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8 Totally Unconventional Job Search Tips

Woman searching for a job online

Looking for a new job can sap your self-esteem like nothing else. On average, a job search takes an excruciating 43 days (just over 6 weeks). But depending on your industry, the state of the economy and the type of job you are looking for, it can take even longer.

Applying for dozens of jobs without even getting so much as a rejection letter is frustrating. You’ll almost never receive feedback on why you didn’t get the job or interview or callback. What did you do wrong? Should you have used more whitespace on your cover letter? Did you need to sprinkle in a little more industry jargon on your resume? You’ll never know. Searching for a job can start to feel like panning for gold. You just have to keep at it and hope you’ll get lucky.

If you’ve been on the job hunt for months and you’re not turning up anything promising, it may be time to think beyond the typical job search advice.

The job search tips we’ve compiled are unconventional, and sometimes even the opposite of what most recruiters or HR reps will tell you. But when nothing else seems to be working, why not try something outside the box?

1. Don’t Write a Boring Cover Letter

Everyone tells you to use metrics and quantitative proof of your value in your resume and cover letter. It’s also commonplace to list your best qualities. While those things may sound impressive, everyone’s doing it. Make your cover letter stand out by unleashing some creativity in your writing. Use colorful language, storytelling and metaphors to explain your assets in a different way. Instead of just saying “I am resourceful and hard-working,” give an example that demonstrates these qualities. “When I was a teenager, I got bucked off a horse and broke my arm. But that didn’t stop me from doing my weekly paper route. I used some tools from my dad’s shop and some scrap metal to build a catapult that I used to launch newspapers from my bike.” Who wouldn’t be impressed with a story like that? Naturally, you don’t want to let your creativity and storytelling get into “big fish” territory. The stories must be true and authentic.

2. Leverage the Power of Snail Mail

You may have heard that over 98% of Fortune 500 companies use computerized Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to pre-filter job applicants. Job search websites all impress the need to match keywords on your resume to the job description to get past the ATS robots. While many companies require you to upload your resume, that doesn’t mean you can’t also apply with a physical packet. Consider mailing in your resume and cover letter with a hand-written note to hiring personnel. Even better, send a “lumpy envelope” with your application package and a small trinket or treat. Even if the recruiter gets tons of mail, no one can resist opening up a lumpy package. If you can get your resume in front of a human and impress them with your creativity and persistence, they may just overwrite the robots’ decision to send your online application to the digital trash pile.

3. Don’t Hide Your Side Hustle

Most resume experts would tell you to omit any part-time gigs and experiences that aren’t directly relevant to the job you are applying for. But showing off your side hustle can be a way to make yourself more memorable and marketable. Applying for a sales job? Leverage your side hustle driving with Uber to talk about how it made you better at communicating and quickly building trust with strangers. Looking for a project manager job? Explain how walking dogs for extra cash helped you with time management and dealing with the unexpected. Having a second job or part-time gig during an employment gap can show potential employers you are eager to work, resourceful and don’t mind rolling up your sleeves and getting to work for some hard-earned cash.

4. Consider Your Old Resume Dead

Believe it or not, things have changed since you last applied for a job. If you’re thinking about exhuming your old resume, changing some dates and firing it off to potential employers, think again. Instead of trying to breathe life into your old resume, start from scratch. Before you open up your trusty Microsoft Word, check out some of the latest resume trends to make sure your resume not only reflects well on your career, but is current with what employers and hiring staff expect. You might want to even use a different software to build your resume or an online tool.

5. Don’t Do Reverse-Chronological Job History

The conventional reverse-chronological “experience” section on a resume is par for the course. But especially if you are light on experience and don’t have a lengthy work history to showcase, skip that traditional strategy and try something new. Consider working up a skills-based resume or infographic-style resume. These resume concepts focus on your skills, awards, technology and metrics and less on your work history. Designing your resume in a different format, using color, typography, icons or even images will definitely grab attention. Remember these types of resumes work best at smaller organizations when a human will be sorting through the pile. You might need to have a second resume for online applications when ATS robots will be involved.

6. Make Yourself Memorable

Once your resume and cover letter have passed the test, you’re on to the interview. Congratulations! Often the final round comes down to competing job candidates who have very similar levels of experience and skillsets, which makes it difficult for employers to pick. Friendly small talk on your way into the conference room can be an opportunity to work in a funny story about your pet or a chance to find out if you have a hobby in common with the interviewer. Memorable, likable candidates get the job more often than not. Being authentic, congenial or funny could give you an edge in the job search, especially when it comes down to choosing between two equally qualified candidates.

7. Apply for Your Dream Job Even if You’re Not Qualified

When perusing job searching websites, you’re probably looking for something similar to what you’ve done before. But don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and apply for your dream job, even if you’re not qualified. In these cases, try to set up informational interviews at companies you admire, even if they are not hiring. Fitting into the company culture might be given more weight than experience at certain companies. Sometimes passion and a willingness to learn will find favor with employers, especially when you are given a chance to express these qualities in person (rather than via an online application process). Even if you don’t get your dream job, you’ve got nothing to lose. And maybe you’ll be offered a job that wasn’t even posted that is more in your wheelhouse!

8. Sell Yourself Short

If finding your dream job immediately conjures up thoughts of a very impressive job title or a six-figure-salary, you may be missing the bigger picture. Spend some time assessing your values and thinking about what truly makes you happy. Research shows there is a connection between money and happiness. However, there is a point at which no matter how much more money you make, your level of day-to-day happiness does not continue to increase. That point is referred to as your “income satiation.” Consider applying for jobs that pay less than you currently make. You might actually be happier working in a less demanding position with less stress or fewer hours. Working somewhere closer to home saves a brutally long commute and offers more free time. Perhaps a smaller organization would allow you more flexibility. Working for a nonprofit could give your life more meaning. Taking a lower salary doesn’t mean you are not as valuable. It just means you value your personal happiness more than money.