One of the most powerful weapons in your job hunting arsenal may be chutzpah — defined as “utter nerve.” Used strategically, it can distinguish you from other job candidates. It has to be used with care as well, though, or it can backfire.
I was speaking with the retired president of a successful software company about this recently. He related that during years at the helm, he would periodically get phone calls from job seekers who had the nerve to call the man at the top regarding job opportunities. This senior executive always took these phone calls, listened to what the caller had to say, and if the candidate had the right experience, he or she would basically receive a “fast track” introduction to a managers with suitable had open positions. (Bonus: when a manager receives a phone call from the company President, saying “I’d like you to meet this candidate,” the candidate generally receives VIP treatment.)
This story illustrates the type of “outside the box” techniques that work in favor of candidates who exhibit them. Obviously, they differentiate you from the rank and file applicants, who apply for open positions online or mail in resumes, and wait patiently for a response. Additionally, this type of activity demonstrates a degree of tenacity, creativity and a “do what it takes to get the job done” mentality that employers associate with star performers.
Before considering other positive examples of daring, I want to relate some real life examples in which candidates demonstrated “utter nerve” in ways that weren’t so positive — in fact, in ways that backfired.
One candidate emailed an employer that he was qualified for a position they had posted. The employer emailed him back, requesting his resume (and wondering why he didn’t send it in the first place). The candidate responded that he didn’t need a resume — his credentials stood on their own and “didn’t need a piece of paper to back them up.”
Another candidate showed up unexpectedly at an employer’s office and asked to speak to the HR manager. She informed him that they could take a certain job posting offline — “there’s no need to interview any other candidates, I’m the best you’re going to meet.” As we’ll see shortly, with variations, this office visit could have been positive. But she was arrogant and rude, and the net effect was negative. One final example is the candidate who was notified that he didn’t get a position he had applied for. He called the company’s CEO minutes later to tell him that a mistake had been made, and that the HR manager was clearly incompetent for not hiring him.
In contrast, let’s look at a couple of other examples of chutzpah that worked, where the ultimate effect was positive. The first involves another candidate who stopped by an employer’s office unannounced. She politely explained to the receptionist that she didn’t have an appointment, but was hoping that the hiring manager was available. As it happened, he was free, so he spoke with her. She explained that she had applied online (as most job postings request) but she had updated her resume and wanted to drop off a fresh copy. She asked if she could spend a few minutes sharing some of her accomplishments, and how they had prepared her for the open position. As she intended, she was far more memorable than the many candidates who only applied online.
In perhaps my favorite chutzpah story, another candidate called an employer back a few days after an interview, an interview that was unremarkable at best. She said “I know I didn’t do very well in that interview. I can do much better. I know this is unusual, but I’d like a chance to interview again.” Largely because the employer was impressed with this gutsy request, she got her chance — and she did do a lot better the second time around.
An important caveat about chutzpah and job interviews is that, for the most part, interviewing and hiring are pretty standardized processes, by design. Over the years, a lot of job candidates have done a lot of extraordinary things to call attention to themselves, and more often than not, their creativity backfires. But as the more positive examples I’ve shared demonstrate, it is possible to distinguish yourself effectively without deviating too much from the rules of the game. It just takes initiative combined with a good sense for what will make a favorable impression.