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Remarkable Hiring Stories

When it comes to hiring, these small business owners have remarkable stories about employees going the creative distance to nail the jobs.

Marketing ninja at your service

Owner: Andy Butler
Company: D2M

When Silicon Valley design and marketing agency D2M Inc. posted a job listing on Craigslist for a "marketing ninja," CEO Andy Butler was hoping for a few creative candidates.

"When we put out a posting for a 'marketing ninja,' we wanted to attract people who'd identify with that description, and we wanted to discourage people with a more traditional approach to marketing and PR," said Butler.

So when Butler opened a job application from Savannah Peterson, he knew he'd found his new marketing manager. "When I received a picture of a cropped head Photoshopped on top of a black-pajama-ed ninja, the first thing I said was, 'I have to meet this person face-to-face,' " recalled Butler.

After interviewing four of the position's 90 applicants, Butler hired Peterson based on a combination of her marketing background, design skills and ability to "jump out" from a sea of cookie-cutter candidates. But while a quirky resume replete with a ninja mock-up and a laundry list of superpowers landed Peterson the job, she said her lighthearted approach was a serious act of self-promotion in today's tough economy.

"Having been a university graduate in December of 2008 when everything fell apart, I knew it was important to stand out and have a sense of humor," she said. "I also believe that it's a lot harder to say no to a face and not just a resume."

This is what I do on my lunch break

Owner: Sara Sutton Fell
Company: FlexJobs Corp.

Illustrating how you like to spend your lunch hour isn't the most advisable way to apply for a job, but it was enough to win over Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, a telecommuting job site out of San Francisco.

An e-mail from job candidate Heather Maria Kubik told Fell to look at her video to see what she does during her lunch break. The e-mail also included a resume, cover letter, and a link to a home movie uploaded onto YouTube.

"It was a video of Heather and her husband doing a vertical wind tunnel performance," said Fell. "It was unique, jaw-dropping, and totally ballsy. And I loved it. I hired her on the spot for our video design project."

A sky-diving enthusiast, Kubik performs gravity-defying, upside-down spins and dance steps in an indoor vertical wind tunnel in the two-minute Apple iMovie. "This training has taught me persistence, patience, teamwork, and has proven true the old adage, 'If at first you don't succeed, try, try again,' " continued the e-mail.

Although her video-editing techniques earned her a contract with FlexJobs, Kubik said showcasing her off-beat skydiving skills is what truly paid off in the end. "When you're trying to reach out to a potential employer, you've got to give them something twice to look at," she said.

Spoofing a popular TV show

Owner: Heather Huhman
Company: Come Recommended

By the time the job application landed in Heather R. Huhman's e-mail inbox, Christina Barkanic's chances of getting hired as a multimedia director seemed slim. "Typically, the last person to apply doesn't get the job," said Huhman, CEO of Come Recommended, a content marketing and digital PR agency in Washington, D.C. Then she opened the e-mail attachment.

Unlike the 50-odd resumes before it, Barkanic's application included a presentation spoofing the hit TV series, "Law & Order SVU." The multimedia presentation begins with an audio introduction from Barkanic -- an eerie, monotone monologue, set to the backdrop of a black screen, ending with the ominous declaration:

"These are their stories." Following an audio clip of Law & Order's unmistakable, rapid-fire gavel pound -- a slideshow begins, detailing Barkanic's credentials and accomplishments as if it were a legal dossier.

"I'm a big 'Law & Order SVU' fan so Christina's application really impressed me," said Huhman. 'I thought it was really cute and creative. And it made a lot of sense, especially for the video-oriented position she was applying for."

For Barkanic, it was a risky but necessary move. After six months of sending countless "generic" resumes without so much as "any feedback or a single lead," Barkanic said, "I knew the traditional approach wasn't working for me so when I saw the multimedia job opening, I brainstormed a way to, at the very least, get Heather's attention." Case closed.

Inspired by eBay

Owner: Andrew Schrage
Company: MoneyCrashers.com

"The tough economy and a high unemployment rate creates a big supply of candidates," said Andrew Schrage, who is the editor-in-chief of finance news site MoneyCrashers.com. "We get thousands of applications per position."

But when Schrage received David Bakke's job application for a full-time writer position, he said it "immediately caught [his] eye." After creating his own personal finance blog, YourFinances101 in 2009, and publishing his first finance book, Bakke decided he wanted salaried experience in writing.

So he designed a cover letter in a Word document that resembles an eBay listing. A "buy it now" price reflects the minimum wage Bakke would accept; recipients can click on a 'product description' tab to read Bakke's resume; an "other item info" section includes personal details and contact information; and a box urges potential employers to "bid now."

"Immediately, I thought, "Wow, he's really creative and goes above and beyond what he needs to do," recalled Schrage. "If he were a contributor on our team, he could definitely deliver a truly unique perspective."

Bakke, now a full-time finance writer with MoneyCrashers, said: "I knew I needed to step out of the box if I was going to find a position anywhere."

Employers should apply to me

Owner: Mark Pickett
Company: Nail Your Mortgage

As owner of a 12-person online mortgage financing site in Chicago, Mark Pickett has to compete with tech titans like Google and Oracle for skilled techies. "Talent is everywhere, you just have to be able to get to it," he said.

So when an employee told Pickett about an online "reverse job application" posted by an out-of-work college grad, he had to check it out. Instead of simply listing credentials, Andrew Horner's reverse job application inverts the application process by stating his criteria for a potential employer, requesting that recruiters submit an employer application form, and asking prospects to answer questions such as, 'What job are you offering me?'

Horner said the idea for a "reverse job application" came to him after sending out countless resumes to no avail. "I started thinking about what I could do to turn the situation around and the first thing that came to mind was, instead of applying for a job, have companies apply to hire me," he said.

After posting the reverse application form on Reddit, a social news site, it immediately went viral. "I went to sleep and woke up the next day and my inbox was full of people who had submitted applications using the form," said Horner.

In total, 250 completed applications came pouring in, 44 of which contained legitimate job offers, including one from Pickett. Horner accepted but the reverse job application remains online "for posterity's sake."