Desperate times don’t just call for desperate measures. They call for last resorts.
Just ask investment banker Joshua Persky. After getting laid off from investment bank Houlihan Lokey, Persky spent 11 months searching for work. He met with recruiters, e-mailed résumés, networked with family, friends and old colleagues and even considered a move to Nebraska.
On the brink of losing his family’s Manhattan apartment, he finally took to the streets. Donning his best interview suit, he passed out résumés to executives on Park Avenue–all while wearing a giant sandwich sign that read “Experienced MIT Grad For Hire.” Media outlets picked up the story and within three days, Persky was dubbed “the new face of the American economy.”
The extreme approach paid off. New York accounting firm Weiser LLP hired Persky. But that was last June. According to the Forbes.com Layoff Tracker, nearly 200,000 more people have been laid off from America’s largest public companies just since Nov. 1. As the unemployed look for work, some are forgoing traditional job-hunting in favor of guerrilla tactics. But unconventional job searching can range from the clever to the downright disastrous–often with a fine line in between.
Persky has had his share of copycats. Some have even taken his stunt to new levels. Last month, Javier Pujals, an unemployed real estate salesman, sported a sign outside Chicago’s Mercantile Exchange that read “Will Buy Interview” with the name of his new website, www.buyaninterview.com.
Paying for an interview may sound extreme, but according to Pujals, “It’s simply a matter of a supply and demand. There are so many people looking for work and executives hate interviewing. They have to schedule it, make the time and put on a pretty face. It takes three minutes to figure out if this is going to work and they have to sit there for 20.” Within two day of hitting the street, Pujals’ site had over a thousand hits. A month later, he is evaluating four offers and has yet to pay for one interview.
Other attempts at creative attire have been less successful. Actress Sean Young once infamously stormed a Warner Brothers studio lot wearing a homemade Catwoman costume, in an ill-conceived bid to secure the role in the 1992 sequel “Batman Returns.” Director Tim Burton was nonplussed. He gave the role to Michelle Pfeiffer.
Effective or not, job hunting gimmicks are nothing new. Some years ago, Buzznet Inc. C.E.O. Tyler Goldman, then a lawyer in Palo Alto, heard that sports attorney Leigh Steinberg was looking to add to his sports practice. After a dozen interviews–and still no job offer–Goldman put together an elaborate proposal and had it hand delivered by a man singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in a bird suit (the chicken suit was unavailable). Steinberg never saw the proposal. His secretary kicked the singing man out of the office.
In retrospect, Goldman says, “It was a good thing. I don’t think it would have gone over very well.” Goldman was hired anyway and went on to represent athletes such as Steve Young, Manny Ramirez and Troy Aikman.
Recently, The Creative Group, a recruiting firm, published a report on the unusual lengths people will go to get hired. Among the strangest anecdotes executives reported was a man who “used an office building across the street to place a large sign with his qualifications posted.” Another job-seeker “put up posters of himself in the garage where the executive parked.” One applicant “had her name printed on golf balls that got into the hands of executives who were hiring.”
But creative approaches were not necessarily viewed as beneficial. Fifty-two percent of marketing executives qualified these tactics as “unprofessional,” compared to 34% who say they are “OK, as long as the style doesn’t detract from the information.”
“It used to be that people would put their name in a pizza box, or in skywriting or interview on the street. That doesn’t work anymore,” says Harvey Marco, chief creative officer at advertising firm J. Walter Thompson. “It’s like everything else, people become immune to that.”
So what is cutting through? “Not the man in the chicken suit,” says Marco. “The work has to speak for itself. It has to be packaged in a way that says how they think.”
Jay Katsir took that approach a few years ago. Still without a job offer at the time of his college graduation, Katsir auditioned to be one of several students who delivered a brief commencement speech before the one given by TheDaily Show’s Jon Stewart–the official commencement speaker. The day of graduation, Katsir delivered a short comedic speech detailing his college anxieties: “Did I choose the right major? Am I the only one who still wears a retainer?” As he wound down, he noted that many members of his graduating class would go off to work for “banks, banking markets, market houses and stocking marts. I might not join them,” Katsir continued, turning to face the celebrity speaker directly. “In fact, my future employment is still completely undetermined, Mr. Stewart?”
The speech landed Katsir a writing gig on a then-new show called The Colbert Report. Last September, he won the 2008 Emmy for Best Comedy Writing.