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Extreme Job Hunting: Should You Try It? Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Workopolis.com Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit www.CareerActivist.com.

Where he stands holding his sign, the icy wind howls from the roofs of Toronto's skyscrapers, whipping up the collars and dishevelling the hair of passersby: important-looking men clad in Hugo Boss suits, women sporting colourful Burberry trench coats.

This is the corner of Bay and King. It is just after lunchtime on a chilled November day and the man who is standing there, Darrell Moss, is dressed to the nines, looking like the successful businessman he was in the not-so-distant past. Only these days he is unemployed, and the sturdy sign he is holding out for all to see, flapping now like crepe paper in a tempest, politely asks people for help in his job search. Not at all your traditional tactic, this street-corner human advertisement. Smack in the heart of Toronto's financial district, yet.

I've been invited along to watch him in action. People are scurrying back from their lunches, huddled against the cold, and I get to watch human nature unfold.

From the left, a distinguished-looking man with a mane of silver hair bolts by, barely casting a glance at the job seeker. A young woman I take to be a rising executive doesn't break stride but I can see her eyes trail back fleetingly, as if she wants to take a look but won't do so today. Perhaps she is late for an appointment, or is held back by a force more powerful than her curiosity. Next comes a group of four men and women, looking middle-aged and middle management. They see Darrell and pause in unison, quickly scanning the sign that's clutched tightly against his chest. None stops to talk, but they do look back several times, gesturing and conversing, on their way to what I assume are jobs at nearby companies. What must be going through their minds? Could be they're whistling by the graveyard, counting their blessings for the warm, familiar offices that await them - not some stark, lonely patch of pavement where one's dependent on the kindness of strangers.

My role today is not what I'm accustomed to. No coaching or critiquing. Judgment suspended. Instead, I am here to absorb the experience, interview some pedestrians, report my unburnished findings.

It's a risky business, this. Given how Darrell is putting himself out there, I would hate to stomp on his sensitivities. Then again, if I were he I'd probably want to know what people really thought of my efforts.

But, before I start accosting the good folk of Bay Street, Darrell and I step out of the fray into the building we're in front of, Bank of Montreal's flagship branch. I ask him for a bit of background and he fills me in: former director of facilities management; most recent employer was Oracle; more than 20 years of experience; he's used to working long hours; and, yes, he has also been conducting a fully rounded job search in addition to the signage thing - scouring the online job boards, networking extensively, hitting up all the recruiters in his field.

He has a positive attitude and carries himself with confidence. I am forming my own opinion. What I need now is to hear from the vox populi. The first person who agrees to go on record is an account executive well into his 50s. What does he think of Darrell's approach?

"I love it!" says John Gallagher. As a former sales executive now earning much less than he did in the 1980s, he can relate to the need for chutzpah. "With what could be a recession coming on, and age discrimination so flagrant these days, I think the man's ingenious."

Gallagher is impressed with Darrell's grooming and the fact that he obviously wants to work. "Truth is, I don't blame him," adds Gallagher, heading off to the rest of his day.

Next, a couple in their 20s, garbed in jeans. It turns out they've just moved here from the United States, by way of an interlude in Europe first. Casey Barton is a doctoral student in social and religious studies. His new bride, Sarah, is a former Gap employee. Their take? "At first I thought he was a bank executive," says Casey. "But it looked like he was making some sort of statement. You know, holding a sign to protest being laid off or something." Sarah chimes in. "I wasn't sure if it was some sort of promotion. You see, in Europe it's pretty common for people to stand around with signs. I guess I didn't really give it a second thought."

On to Loly Noble, an early retiree from a career in social services. "Very gutsy!" she says. "Imagine being able to humble yourself like that in front of your peers. I admire him for trying. And I hope someone gives him a chance."

I get a markedly different response from Claudio Raso, an investment advisor who could pass for a younger version of Michael Douglas in Wall Street. I ask for his honest opinion. He doesn't flinch.

"It looks like bullshit," he says. "An executive would have contacts. Right?"

Claudio is surprised that Darrell isn't asking for change. "I don't mean to be cruel, but he kind of looks like a professional beggar."

Other comments I collect range from full encouragement to harsh ridicule. If there's a prevailing attitude, it's escaping me.

When my personal bias kicks in I find myself wanting to advise again. What I ache to tell Darrell is to put down the sign if it hasn't been working over the months he's been at it. From 12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. each and every afternoon, five days a week, rain or shine. I am tempted to suggest he redouble his efforts through traditional channels and let go of the novelties. It's not even a targeted method, I find myself aching to say.

Only, just as I'm packing my clipboard and pen away, Darrell's gabbing away with some young man. When they're finished, Darrell tells me the guy was really helpful, that he has a relative needing facilities managed in some part of the city or other, and that they exchanged contact information to follow up next week. All I can do is shrug and offer my best wishes. I'm feeling pretty humble myself. As Darryl had said to me earlier, "Of course I would rather not be doing this, but then how would you know if it works if you never try?"

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