Saturday, September 5, 2009

Extreme Job Hunting

On his blog, Joshua Persky links to this breezily written Wall Street Journal article in which he is featured, Lessons of Extreme Job-Hunting. Below is a brief excerpt, followed by a comment by me and then a more pointed comment by a WSJ reader.

Joblessness transformed Joshua Persky, James A. Williamson III and Peggy Greco into experts about extreme job-hunting tactics.

Mr. Persky, an investment banker, handed out his résumé while wearing a sandwich board that read, "Experienced M.I.T. Grad for Hire." Mr. Williamson, fresh out of business school, taped his résumé inside the cab he began driving when he couldn't land a marketing post. Ms. Greco printed a T-shirt touting her availability for private-duty nursing, then wore it during bicycle rides around wealthy neighborhoods.

The unorthodox gambits failed these job seekers—but taught them plenty about finding work, and could provide a playbook for countless unemployed Americans. Mr. Persky learned to become a multi-faceted entrepreneur. Mr. Williamson discovered why personal networks matter. Ms. Greco recognized the importance of targeted marketing.

I've already censured myself for my previous commentary about Persky (See this post: "I have been too Harsh")1, so I'll skip over his example. Regarding the Williamson fellow, the job he ends up with after his efforts is as an insurance agent. I'm surprised that a Wall Street Journal reporter doesn't know this, but those jobs are pretty easy to get. The initial training and stipend costs are usually a good investment for the insurance company for a simple reason: most applicants may not have the sales skills, persistence, and contacts to build a viable career as an insurance agent, but most will at least bring on some family and friends as clients before they give up. My guess is that the revenues generated by sales to those family and friends generally considerably outweigh the initial costs of the new hire.

A WSJ reader named T. Sawczyn weighed in in the comments:

Superficially obsequious and potentially self-serving compliments like the one from the recruiter above notwithstanding, I trust that the most important thing each of the profiled job-seekers has learned is the value of TARGETING their efforts to the need at hand.

I would think twice before hiring a personal nurse who rode a bicycle around "affluent neighborhoods" in a T-shirt that says "Hire me." Likewise, I question the intelligence or focus of an investment banker who thinks the best way to find a job is to wear a sandwich board. Finally, a taxi driver in a marketing job search is probably meant to be, driver.

People, target your efforts and your job search to the correct audience. Network, direct your inquiries and make yourself a big fish in the small pond of your chosen specialty, not in the big lake of public exposure. This article and these efforts are further proof that what reigns in today's culture is narcissism and media exposure, no matter that the result of said self-exposure is nothing more than 30 seconds of fame.

Yes, none of these people was successful in their "job-search." Is anyone surprised?

1I did also recently offer him the chance to bid on a small project I placed on Elance, but didn't hear back from him.


Bill said...

That's interesting. Those don't sound like good approaches. The "stamping of one's foot while clapping" approach, with the storyboard and taxi cab type of thing, doesn't seem to be a very productive approach to jobhunting or other tasks.

DaveinHackensack said...

I agree. That WSJ reader's advice to "make yourself a big fish in the small pond of your chosen specialty, not in the big lake of public exposure." reminds me of David Silver's distinction between general purpose and specialized social media in this post. For example, if your specialty is tax accounting, you might have more luck getting a job (or business opportunities in that field) if you posted your solution to some thorny problem on a forum frequented by senior accounting professionals than by engaging in an attention-getting stunt in general purpose media.

Bill said...

I don't have much of any real presence on social networking sites anymore. And in many cases, things covered by the media are not possible to make sense of. If the media covers some story about a person, it can almost make the person's story or "context" seem less credible than it might in many other contexts. They taint things with their hypey and frenzied approach to everything.

DaveinHackensack said...

I think one problem is that there are two few old-school, cynical S.O.B.s in journalism today. You still have a few in political journalism (a field which has a set of other problems), but soft stuff like this WSJ reporter's career/human interest beat generally gets credulous treatment.

Sivaram Velauthapillai said...

I think the critics are missing the main point here.

These are desperate strategies, which I assume are, being pursued after going the usual route of interviews/headhunters/networking/etc. It's sort of a last resort.

Furthermore, there is some targetting involved. It may not be great but it's there. The banker is going and standing in the middle of "Wall Street." This is an area heavily trafficked by a lot of employees from financial firms, whether recruiters or managers or whomever.

Similarly, the lady riding the bike isn't just doing this in the middle of nowhere. She is actually targetting wealthy neighbourhoods. Chances of running into a potential client is pretty good.

The only downside to these strategies is that they signal desperation. Some people, especially those who are arrogant or think highly of themselves in certain jobs (Wall Street comes to mind,) may not hire any of these people. Some would automatically rule out a banker with a sandwich board. I won't; but many on Wall Street probably would. Some would automatically rule out the taxi driver as well. I think the private nurse attempt probably works best. I imagine that wealthy people probably wouldn't think that lowly for a job like that.

The cited strategies may be low-probability and have poor targetting but trying to be a big fish in the pond is just as likely to be tough and prone to failure.

DaveinHackensack said...


I think everyone agrees these are desperate strategies. The question is whether they are generally smart or effective ones. That's what the WSJ commenter was questioning.

Also, two of the three individuals profiled were looking for jobs that are not hard to get, even in this environment. If you are a registered nurse, you can find work on a temporary basis as an agency nurse. The MBA taxi driver could have gone to any MetLife career fair, or even walked into one of their offices, and gotten an offer for that job.

If the nurse wanted to work as a private nurse for the affluent, I can think of a better approach than riding her bike around fancy neighborhoods. She could have dressed professionally, gotten a simple, classy website for her business set up, gotten some business cards, and then connected with financial advisers and other professionals who cater to the affluent. Offer them some sort of referral bonus for every client she picks up based on their referrals. She could have linked up specifically with agents who sell long term care insurance, and offered to speak at their seminars about the topic, in exchange for being allowed to give a brief pitch for her company's services. And so on.

Or, if she didn't want to go through the trouble of that, she could have taken one of those sales jobs offered her. There is a high demand for registered nurses who can speak unaccented English fluently and are personable enough to present products to physicians at trade shows, etc.

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