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Can humor help get you hired?
James Corne’s clever video resume – a parody of Alcoholics Anonymous – effectively grabbed attention and stood him out from the jobseeking crowd. Not only has his unique video resume helped him as a jobseeker over the years, but it also landed him on major tech site Mashable in a post explaining how to make an impressive video resume. And while his video is popular, it isn’t the only creative resume James has successfully designed to garner more callbacks from potential employers; he transformed his resume into a box of ‘Corne Flakes’, using his name as a pun. Here is James’ inspiring story…
Story Resumes: What was your inspiration to create a nontraditional video resume?
James: I have always tried to approach employers from unusual angles; differentiation lies at the core of my professional philosophy and strategy. I could not get this image out of my head: a teetering stack of white paper resumes, two to three feet high, swaying back and forth on top of some executive’s desk. I felt terrible for the hiring manager – what a monotonous, mind-numbing task. Empathy for the hiring manager stimulated my first idea for differentiation, not my own need for a job. I envisioned this one colorful piece of paper sticking out from the stack, just begging to be read. What a relief for that hiring manager. Why scan through 500 resumes when one clearly stands out? There is so much white noise today you practically need to hit someone with a sledgehammer to get their attention. So why blend in?
So I created a graphic resume in Photoshop. Almost immediately, I started receiving more call backs. Again, a lot of that had to do with making the hiring manager’s job easier. In fact, the company that hired me verified the effectiveness of the strategy. They confessed in the interview that they had been bombarded by hundreds of resumes, much more than they had expected, but mine stood out. That graphic resume made their lives easier, because it was an escape from the daunting stack of plain white resumes.
The AA spoof idea was a creative impulse. I am inspired by integrating unusual mediums into my career strategy, so I had been considering a video resume for a long time. But I knew it couldn’t be boring or the project would backfire – it needed a clever angle. Then one day it just clicked.
Story Resumes: What type of response did your video resume receive?
James: The majority of feedback has been positive. Most of the Youtube comments were positive, with people relating to the video. The video really took off when Mashable used it in an article about “how to make a good video resume.” It received around 6,000 hits overnight.
Honestly, I am utterly embarrassed by the video. I outsourced the editing work on the video while finishing up my MBA and was not completely satisfied with the end result but had no time to personally invest in a re-edit. In the end, I took a leap of faith by posting it. The Mashable post was pure luck – then it all worked out.
What I believe works with the video is that the person watching, whether they judge it as ridiculous, terrible or amazing, can identify with it. They may even admire the courage and humor behind the concept. But I think the embarrassing element to the video actually humanizes me to the employer. So often today people become products – at least from the job market perspective. This video goes a long way to color my personality and extend a connection to others.
Story Resumes: How risky do you believe it is to use humor in a nontraditional resume?
James: It is risky, but several factors helped ease any fear of my idea backfiring.
One, I personally believe that with creative risks the proof is in the pudding. You will know if the idea worked or didn’t work the first time you see it. Since I critique my own work pretty harshly, the risk itself never bothered me because if the video turned out bad, I would just not have posted it. So I always felt in control. I would never post anything that would hurt my career, so why not have fun with it? Although I was not completely satisfied with the end result, I had enough confidence to post it.
As for the humor element, I saw it from a different angle. Instead of worrying about whether the video would limit my appeal or turn off certain companies, I perceived it as a great tool to filter for the right company. In other words, any company that rejected the video because it was not “serious” enough is not a company that I would want to work at. So there was no risk in my mind. It only helped prevent me from making a mistake by joining a mismatched, ultra-robotic company culture. That era is dying anyways. The most innovative and successful companies today invest in their employees’ happiness.
Story Resumes: What are some ways humor can be used professionally when creating unconventional resumes?
James: That is a tough question. I would recommend using fun and creativity over direct humor. Humor depends largely on tone and delivery, so it rarely works when written on a resume, for example. A humorous comment written in an email between two coworkers can commonly be misconstrued or misunderstood as something serious. On a resume, I would advise using a more creative thematic approach to really “wow” the employer.
If using video, graphics or other creative mediums, humor is more effective. To hedge against the actual delivery falling flat, I would recommend reinforcing the video, image or other medium with a funny, smart concept. I do not think my video is that funny, but the concept is humorous and sort of clever, which reinforces the value of the video. But if I was standing in front of a camera reading a funny monologue about myself, just as an example, it could easily go either way. Overall, I would recommend trying to inspire the employer by the quality of your work, and only add a pinch of humor to demonstrate you have an attractive personality.
Story Resumes: As an interviewer, how have jobseekers missed the mark when taking a creative risk?
James: I see jobseekers miss the mark all the time. Creative risks are entirely about execution and controlling the viewer’s experience. Here are a few common mistakes I have seen:
Poor website—with easy access to free Content Management Systems (CMS), templates and other resources, there is no excuse for an ugly website anymore. A hardworking person could finish a decent website over the span of a weekend. Yet you would be amazed at the number of half-baked, amateur, technically-archaic websites that creative professionals will use.
Too specialized—creative professionals are caught in a catch 22. On one hand, they are driven by their personal passions and interests. On the other hand, they can become too immersed in a personal project – that really does not matter to someone hiring. For example, you might find a 3D animator who has never designed a Google ad, the most prominent source of advertising today. I once saw a amazingly talented artist, but 90% of their images were Star Wars characters. Despite their skill level, this type of portfolio does not demonstrate practical value to a company.
Too little or too many creative examples—only post your strongest work. Weak pieces in a portfolio cast doubt in the viewer’s mind. On the other hand, if you only have a handful of good pieces, this also says something about the person’s work ethic and/or commitment.
Next, I would urge a jobseeker to reach out for feedback on their portfolio and/or risky ideas before sending them out. Do not turn this task into a huge project – just send it to a few people on LinkedIn or even family members. A strong portfolio, true talent and hard work will land you a job. Furthermore, I believe criticism, conflict, and brutal honesty feed the creative process.
Overall, while our society seems to promote creativity as an “inherent” skill, something you are born with or not, I believe it is like any other skill that takes time to improve. That is why so many creative risks fall flat. There is not serious time devoted to perfecting the presentation of the piece and controlling the viewer’s reaction. Right now I am hiring for two positions, both creative, and I cannot find a candidate to fill them. The hard truth is, many people who choose to take a creative path do not invest the time, work and effort to really elevate their work to the next level.
Story Resumes: How would you advise jobseekers to tell their story in a way that positively grabs attention?
High production value—the Internet provided a voice for anyone with a video camera, which generated an explosion of user-generated content online. The problem is that this dramatically lowered the production value of most videos and imagery found on the Internet. Although this gap is starting to close now, there is still an opportunity for jobseekers to stand out by producing high quality, high production video work. Remember, the quality of your work symbolizes your quality as a candidate.
Build a website—a personal website is not a luxury anymore, it is a necessity in this job market. If a person lists a website on their resume, you can be certain that I will check it out. For creative professionals, this is the number one mistake. They claim to be skilled in Adobe Creative Suite, multimedia, HTML and CSS… but wait, you have no website? Right there you lose credibility.
Build an impressive website, not a placeholder—this point was already made in the last question. Poor websites are far too common. On the other hand, a great website will most likely land that person an interview with me.
Find a balance between personal and professional. I find many video resumes and other “storytelling” examples are either too professional or too personal. If too professional, it comes across a bit stale, for example, the corporate cyborg pitch from a meeting room. If too personal, it comes across as immature and unreliable, like the the narcissistic self-bio.
Be honest—a veteran employer can tell immediately if you are bluffing or self-promoting.
Find an original angle/voice—the best authors and reporters share a unique talent for creating a style or voice all their own. This is commonly referred to as an “angle.” Suddenly a mundane story becomes fascinating, all because of that unique angle/voice. Instead of directly telling your story and hoping people find it interesting, search for an angle first.
Above all else, your story needs to impress or delight. Do not compare yourself to your peers, but instead to social expectations. Here are some tips:
In general, one might imagine that the most common mistake is going too far, pushing the creative boundaries so much that it backfires. Quite the opposite is true. I find many creative professionals simply do not invest the time to polish their online portfolio or website, and instead spend the minimal amount of effort to differentiate themselves. It comes across as too little, too late. They might add a splash of color, a few shapes, maybe a personal logo, but it comes across as underwhelming. The most consistent strategy I’ve seen is to convert your resume into an infographic, with graphs, charts and other visual data to represent your skills and experience.
I would push jobseekers to go farther (in a tasteful way), because being memorable has power. Not only did I create a graphic resume, but I also created an actual cereal box for myself entitled “Corne Flakes,” which was a pun on my last name. I stuffed it with my resume, examples, a flash drive, even a toy for the bottom of the cereal box. It averaged around a 50% conversion rate (to interview). Some employers interviewed me just because they thought it was so interesting, they just wanted to meet the person behind the cereal box idea. In the end, it was extremely risky but very memorable and worked.
My father always told me that by doing everything like everyone else I was espousing mediocrity. This statement was never more true than in the professional world, where everyone emulates the same “standard” white paper resume and then complains when it does not stand out. Taking a creative risk is not hard, but it does require courage, hard work and cleverness to be successful.
Story Resumes: Thank you for sharing your story and expertise with us, James. All the best to you and whatever is next in your future!
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