Today’s job climate can sometimes feel like an overwhelming popularity contest in which the rules are elusive and ever-morphing. Whose LinkedIn profile can glean the most hits, or the most skill endorsements?  Whose résumé is the prettiest? Or the most peppered with personality?

But it’s not just candidates who are self-aware and looking to stay on top of the shuffle. We’ve entered a new era of creative competition among employers. Bigwigs at high-profile companies are crafting outlandish marketing ploys which double as “normal” business proceedings, like hiring. The question companies seem to be asking themselves is: Who can be the most avant-garde, the most unconventional… for entertainment value?

The answer, at least today, is Heineken.

In search of the most savvy applicant for an Event & Sponsorship internship, Heineken decided to wade through 1,734 eager applicants by subjecting them to artificial (and squirm-worthy!) situations. First, a trip down the hallway made extra uncomfortable by forced hand-holding. Next, a “medical assistance” scenario wherein the interviewer pretends to undergo some sort of bodily attack. And thirdly, a chance to join a group of rescuers holding a tarp for a suicidal “jumper.”

The crown jewel of the Dutch beer company’s scheme is an epic three-minute video which garnered about 115,000+ views in its first 24 hours. Totally Punk’d.

Lots of well-known companies, particularly European ones, are becoming fond of these guerrilla marketing tactics (like this “Stress Test” from NIVEA).  And as a detached media consumer, I appreciate the humor of the campaigns. But if this is becoming a trend in the job market, I question its motives, ultimate effectiveness, and longevity.

It’s impossible not to empathize with these eager young interviewees. Heineken frames it as “the first interview you can’t prepare for,” which represents an interesting theory: that preparation is meaningless. You are either a certain kind of person, or you aren’t. It’s more about who you are – the ingredients of your gut – than what you are capable of. Out of the near-trauma of this mouse-in-a-maze-like situation, an ultimate winner – Guy Luchting – is chosen via the company’s internal marketing community. His standout quality? He doesn’t hesitate to enter the fray, even goading the “jumper” to go ahead and leap.

What is obvious to any viewer is that Heineken’s main objective is publicity. But what does it indicate when the means outshine the “end” of hiring a capable individual? Even if Guy’s name flashes on a huge Jumbotron at Juventus Stadium as a way of welcoming him aboard, the irony is that it could be any name up there. It’s not about Guy, it’s about Heineken.

I admire the company’s frankness and their desire to punch through all the predictability (they start off the video by saying “all job interviews are the same”), but I wonder what will happen when their adversaries feel pressure to “out-extreme” them. The edgier these marketing ploys get, the less sustainable they become. After all, Heineken can’t very well orchestrate this type of thing again. Even more complex, candidates might start to expect an ambush. What’s next – Wipeout: The Interview? Before long, jobseekers are going to start to feel like reality show contests instead of professionals. I’m just wondering how much longer companies can have their cake and eat it, too.

Tags: Linkedin, Business, Guy Luchting, Heineken, Nivea