July 3, 2013

4 Innovative Ways to Botch an Application and Get the Job

By now, everybody is familiar with the common ways to botch an application or interview, e.g., bad grammar in the resume or the interview, incomplete contact information, pestering the company for a fast response or displaying an arrogant attitude.

But most of the blunders are surprising only because they occur at all, not because they are exotic. There’s a funny thing about exotic, truly unusual and rare blunders: They may actually pique greater interest in the applicant and win the hire.

Here’s a sample:

1.   Horrible grammar, punctuation and spelling in the resume, but impeccable and impressive oral performance in the interview (if offered, despite the grammar): What do you do with a job applicant whose resume is grammatically and otherwise perfect, but whose spoken performance is utterly atrocious? Answer:  Hire him only if he never has to speak. But what about the reverse situation? Suppose the resume is grammatically atrocious, but the applicant’s speech is not only grammatically perfect, but presidential oratory level? How should the applicant respond, if this is pointed out?

On the applicant side, the ways to handle this bizarre discrepancy and get the job include these:

  • Mention that English (if that’s the job language) is your 8th language and that speaking a new language comes to you most easily. (Actually, this could work, even if English is only your second or third language. Many language students have huge discrepancies between one language skill and another, usually between spoken and written forms. Those discrepancies can be hugely impressive—and in a positive way.)
  • Admit that you’ve blindly accepted the Microsoft spell and grammar changes on faith. This may sound like the joke it was intended to be—but only in part; frequently, if all Microsoft suggested spelling and grammar changes are accepted, the resume will be riddled with egregious errors. (Note: I would have inserted 8 errors into this article had I accepted the suggested Microsoft Word changes.) If the company is looking for someone who will always do what (s)he is told or instructed to do, this could clinch the job.

2.  Wearing mismatched socks: The first impressions mismatched socks, e.g., different colors, are likely to create include weirdness, eccentricity, poor time management skills (in rushing to grab a pair) or color blindness. The skillful way to handle this presumed blunder is to repackage it like this:

  • Environmental and conservationist sensitivity: The applicant can explain that having lost the mate for each of two pairs, and not wanting to contribute to environmental pollution (by discarding the perfectly good remaining singles) nor to exacerbate global warming (by increasing demand for new manufactured socks), he feels that the mixed pair seems to make the most sense. (Presumably, this can work with mismatched nylon stockings too–but probably only if the applicant is a woman.)
  •  Aesthetic rationality: Since we color coordinate everything else, e.g., grays on blues, why not our socks, with complementary rather than identical colors? After all, identical colors are the exception, e.g., SWAT-team universal black, rather than the rule, when it comes to formal and professional dress.

This line of argumentation could evidence the kind of logical mind, imagination and aesthetic taste that many companies will value.

3.  Telling the company that a timely response is neither needed nor wanted: Pressuring a company for a quick response or decision is not likely to be appreciated for the “enthusiasm” displayed. No, it’s more likely to be seen as impertinence, impatience, desperation or manipulation (designed to force a quick decision before somebody better applies or is vetted more thoroughly).

But what about making it clear that a timely response is not at all a priority, that, indeed, the longer the better and that, therefore, the company can take its sweet time in making a decision?

What will they make of that? The conventional reflex negative interpretation is that the applicant is not “serious” or wants to shop around. However, with clever massaging of the message, this deal-breaker could become a deal-maker. But how can that be pulled off?

One way to accomplish this is to convey a sense of confidence—in particular, the confidence that the more time the company spends on vetting one’s application, the better it is going to look, as more and more impressive details emerge or additional reference letters arrive in support of it. It can even be framed as altruism: “May the best (wo)man win, even if it’s not me!” More time for one’s own application review-process, the more time for others’. That’s fair and thoughtful.

This can actually be impressively staged by having a referee who won’t be back from the Noble Prize ceremonies for another month or so. Citing a busy and unavailable Nobel laureate as a reference utterly legitimizes a delayed decision.

4.  Using a fake celebrity email address: Unlike merely omitting an email contact or phone number, listing a fake email address on a resume normally guarantees failure—either because it exposes an applicant’s proclivity to fraud or just because the applicant or referee can’t be reached, if that email address is the primary or sole contact information.

Suppose a resume lists [email protected]” or “[email protected]”: These are doubly fake—neither the applicant nor any of the referees is either of these super-celebrities and, on top of that, the addresses are fictitious. How do you spin that into an enticement to hire?

As long as some correct contact information is included, bogus celebrity contacts can have their place and, in addition, pique keen interest. Call this phenomenon “creative misimpression”.

For example, in Phnom Penh a few years back, when asked by one taxi driver what I did for a living, I whispered “C.I.A.” (just to make sure that I wouldn’t be cheated or worse).

When that elicited a reverential and knowing “ahhh” from that ex-soldier with a combat scar across his cheek (from a hand grenade explosion), I quickly retracted it and said I was joking. Of course, that made him more convinced I was telling the truth in the first place. Eventually, he invited me to his home on stilts, where I met his wife and kids.

Getting others to believe something very impressive, and then denying it, will work wonders—just as it did when, long, long ago, in a Vancouver Mongolian grill, I was served by an awestruck, herself stunning waitress/university student who mistook me for a member of the Michael Bolton band.

Not only was she awestruck, she was “awestuck”, and simply couldn’t overcome her awe, even after I declared that I was a musician, but not with or as Michael Bolton. I’ve always suspected that’s one reason she became my girlfriend and why I really like Michael Bolton (with whose music I never familiarized myself).

Although I was innocent and a passive participant in this latter instance, such creative misimpressions can pay off big time, in resumes as well as in the rest of life.

One way in which an applicant may attempt to use this technique for advantage is to have a real referee whose name happens to be very similar to some celebrity’s and to conveniently “mistype” it.  For example, to mistype [email protected] (fictitious, I hope—either way, don’t bother to write to him) as [email protected] (either fictitious or not who you think it is, so, again, don’t bother to write or bother him).

In any instance in which a genuine, innocent typo results in a hiring, it can be said that the botched resume won the job. Nice work, if you can get it that way.

Even after the “typo” is explained, the awe may unconsciously persist. So, interviewers, be on the alert for this ploy, when it’s deliberate, and for such errors, when they are innocent. Otherwise, you may end up hiring somebody because of the unconscious impact of a deliberate creative misimpression or because of a couple of errant keystrokes.

For more information about creative misimpression or to comment on this article, you can write to me at [email protected].

Sorry, that was a typo. Forget it. And, for the record, no, I am not C.I.A.

Really, I’m not. Never was. Really.

Read more in Job Applications

Michael Moffa, writer for Recruiter.com, is a former editor and writer with China Daily News, Hong Kong edition and Editor-in-chief, Business Insight Japan Magazine, Tokyo; he has also been a columnist with one of Japan’s national newspapers, The Daily Yomiuri, and a university lecturer (critical thinking and philosophy).