gimmicks have no place in the hiring process

I want to highlight something that I just posted in response to a comment on yesterday’s post, because I think it’s a message worth repeating more widely. This is in response to a question about using nice paper for your resume or sending it by Priority Mail:

The day that I’m giving candidates extra credit for using nice paper or high-quality ink or sending an application by Priority Mail is the day that someone needs to ban me from hiring, because I’m no longer doing my job right.

My job is to discern who the best candidate is. At best, gimmicks don’t matter. At worst, they get in the way or even hurt. At least if you’re dealing with someone who’s good at their job (which, admittedly, you may not be).

And here’s an additional point: If you get a job by using a gimmick to “stand out,” you’ve just self-selected for a manager who responds to gimmicks over merit. Is that the place you want to work?

I think we’re in danger of this gimmick issue becoming my new rant, right after companies that don’t respond to job applicants.

{ 15 comments… read them below }

  1. Kimberlee Stiens*

    I think… was it Waldo on the comments in yesterday's post?… had a legitimate point when he said that if being the strongest candidate were really what it was about, he wouldn't need to wear a suit to the interview. The point being that there are hoops that a job applicant is expected to jump through, almost for their own sake, because these hoops are expected to tell you something about the candidate. You want the suit because it shows the candidate takes the interview seriously and cares about his appearance, both of which are desirable traits.

    Nice resume paper says a candidate pays attention to details (which is a demand of almost all job ads I read). Special inks show that the candidate is aware of choices available in office supplies and consciously selected one based on a set of criteria (greeness, quality, etc), which also display a healthy attention to detail. Many other gimmicks are meant to display creativity and resourcefulness, since those are often hard to show in a cover letter (though, as you've said before, real-life examples are better). Sending a resume via snail mail and email (assuming that the ad did not specifically mention either as the preferred means of communication) means that they go the extra mile to make sure an important document makes it to the right person; I can see many jobs where that is an excellent trait.

    The point is that its hard to tell a gimmick that will hurt you from a loop that will help you, especially when opinions vary so much.

  2. Jeff Hunter*

    But, but, but…

    If a candidate sent in a resume on Walmart paper from a printer that was streaking toner all over it, would you give him the same consideration? Of course not.

  3. Ask a Manager*

    Kimberlee — See my response to exactly that point over in yesterday's post! Waldo and I dug into it pretty deep and ultimately ended up deciding we still disagree :)

    Jeff — I'm okay with the Walmart paper but yeah, not the toner streaks. But, to continue Waldo's suit comparison from the earlier post, I'd say it lines up like this:
    wearing a tuxedo to the interview=overkill
    wearing a suit to the interview=appropriate
    wearing sweatpants to the interview=not appropriate

    Toner smeared all over your paper = sweatpants in this metaphor, which I might be stretching to the point of torturing it at this point.

    1. Lina Souid*

      Honestly, I have never bought resume paper because I’m confident that my professionalism is apparent in the words I have written. That said, I do pay attention to how my materials look aesthetically because formatting is important, especially if you boast about your Microsoft Word skills.

      But paper? Does a hiring manager really think to his/her self, “Ahhh, this paper is thick and an ivory with a nice taupe border. I need to meet the person who bought this paper!”. Now if you make your own paper, I know people who studied paper making in college, as a major, I am impressed!

  4. thomast*

    I think the suit vs. tuxedo metaphor is perfect and not in danger of over-stretching here.

    I feel like I've been pretty successful in my hiring. I will say that small touches of distinction can make a very good candidate who's on the margins of the interview list get on the good side of the cut off, because it does show attention to detail and conveys serious interest in the position. But flash cannot substitute for substance.

  5. Sara*

    Gimmicks like sending in a shoe with a note "trying to get my foot in the door" is one thing. Trying to put your best foot forward is another. I wonder if you'd consider a typo to be considered "less gimicky" compared to someone who edited theirs and corrected their mistakes. If someone took the time to apply for a job, and then took the time to go the extra mile in small details (even such as saving the e-file with their name, or saving it as a PDF, or even providing a link to an online portfolio… these are small things that should help convey an impression, and hopefully a positive one if don't properly), it should matter as long as they have the experience to back it up. I think that's the piece of your argument that's missing. It can't be considered bad/gimmicky if the candidate is qualified, and took the extra time to make an impression with details. Though it does not mean one gets an interview over others, or that "Walmart" paper gets ignored. I think what it does (assuming the quality paper candidate has the credentials to warrant an interview) is set the bar a bit higher for themselves. And I would expect them to be operating at a very high level of professionalism (hence the first impression they made, yes I think paying attention to details like paper says a lot, but I'm also an event designer so you know where I'm coming from).

    So if anything the qualified candidate using quality paper sets higher expectations.. and if I'm in charge of hiring, I do have high expectations of all candidates. Actually I have them regardless of the paper, but the quality paper candidate kinda puts a target on themselves, and hopefully in a good way.

    Don't first impressions count for something?

  6. Chuck*

    If one is applying for a graphic design or advertising position, presenting your resume in a creative fashion can be perceived as an example of your work.

    Thus, a "gimmicky" resume package may be acceptable in those settings.

  7. Sully*

    I think there needs to be a clearer line between gimmick and professionalism. A resume printed on nice paper = professionalism. A resume with a piece of candy stapled to it "because you're sweet" = gimmick.

    I think I can define the line clearer: a gimmick is corny. Professionalism is a reasonable amount of proper-ness

  8. fposte*

    I think it matters less if something is a gimmick or not than if it's likely to be counterproductive. Sending a print resume, additional or no, if they're asking for applications online? Not useful and possibly counterproductive. If paper resumes are accepted, using nice paper and layout? Not counterproductive, and possibly useful.

    It does sound like some people are looking to find a way around the perceived leveling effect of the electronic submission, though, and I'm not sure there's a way to do that without making the hiring manager's life harder. Which is counterproductive.

  9. Sue McCrory, CFL Coordinator*

    I really wish someone would tell our business college that "nice paper" and other things are no longer applicable. Until at least recently, we were still requiring a management class that included "how to write a resume/cover letter", and the professor required high quality paper (read: very expensive) for both resume and cover letter, AND envelopes, and you would receive an automatic F on your project for (a) the watermark being upside down or (b) using an "unprofessional" postage stamp.

  10. Anonymous*

    For me it's "whatever you do, do it as well as it can be done." If it's a hard copy of the letter/resume–quality paper and and ink, tidily formatted with a reasonable font, etc. If it's a electronic copy–file thoughtfully named, saved as PDF, etc. If the candidate pays attention to details like that, it's a good sign they know how to present themselves (and by extension the employer) well. Will cheap paper alone get an application in the "no" pile? Certainly not–but if I'm trying to make a first-pass decision between two similar candidates, it might make a difference. (And I have ditched applications that were handwritten, but that's mercifully rare.)

  11. Anonymous*

    Waldo's follow-up on his blog is great and puts everything he had to write in one spot and makes it much clearer!

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