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Thursday, October 23, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

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Searching for work, he hopes bus sign will be route to job

By Shirleen Holt
Seattle Times business reporter

TOM REESE / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Torsten Reinl wants a job badly, and he's paying $888 to put his message on three Metro buses.
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By the end of next month, more than 100,000 people will have seen Torsten Reinl's face plastered on the outside of a Seattle bus. But there's only one person he's concerned with: his future employer.

That, is if his gamble pays off, if some desperate recruiter spots his 2-by-6-foot ad with "Hire Me!" in block letters, jots down his phone number, calls him, interviews him and offers him a job.

It could happen. And monkeys could fly out of the tailpipe.

"If this doesn't work, what will?" asks the 33-year-old unemployed IT worker. "It's just so out there."

Actually, Reinl is more of a realist than he lets on. The benefit of this stunt is the publicity — a chance to stand out from the 97,000 other people also looking for work in the Seattle area, a way to get his face in the door.

And for him and others out of work longer than a year, advertising on the back of a bus, handing out résumés in a public market, offering bribes for jobs — all seem more hopeful than the alternative: waiting at home for the phone not to ring.

Although there are no statistics on, say, the number of people posing as pizza-delivery people and taping their résumés to the inside of boxes, the longer the recession and jobless recovery go, the more some creative job seekers resort to extraordinary measures.

Former insurance executive Richard Wilcox stood on a suburban Boston street corner with a "job wanted" sign, a desperate act that drew a Wall Street Journal feature and eventually brought him work.

Plane tickets to Hawaii

In February, Buck Cockrell, an unemployed 31-year-old marketer from Seattle, offered airline tickets to Hawaii to anyone who found him a job.

That gimmick earned him a story in The Seattle Times and play on CNN. (Did it work? We don't know, Cockrell didn't return our phone calls. Dude!)

Gimmicks that worked


Creativity definitely gets you noticed, and sometimes it'll even land you a job. Brandon Toropov listed some stunts that worked in his 1996 book, "303 Off-the-Wall Ways to Get a Job."

• Take an ad out on the side of a bus. Seriously, this worked for someone. Reinl, we take back that comment about the monkeys.
• Send a "verbal résumé," a cassette tape for the decision maker to listen to on the way home from work.
• Customize the envelope for your résumé packet. One applicant use the brochure for the hotel he was applying to.
• Send a huge jigsaw-puzzle piece. With the obvious message: I'll make a perfect fit on your team. Some employers would find that clever, others may think it's corny. Know your audience.
• Attach a balloon to your application. (See cautionary note above.)
• Write a one-sentence Post-it note. This accompanied one woman's résumé, stating simply, "I am the right person for this job and I can prove it to you; call me at ... ' "
• Put your résumé on a bottle of wine. Toropov writes that this was started in France, when a winemaker wanted to help jobless college students by putting résumés on the backs of bottles. Apparently, employers loved it.

"I would say the percentage of stunts is probably a little bit up because there are a lot of people looking for jobs," says Tracy Wong, who has seen his share as creative director for Seattle's Wongdoody advertising agency.

His favorite was a job hopeful who pasted a life-sized photo of himself, complete with a squished face, on the elevator doors.

"Nobody knew when he did it," Wong says. "Everybody came in the next morning and, boom, the doors came together and there he was."

Did the agency hire him?

"No."

Reinl, laid off as a project manager for Bellevue game maker Sierra Entertainment in 2002, hadn't had any luck with his traditional job search, so he figured he'd go gonzo.

He recalled seeing a résumé posted on a bus shelter in his native Germany and thought, "You have to take it one step further, you have to be on the bus."

Viacom Outdoors is the company that handles bus advertising. It's never gotten a request like this, says general manager Bob English.

"We did have a fellow who proposed to his girlfriend, though. She said yes."

The company gave Reinl a deal, three buses for the price of two: $888.

"I've been slowly but surely running out of money anyway," Reinl says. "I might as well spend it on something that's, bang, out there."

Dana Briggs says a master's degree in management, and a background in technical writing and corporate training haven't been enough to end 17 months of unemployment.

Nor have the 2,500 job applications or his 165 visits to local businesses.

So the 48-year-old divorced father of two is raising his visibility — sort of.

He stands in high-traffic areas such as Kirkland Market with a stack of résumés and a sign: "Have graduate degree, homeless, need living wage nonprofit job."

It's not the most effective method, acknowledges Briggs, who sold his Bellingham home at a loss 10 months ago and has moved between homeless shelters and friends' homes.

"It's been a very interesting social experiment. Most people don't even look at you."

TOM REESE / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Dana Briggs, who has a master's degree in management, says he once had a six-figure income but is now homeless and jobless. He advertises and hands out résumés in downtown Kirkland.
Those who do have tried to give him money and, in one instance, bring him food. He'll accept neither, nor does he want pity. He just wants a job.

So how well do such extreme gambits work?

Tom Washington, Bellevue career counselor and author of "Interview Power," says they certainly don't hurt.

"People are desperate, and if other things aren't working, maybe this will," he said.

"Research shows that people who use multiple strategies have more success than those who use one or two. So yeah, give some serious consideration to unusual, even odd ideas. But don't stop doing the other things."

Bill Toliver, who heads the Seattle advertising and branding firm Sweetgrass, is impressed by job seekers who take extraordinary measures. It shows initiative, creativity, determination.

"We call it the X factor."

Toliver hired his current senior art director, Larry Burke-Weiner, in part because of his off-the-wall introduction.

"He sent around a brain in a jar. It said 'Buy Larry's brain.' It was impossible not to notice."

Toliver and Wong, who are, after all, in the business of selling, say the stunts that work best are those appropriate for the position and the company.

"You might offend somebody with a strip-o-gram," says Wong. "And you don't want to be doing that."

Likewise, people who use corny gags or don't sense when their cleverness has turned to pushiness are harming their chances more than helping them.

Most important, the stunt needs to be clever.

So does Reinl's bus ad qualify?

Good medium, dull message

"The stunt itself is clever, but the message itself is not all that clever," Wong says. "So I probably would say hmmm, probably not."

This raises another challenge for job seekers hoping to gain an edge with a gimmick: the more people who employ stunts, the more original those stunts need to be.

Yvonne Yeager discovered this last winter. The 35-year-old unemployed program manager from Sumner wanted publicity for what she thought was a novel idea. She would pay $500 for anyone who would get her a permanent full-time job.

Problem was, Buck Cockrell had already been all over the news with his airline-ticket offer. The story had no legs.

"That's too bad," Yeager said in an e-mail to The Seattle Times in February.

Then she had another idea. What about a reality TV-type newspaper series on job-hunting?

Shirleen Holt: 206-464-8316 or sholt@seattletimes.com


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