Kyle Miller got hired because his resume started with “JESUS TAP-DANCING CHRIST.” Only it wasn’t his resume, exactly; it was a Craigslist ad to sell a 17-year-old Pontiac Grand Am. He deployed the phrase “OMG” several times and claimed, “Driving it is better than your last 4 romantic encounters… combined.”
For Ray Page, executive creative director at Seattle’s branch of ad agency Possible, it might as well have been an audition: “It involved a lot of creative copy. It had a unicorn on it!”
After the ad went viral nationwide in April 2012, Page decided he had to have the creator on staff. He reached out, and “we learned he had all his teeth and is a very smart marketer and designer.” Dental qualifications met, Miller got a job (and just received a promotion).
Miller may be a unicorn of sorts, but his story isn’t unusual. The old model of getting a job through paper resumes and public job listings is practically extinct—in Seattle most of all.
Not that job listings disappeared; now they’re as close as a Google search. The problem is they’re useless. “Unless you have psychic power,” says career consultant Paul Anderson, you can’t discern what hiring managers actually want. After assisting in more than 16,000 job searches, he’s learned that HR posts generic job descriptions because hiring managers won’t spell out what they’re actually looking for. “Two people who don’t know what they’re doing are coming together, and it produces chaos.” And with 441,000 people rushing after about 97,000 job openings in the state, there’s a lot of chaos.
“Go on Starbucks’ website and pull up project manager listings,” Anderson says. “You’re gonna see a number of openings with different job IDs, different departments, different seniorities—and word for word it’s the same job description. For the international project manager they’re looking for the exact same thing as the partner program manager? How is that possible?”
Anderson coaches job hunters to call the hiring managers to find more information, even if the posting instructs against it: “If sales people ever heeded the No Solicitation signs there would be no commerce in the U.S.”
And then there are applicant tracking systems, or ATS, which most companies use to sort the resumes they get for an open position. Once upon a time the right keywords could bring a resume to the top of the pile; now HR sorts by more complex phrases and ATS optimization is a complex art.
Gaming the system has never been harder—or more useless. Ask around and you’ll find that no one really hires from the ATS-sorted pile of resumes anyway. In Seattle Met’s 2015 poll of 82 Seattle companies, more than half said they hired largely from in-house referrals. “Great evangelists and recruiters for the company,” one employee called current employees. Turns out that the bosses are trusting the future of the company to the same mopes who can’t keep the office kitchen clean.
Somehow the city that’s home to the Seattle freeze is also absolutely dependent on relationships, at least when it comes to getting a job. As online applications led to unmanageable floods of resumes, networking has become even more important. “Seattle is very much a reputation kind of town, a word-of-mouth town,” says Anderson, unique because cliques and small “circles of trust” matter, and biases can disqualify someone who previously worked for, say, Microsoft or Amazon.
The tech-fluent younger generation must learn those skills the hard way. Sarah Thomson, associate director of external relations in Seattle University’s career services center, found college students can be lazy, surfing job boards at home while ignoring the old-fashioned job fair and face-to-face networking. “Show you’re a person of conversation,” she tells them. By which she doesn’t mean threaded Twitter replies.
This dependence on personal interaction doesn’t always mean buttoned-up networking events; it’s best when it doesn’t. Employees at PitchBook, a Seattle-based investment software platform, were tickled when their Jimmy John’s guy offered his resume during a delivery. And when a nearby Starbucks closed, recruiters asked their favorite baristas to apply at the company.
The message to Seattle’s job seekers is clear, if not simple: Be interesting and be familiar. “Wow us with your double-dutch skills,” instructs one company polled in our Places to Work survey. “People honestly have a way of crossing paths and working with us over time” says another.
In this clubby town, managers increasingly hire a person who stands out, not a skill profile. That’s how Page does it at Possible: “The only way you can build out a department that has that capability to solve a problem in a creative way is to be a little ambiguous about the roles we’re trying to fill,” he says. He doesn’t know what he’s looking for until he finds it.
Now that Kyle Miller is on his team, says Page, “We’re trying to sell a client on using a unicorn design. Clearly it’s really effective.”