In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Xingyi Yan stood at busy intersections in downtown Toronto.
Despite the cold weather, she smiled warmly at the people passing her by. Her large, white board said all that needed to be said: “U OF T GRAD FOR HIRE. TAKE MY RESUME & GET A FREE XMAS GIFT.”
Her plan was bold, and perhaps even a little rough around the edges – hand out as many resumes as she could, and hand out free candy to those who accepted her unusual request. But Xingyi’s determination paid off – since her “self-marketing” campaign in December, she successfully landed what she calls her “dream job” at Reprise Media.
Xingyi managed to overcome a challenge that is all too common among young professionals nowadays. Employment can be challenging to come by, especially for fresh graduates with limited industry experience. But Xingyi took a risk and went outside of standard job application – and she was not only noticed by employers, but various news outlets across the city of Toronto.
Devising a plan
Xingyi is originally from Shenyang, China. She loves playing the accordion, biking, reading, and public speaking.
She graduated with a Business degree from the University of Toronto in June – since then, she had been searching for a job for months with little luck. Like many students, she expressed frustration for her situation. The regular methods were not working, and she turned to her friends for suggestions.
“At first, I was joking with my friends that I should just hand out resumes on the street,” says Xingyi. It was a silly thought – but the more she thought about it, the more it sounded like a feasible plan.
“I thought, ‘why not turn this into a mini marketing campaign’?” says Xingyi. After all, she loved advertising, and planned to make a career out of it. What was so strange about marketing her skills?
Xingyi says her desire to show her passion to employers marked the turning point for this campaign. She got to work, and devised a plan. She marked the locations of ad agencies in Toronto, and the busiest intersections in Toronto. After crossing her lists, she came up with the list of agencies she wanted to target.
She also came up with several draft slogans for her campaign. After settling on her final choice, she took coloured markers and created her big, white board, complete with her email and Twitter tag.
She even did research, in case someone asked her a marketing question on the street. Xingyi did everything she could to present herself as a knowledgeable, employable professional.
“I was intrigued by this adventure,” says Xingyi. “I went out onto the streets because I wanted to step out of my comfort zone. So rather than thinking about the results, I was drawn to the process.”
Executing the plan
As all Canadians know, winter is less than forgiving. For Xingyi, the cold days standing outside in the middle of December was a challenge.
“12-3pm I would go on the street,” she says. “I’d stand at the intersection and smile at people. When I could not feel my toes anymore, I took a lunch break. Then I would come back and stand from 4-7pm.”
She caught the attention of a lot of people – of course, most of them were not employers. She heard a mix of feedback, from “good for you!” and “smart idea!” to “you’re humiliating yourself!” and “just go home!”
“Just don’t give up no matter what people say,” Xingyi would tell herself.
On wet days, Xingyi would be forced to move inside, since her banner wasn’t waterproof. She tried to go to an underground mall, but she was kicked out twice by security. On certain days, when the weather was especially unforgiving and she felt like giving up, Xingyi says she would raise her head up and look at the tall, shiny buildings above her.
“I made a promise to myself, one day I would have my own spot in one of those buildings,” says Xingyi. “The advertising industry is relatively hard to break in for a university grad, but I thought to myself, if this is the way to break in, I will stick to it.”
Landing a “dream job”
After weeks of campaigning, Xingyi finally got what she was looking for – a request for an interview.
And it didn’t stop there. Since her campaign began, she managed to land 20 interview requests. Within a span of 3 weeks, she attended 15 interviews, and received six job offers as a result – an impressive feat for any new graduate.
But Xingyi says out of all her interviews, she knew right from the beginning that Reprise Media was her dream job.
“Most companies would ask me skill orientated questions. Reprise Media was more interested in the rationale behind my actions,” says Xingyi. “They believed in my potential and I was more than willing to work in an environment that believed in my future.”
- Be willing – Take that extra step to reach out to employers, or visit their office to have a look at the environment.
- Be professional – Think of yourself as a consultant instead of a new grad looking for a job. It will help you perform in the interview.
- Be knowledgeable – Do your research before you meet with an employer. Tell them why you chose them, and why you believe they’re a great fit for you.
Xingyi says even though her method was not the easiest, it did give her one advantage. It allowed her to connect face to face with professionals.
“Professionals who were interested in my campaign came over and talk to me and encourage me,” says Xingyi. “So I believe ‘culture fits’ came into play at this stage – people who were not interested would not have even started a conversation with me.”
Even though the year has just begun, Xingyi has been busy at her new job. Today, she is a Search Analyst at Reprise Media – her role involves drafting online ads, working with clients, and supporting the Digital Marketing Team. She still has a lot to learn, but she’s come a long way from handing out resumes on the streets.
Xingyi says her unique experience has taught her a valuable lesson.
“This made me realize the importance of following my heart and do the things that I value,” she says. “If you really want to get the job you want, you will get it.”