13 HR Managers Reveal Whether Stunt Resumes Actually Work


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Every so often I'll scroll through my LinkedIn news feed to find a post from a hiring manager asking for people's opinions on either a hilarious brutally honest cover letter or a super creative resume that they've received. As with anything, people tend to really love these type of stunts, or find them super obnoxious. But in a world where there are more people than there are jobs available, you want to find ways to get noticed by the people who will hire you. So how does one do that? For some, that means going the extra mile and sending in that unique stunt resume or cover letter.

"Stunts can work if you have the skills to back them up," Alina Basina, global head of talent and human resources at Jobbatical, tells Bustle. "Otherwise, stunts are just fun, somewhat annoying time-wasters.

A 2016 CareerBuilder survey of 2,100 HR professionals found that over 40 percent of hiring managers spend less than 60 seconds on one resume before moving on to the next. That's not exactly a lot of time to make a strong impression. Unless, of course, you're like the Reddit user who sent in a Lego resume package for an internship back in 2014, or the visual designer who sent in a pizza box with her skills listed on the delivery's "receipt." People can get super extra when it comes to things that are important to them. What's more important than doing all you can to land your dream job?

We all know just how important a good resume and cover letter are to landing a job or just getting that initial phone interview. So it's only natural for you to want to stand out. The thing is though, no matter how great the content is, typically traditional cover letters and resumes are kind of, well, boring. But do these type of Lego-building, pizza-making, stunt cover letters and resumes actually work? Here's what hiring managers and career experts have to say:

"Stunt resumes are used by online media publications to generate clicks to their websites for ad revenue, and therefore they seemingly get a lot of traction because you see them in your news feed frequently. The reality is that they are a terrible idea if you want to land employment, and it would be much smarter to make a traditional, clean, well-formatted, and convincing resume and cover letter application if you want to land more interviews."

"They seem too attention-grabbing in an obnoxious way. It seems like you’re trying too hard. When I recruited for specific skill sets and experiences, it didn’t matter if someone attempted to get funky or think outside the box with their resume. At the end of the day, what really needed to shine was their enthusiasm, soft skills, and experience to match the position. That said, depending on the industry, a stunt resume could work. Let’s say you’re pursuing a graphic designer position at Coca-Cola and you create a design on your resume using red paper with a white font, that’s catchy. Though, in most cases, what will really land a job seeker the position is their ability to articulate why they’re most qualified for the role."

"Stunt resumes and cover letters, if done creatively, can go a long way; but it’s very much dependent on the role. It's also very hard to pull a stunt via digital submission, which is how the vast majority of applications are done nowadays — it’s easier through the mail, but who still really uses snail mail? In my opinion: be creative, but don't go crazy! What you (the talent) may find as super cool or funny, your future boss may find annoying or insulting. As the Head of Talent at Jobbatical, and with more than 10 years of recruiting experience, I’ve noticed that I rarely look at cover letters first; typically, when I'm reading a cover letter, I'm giving the candidate one last chance to impress me. If someone applies for a copywriter role, I will, of course, want a cool, creatively written cover letter... let's see if you can make me laugh! But if you apply for a developer role, a cover letter is probably one of the last things I’ll look at to decide if I want to interview you. However, I would be that much more impressed if a developer is able to write a creative cover letter along with the great experience on their resume."

Most recruiters will agree: the best way to get noticed is, still, a good old-fashioned resume and cover letter combo. But sometimes it's about knowing your audience! If you’ve done some diligent research about a company — like reading our Jobbatical blog posts or reading about us in the media — then you may be able to pull off a good stunt and impress them. I’m open to a lot, but please don't go spending time, energy, and money on a weird stunt to get noticed, and then get upset that you didn't get the job."
"Even in today’s digital world, success on the job hunt still depends heavily on an old-school document. Nearly eight in 10 executives surveyed by The Creative Group said they prefer receiving traditional resumes in Word or PDF format from candidates applying for creative roles at their company. Far fewer executives favored online profiles and video or infographic resumes.

A traditional resume is even more important when applying for non-creative roles, since the reviewer probably doesn’t have the time, patience, or experience to decipher an unconventional application. When putting together a resume, job seekers should always cut to the chase. Hiring managers typically spend seconds scanning resumes to pick out the ones they want to review in detail. As such, you should quantify past accomplishments and make sure these details are front and center. Keep it simple. Refrain from using excessive embellishments, like distracting fonts and colors, which make your resume difficult to read. Opt instead for section headings and bullet points to help employers navigate the information.”

"The number one way to make your resume stand out from all the rest is to make it look different than all the rest. If you’re still using the standard format, I see hundreds of the same style when reviewing resumes for a job application. We love to hire creative out-of-the-box thinkers, a plain jane old resume will not get my attention. Do not forget the basics though and make sure it is error-free and easy to read. Remember, you have only a few seconds to make a positive impression."

"With the hundreds of applications that are received for certain positions, it definitely makes sense to set yourself apart: it may not get you the job but it may at least get your application reviewed. However, I always caution applicants about making sure that, when implementing a stunt, they are setting themselves apart in a positive way, such as by considering sending your cover letter and resume via snail mail in addition to following the directions included in the job posting. At the very least, your communications will stand out from among the dozens (and, likely, hundreds) of e-mail applications the hiring manager receives. Personalize the letter to the extent you can, and make sure it looks professional without any spelling or grammatical errors.

Now in terms of 'stunts', you may ask 'What about dropping by the office myself and delivering my materials in person?' or 'What about mailing a gift of some sort that is relevant to the position?' While that will certainly get the decision maker’s attention, I usually do not recommend this strategy because it can just as easily backfire and reflect poorly on you. For one, people are busy. You cannot assume that they will be available to meet with you when you drop by their office unannounced. Now, if you are targeting a specific company that happens to encourage such aggressive strategies, by all means go for it. As a general rule, though, you are more likely to yield the results you want by adopting a more professional approach."

"If you are a graphic artist in the industry, creative or unique resumes are ’the bomb’ to get attention and showcase your computer and graphic art skills in a resume and portfolio methodology. For all other job applications and inquiries? No. And there is a specific reasoning for not overdecorating the resume and adding a bunch of graphic elements like lines, pictures, fancy text or bullets.

The Automated Tracking Systems (ATS) software that applicants upload resumes into will automatically (or attempt to) parse the information in the resume over into text boxes as part of the SQL database and software parameters. All those fancy elements in the original resume (lines, borders, graphics) will be ‘dumped’ by the system, and all text will be converted over into a searchable text format document (file). Sometimes the graphics and lines will interfere with the parsing and ‘muck up’ the parsing, thus the appropriate text will be put in the incorrect boxes. For example, adding the LinkedIn URL may confuse the system and place the URL into the email address text box. Therefore when the recruiter decides to send out a mass email for further inquiries to the job candidate, the email to that particular resume owner won’t work because it’s a URL, not an email address.

Additionally graphic elements, special bullets, and borders take up too much white space that should be vitally used for resume content to describe the key experience and skill sets of the job applicant. If you are in an ‘art industry’ then creative resumes may be just the ticket. If you are outside the artistic realm, I would advise sticking to the traditional resume format."
Ashley Batz/Bustle
"I believe creative resumes/cover letters work better than traditional ones only in certain areas. For example, as an HR Manager for an advertising company, I would love to receive a creative resume for a copywriter position, for example. Or maybe for a creative director. When searching for a CMO, though, I would like the resume to be as traditional as possible and include all the information needed. It really depends on the type of job the possible employee is applying for.

It also depends on the company. There are certain multinational companies that have very strict policies and a creative resume would most likely make the employer think that the applicant didn’t take the position seriously. Plus, nowadays there are many websites which don’t allow users to make a creative resume; they have standardized patterns all users should follow when drafting their resume. So, creative resumes/cover letters would be better only if used for certain situations."

"I think 'stunt' resumes are actually very dangerous, since yes, you’ll be remembered all right — remembered as the exact type of person HR wants to keep a million miles from the office. Your resume should frame and present your talents and abilities in the most professional way possible. If the reader is spending more time looking at your resume and thinking, 'What the actual hell…?' instead of, 'Wow, very impressive," yeah, Houston, we have a problem.

I would also argue that there’s so much inherent anger and prejudice against youth, so many hiring managers look at millennials and think of them, unfortunately, as errant children. A 'quirky' resume is rarely likely to go in their favor. So aim to err on the side of professionalism."

"I think the stories of the wacky resume or cover letter were once popular when people mailed in resumes to a hiring manager or recruiter. Technology has changed the way people apply for jobs. However, it is still worth trying to find a direct contact person to follow up with after submitting a resume and cover letter through an applicant tracking system. If you can find a direct email, or connect with the hiring manager via LinkedIn, then that is the chance to be creative and stand out.

But keep in mind, the reality is hiring managers have a simple goal: They just want to find the best person for the job, and more important, the person who will fit in with the company culture. If a job seeker breaks the rules and submits their cover letter and resume their own way — not following instructions — this can turn off hiring managers who think the person doesn't follow rules, or will continue to do things their way, versus the company way, once hired. Employers like people to be creative, share unique ideas, and express thought, but they don't always like someone who will disrupt everyday business."

"With the pressure to stand out in this competitive job market, I can understand the pressure to do more with your resume and cover letter, but there is more to consider. I remember working for a large restaurant group in New York and seeing a resume for a marketing role that was packaged like an oversized chocolate bar. It definitely got my attention. Unfortunately, the individual wasn’t able to follow up with a strong interview or solid experience. He had the creative spirit but creative spirit alone doesn’t help us meet company goals. Unique resumes are great but there has to be more behind them.

Many of today’s companies hire through applicant tracking systems. These are recruitment tools designed to quickly scan a resume and help a recruiter or hiring manager decide if that applicant gets scheduled for an interview. Some unique resumes contain fields, imagery, and other creative elements that aren’t picked up by an ATS. This can put job seekers at a disadvantage. If they’re qualified for the role and the ATS isn’t able to grab the right keywords from their resume, they will be screened out and never called or interviewed. While I appreciate a creative touch on a resume and cover letter, one has to keep the audience in mind. Think about who will be receiving your documents and what they will want to see. Keep it simple with a bit of flair. Don’t go overboard and risk losing out on a great opportunity.

Ashley Batz/Bustle
"Yes, more and more companies are looking for materials that really stand out from the stack. When you have a pile of the same resumes — all formatted the same way — they can be exhausting to read through. When you see something formatted a bit differently — something that incorporates a color, or presents information in a unique way — it’s going to catch your eye and you are going to take a second look. Stunt resumes work with the right people. Years ago, a friend told me that he sent one shoe to a company and wrote 'just trying to get a foot in the door' on the note attached. It definitely worked and he landed a partnership with the company. That being said, had that shoe arrived at the wrong door, it probably would have gone in the trash.

My advice here is know your audience. Try to learn about people as much as you can ahead of time — read their social media feeds — do they have a sense of humor? Read interviews that they’ve been featured in... again, do they sound like they’d appreciate a stunt resume of some sort? If they do, go for it, just remain as professional as possible — and no matter what — stay professional.

"Any creative format that provides more insight into the person behind the piece of paper, so long as it's professional and on-point, is a good thing. Hiring managers struggle to differentiate amongst the vast piles of resumes they receive. If a candidate can supplement the traditional resume in a way that helps them to stand out from the crowd, validate their credentials, and demonstrate that they have invested the time and effort to create a comprehensive and personalized profile, it will be appreciated by potential employers and be far more effective than the dime-a-dozen resumes of their competition."

So, do stunt cover letters and resumes actually work? Well, the big takeaway here is, it really depends. Every hiring manager is different. Some find it cute when you hand deliver a box of doughnuts to their office, and some will have you escorted out by security. Also, some positions require a different set of skills that could be showcased really well in a more unique resume. So it really depends. But I will say this, if you do take the time and effort to make an out-of-the-box resume, some employer out there is going to see your passion and really love it. Just keep going, and you'll definitely find the right place for you.