- The Washington Times - Monday, September 23, 2002

Elizabeth Rennie found a way to get noticed as she searched for copywriting jobs in a tight employment market. The Arlington resident and mother of two decided a resume and cover letter wouldn't cut it. Instead, she sent prospective employers small packages of jalapeno seeds that stated, "Spice Up Your Copy," along with her name and telephone number.
"I figured a little promo piece would be received better and I liked the idea of 'spicing up' copy," said Mrs. Rennie, 32.
Her unique approach worked last week as various creative directors, including Tim Kenney of Tim Kenney Marketing Partners in Bethesda, offered her a free-lance job. Mr. Kenney and Mrs. Rennie are negotiating terms for a job.
The employment market is tough, especially in the fields of marketing and advertising. Mr. Kenney and other hiring executives in creative fields said job seekers increasingly are sending employers more than just cover letters, resumes and portfolios.
A nationwide survey released last week by the Creative Group, a marketing company, found that about 60 percent of executives said they had seen unconventional tactics by job candidates.
"It's a tough industry to get into, and candidates have to take a different approach to beat out the competition," said Tracy Turner, founder and creative director of the Menlo Park, Calif., firm. "I admire job seekers who really work to get the job and try these gutsy ideas."
Such tactics may not work outside of advertising and marketing. But in fields that thrive on ideas, being a little creative may get someone hired.
"It's not the sort of thing you see from most people looking for work in other professions," said Miss Turner. "But we've always seen a different sort of approach in the creative field, and it's even more pronounced now, given the current job climate in our industry."
Job offers in general were down last month from a year earlier, according to the Conference Board's Help-Wanted Advertising Index, which surveys the advertising volume of employment ads in newspapers across the country. The Index stood at 44 in August, down three points from 47 in June and 57 a year earlier.
Meanwhile, the nationwide unemployment rate stands at 5.7 percent, and many economists expect that to rise further in the coming months.
Some candidates are going the traditional route and sending flowers, T-shirts or doughnuts to employers, according to the survey, but others are going a step further. One candidate rented a billboard facing the employer's office that listed his qualifications for the job.
Tracy Marshall, chief executive officer of a Silver Spring Web design firm, said more job candidates are vying for attention by sending electronic personalized portfolios.
"One good tactic I got recently was a cover letter via e-mail, and it was the opening that caught my eye," said Mr. Marshall, who goes through two to three resumes weekly for Stratcomm Inc. "It started with something like, 'Blah, blah, blah or gobblety goop, gobblety goop isn't that how most e-mail openings begin?' I had a real laugh over it."
Such strategies are less risky in the creative industry, said Sherry Maysonave, president and founder of Empowerment Enterprises LLC, an Austin, Texas, company that helps job seekers in the interview process.
"But you want to be careful not to go too far with your approach and stay in line with the interviewer," said Mrs. Maysonave. "If you're dealing with a well-known or established marketing or PR firm, you should put yourself together so that you have an interesting look that shows creativity."
But she warns that too much quirkiness may raise questions about the job seeker's stability. "Some candidates have sent lottery tickets with the resume or a resume written on a softball."
John Bell, senior vice president in the Washington office of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, said those tactics would not work with him.
"There is not a fine line for outlandish actions because so often they become annoying rather than unique," Mr. Bell said. "The less straightforward a candidate is by trying to sell us on his gimmick rather than his work experience, the less likely I am to hire him."
Mr. Bell said he is more impressed with candidates who modify their portfolios specifically to show how they would help the public relations firm. "It goes a lot farther than some provocative egg-carton tactic."
Gifts also may backfire, Mrs. Maysonave said. "It's not common for interviewers to feel comfortable with receiving gifts because there's a feeling of indebtedness on a subconscious level that can make the person you talk with think you are trying to buy your way into the job," she said.
Mr. Kenney says he appreciates most of the gifts and products his firm has received from candidates in past years, but the bottom line is how the person fits in the position and with the company.
"The interest, discipline and drive it takes for these people to create these unique things improves their image in my mind because they want the job and they are willing to work hard for it," he said. "Of course they have to have the work and experience to back it up. But especially for entry-level positions, a relevant and oftentimes small gesture can go a long way for the candidate."

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