In a tough market, some job-seekers are using gimmicks

Putting ads on buses, offering airline tickets are among the stunts

November 02, 2003|By SEATTLE TIMES

SEATTLE - By the end of next month, more than 100,000 people will have seen Torsten Reinl's face plastered on the outside of a Seattle bus. But the only person he's concerned with is his future employer.

That is, if his gamble pays off, if some recruiter spots his 2-by-6-foot ad with "Hire Me!" in block letters, jots down his phone number, calls him, interviews him and offers him a job.

"If this doesn't work, what will?" asks the 33-year-old unemployed information technology worker. "It's just so out there."

Reinl is more of a realist than he lets on. The benefit of this stunt is the publicity, a chance to stand out from the 97,000 other people also looking for work in the Seattle area, a way to get his foot in the door.

For him and others out of work more than a year, such tactics as advertising on the back of a bus, handing out resumes in a public market or offering bribes for jobs all seem more hopeful than the alternative: waiting at home for the phone not to ring.

Although there are no statistics on, say, the number of people posing as pizza-delivery people and taping their resumes to the insides of boxes, the longer the jobless recovery goes, the more some creative job seekers resort to extraordinary measures.

Former insurance executive Richard Wilcox stood on a suburban Boston street corner with a "job wanted" sign, which inspired a Wall Street Journal feature and eventually brought him work.

In February, Buck Cockrell, an unemployed 31-year-old marketer from Seattle, offered airline tickets to Hawaii to anyone who found him a job.

That gimmick earned him a story in The Seattle Times and play on CNN. Cockrell didn't return phone calls asking how his plan worked.

"I would say the percentage of stunts is probably a little bit up because there are a lot of people looking for jobs," says Tracy Wong, who has seen his share as creative director for Seattle's Wongdoody advertising agency.

Reinl, laid off as a project manager for Bellevue, Wash., game maker Sierra Entertainment last year, hadn't had any luck with his traditional job search, so he figured he'd try something different.

He recalled seeing a resume posted on a bus shelter in his native Germany and thought, "You have to take it one step further, you have to be on the bus."

Viacom Outdoors is the company that handles bus advertising. The firm has never gotten a request like his, says general manager Bob English.

"We did have a fellow who proposed to his girlfriend, though. She said yes."

The company gave Reinl a deal, three buses for the price of two: $888.

"I've been slowly but surely running out of money anyway," Reinl says. "I might as well spend it on something that's, bang, out there."

Dana Briggs says a master's degree in management and a background in technical writing and corporate training haven't been enough to end 17 months of unemployment.

Nor have the 2,500 job applications or his 165 visits to local businesses.

So the 48-year-old divorced father of two is raising his visibility.

He stands in high-traffic areas with a stack of resumes and a sign: "Have graduate degree, homeless, need living wage nonprofit job."

It's not the most effective method, acknowledges Briggs, who sold his Bellingham, Wash., home at a loss 10 months ago and has moved between homeless shelters and friends' homes.

"It's been a very interesting social experiment. Most people don't even look at you," he says.

Those who do have tried to give him money and, in one instance, brought him food. He'll accept neither. Nor does he want pity. He just wants a job.

Tom Washington, a Bellevue, Wash., career counselor and author of Interview Power, says such methods don't hurt.

"People are desperate, and if other things aren't working, maybe this will," he says.

Bill Toliver, who heads the Seattle advertising and branding firm Sweetgrass, is impressed by job seekers who take extraordinary measures. Toliver hired his current senior art director, Larry Burke-Weiner, in part because of his off-the-wall introduction.

"He sent around a brain in a jar. It said `Buy Larry's brain.' It was impossible not to notice," Toliver says.

Toliver and Wong say the stunts that work best are those appropriate for the position and the company.

"You might offend somebody with a strip-o-gram," says Wong. "And you don't want to be doing that."

Similarly, people who use corny gags or don't sense when their cleverness has turned to pushiness are harming their chances more than helping them.

Most important, the stunt needs to be clever.

Reinl's bus ad stunt "is clever, but the message itself is not all that clever," Wong says. "So I probably would say hmmm, probably not."

This raises another challenge for job-seekers hoping to gain an edge with a gimmick: The more people who use stunts, the more original the stunts need to be.

Yvonne Yeager learned that last winter. The 35-year-old unemployed program manager from Sumner, Wash., wanted publicity for what she thought was a novel idea. She would pay $500 for anyone who would get her a permanent full-time job.

The problem was that Buck Cockrell had been all over the news with his airline-ticket offer.

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