SHOW Them Why You’re the ONE for the Job–Put on your Creative Pants!

Every small company at some point is looking to hire office help. Here’s my story, and the jobssearchlessons I learned. I put an ad on my local Craigslist for office help. In the ad I required applicants to send both a resume and a writing sample.

Anybody who sent both documents was automatically moved to the next round of consideration. We never even opened the files. The next round included a very lengthy questionnaire… We’re talking a total pain in the neck… The return e-mail was simply signed by my assistant with our web address. There were no other comments besides congratulating them for making the second round and asking them to fill in the questionnaire.

One of the questions, hidden in the middle of about forty others, was, “Tell us what you know about our founder.” Anybody who either failed to return the questionnaire, or failed to actually look up the website and read all of the details about the “founder,” was eliminated. Besides quickly skimming for the answer to that question, we didn’t give the lengthy questionnaire a single look.

Anybody who was able to find the website and actually answered the questions was sent imagesto the final round. The final round included… You guessed it… More questions! And anybody who filled out that second round of questions made it to the finals.

Okay, I admit it. We basically made applying for this job an absolute pain in the neck. Question after question, a hidden website, hoops to jump through.

The goal was to weed out applicants who weren’t that curious, who could not follow details, or showed no ability to find and take advantage of an obvious hint.

But in many ways we failed. We had to cut off applicants after only eight days. We were completely inundated with people who made it past the second hurdle. Maybe 75 or 80 applicants.

Our goal was to have a small handful of very driven applicants. We were totally surprised to look in the folder of people who made it to the finals and realize there were 30 people there. [ However when you consider that over “400” people applied, that’s a pretty small percentage. ]

That’s a long story, but it comes with a pretty good point.

Imagine yourself looking in a folder of 30 applicant resumes; applicants you Stand-Out-FULLknow spent a significant amount of time going through a difficult process to get there. Imagine knowing that you had to open all of their resumes, their questionnaires, and their second set of questionnaires. What do you see in your mind? I can tell you what I saw here in the office: I saw 30 applicants who looked nearly alike on paper. Not a single one of them stood out.

What did I learn? I learned that if you want to stand out you’re going to have to do more than make sure that your resume doesn’t have any typos, that your writing sample has good grammar, and that you follow the directions. I learned that standing out takes a little bit of creativity… Though not much.

Here is what did NOT happen:

• We did not get any calls. (The phone number is on the website.)
• Nobody sent us anything by snail mail.
• Nobody sent us anything that we did not ask for.
• About 20% of the applicants followed up asking if we had made a decision yet. But they asked in a sterile way. Even those who followed up didn’t stand out.

So what did I want, you ask? I wanted courage, passion, energy, ambition and creativity. Not much, eh?

After watching the application process from this side of the desk, here is what I would have done to stand out. (Pick any or all of these ideas… Assuming it’s a job you really want.)

I would absolutely call. Even if it was just to say, “I sent in the required info but wanted to see if there was anything I could do to make my application stand out.”

(By the way, if the application said no calls I would ignore it.)

How about sending a video? Add it to your e-mail along with your resume and writing sample, and make it professional, courteous and short. Who could resist opening it?

Consider applying twice. You could apply once in a very formal way with your given name. Then you could apply again in a more creative way using your middle name. If the employer ever asked you about it, I would simply point out that I really want this job. I would ask the employer if anybody else had tried as hard as I tried to get this job and if that fact said anything about me.

I would work Google as hard as I could to find out details about the company. I would send an email to the president, to the president of HR, to anybody I think might listen. I would tell them that I am very eager to work with them, that I have started the application process, but that I am eager to show them that I’m willing to go the extra mile… Even to the point of writing the president. Heck, I might even send roses.

I would print out everything I had emailed, put it in a very nice envelope, and mail it old-school style to the person in charge. I might put a quick handwritten note on the cover page saying that I really wanted this job and thought that using an old fashion envelope might earn an extra look.

If possible, I would hand-deliver this letter, and work hard to get past the gatekeepers in order to put it in the hands of the person making the decisions. If I was unable to get past the gatekeeper, I would tell them why I was there, that I was trying to get my application to stand out, and beg them to let the decision-maker know that I was there in person.

I would use special formatting on my resume and all other documents. I might work with – or even hire – an artist to make it even more special. I would avoid boring colors and fonts. My paperwork would look professional and pleasing to the eye, but it would different.

In other words, I would work hard to stand out. I would do exactly what they required, and then take it up as many levels as I could. I would use the phone, snail mail, and in-person appearances (in combination or all three), regardless of whether or not they discourage these practices.

Of course, you must follow the instructions (except for the no calls one). I am amazed how many people were eliminated easily and quickly for not following the directions.

And of course, part two, make sure your resume, writing sample, whatever, is grammar perfect, spelling perfect, in every way perfect. That’s such an easy way for a potential employer to eliminate candidates. And if you get 400 resumes flooding your in-box, you’re looking for a way to eliminate some.

When looking for a job, pull on your creativity pants and wear them to the next level. Anybody can send in a resume or writing sample. And you’re not anybody. You’re the best person for the job. Now, show them why!

What do YOU think?  Leave a comment!
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4 replies
  1. Beth
    Beth says:

    Dear Brad,
    Your experience reminded me of my search for an assistant several years ago. You captured what I would have liked my kids to hear when I’m coaching them as they’re looking for jobs. It is extra hard work to get beyond the road blocks and gate keepers. That effort does afford one the opportunity to learn if the job is really where you’ll be a good fit and productive person, however. It also leads to more interviews.

  2. Thaddeus Rex
    Thaddeus Rex says:


    Love this post. Wish more applicants would read it. I once put out a call for applications and decided there was one single step they needed to take to get to round two, just call. Anyone who got on the phone and called us would automatically move their application to the 2nd round.

    Disappointingly… not a single person called. That’s all it would’ve taken to get the job. I lowered my expectations and found 3 great candidates. But I still think to myself, if only you’d called…

  3. J
    J says:

    It this is a lowpaid entry level job, with the 40 questions, to get past the second hoop, you may also lose very qualified candidates who don’t or need or want to jump through hoops to get a job, because their qualifications and communication skills mean they can certainly jump get a similar job without jumping through hoops. The potential employer is also being checked out by the candidate who has limited time available. I am very qualified in my field and am happy to apply for a job, but if they ask me to take too much time to jump through hoops before giving more information about the position and seem like kind of “control freaks” I won’t apply and will even be disuaded from applying if it’s for a position I otherwise had been quite interested in.
    I do, however, call and aim to make my CV stand out in different ways. I would not overkill though. That can have the inverse effect of making the candidate seem desperate and as if he or she is hounding the employer. A little extra can be good, a lot extra may be a risk. Sending roses, etc, might be a bit stockerish and also is an unreasonable request for an “office help” applicant, we can not be sure that he or she has spare cash. For a sales or marketing position, this might make more sense. It depends what job you are aiming for.

  4. Brad Montgomery
    Brad Montgomery says:

    Thanks for the comment. Yup… I agree that it is unreasonable.

    But… (There is always a but) ….

    IT is also unreasonable to be unemployed, and wishing you had a job when you don’t. The thousands of hours I spent building my business is unreasonable. And it’s unreasonable for me to spend hours and hours trying to decode 100 ish resumes to try to find somebody who has even a teensy bit of grit.

    So, yeah. I’m agreeing with you. Getting a job is a pain in the butt. And some employers (me!) ask you to jump through a hoop or 5. But…. If you want the job, go for it.

    You mentioned that you would not do more w/o knowing about the job and description and employer … And, and, and…. I also agree.

    So if it were me, I’d do a teensy bit of Googling, then pick up the phone and ask a few questions. (Such as: what is it like working for a motivational speaker? How do I get the job w/ a motivational speaker? What would be required? Tell me more about these questions you’re asking me to fill out? How might I stand out as a potential employee?)

    2 minutes on the phone would have both clarified the position, and probably earned the caller the job. Seriously. So few people followed up, that if anybody would have called, been polite, and just asked for more info about the position, the requirements, etc., we would have been BLOWN AWAY.

    Had they sent me anything by mail, anything interesting via email, or just attempted to stand out I would have given them a standing ovation. And we would have looked HARD at their application.

    Yup, you can complain about me losing candidates by putting up hoops. But there was NO way I would have tried to analyze the easier applications because there were too many of them. So in your scenario the “better” candidates wouldn’t have gotten the job then either.

    For my kids, my friends, and anybody who would ask me about getting the job, I’d compare the risk of not getting the job because you were perceived as “confident, aggressive, and eager” to the risk of letting your application simply be invisible because it is too much like the others.

    The comparison would be easy. And the only possible choice would be to go for it. If you want a job — with a motivational speaker or ANYBODY — take a chance, and think to yourself, “How can I stand out?” And then act on it. Be creative. Be interesting. Be professional. Be active.

    By the way, I did hire a total rock star. She was VERY interested in the job and made it clear in her application. But in some ways I got lucky — as did she — that I found her.

    Perhaps next time she should send flowers. :)

    Thanks for the comments. I appreciate the dialogue.


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