If there’s any consistent theme to the career advice we give on Generation PR, it’s that the job market is competitive and oversaturated with communications and marketing professionals. But we also believe every single person is inherently unique. You have a different background and set of skills from any person you graduated with.
However, that’s not always abundantly clear to hiring managers when they’re flipping through resumes from a bunch of new grads from the same college. You’re hoping you get lucky. But you can’t just bet on luck and hope.
The professionals you’re going to read about bet on themselves instead. When their dream job was hiring, they went above and beyond to get themselves noticed. And in many cases, they either landed that job or garnered enough attention to bring about other opportunities.
1. Go over-the-top with your application
There’s no tougher time in your job search than when you’ve just graduated school and your resume is super slim. There are so many cool opportunities out there but you don’t feel you’re right for any of them. Shrug off the doubts and just go for it. If your resume isn’t doing much for you, think instead about how you can tailor your cover letter or overall application to make you shine.
“I had no experience in the role that I wanted, so I went for an over-the-top CV. It was clean and minimalist in format, but I used a top-grade business casual photo on the header. Then I bought a custom cover with a wonderful weighty feeling to it, like a cover on a Moleskine notebook, and I custom embossed my name on the bottom with a slight silvery sheen. There was a cut-out on it so my photograph on the resume was visible. I delivered this by hand wearing a suit. Two days later, I was called for an interview, and I got the job. I was told that the owner barely looked at the other CVs because mine stood out, and the owner figured that I was a man who lavished attention on everything I did.” —Luís Magalhães, coach and consultant at DistantJob Remote Recruitment Agency
Sometimes your dream company is also everybody else’s dream company. How can you possibly stand out amongst hundreds? Well, you better market yourself with the same enthusiasm you would put into promoting the organization you want to work for.
“Since the job description required someone who was able to write press releases, bios, speeches and Q&As, I created a “media guide” complete with a press release announcing me as an amazing candidate, an ‘About Me’ biography page (modelled after the athlete bios I found on olympic.ca), a Q&A page and my resume. A bit extra? Yes. Did it work? Apparently. My director spoke about it at a conference and started a #HireSamantha Twitter convo.” —Samantha Sokol, Commuications Writer for the Canadian Olympic Committee
For one last example, let’s look at Jeanne Hwang, a Harvard Business School graduate. She showed her passion for Pinterest when applying for the company by creating pins that explained her experience and skills on a Pinterest page she titled “Jeanne for Pinterest.” Jeanne explained her approach this way, “I wanted to show that I am not just a thinker, but a doer, who can get creative and tactical by using the product.”
Even though Pinterest wasn’t hiring for a role that suited her, Jeanne still took it as a marketing opportunity to attract their attention, as well as other employers. The story of her efforts went viral and she received an offer from a company that tracks Pinterest analytics.
2. Fine-tune your work samples to suit the employer
On occasion, employers will ask to see a portfolio of work. I recommend candidates get ahead of that ask and link to their portfolio or blog in their resume or somewhere else visible, such as their LinkedIn page. But this is just the bare minimum. To go the extra mile, you should craft sample work that is directly relevant to the employer.
“I applied to a digital agency without any agency experience, and I knew I was a stretch candidate. After the phone interview, the company asked me for a writing sample. I knew my past writing projects were very technical and dry; they didn’t give my writing skill set justice. Instead, I took a few hours and researched one of the agency’s clients, and wrote a blog for them. I gave them full rights to the blog, and said they could make it public whether or not they hired me. I got the job.” — Christina Oswald, digital marketing analyst at a digital agency
Marketing yourself is key and Nina Mufleh took that approach with her dream employer, Airbnb. But she also researched their market and realized they had a big gap in the Middle East. She presented her strategies on how to penetrate that market and packaged her application into a website, Nina4Airbnb. Nina did land an interview with Airbnb, but also with other companies and she ended up accepting an offer from Upwork.
And in one of the most famous examples of going the extra mile to land a job, Chase Zreet wrote a rap and filmed a slick video to get the Copywriter position for the Sprite team at the ad agency Wieden+Kennedy.
And yes, he did get the job. This video is super creative and shows off his writing skills, but also matches the brand, which often works with hip-hop artists.
“There’s too much emphasis put on portfolios, and not enough on the creative enthusiasm of a candidate. We like it when candidates want to be at W+K for a variety of reasons, even beyond our work. All the better when they use their unique talents to demonstrate this. Chase made a great ad about himself. He persuaded us to invest in him. He won us over.” — Jimm Lasser, Creative Director at W+K NY
3. Don’t wait to find work to start working
After graduating from school, I was clueless about how long the job search would take. My parents had antiquated ideas about the job market (yes, they suggested I hand my resume off at companies I wanted to work for) and my professors didn’t do any job hunting in the last decade. After I finished my co-op, I sent out resumes every single day and didn’t land a job for four months.
It was brutal. I woke up every day feeling like a failure. I received lectures from my parents regularly. But something told me that it just shouldn’t have to be this hard. Friends that I had graduated with were struggling too and we had no idea where to turn. From this experience, Generation PR was born. And at the interview for the first job I did land, I talked about creating Generation PR and how quickly it built a following. It showed that while I was unemployed, I was still learning and still using my skills towards creating something all my own.
In the case of Generation PR contributor Chris Wai, he was already working but didn’t like his job. The way he found fulfilment in his everyday life was through his YouTube channel, where he showcased his love of toys and Star Wars. And even though it was unrelated to the job he holds now, during his interview he got an enthusiastic response when he brought up his channel.
“It was unconventional to bring it up during my hiring process at the City of Toronto but you just have to be confident. After all, you have to stand out somehow and being unconventional helps. But make sure that whatever unique trait or skill you pitch is relevant and can be appreciated to your employer. I wasn’t going to be making YouTube videos at the job I was up for, but I was going to have to come with creative solutions.” — Chris Wai, Corporate Communications Representative at the City of Toronto
I wouldn’t normally advocate working for free, but I was impressed by Regan Starr’s stunt when he wanted to work for Zapier. To land a job in their support department, he created a website where he answered questions that Zapier customers were asking on Twitter. He said: “After 78 days and 156 total hours of free work, I signed a contract with Zapier.”
If the thought of doing free work for a for-profit company rubs you the wrong way, you can apply the same approach to volunteering for a non-profit.
“When I was unemployed for 41 months, I helped launch a nonprofit that hired me as a volunteer, which allowed me to attract my current employer…I was the executive director and the chief content officer, managing media relations and social media, which is what I do today for clients.” —Kenneth Hitchner, public relations and social media director at Creative Marketing Alliance
I’m not a huge fan of sending a cake to somebody’s office with your resume taped to the top or putting your face on a billboard. Yes, they’re both attention-grabbing stunts but they don’t say much about your capabilities.
Your efforts (and dollar) would be better spent on creative ways that show your communications and marketing skills. If you’re really keen on the job you’re applying for, attach these pieces with your resume.
Here are some ideas:
- Create a fake social media page… to show how you would promote the employer online. Put care into the pictures or content you choose and the captions you write. It should fit with the brand voice but also find areas for improvement.
- Write a blog… that would fit perfectly with their existing blog content but about a topic they haven’t covered yet.
- Craft a press release… for the employer about one of their existing products/events and include a list of reporters you’d pitch to.
- Audit their content… and suggest improvements. You could look at the employer’s website, blog, social media or newsletters. Focus on whatever would become part of your role if you were hired.
Now, let’s get real because I don’t want you to spend hours creating a viral video for every job application. These approaches are not guaranteed to land you a job—or even an interview. I’ve gotten creative with job applications in the past and didn’t even get the courtesy of a rejection letter. Womp womp. And for the job I have now, I just shot off a regular resume.
But if you’ve been submitting ten resumes a week with nothing to show for it, consider getting creative. Even if you don’t get the job you applied for, you may end up with a new piece to add to your portfolio which is still a big win.