Why Baking Cupcakes for Your Interview Is Not the Best Strategy

Oct 11, 2012 -
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.