In Job-Hunting, Subtle is Best

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For example, hiring managers say applicants try bribery in the form of coffee for the entire office, Yankees tickets for the interviewer, or invitations to dinner. A senior recruiter once received a fruit basket from an applicant. She comments: "The guy did get hired, but not because of the fruit."

Some applicants may be inappropriately persistent. One called incessantly for weeks, both before and after the position was filled. Another asked for an additional interview after being told the job was taken.

And some do just plain weird stuff. Last year, a survey by CareerBuilder found tales of a candidate who wore a tuxedo to an interview (which is probably less weird than the one who came dressed as a cat); a candidate who brought a baby gift for the interviewer, who was pregnant; the stalker candidates, one who sat next to the hiring manager at church, and another who waited for a hiring manager at his car.

"We're not really sure why people do those things," says Theresa Chu, a Chicago-based senior career advisor at Careerbuilder. If you can't decide whether your attention-getting scheme is appropriate or hare-brained, she suggests, "step back and try to see yourself from the hiring manager's point of view."

Doing that can mean reading up on what the company is looking for before you go to the interview, bouncing ideas off of friends to see how they react, and going through a mock interview with someone you trust.

Less Obvious - But No Less Unsuitable

Of course some candidates are on target and impressive. They're appropriately dressed, give Power Point presentations, distribute portfolios of their work on CD, or offer to work for a day to showcase their skills.

Others find the devil is in the details, says Marilyn Bird, manager of professional staffing services for Robert Half International. "I have heard about people who've fallen asleep during an interview and getting argumentative about the requirements of the job," she says. However, it's the simple things that "can be so very terrible for your first impression if you're not going to go about them in a professional way," she adds. One example: a handshake that's too soft or too hard. To paraphrase an old saying, you need one that's just right. Another oops: wearing too much perfume or cologne.

Additionally, Bird says, "One of the fastest ways candidates talk themselves out of a new job is to speak negatively about a previous or current employer." It's better to "use a positive, optimistic tone instead of dwelling on what's not there."

Bird cites other fine points:

- Don't arrive more than 10 minutes late or early.

- Be cordial to everyone you meet within the company, both before and after an interview.

- Don't appear greedy. "Asking about salary or benefits too early on in an interview can be a red flag."

- Have questions about the position, the company or the hiring manager. "How could you possible know it all on the first interview?"

And don't forget that your resume is a sales tool. "Don't make your resume into a creative masterpiece," Bird advises. Remove non-work-related information, avoid fancy fonts and paper, and never attach a photograph.

Finally, if you think an attention-getting stunt is really unusual, think twice. Would you rather be remembered in the HR office as that weirdo who did such-and-such, or the employee who's getting promoted - again?

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