Job hunting using design-thinking
I tasked myself with a three-month project to land a job in advertising in Los Angeles. I pushed myself to completely rebrand my online identity using a design-thinking approach.
"Do Not Hire Me" was an online marketing and brand activation campaign I created in late 2013 to get hired at an advertising or marketing agency while I was freelancing between jobs. My aim was to deliver a unique experience to marketing professionals who often embrace and enjoy sarcasm.
Literature analysis and research
I conducted initial research by reading various books on atypical marketing and advertising strategies.
I searched for books that focused on rebellion and guerrilla tactics to gain a better understanding of previously successful campaigns. These included:
- "The worst hotel in the world" by KesselsKramer
- "Punk Marketing" by Richard Laermer
- "The Gruen Transfer" by ABC Australia
- And other marketing textbooks
I analyzed my findings by collecting the most important ideas, concepts, and examples found in the literature. I found that irreverence was a guiding principle and used this insight to make sure my own campaign focused on delivering a brand message focused on a lack of respect for traditional job hunting and recruiting.
Steal like an artist
Competitive analysis and content audit
I examined other portfolios of my direct competitors and famous ad campaigns to find visual inspiration and copywriting styles for my own project.
I found that my competitors were still using traditional techniques to land a job: networking and applying. I also found that social media influencers were using new platforms; using generated social capital to get their messages across by whatever means possible. I used these conclusions to make sure my users (recruiters and agencies) would:
1. Understand that I was different from other job seekers (in as many ways as brutally possible)
2. Understand my clear intentions to get a job, even though I would be using sarcastic copywriting
3. Be targeted through social media as a means to circumvent traditional communication channels
Surprisingly, I found that personal portfolios often contained descriptions of hard and soft skills that were important, but often too wordy. On the other side, successful advertising campaigns like "The Old Spice Guy" used straightforward language and strong visual imagery to target consumers with the most direct visuals and language. I used these insights to craft my content strategy—keeping words to a minimum and focusing on creative copywriting to explain my brand persona.
By examining other portfolios, I created additional recommendations for myself that would simplify getting users to contact me as soon as possible:
- I only needed one website to perform all the functions of my marketing campaign—using all my social media, paid advertising, and referrals to link directly to this site.
- I found that email addresses posed a barrier to contact, so I aimed to include a real phone number using Google Voice to forward calls to my mobile phone. I found that most creative professionals did not include their phone number, for obvious reasons, so in alignment with my brand strategy, I decided to include one.
Learning how to stand away from the crowd
I asked real advertising professionals how to craft a memorable job hunting social media campaign.
To get a deeper understanding of what my users would want from a successful rebranding campaign, I interviewed various advertising professionals and recruiters at the previous advertising and marketing agencies I worked at. I synthesized this information into an affinity map, looking for key themes my mentors and co-workers mentioned in our conversations.
The most common pattern surrounded preparing myself for all commentary and feedback, as I would be judged not only by people but recruiters and possibly entire advertising agencies if my campaign spread faster than I might anticipate. Secondly, they wished me the best of luck, as they didn't fully understand what I was doing (because they had never heard of something like this before).
Copywriting testing with users
Turn it up to 11
User persona creation
I developed a user persona that I would base my brand identity around an alt-ego version of my previous "clean and minimal" style.
In order to pull off the campaign and appeal to advertising agencies, I would have to embody this persona both online and offline:
Julian is looking for a job but thinks he's too qualified for the roles he is applying for. While he's charismatic, he uses his ability to "read the room" and entice people to join his marketing campaign of irreverence. While he inspires joy in others, deep down, his motivations are to exploit them for his job hunt.
Bringing it to life
Wireframing and content outline
I created the website wireframe, using my research insights and a modular framework.
My goal was to flip the table on a typical "hire me" pitch through content, but keep a familiar structure that many hiring managers and ad agencies would be accustomed to. Things like a list of skills, qualifications, and photos: all tied together through consistent graphic design. My goal was to guide visitors through short story, filled with striking copywriting and a twist of honest humor.
I knew that hiring managers and recruiters had little time to read resumes, so I focused on keeping all copywriting to a minimum and put myself in the shoes of recruiters—making sure I could read the entire site in less than 30 seconds. I drafted a website design that would focus on specific pieces: 1) bold opener, 2) resume & skills, 3) my story, and 4) the final call to action. With this design ready, I wrote my content and started development work.
The big pitch
Developing the responsive site
In one night, I learned Adobe EdgeReflow in 6 hours and spent another 6 developing and publishing the site.
Using my research findings, I decided to choose a creative domain name with an irreverent tone. I decided on a literal reversal of the phrase "hire me." I searched for the domain and found that it was (surprisingly) available for purchase. I bought it and than began developing a website by hand.
Before this campaign, I had a basic understanding of HTML and CSS to make a webpage, but I needed a tool to make my content responsive and look great. At that time, a tool called Adobe EdgeReflow was announced and I learned how to use the software and create the website in less than 6 hours.
(Today donothireme.com hosts my old advertising portfolio. Click the link above to see the original Do Not Hire Me campaign website.)
The original website
Guest speaker at American University
I talked about guerrilla marketing tactics and my research analysis of past literature that could help future students land a job by reaching out of their comfort zone.
On the day of posting the website, I received a phone call from a professor, Scott Talan, at American University. But it wasn't the usual phone call: he called during the middle of his PR class and put me on speakerphone. One of his students had mentioned donothireme.com at one point and Professor Talan decided to see what it was all about. On the call students were giggling in the background, and the professor was surprised that I would actually pick up the phone.
I briefly talked with the class and we later scheduled for to be a guest speaker at a following lecture. During my guest lecture, I was asked if I had gotten any job offers, and I replied that I had not, but that I would go back to the drawing board.
How the conversation started
User testing & feedback
I asked real advertising professionals how to craft a memorable job hunting social media campaign.
After 48 hours of launching donothireme.com I contacted a group of friends to look over the website and provide feedback. The most common responses were:
- The site clearly states my intentions, albeit using sarcasm
- It was unclear what jobs I was interested in, even though I listed my interests clearly. Users wanted to see a specific job title I was aiming for.
- It was intimidating for users to think about calling a phone number—thinking it was either spam or a gimmick.
In conclusion, users found the site entertaining but not useful. So I used the qualitative data in my user testing and quantitative data from the website analytics to craft a new marketing strategy for what would be "Phase 2" of the campaign.
Better than before
New marketing starategy
Reworking the campaign and pivoting into a live event. I decided to go onto the streets of Santa Monica to engage with strangers for a social media campaign.
Based on feedback and data analysis from the website, I aimed to deliver a new experience to users that was bolder, stronger, and more engaging than just a single web page. I decided to use social media to land a job while standing on a sidewalk. Pitching it as the first job application live on the internet.
Get a job offer in one day.
To achieve this goal, I took to the streets of Santa Monica, California—a high foot-traffic area—to engage with the public for a social media campaign. My aim was to create as much social media content as possible, using strangers to create dynamic content while showcasing my social characteristics and charisma to engage others participating in a unique event.
Target my users.
I hired social media researchers to compile a list of usernames for the top 100 advertising agencies and social influencers on Twitter. These would be my target users for Phase 2 of the event. With this list, I hired a copywriter to draft 50 different catchy, strange, and unique tweets that I would use to tag my users with.
Get nationwide attention.
To achieve this goal, I created a budget to advertise this event on four online marketing channels: Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon, and PR Newswire. All of the advertising was directed to engage a wide audience for a short period of time, aiming to get my event trending on social media or national-level news outlets. In addition, I planned to livestream the entire event.
30-second video ad
Sidewalk sticker and digital ad banner
For a good cause
Event planning & sponsorship
This major event required weeks of planning to coordinate local sponsorships, production equipment, and stage rentals.
I secured three sponsors: Foursquare, Step And Repeat LA (a company that makes step and repeat backdrops for Hollywood events), and Industry LA (a local coworking space). In addition, I hired two production assistants to help shoot and create social media posts of me and those who passed by. It took months of planning and sharp coordination.
- Created ad campaigns,
- Sent press releases, and
- Hired production assistants.
Getting hired in 8 hours
What happened during the event
I received phone calls from friends, businesses, college alumni, and total strangers who were visiting the website and watching the livestream. Some were employers who offered me to visit their offices for an interview.
Questions from Strangers
Visitors on the street had lots of questions about what was happening and why I was doing such a thing. Many participated in creating a social media post after persuading them.
Over 100 social media posts
With the help of my production assistants, we posted over a hundred Vine videos, Instagram photos, and Facebook media.
2,332 Unique Visitors
1,433 Social Referrals
Accepting a job offer
12 businesses reached out to me during the event with either phone calls, emails, or messages on LinkedIn. I interviewed at five separate companies and accepted a job offer at a boutique ad agency in Los Angeles as a project manager.
I solicited feedback from other marketing professionals who described it as a compelling and surprising solution to engage recruiters and agencies to get me hired.
Not done yet
Guest speaker on national TV
Two weeks after the event, I was asked to be a guest speaker on Aljazeera America. I spoke about the Do Not Hire Me campaign as it related to a "pay it forward" strategy for success in life rather than expecting success without putting in the work.
I was humbled and thankful for the experience to talk about my journey and I was happy to finally achieve my goal of national recognition for the work I did.
Key learnings & takeaways
Iterate your job hunt when things aren't successful.
When the original donothireme.com didn't provide any traction towards getting a job lead—I solicited feedback, did additional research, and moved forward with a new idea to host a live event.
Apply a design-thinking approach to job hunting.
Doing research, creating a persona, executing a website design, and soliciting feedback all important to help define my scope and what my designs aimed to solve.
If you're a creative person, be creative in your job hunt.
My alter-ego user persona and "job application live on the internet" was different from what anyone else had done before. I was proud to find a creative solution to a difficult problem: differentiating myself from other job seekers.
And don't forget to have some fun along the way