Remember that song from the 80s, “99 Luftballons”, also called “99 Red Balloons”?

I thought about the song after I heard about a desperate job seeker from North Carolina who sent up helium-filled balloons with her resume inside in hopes one would land near a hiring manager who had a position open. Seriously. I’m not kidding.

Sherell Elangway, 36, has sent out hundreds of resumes with little response, so she figured why not try something crazy. Balloons up in the air? Her chances were just as good as sending out resumes into the abyss.

This from a TV station in Greensboro:

“Desperate times call for desperate measures. What ever it takes I’m going to do it to get a job,” Elangway said. “The market is so viscous right now, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

She’s right, the job market is viscous, and I can see wanting to try something off the wall.

With the nation’s unemployment rate still above 9 percent, frustration and desperation are leading some job seekers to take job-hunting risks in an effort to separate themselves from the legions of unemployed — nearly 14 million in July. These extreme tactics include everything from making cyber pleas for employment via websites and social media outlets to stalking hiring managers and even sending gifts.

She definitely gets points for creativity, no? But do these things help or just feed on our worst fears?

Sometimes the gimmicks pay off, and inundated hiring managers notice. Other times they fall flat, or worse, doom a job applicant’s chances of ever getting hired at a particular company or even industry.

“If sending your resume directly to companies who have open positions is not yielding results why would you resort to something even more random,” said Lynne Sarikas is director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University.

Of the balloon job seekers, Sarikas said, “She is staking her future on the right person randomly finding her balloon, reading the resume inside and calling her in for an interview. No wonder some people are not successful in this challenging job market.”

She offered some advice on what job hunters should do instead:

NETWORKING

People hire people. She should ask friends and family members to identify everyone they know who works at a company on her target list. She should try to meet as many of those people as possible to talk to them about what they do, why they like the company, what skills are valued, how people are hired in that organization etc. She should then ask each person she talks to for at least five other people she can talk to. If she diligently networks, more and more people in companies she is interested in will know her and will think of her if an appropriate opening arises. Networking isn’t asking for a job but it often helps you find one.

Make a positive impression during your networking meetings by being prepared for the informational interviews. Do research on the company so you can ask insightful questions. If possible to some research on the person you are meeting with as well. Your preparation will reflect positively. Take notes as well to show that you are truly interested and engaged. Offer a resume only if asked for one. This is not a job interview.

Almost all companies have a formal posting process for open positions and these days most postings receive hundreds of responses. Busy managers have little motivation to dig through the entire pile and when they do they are searching for applicants they can eliminate quickly. If the manager receives a resume and recommendation from a trusted colleague, they are much more likely to at least talk to that person about their current job opening. Networking gets you into the small pile managers are more likely to review closely to identify their candidates.

HAVE A PLAN

Most people spend more time planning a one week vacation than they spend planning their career. Take the time to think about the industries that interest you, the companies you would like to work for and the positions you are most interested in. Do some research about companies in your area. Consider your passions, interests and skills and thank about what types of jobs will enable you to use your talents. After you do your preliminary research and draft a plan, use your informational interviews in networking to fine tune your plan based on what you learn.

Track your networking connections. Always say thank you to people who share their time and experience by sending a handwritten thank you note. If they refer you to someone who was extremely helpful, let them know and say thank you again. Keep your contacts posted when you do land a job.

FLAWLESS TOOLS

Be sure your resume is free from any spelling or grammatical errors and typos. It is an easy way to quickly be eliminated.

Always write a cover letter and be sure it is customized to the specific position. Never use a generic cover letter. Focus on addressing the employer’s needs. It is not all about you so avoid using too many “I”s. Show them how you can address their needs, don’t just summarize their resume. Don’t expect them to figure out how you can help by reading your resume, make it very clear to them in your letter.

Be prepared. Always research the company and the people you are talking with in advance. Information is at your fingertips so there is no excuse for being unprepared.

Is it a challenging job market?, yes. Are people still being hired for some great opportunities?, yes. Is it hard work?, yes. Sending large quantities of resumes whether by mail or balloon isn’t likely to land you a job in this market. Build a plan and network your way to success. Set networking goals for yourself each week and celebrate meeting them. Continue to raise the ball as you get more comfortable with these meetings. According to the Department of Labor, more than 80% percent of jobs are filled through networking. In reality it is probably even a higher percentage.

Good suggestions. But there is something poetic about Elangway’s approach. I can’t help but think a creative hiring manager may jump at the chance to hire balloon gal.

The song 99 Luftballons seems to strangely fit this job market. It’s about a cold war, and some people decide to innocently send up random red balloons, but they’re mistaken for an incoming attack and a nuclear war is triggered.

Here are the lyrics from 99 Luftballons.

Ninety-nine dreams I have had
Every one a red balloon
Now it’s all over and I’m standin’ pretty
In this dust that was a city

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