Who Controls Your Image? | Foundation 3 – Lesson 3

Go back to Job Search Prep Syllabus.

The Obedient Job Searcher

So what does an obedient job searcher look like? I hate to say it, but it’s probably someone who looks a lot like you (at least to employers).

Are you making sure that you:

  • Fit your resume into the submission form?
  • Only include a cover letter if it’s requested
  • Never calls if it the company’s Jobs page says “No calls please.”?
  • Only apply for a jobs whose experience requirements you meet?
  • Always wears a suit to interviews?
  • Use formalities until asked not to?
  • Write thank you notes on formal stationery?
  • If you answered yes to any of those questions, you’re probably saying, “Wait! Isn’t that exactly what I should be doing?”

    Yes… and NO!

    These things aren’t wrong. They’re great default choices, but that’s exactly what they are. By going with the default, you signal a lack of confidence. Strict adherence to rules shows that you aren’t smart enough to figure out how to do things on your own.

    I’m sure that the thought of breaking some of the rules listed above is making you uncomfortable. This is your job search, darn it. You can’t afford to screw up any opportunities, so you are going to follow every rule to a T. It can’t hurt… except it can.

    Step out of your job search again, and think about singers singing the national anthem at sporting events.

    You’ve probably seen some atrocious performances, a lot of mediocre ones, and a few exceptional ones.

    The really good ones and the really bad ones have something in common. The singers broke the rules. The bad singers either tried to do something that they weren’t capable of, or they just didn’t have the talent to follow the basic rules of getting the words right, keeping the right rhythm, or singing on key. The great national anthem singers embellished just enough and took just the right amount of liberty with the song. They didn’t sing it as it’s written, and that’s why they were so good.

    The mediocre singers followed the rules. They sang the song as it’s supposed to be sung. You don’t even remember them, you just remember a big ball of mediocrity that sums up 90% of the times that you’ve heard the national anthem sung.

    Starting to get it?

    Great singers and great job candidates know when the rules are holding them back from showing that they’re exceptional. Instead of letting the process (or the sheet music) control their image, they make the executive decision to show off a little bit. What are they showing off? Not only talent, but also confidence.

    The Renegade Job Searcher

    Did you expect a list? Want a checklist of things that you can do to “break the rules?” Look somewhere else. Creativity isn’t doing what creative people tell you to. It’s coming up with your own way. Or at the very least adapting someone else’s techniques to fit your image.

    This person isn’t a “rule breaker.” Breaking the rules isn’t going to endear you to HR or the hiring manager. Controlling your image is about knowing when to insert your creativity into the process. It’s something that you need to get a feel for, but you can’t get good at it without falling flat on your face a few times first.

    In fact, breaking the wrong rules will send your résumé to the trash. Employers create hurdles to weed out applicants. If an employer gets 1,000 résumés, there’s no way that they can possibly read them all. That’s why they create arbitrary guidelines to create a built-in excuse to cull the herd as quickly as possible.

    When you let the hiring process control your image, you’re more likely to get culled out. When you make the decision to control your own image and step out of the hiring process as it’s defined, you can sometimes escape the cull and get a closer look.

    You have two choices: You can obey or you can get creative with your interpretation of the “rules.”

    Here’s an exercise:

    Are you… using job boards? Sending out dozens of (the same) resumes every day? Posting your resume?

    Think fast…

    Name 5 companies that you’ve applied for a job with. Tell us in one sentence what they do and what the job you applied for entails.

    Can’t do it, can you?

    How are you going to prove that you’re a good fit for the company if you can’t even answer these questions? More importantly, why are you applying for jobs when you don’t know the answers to these questions? We’re reminded of a cliché about a round peg and square hole… and here you don’t even know the shape of the hole you’re trying to fill! All you can do is sell potential employers on hiring you, Mr. Circle.


    This homework is simple, but also really hard. Go apply for a job and break all of the rules. Do it all wrong. Control your own image! Now, don’t intentionally try to look bad. The point is to let your solution shine through in how you apply, not to break the rules for the sake of breaking the rules. This needs to be a constructive exercise. Remember, don’t do this for a job that you really want, you’re not ready for that yet, but try it. Pick a company with an extremely rigid hiring process, just to add a little excitement.

    It’s going to be really uncomfortable for you to do this, but doing it will make you more comfortable with controlling your image when you’re applying for the jobs that you really want.

    Report back on how this makes you feel and what happens in the comments.

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    5 responses to “Who Controls Your Image? | Foundation 3 – Lesson 3”

    1. mdabhi says:

      Your right, it’s a very uncomfortable thought for me just thinking about and trying to break the rules when applying for jobs. Due to the recession I’ve thought about applying for a job and getting an income as this has been a priority for me for the time being, I’m having a great deal of trouble in getting started with this exercise due to this limiting belief of mine. I’ll try to give it a go….

    2. annamonster says:

      This is a hard assignment and I am struggling to find a different way to approach applying for a job. I guess I need to think of it in terms of having ‘nothing to lose’ then I am free to make mistakes.

    3. Willy Franzen says:

      @annamonster – Exactly. What do you have to lose? Certainly not a job. First you need to get comfortable with breaking the rules. Once you’ve done that, you can determine when it’s actually appropriate to do so.

    4. ebilly says:

      i’m not sure what rules i would break for this assignment. in my mind resumes are serious and stern and there is little room for humor. but i have considered adding to my resume, as a description of myself “2010 graduate/ renaissance woman” to reflect my many interests. i think its funny and would keep it if i thought it wouldn’t eliminate me from jobs i really really want.

      so is the purpose of this homework to see if it is worth taking such risks? to see what happens, good or bad, if we write what we really want to say?

    5. stefanahench says:

      I just sent out an application for a job as a fellowship program assistant. Here are some ways I “broke the rules” that I otherwise would have followed:
      -I sent my cover letter and resume to the program director rather than HR.
      -In my cover letter, I included a story demonstrating my passion and interest in the position. Normally I would have just included my background and qualifications.
      -I did not fit the requirements of the online posting to the letter, but I sent in my application anyway and highlighted my strengths.

      Applying for a job in this way was certainly outside my comfort zone, so while I was writing my cover letter I felt kind of stressed. Now, however, I feel like the process was more fun than other applications I have submitted.

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