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Why Baking Cupcakes for Your Interview Is Not the Best Strategy

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chef presenting cupcakes

This spring, a job candidate dropped off a batch of cupcakes in an effort to meet a hiring manager. She wrote me all about it, describing this “yummy afternoon treat” in detail. Poor thing didn’t know she’d chosen the wrong choir to listen to her preach.

In a practical sense, I prefer salty over sweet, and your interviewer may, too. She may enjoy a bag of chips over a bar of chocolate. Dropping off cupcakes assumes that you not only know your interviewer and what brings her pleasure, but also that such knowledge gives you carte blanche to bribe your way into her company.

Wrong.

Why home-baked treats are the wrong way to impress a hiring manager

Out of all the gimmicks you could leverage in your job search, cupcakes are particularly bad. They align you with the image of a homemaker, not a successful career woman. And while success follows how likeable you are, cupcakes are an empty attempt to win favor. You can’t play stunts and expect to win. You will gather attention, but none of it the right kind.

The incessant barrage of donuts, cakes, cookies and pies in the break rooms of the companies I’ve worked at were brought in by the wives of the men who worked there. Not once did I see a woman who worked in the office bring in home-baked goods. If anything, she bought a pie from the bakery on the way in, but then it was probably because she had been instructed to by the office’s social committee.

Dropping off cupcakes, or something equally drastic, is like dropping an incendiary device into your job search. All of a sudden, you feel entitled to a reply, a thank you or something—anything—in return from the interviewer. And when it doesn’t happen, boom! You begin to have the lofty idea that you should hear back from the interviewer, that you’re owed a note of thanks. You baked cupcakes, for goodness’ sake! Who would blow off such a nice gesture?

You become jaded, and for nothing. You weren’t being judged on your actual skills and expertise in the first place.

Can we agree that you baked cupcakes because you’re scared?

Baking cupcakes—or any stunt or gimmick, for that matter—is an act of fear. You’re worried that you’re not good enough, that you won’t stand out in the crowd, that you’ve been searching for six, nine, twelve months, and if you don’t do something, you will find nothing. You haven’t spent enough time on your cover letter and resume, and you don’t believe in yourself. Instead, you spend an hour mixing up a distraction, when you could spend less and get more by taking a new contact out for coffee. Or volunteering at a design meetup. Or learning a new skill.

So, what should you do instead?

The way to be awesome in a sea of the same is to care about the company more than you care about what they think of you. Gimmicks shine the light on you. Focusing on the job puts that focus on the value you’ll bring to the company. You can tell the difference between these actions with this one test: do you want approval after doing it?

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of narcissism; it lends us confidence. But when it smacks of desperation, that’s when you’re in trouble.

Stand out, but do it in a way that shows your passion for using your skills and talents to bring exceptional results to a company. That’s what an interviewer would consider sweet.

Rebecca Thorman’s weekly blog, Kontrary, offers tips to create the career, bank account and life you love and is a popular destination for young professionals. Her goal is to help you find meaningful work, enjoy the heck out of it and earn more money.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=317752194950479 Alison Elissa Coaching

    Perhaps a fruit tart would have been a better choice… :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=24504364 Candace Comer

    “Not once did I see a woman who worked in the office bring in home-baked goods.” Perhaps this is only your experience. I consider myself to be a professionally driven woman, who happens to like to bake and cook; I also enjoy sharing with with my co-workers (keeps me from eating everything myself). I have worked at several offices where this has been pretty common. Rebecca, please don’t go ostracizing a woman who has both professional ambitions and knows how to make a damn good batch of banana bread.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=6215866 Billy Davis

      Oh no she didn’t.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659288504 Whitney Parker

      I thought that was funny too. I just brought in Car Bomb Cupcakes (guiness cake and irish cream frosting) to my office for a colleague’s birthday because I love to bake and can’t possibly eat all the cupcakes myself. I often bring in cookies and stuff – I just think it’s fun to share and not a lot of other people in my office bake.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=8608679 Rebecca Thorman

      Hey Candace – I was pretty clear that this was my experience, and my experience only. If you like to bake banana bread, I am not going to stop you. The point of the post is that gimmicks are probably not a good way to catch an interviewer’s attention.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=831672439 Keith Marshak

    I once had a manager tell me that part of my job was to improve office moral by occassionally bringing in cupcakes. I tried it once. It failed miserably. Later, when I brought in the bottle of 18 year single malt it things went much better. ;-)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659288504 Whitney Parker

      I think it’s probably about being genuine. If baking things isn’t who you are, you definitely shouldn’t try to fake it. Sounds like you have good taste in other areas though =) !! Be true to who you are and I think you’ll be rewarded.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=271703022904314 Careerleaf

    Thank you for this great article! Gimmicks certainly are not how employers find quality employees. Quality job seekers don’t need gimmicks to get ahead. I agree with you that fear can certainly make individuals do things they may not have done at the beginning of their job search. If a job seeker is looking to stand out, it should be done in a positive and creative way that doesn’t involve bribery.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=140567655972771 More Than A Resume

    As with most situations there isn’t a one size fits all response. Job interviews are like dating. You and the interviewer are getting to know each other. As the candidate when you learn about the interviewer and see/hear of an opportunity to connect on a personal level (read: a way to get the interviewer invested in you as a candidate) I say seize on that opportunity. Cupcakes? Sure why not if that is the interviewers thing.

    I make the best chocolate cranberry biscotti that wins everyone over.

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  • TerriblyLovely

    My guy brought in a dozen kolaches (for any of you unfortunate souls living in a land without them, they’re delicious Czec pockets of baked dough filled with meats, cheeses, peppers, or fruit/cream cheese) to his interview for an international oil & gas firm for which he was interviewing to be their next technical specialist. He jokingly told the hiring manager “there’s more where that comes from if you hire me”. Not only was he exceptionally qualified, but they loved his personality and said that the morning treat was very much welcomed. He got the job and has steadily been moving up in the ranks since.