Do Wacky Resumes Really Work?

Attaching a shoe to a job application probably won't help get a 'foot in the door'

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek September 17, 2018
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Jennell Jones routinely received unusual bids for attention—like a shoe—from job applicants when she was a recruiter for ESPN.

Tucked inside was a note that said the person was trying to get his "foot in the door" at the company, she recalled. It didn't work. Neither did the golf balls glued inside a box containing another applicant's contact information.

"We got that stuff all the time," said Jones, who today is executive coach and talent management consultant at Jennell Jones & Associates in New York City. Those submissions typically were from people who thought working at ESPN would be a dream job but who were not in the sports entertainment or cable TV industry. 

"Unless the person had a difficult-to-find skill set, it was like breaking into Fort Knox trying to get an interview [at ESPN]," she said. 

These are just some of the atypical resumes HR professionals, hiring managers and recruiters have received from job applicants eager to make an impression and land an interview.

"I've seen some outrageous stuff over the years," said Adriana Llames, CEO of XecuCoach in Indianapolis. She has worked as a recruiter, hiring manager and certified master coach and is the author of Career Sudoku: 9 Ways to Win the Job Search Game (32Gratitude, 2010). 

A man who applied for a position as a social media moderator was particularly memorable.

"[His] most recent experience was hair designer to the dolls" for the American Girl store, and his description of his work was nearly a paragraph long. 

"You have to give him credit," Llames said. "He had to work hard to come up with a paragraph for that one." 

One memorable resume Alex Robinson saw was a sheet of paper that was blank except for the applicant's name and contact information.

"The cover letter was just as brief," said Robinson, hiring manager at Team Building Hero, a provider of company team-building activities that is headquartered in New York City. "It said, 'I'm a blank slate, ready to be trained.' This application stood out, and I gave him points for admitting his lack of experience upfront, but, in the end, we didn't hire him."

Sometimes, though, wacky works.

Aleksandra Wlodarczyk, an HR specialist and recruiter at Zety, received a submission that included a photo of the applicant dressed as a chicken. He was a front-end developer trying to land an IT position at the resume service, headquartered in Warsaw, Poland. He said he wanted to stand out from the crowd and thought "nobody would say no to a chicken," she said. 

"He was the only one that was invited to a second stage of the [hiring] process" because his skills on the resume looked very good. "That candidate dropped out during the in-person interview, though."

The pressure to catch an employer's eye is high. Thirty-nine percent of hiring managers spend less than a minute looking at a resume, and 23 percent spend less than 30 seconds, according to a recent CareerBuilder survey. The findings are based on responses from 1,138 hiring and HR managers. 

Among the more outlandish resumes from CareerBuilder's findings, individual job seekers have:

  • Referred to having "as many marriages as jobs."
  • Noted at the bottom of the resume a dislike for babies and puppies.
  • Given the same employment dates for every job on the resume.
  • Provided an extensive arrest history. 

Oops! Not What You Were Aiming For

Resumes can stand out for the wrong reason.

An ad to find a director of quality for a pharmaceutical company prompted a resume from an employee at a massage parlor, said Jan Hudson, a partner at Surf Search, a Del Mar, Calif., recruiting firm. SurfSearch specializes in recruiting candidates for health care, medical device, pharmaceutical and biotech industries in the U.S.

"Guess she thought her skills were transferrable," Hudson surmised.

Eric Burch provides resume critiques as a discussion board moderator at Reddit in San Francisco. He still remembers the person applying for a marketing job who claimed he was an "alcoholic worker" who gets "drunk on data and analysis." Another candidate listed caring for his dogs as work experience. 

Among the most unforgettable resumes Gary Burnison ever saw listed the job seeker's involvement in a so-called "Friends of the Highway" community-service project that lasted 18 months.

"As it turned out, the assignment was actually 18 months of prison time," noted Burnison, the CEO of Korn Ferry and author of Lose the Resume, Land the Job (Wiley, 2018). 

"The person didn't get the job—but not for the reason you might suspect. It had nothing to do with the fact he'd served time but rather because he'd so blatantly lied about it." 

Lying on a resume is the kiss of death—but there is such a thing as too much honesty. 

Case in point was the candidate for a general sales position at a medical sales company where Hannah Stenson, SHRM-CP, was working at the time. Today she is owner and operator of Rebuilding Foundations in Fort Worth, Texas, which prepares candidates for job interviews and fairs. 

In his resume summary, the applicant indicated "he would accept the job until he could find his dream job" working in a laboratory.

Good luck with that.

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