In a tight job market like this one, job seekers often start wondering about how they can stand out in a sea of other candidates. And some of them turn to gimmicks—like sending food to a potential employer, or even the old story of sending a resume in a shoe with a note asking to get a foot in the door. But in reality, gimmicks are more likely to hurt than help a job seeker's chances.
Since gimmicks have nothing to do with the quality of your candidacy, they make you look like you don't think you can stand on your qualifications and merit, which will make the hiring manager question that as well. Plus, gimmicks make you come across as overly aggressive, hokey, or even creepy.
Here are five gimmicks job seekers sometimes try and reasons why you shouldn't use them:
1. Sending cookies or other treats. This will make you stand out all right—as someone who doesn't understand normal professional boundaries. You can't bribe your way into a job (and if you could, it would take more than the price of a box of brownies). Besides, lots of people are wary of accepting food from strangers.
2. Dropping off your resume in person. Sure, everyone has heard a story about someone who went by to drop off their resume in person and got interviewed and hired on the spot. But most employers will find it annoying and indicative that you don't understand modern hiring conventions. After all, most companies include specific instructions about how they want you to apply, and "in person" is rarely included. Plus, many companies only accept resumes electronically because they get put into an electronic screening system. (Retail and food service tend to be the exceptions to this rule.)
3. Overnighting your resume to the employer. Similar to dropping by in person, overnighting your application shows you don't care to follow the company's directions, and it might mean your materials won't end up in their electronic tracking system. In your attempt to stand out, you'll sacrifice convenience and efficiency on the employer's end.
And in this electronic age, you'll come across as a bit outdated.
4. Creative resume designs. Here's what most hiring managers want from a resume: a concise, easy-to-scan list of what you've accomplished, organized chronologically by position, plus any particularly notable skills, all presented in a format that they can quickly scan and get the highlights. That's it. If you try unusual designs or colors, you'll not only annoy most hiring managers, but you'll raise questions about whether you think your skills and experience won't speak for themselves, and whether you put an inappropriate emphasis on appearances over substance. (Design jobs are an exception to this rule.)
5. Photos. Although photos often accompany resumes in other countries, in the United States it's considered naive and even gauche to include a photo with your application. Not only does a photo come across as inappropriate, but it will make many employers uncomfortable, because it opens the door for allegations of discrimination.
So, if gimmicks are off-limits, how do you stand out? The answer is straightforward: Be highly qualified for the job, write a great cover letter, have a resume that shows that you'd excel at what the job involves, and be friendly, responsive, thoughtful, and enthusiastic.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.