difficult.
The key to surviving these situations is knowing when job seeker gestures go from creative to inappropriate. Here are five experts’ tips on accurately assessing candidates when they use over-the-top job search tactics:
1. Big gestures don’t make up for a lack of research.
We once had a candidate who handed out his business cards at an interview — a perfectly normal gesture that we’re very accustomed to. But upon inspecting his business cards, it became apparent that he had made these business cards specifically for our interview.
Essentially he’d created business cards as if he worked for our business, with his title as ‘office manager.’ This was a bit of a shock to my colleague (who is the office manager) and came off as a bit cocky and even a bit presumptuous.
I think possibly in his head it seemed like a good idea, but it didn’t really work at all and left my colleague feeling quite annoyed. This suggested to us that he hadn’t taken a look at our company website before attending the interview as he could have easily found out who the office manager was from our website and that it would be one of the his interviewers.
2. Let them down gently, but honestly.
I have personally had a candidate contact me by email, U.S. Postal Service, voicemail, and Facebook to ensure that I received their resume.
While I appreciated the tenacity and follow-through, it was a bit much and left me concerned with how the candidate might conduct himself once hired. The candidate persisted in contacting me by phone and email daily for two weeks. I responded to each email to let him know that I had received the resume and was considering it for the position along with other candidates’ resumes.
In this instance, after one week, I kindly let the candidate know that while we appreciated their interest in the job, we felt he may not be the right fit for the company and wished him well. I was honest and let the candidate know that the aggressive tactics left me a bit concerned.
3. Make sure the gesture aligns with the company and position.
You want candidates to be excited, but there is such a thing as going overboard. For instance, sending bomb pops packed in ice to show that you are ‘exploding with ideas’ is harmless, but sending a grenade is a sign of trouble.
Keep in mind your corporate culture. If you’re a white shoe law firm, the principles are likely to be conservative. Sending a bouquet of balloons might not be the right tactic for a candidate to take. Corporate culture has to be taken into account.
Also consider the open position. If you are looking for an accountant, the prospective employer is probably not looking for creativity. Candidates want to show the employer an appropriate amount of creativity. For instance, it’s good to demonstrate out-of-the-box thinking if the role they are applying for a graphic design or marketing job.
4. Know where the line between creativity and inappropriateness lies.
Job seekers’ gestures tend to take two forms: ones trying to prove how great they are and ones trying to prove how much they want the job.
For example, in line with the first case, we once had a candidate email us to let us know they had another company offer them a job at a great starting pay — we hadn’t even interviewed this candidate yet! I think they were trying to tell us that they were in demand, but it didn’t work. We told them congratulations and wished them luck with the other employer.
As to the second type of gesture, these are job seekers who know employers want to see creativity and enthusiasm, but they cross the line between creative and uncomfortable. For example, employers want to know that a job seeker is passionate about the company and has done their research. But when candidates come to an interview decked out in company swag, eager to discuss the mascot, that can be a little much. At this point, the candidate is a superfan of the company, not an enthusiastic potential employee.
5. Be prepared to give candidates the benefit of the doubt.
A big job seeker gesture goes from being creative to being inappropriate when it ceases to have any obvious connection to the position or the company. For example, I once had someone once apply for a position using an image of her resume. At the bottom of the resume she had kissed it in pink lipstick. While I remember the gesture, it’s not in a good way. She obviously did not receive an interview.
Still, if everything else about their resume looks right, it may be worthwhile to give them the benefit of the doubt. Address the gesture during the interview and ask what motivated the job seeker to decide to try and stand out in that way. This may give you a new perspective or at least provide them with feedback about why it wasn’t the best idea. That way, the candidate can leave with more knowledge about how to successfully stand out in their job search without having a bad opinion of the employer brand.
What are some other extreme job search tactics candidates use to stand out? Share in the comments below!