Tag Archives: gimmicks won’t get you a job

Thinking of putting your face on a billboard or sending your interviewer a plant? Don’t do it! Gimmicks almost never work when you’re job hunting.

candidate showed up in-person for a Zoom interview “to demonstrate their interest”

A reader writes:

As part of my job, I’m responsible for hiring processes for director level positions. We first conduct a phone screening, then a Zoom interview, and then pay for finalist candidates to visit our city for the the final round of interviews.

Recently, following the phone screenings, I scheduled Zoom interviews with our candidates. We use a self-scheduling system, and notified candidates on Tuesday that they could start scheduling interviews. The first available interview was on that Thursday. On Wednesday (so 24 hours after the self scheduling opened, and 24 hours before the interview), one of the candidates called me to say that they had driven to our city from their state about 12 hours away, with their entire family, at their own expense, to “demonstrate their interest in the position.” They asked if we would instead hold the interview in person, since they were in town. Our search committee was not prepared to hold this interview in person, as some members of the committee live far away, so I told this candidate that we would still need to hold the interview via Zoom. They expressed disappointment that we weren’t able to make it work.

I think this crosses professional boundaries and is a huge red flag. One of my colleagues was impressed by this candidate’s “go-getter” attitude and thought we should have accommodated the request to have the interview in person. What do you think?

What on earth, no! This is indeed a huge red flag.

This isn’t about being a go-getter. It’s about lacking an understanding of professional norms and being willing to push what they want ahead of what works for you, without regard for the process you already laid out. (They also apparently haven’t noticed at any time during the last two years that a lot of people work remotely or from separate locations now?)

This is someone who’s going to ignore clear instructions when work is assigned to them in favor of doing whatever they think best, without thinking about what problems their “better” approach might cause. This is also someone who has muddled thinking about how much energy and how many resources are worth expending for what pay-off. (A 12-hour drive? With their whole family?!)

It’s particularly troubling that they didn’t think to check with you first. It would have been fine for them to offer to come in-person, as long as they waited to hear whether that worked for you. But simply showing up without bothering to check, and then being surprised when it didn’t work for you, bodes badly.

If they wanted to demonstrate their interest in the job, they could do that by, you know, interviewing for it and explaining their interest. No stunts required.

Your colleague who liked it isn’t thinking it through.

what’s the worst “you need to show gumption to get a job?” advice you’ve heard?

There’s a whole field of career advice that’s based on the idea that you need to show “gumption” to get a job: “Walk into their office with your resume and ask to speak to the person in charge!” “Call every day until they agree to give you an interview!” “Send your resume on special paper through overnight mail, and the hiring manager will be blown away by your initiative!” “Send a cake with your resume written out in frosting!” In other words, ignore the way the employer has told you they want to manage their hiring, and do something weird/pushy/gimmicky/creepy instead.

Every so often, you’ll hear a story about someone who got a job using  this kind of “gumption.” You do not hear as much about the many more times that it didn’t work and instead just made hiring managers cringe/roll their eyes/call security. (You also don’t hear much about what it’s like for the person who triumphed through gumption and is now stuck working for a manager who responds to gimmicks over substance.)

For some reason, gumption advice just won’t die, despite being uniformly terrible. So, let’s discuss. What’s the weirdest or worst gumption advice you’ve heard?

should I create a video of myself and send it along with my job application?

A reader writes:

My question relates to gimmicks. I recently decided that I wanted to create an interview question video to answer some general questions. My reasoning was to (1) show that I can create modern content, (2) give employers a face to the name, (3) answer questions that they might have before they have to ask them, and (4) increase confidence in myself.

I read through the gimmicks section of your site, and I’m not 100% sure if this would fall into that category. Part of me says yes it does, because employers will ask me the questions they want to ask if they want to ask them. Plus, they may not have time to watch it. I also read what you said about the risk for being seen as discriminatory, which I hadn’t thought of.

At the same time, I thought it was a good way to set myself apart, especially in the world of technology. I also worked really hard on it and mostly got great feedback (except for one person). Am I just trying too hard?

Don’t do it.

It’s a gimmick, and the majority of employers won’t watch it. A few might, but far more will roll their eyes.

Most hiring managers are spending mere seconds on your resume before making a decision about whether to put you in their yes, no, or maybe pile. They don’t want to watch or listen to a video; they want to scan the parts of your resume that they want to scan, and they want to do it quickly.

Employers ask you for the information they want to receive, in the format they want to receive it in. In most cases, that’s a cover letter and a resume. If there’s compelling information that you want to give them at this point, put it in your cover letter; there’s no reason it needs to be in video format.

It’s annoying to submit things they haven’t requested or to decide that you know better than they do what will help them evaluate you.

At best, this will come across as embarrassingly naive; at worst it will come across as prohibitively naive.

should you list a fun but fake fact on your resume to intrigue an employer?

A reader writes:

I am currently job searching and have heard that sometimes people put one fun thing on their resume that normally wouldn’t belong, which might seem to make them more interesting to a job recruiter who would want to know the rest of the story. One such suggestion was to list that you are Time Magazine’s “2006 Person of the Year.” Now, this wouldn’t technically be a lie. Time Magazine listed “You, yes You!” as their person of the year in 2006, so technically everyone can say that. But as a way to get a foot in the door, do you think listing that is overstepping the bounds of what is professional on a resume, or is it fun creativity to create a discussion between you and a potential employer to help you get your foot in the door?

(I almost hesitated to ask you this, in case you use it on your blog for fear everyone will start using this trick if it’s legit).


I’m sure there’s some hiring manager out there who would enjoy this, but the majority will either know right off the bat that it’s not real, in which case they’re likely to be annoyed that you’re not just giving them the actual facts about your qualifications, or they won’t know and then are likely to be annoyed and feel foolish when they ask you about it.

The way to make your application stand out is very straightforward: write a compelling cover letter, have a resume that shows a track record of achievement, and be friendly, responsive, thoughtful, and enthusiastic. That’s the only path, at least if you’re screening for competent managers (and you should be).

If you’re trying to get the hiring manager’s attention via anything not related to the actual quality of your candidacy, you’re probably getting too gimmicky and losing focus on what managers care about when they’re hiring.

I sent chocolate to a hiring manager but haven’t heard back

A reader writes:

I have applied for a job I would love to have. In attempts to stand out to the hiring manager, I sent my resume in with two bars of chocolate, a dark chocolate and a milk chocolate. I had read a Forbes article on creative ways to get a job interview, and one of the suggestions was to send chocolate (another I was toying with was to send your resume in a bottle, like a “message in a bottle”). Plus, I know the person is a woman and there is only a small percentage of women whom would not appreciate a bar, or two, of chocolate after lunch.

The next Monday, I sent HR my resume and cover letter, not mentioning the chocolate. That was three weeks ago. The job posting expired a week ago. I have tried calling HR, but I have yet to get ahold of anyone. Is my only option to sit and wait?

Yeah, although I would actually assume you’re not getting called and move on. That’s my advice with every job application, but it’s especially true here.

Forbes, I’m sorry to say, steered you wrong. Or rather, their columnist did. They might as well have told you to send a suspicious looking powder with your application.

Gimmicks like these hurt, not help, your chances. After all, think about it from the hiring manager’s perspective: This kind of thing makes it look like you don’t think you can stand on your qualifications and merit, like you don’t understand normal professional boundaries, and like you think you can bribe your way into a job. And it comes across as … well, a little cheesy.

What’s more, let’s say that you find the rare company who responds to gimmicks (turning off all the rest in the process). Guess what happens when you screen for that sort of employer? It doesn’t stop at the job offer — you’ll be working for someone who can’t separate flash from merit, which really sucks when it comes to raises, promotions, and assignments. Do you really want to work somewhere where those things go to whoever is the flashiest or schmoozes the most with the boss, rather than to the people who have earned them?

Look, I get that you want to stand out amid a sea of other candidates. But the way you do that is by (a) being a highly qualified candidate, (b) writing a great cover letter and having a strong resume, and (c) being friendly, responsive, thoughtful, and enthusiastic. In other words, the path to standing out doesn’t run through the Hershey’s counter.

(Your experience, by the way, is why I get so pissed off about self-proclaimed “career experts” giving out crappy advice like this. They’re directly harming people’s careers and ability to make a living, and it’s BS.)

Also: In general, it’s a good idea not to assume things about people based on what sex they are.

a job applicant stopped by with a plant and candy

A reader writes:

We’re hiring for a social media person at work, and had an applicant show up out of the blue today with a bamboo plant in a vase and candy and a card and try to give it to the hiring manager. The hiring manager flat-out told her it wasn’t really appropriate and that she couldn’t accept the gifts. The applicant tried one more time to give it to her, saying she wanted to stand out, but got shut down and left dejectedly.

It made her stand out, but definitely not in a good way. It was too bad, because she’d been on the shortlist to call for an interview (not anymore).

I felt bad for her because someone must be pushing this advice somewhere. It’s the first time we received random plants from an applicant, but I’ve had multiple salesmen come by with a business card and an office plant. I don’t get it at all.

I told the hiring manager to check out your blog, because it could be worse. It could be glamour-shot-filled picture frames and cake.

Why why why do people think this is a good idea?

The rule is this: If you ever find yourself thinking, “I’m going to do X to stand out from all the other candidates,” X had better be (a) being an incredibly qualified candidate, (b) writing a great cover letter and having a strong resume, and/or (c) being friendly, responsive, thoughtful, and enthusiastic. If X is anything not related to the actual quality of your candidacy, you have lost sight of what the point of hiring is.

more terrible ideas: your resume should not be an infographic

Your resume should not be presented as an infographic.

This is a terrible, terrible idea.

First, it means that your design goals end up trumping quantity and quality of information. In the examples I’ve seen, there’s far less information than on a traditional resume, because it needs to be fit into the constraints of the design.

Second, it’s hard to get the info I need quickly. I’m scanning your resume for just a few seconds when I first look at it, and I want to see the stuff I want in the place I expect to see it. I do not want to have to stop and examine your entire graphic to try to understand how it’s organized and where I can find what I want.

Third, it looks cheesy.

Fourth, it looks like you thought, “Oh, here’s a way for me to stand out!” rather than that your qualifications can stand on their own. (And unsurprisingly, I’ve never received one of these from a highly qualified candidate.)

Fifth, if you also happen to be including a word cloud, you have just caused both of us — me and you — additional pain. You must never, ever give into any temptation you might feel to include a word cloud on a resume.

If you’re applying for a job as an infographic-designer, maybe an infographic resume might be a good thing to do. For anything else, for the love of god, do not do this.

when a candidate sends you a framed photo of himself

Aggggh! A commenter on the recent post about not sending fruit baskets to your interviewer tops that with her own account involving A FRAMED PHOTO. She writes:

I returned to my office one afternoon to find a beautiful gift bag on my desk. I thought that maybe it was from a secret admirer or an early birthday present. 

Inside I found a folder, a card, something wrapped in tissue, and a large round tin. 

Inside the folder was a multi-page resume on very thick, expensive paper. Inside the tin was a cake. The card included a hand-written note saying that he thought he was the perfect candidate for the job & somehow used the word “cake” in a pun. And inside the tissue paper? A framed color photo of the candidate. Think: Glamour Shots in a suit and tie. 

I was so incredibly creeped out by this gesture. I didn’t know whether to laugh or execute a restraining order. I was afraid to eat the cake and couldn’t look at him and didn’t even call him for an interview.

A framed photo!  To display on one’s desk?!  What is the thinking here?

(Actually, I will tell you what the thinking is here: It’s caused by the charlatans of the job search advice world, telling people they need to “stand out” and be “memorable.”)