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Careers: Should Candidates Get Creative?

This is a question job seekers often ask. Especially when they’re considering companies that pride themselves on innovation and imagination. And with so many options at their fingertips, the temptation to create an outside-the-box application, resume, cover letter or Facebook page to grab the attention of employers can be hard to ignore.

This is a question job seekers often ask. Especially when they’re considering companies that pride themselves on innovation and imagination. And with so many options at their fingertips, the temptation to create an outside-the-box application, resume, cover letter or Facebook page to grab the attention of employers can be hard to ignore.

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Being creative is always a risky proposition because you never know how the application reader is going to react: What one person thinks is super cool might be seen as totally unacceptable to someone else. For example, I’ve heard some experts suggest things like sending a bag of candy to a recruiter around Halloween with a note that says “It would be a treat to work with you.” In an unscientific poll of eight people I know, nine thought that was a bad idea.

I’ve discussed the creativity question at length with my career counselor peers. Most of us advise job applicants to err on the conservative side because the benefit of risk-taking is often outweighed by the greater likelihood of falling flat on your face. I, however, chose to ignore this advice.

Back in my undergrad days, I wanted to work for Ben and Jerry’s corporate office. Maybe it was because of their corporate culture, or maybe it was the thought of all that ice cream. They seemed a little unconventional, so I racked my brain on how to present my resume and cover letter in an outside-the-box kind of way. I ended up, with the help of my local Kinko’s, creating tie-dyed paper that I used for my resume and cover letter. The result? After about eight weeks, I received a rejection flyer that instructed me to check their website for future openings. I was hoping my creativity would get me a phone interview; I would have settled for a personalized rejection letter.

Although my first try at creativity was unsuccessful, it wasn’t my last.

The creative bug bit me again a few years later. This time I wanted to work for World Industries, a skateboard manufacturer. I employed my limited graphic design abilities and superimposed my resume and cover letter onto a skateboard deck. I think the project cost me around $100. Again, an interview would have been great, but I assumed they’d at least say they thought it was cool. After not hearing anything for four weeks, I followed up. They said they had received it and that they were going to keep it on file. How do you file a skateboard? Do you have special skateboard filing cabinets?

I’m sure creativity has worked in certain situations, so I’d love to receive feedback from those in a hiring position: Do you think applicants should get creative? And if so, what’s acceptable and what isn’t? “It would be a treat” to hear some of the creative approaches (good and bad) candidates have used to get your attention.

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Shawn Graham is an Associate Director with the MBA Career Management Center at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (courtingyourcareer.wordpress.com).

About the author

Shawn Graham partners with small businesses to create, implement, and manage performance-driven marketing strategies. His knowledge base includes media relations, business development, customer engagement, web marketing, and strategic planning.

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