Tom McAlister

In late 2008 I was in a challenging spot, professionally.  But a combination of guerrilla tactics, personal branding and fortuitous timing got me back in the game.

Several events conspired to create Brand Man, my fictional alter ego.  The first was the economic crisis of 2008-2009 and the subsequent implosion of the job market.  I knew there would be lots of qualified candidates applying for the same positions I was targeting.  Plus, I was at a disadvantage because I had been doing contract and freelance work for the previous year and a half.

I knew I would need to do something interesting in order to stand out among a crowded field, in other words, and that’s how Brand Man came to be.

One afternoon early in my job search, I was applying for a particular position.  I had just reworked my (standard-format) resume, tailoring it the job in question.  Then I Brand Man - guerrilla job searchsat down to write the cover letter and attempted squeeze everything I knew I could bring to the job into three paragraphs.

I wanted those three paragraphs to convey,

  • My experience
  • My brainpower
  • My creativity
  • My passion
  • My sense of humor

And also I needed those same three paragraphs to explain where I was at the moment, where I’d been before, and where I wanted to go.  All in three paragraphs!

After 20 minutes, I threw up my hands.  I thought, I reject this format! I thought, There’s got to be a better way to convey who I am and why I’d be good at this.

Then I thought: Man, if only there was a fun, visual way to tell my story with pictures…

The idea jumped into my head, fully formed.  Eureka!  A comic book resume!

Among other strategic considerations, this idea had the advantage of being fun.  And I was really in the market for fun at that point.  My day-to-day existence, cranking out resumes from a dingy rented office in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles, was outrageously bleak.

Within a matter of days, I was having a conversation with my illustrator – the brilliant Sina Grace, about how I wanted Brand Man’s cape to hang, and whether my chest emblem should be a circle or an oval.  This was progress.

I like throwing myself into projects, too, so producing the comic was fun for me.  I wrote a script that took on the breathless air of a classic super hero creation story, summarizing my career highlights to date.  I put a budget together and took to Craigslist with a very specific job listing of my own, one aimed at illustrators: here’s what I need, here’s what I can pay, and here’s my timeframe.  I was extremely lucky to find Sina, who instantly understood what I was after and was able to create it for me on time and on budget.

Once the comic was done, I hired a Web designer and made a simple site that showcased the Brand Man artwork, and also featured a downloadable PDF copy of my standard-format resume. (The site is offline these days because I am now happily employed by a major entertainment company.)

The whole process took just under two months.  Total cost: Less than $1,000.

Waiting for the finished product, and spending money I didn’t really have, was tough.  But I kept the faith because I knew I was developing an asset for myself: something that would sell me to HR people and set me apart from the pack.

I had high hopes for Brand Man.  I wanted it to deliver all of the following:

  • A clear and concise picture of me, the candidate. Brand Man, the comic, was four pages long (cover page included), but it fit onto one standard-sized page folded in half.  That single piece of paper delivered a quick summary of my accomplishments in a way that was fun and informative, told a story, and spotlighted my passions and interests.
  • A curve-ball for people who have to look at resumes all day.  Resumes are full of helpful information, sure, but my issue with them was their conformity.  I wanted to be memorable, and I was willing to take a risk in order to achieve that.  Win or lose, I knew Brand Man would politely and entertainingly force busy people to pay attention to me.
  • A powerful weapon for people who were sticking their necks out for me.  I was leaning hard on all of my contacts to get my material into the right hands.  Brand Man gave my recommenders confidence, as well as something cool that they would be excited to pass along.  It wasn’t just, “Hey, can you do me a favor and consider Tom for this?” It was, “You gotta check this guy out!”
  • A way to frame the conversation.  Brand Man provided me with the perfect icebreaker in job interviews, because it would organically spark a conversation about my passions and why I thought I’d be good at the job – which of course was exactly the conversation I wanted to be having.

Reaction to Brand Man was uniformly positive, and the Web version in particular proved to be an essential tool for cutting through the clutter and getting onto the right radar screens.  By marketing myself effectively, I made an effective argument that I could be a savvy marketer on behalf of other brands, too.

I ended up securing an excellent full-time position through one of my connections, a former boss, who passed Brand Man along to a small business owner who had a job opening.  That’s the fortunate timing I referenced earlier.  But the fact that I already done all of this other work gave me the confidence and skills to go in and nail the interview.

I should say here that I work in a creative industry: communications strategy for entertainment properties.  If I had been applying for a job in the state comptroller’s office, Brand Man may not have been as well received.  But for me and my objectives, it was the perfect fit.

I’m sharing my story here because I remember all too well how difficult it was to look for a job under adverse conditions — something I did every day for six months.  If somebody reading this can go out and put a cool spin on my idea and turn that into a job, I am all for it.

The Brand Man adventure was an extremely worthwhile experience for me. It, and my job search in general, compelled me define my career goals in a way that was as eye-catching as it was effective.

Tom McAlister is a communications and marketing professional based in Los Angeles.  Connect with him at


[1] Sina’s work is on display at, and anybody thinking about stealing this idea should hire him immediately.