Leah is like a number of young, soon to be graduating college seniors.
Graduation is a little over six months away (she’s graduating in the winter semester) and you only have one more summer till you’ll have to face the harsh realities of real world obligations. This is your last chance to land a summer internship that could decide, come graduation, whether you’re employed or not.
Options are scarce, and the few internships you really want, are the same ones a thousand other students are gunning for as well. So what do you do? How do you stand out in a pile of resumes so large they make a dictionary look like a short story?
Seeing how Leah was looking for a position at creative advertising agencies, she decided to take a less conventional approach. Building the first ever LEGO resume kit.
That story, went viral last week. So Friday, I contacted Leah on Reddit and asked if she’d be willing to answer some questions for our Careertopia audience. She happily agreed.
In case you missed her story read on, otherwise feel free to skip to the interview a little further below.
Leah, 20 years old, student at Northwestern University, spent a weekend building the perfect Account Services Intern.
Using LEGO’s Digital Designer, Leah created a minifigure version of herself, designed the packaging, and shipped copies to the agencies she hoped to intern for this coming summer.
A number of big sites reached out to her including Huffington Post, Good Morning America, and more. But I thought there was still a missing piece to her story. What did she learn from this and how can our readers here at Careertopia benefit from it as well?
Below is what she had to say.
1. How incredible does it feel to be internet famous for creating the very first LEGO resume? Did you have a feeling this could go viral when you first shared it with Reddit?
It’s surreal. I have shared LEGO creations on r/lego before and it’s a great community. On a whim, I thought the job application aspect of the project might make it interesting to the larger reddit community, so I posted one of the photos to r/pics. Looking back, I think the fact that I was applying for an internship (as opposed to a full time job) surprised a lot of people who weren’t aware of how competitive it has become. Everyone also had lots of opinions about how effective the strategy would be.
I’ve learned more about social media and the internet from this post than I have from three years of college. It’s been a fantastic experience, and I’ve gotten to network with professionals around the world.
2. When did you decide you wanted to do something more creative for your resume? What was your thought process?
I started applying to advertising agencies this month and each seemed to have it’s own extra requirement or attachment; One request an essay on which two crayon colors best described me, another asked me what song played first when I put my music on ‘shuffle’ and so on. When an agency requested a “piece of persuasive advertising with me as the product,” the LEGO mini-me was born. I thought it’d be the cherry on top to send in the real pieces along with a poster advertising the LEGO me so they could actually build it.
I used LEGO Digital Designer to create the figure in one afternoon, then spent the next day using a free 30-day trial of Photoshop to make the labels and poster. I quickly realized that this would be a great way to stand out at other agencies as well, and sent a kit in to a company I’d already interviewed with as a follow-up (along with a handwritten thank you note).
3. I’m sure everyone wants to know. How did you find the pieces you needed to make the LEGO version of yourself? Did you just have a stock pile you pulled from, or are you finding yourself borrowing from a few specific kits? How did you package them when you were done?
If you look through my reddit post history, you’ll see that LEGO is not a new interest for me! My family has always loved LEGO’s and I grew up playing with them. My dad in recent years has started to build more seriously (including a LEGO model of the Science Center of Iowa he took to BrickWorld), so the massive bins of random pieces I played with as a kid are now organized by color, size and type in my parent’s basement. After designing the model on the LDD software, all I had to do was go downstairs and find what I needed. For future sets I ordered individual LEGO’s from BrickLink at a low cost, so all-in-all the project ended up being very inexpensive.
I found clear boxes at the scrapbook store then printed my package design out and glued it to the front. To give the box some color, I cut out blue and grey paper in the shape and put that on the inside surface. Finally, I folded the instructions to fit inside and added the loose pieces of my model.
4. Some recruiters feel that creative resumes are a bit…overkill, a cry for attention. How do you balance the line of being thoughtful and creative versus looking desperate? Have any of your potential employers suggested anything about your approach being overkill or are these recruiters just making assumptions?
The LEGO set, as with any other creative add-on I’ve done for agency applications, is simply to make me stand out and make me a memorable candidate. I know that if I can get a company interested in an interview, I can walk in and let my experience and skill set shine. The interview is where you win any job, and the experience and strengths you bring to the table make the difference between a gimmick and a display of creativity.
The competition for internships has also increased greatly in the past few years. Employers now expect you to come with several summers of applicable experience by the time you apply for your first full time job post-gradution, and you never know if other student has been in more extra curriculars or has a higher GPA.
Every industry, company and recruiter is different. For most companies, this type of application might even cross the line to inappropriate. For advertising agencies, however, I felt that showing my creativity and personality would be an asset. One agency even specifically requested it.
Today, all job applications are online. You attach your resume, fill in the information fields and, in some cases, even enter it in plain text. Everyone knows how to scan a resume and cover letter, so those are critical no matter how creative the rest of the application is.
5. Have you applied for similar jobs using just your standard resume? How has the reception compared?
I applied for several jobs in the fall and winter this year with the standard resume and cover letter. I had several interviews that went well, but I’m still looking for an opportunity that’s a good fit. It’s a much more formal experience because most companies have a very different culture than a standard advertising agency. You need to be professional, confident and highlight your real experience and skills you’ve attained and focus on how you can help them.
6. What advice do you have for someone thinking of doing something more creative for their next resume? Would you do it again?
I would say the best advice when applying for any job is to know yourself and know your audience. If your application is genuine and you think the company or recruiter on the receiving end will love it, go for it. But if you “wow” them with an application or gimmick, be prepared to “wow” them again in the interview.
I would do this again in a heartbeat — I think it perfectly shows my personality and the kind of ideas I love to run with. I have other examples of this type of creative thinking that I’ve displayed at my former jobs, but they’ll never get to hear those if I never even get an interview.
7. What advice would you give peers, similar to yourself, who are looking for a job in a competitive economy? Any lessons learned through this experience that you think would be valuable to our readers?
It can get so easy to lose hope or become frustrated. I’ve waited weeks to hear back that I didn’t get the job, and often I never hear any news at all. The more you let your head hang or take it personally, the more your confidence is shaken and the less likely you are to shine the next time you get an interview. It’s also unrealistic to apply for one job at a time. Casting a wide net, especially in a competitive internship market, is the best way to maximize your time and effort.
I’ve learned that the internet can be a really supportive place! I’ve had marketing and advertising professionals give me great constructive feedback on my work and my career path that is invaluable.
What to Do Next
Leah was a fantastic guest to interview. You can follow her on Twitter @Pastlightspeed.