Jim Grant's Blog

Help for Job Seekers – It's all about the process!

Stop Wasting Your Time Applying for Job Through the HR Department

I know the title of this post sounds like blasphemy or that I’m speaking out against motherhood or patriotism. I mean, applying through the HR Department, isn’t that what every job posting says to do? Isn’t that where it says to send your resume?

I’m being only a touch too dramatic. A more precise way to say it is for you to view applying for a job through the HR Department as your “Last Resort.” – - – And by the way, in this post when I say HR Department, I’m also talking about filling out employers’ on-line applications and job fairs.

OK, why is it that I suggest you stop doing that? Because if you’re like most job seekers, you’ve got 1 chance in 20 of getting an interview by applying through the HR Department. Where do those numbers come from? You can find various articles on the Internet in which other job search advisors and recruiters site their research. That has also been my experience. When I speak to various groups of job seekers, I commonly ask for a hand vote to find out what portion of the time they get an interview when they apply through the HR Department. About 90% of the people say they get an interview less than 5% of the time.

Why is that? What is causing such a low success rate of getting an interview? Well, here’s what typically happens when you apply for a job through the HR Department.

  • You see a job posted on the Internet or a newspaper/magazine.
     
  • You get a copy of your resume, maybe you develop/add a cover letter, and you email it to the HR Department.
     
  • The HR Department receives the resume. It is now in a stack (either a paper one or the employer’s computer database) with maybe as many as a couple of hundred other resumes. An HR person (possibly one who is less familiar with the job’s requirements than most candidates) begins to review the resumes.
     
  • The HR person spends 10-20 seconds reviewing each resume. (How do I know? I’ve talked with many of these people. That’s what they tell me.) Now imagine, you spent hours developing / changing your resume, you asked multiple people to review it, you made the changes they suggested, and now some HR person spends only 10-20 seconds on it.
     
  • If the HR person can’t confirm in 10-20 seconds that you meet all 6-10 requirements of the job (and that you walk on water!), then your resume goes into the “B” pile. (That’s a euphemism for “you are rejected.”)
     
  • If the HR person concludes that you meet all 6-10 requirements, your resume will go into the “A” pile. After going through the “A” pile of resumes, the HR person will start making a list of job seekers they will be calling for a phone interview, which still may not include you.
     
  • Back to the “B” pile. If after perhaps a week, you don’t get any response, you will send an email (or try to get a phone number), inquiring about your submission. Chances are you won’t be able to reach anyone, so you will leave a message.
     
  • 3-5 days go by without a response. You start to wonder whether you should send an email / call again. Finally, you decide to do so. Again, you aren’t able to reach anyone, so you leave another message.
     
  • Another 3-5 days go by. You start to wonder whether you should send an email / call again. Finally, you decide to do so. Again, you aren’t able to reach anyone, so you leave a message.
     
  • Your frustration grows and grows and eventually, you give up on that job.

Sound familiar?!?

Now, I’m going to tell you what to do instead, but let me first say, I know what’s going to happen. Despite me telling you to “Stop wasting your time applying for job through the HR Department,” what are you going to do tomorrow? You’re going to do it anyway. (It’s so easy!) Well, all I can do is remind you how Einstein defined insanity. He said it was “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.”

If you don’t apply through the HR Department, then what do you do?

Answer. Approach the Hiring Manager directly. (By Hiring Manager, I mean the person who is likely to be your boss (if you are hired), but is definitely the one making the decision who will be hired.

Now, there’s two parts to executing this tactic. One is “identifying” the Hiring Manager. The other is “contacting” him/her. I’ll explain how to do both.

Here’s a list of ideas as to how to “identify” the Hiring Manager.

  • Call the employer’s Shipping / Receiving Department and ask. For whatever reason, these people love to give out names and phone numbers.
  • Call the employer’s main switchboard and ask for the head of the department / group where the job probably resides.
  • Call people who already work for the employer and ask. (You would be amazed at how many helpful people there are out there. Some even get a cash bonus for referring a person for a job opening.)
  • Go to the employer’s facility, wander around, and ask. (This is not done much anymore because of locked doors for security reasons. However, there are two types of organizations where anyone can walk in and go about anywhere they want: hospitals and universities. Just make sure when you walk around that you avoid the HR Department!)
  • Go to your  library and look for the following reference resources (there are others) that include the top 5-10 people in each company, private or public: (1) Harris Info-Source Directory (two large, hardbound volumes), (2) D&B Million Dollar Database (an electronic file)
  • Search the Internet social networking sites (Linked-In, Facebook, MySpace, etc.) (Type in the employer name and functional area.)
  • Do a search on a search engine. (Type in the employer name and functional area.)
  • Call the employer’s customers or suppliers and ask.
  • Attend a job seeker support group meeting and ask other people.

Now you know who the Hiring Manager is. Here are ideas as to how to contact him/her:

  • Have someone you know who works with the Hiring Manager’s organization, contact the Hiring Manager on your behalf. (This is the best method.)
  • Have someone you know, contact the Hiring Manager on your behalf. (See my other post named “Use Your References Proactively.”)
  • Have someone you don’t know, contact the Hiring Manager on your behalf.
  • Walk in to see him/her.
  • Call him/her yourself.

That’s it. – - – When applying for a job, go after the Hiring Manager directly. Does it work every time? No, of course not. Will it get you an interview more often than the typical job seeker? Absolutely.

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February 10, 2010 - Posted by | All, Pursue Posted Job

16 Comments »

  1. I have a completely different perspective Jim. There is a fine line between networking directly into a company and going around HR. In most of the companies I have work for, I (the recruitment manager) am also one of the hiring managers and I don’t look too kindly people who try to circumvent me or the process (which frustrating as it might seem, is in place for solid business reasons). Secondly, most department managers in my company (the other hiring manger in the equation) are not open to being directly solicited about employment opportunities. They will just send you back to my department because they don’t have time to engage applicants, and (more importantly) they trust me/HR to only send forward the most qualified people. Thirdly, in MY experience, 99.9% of those people who try to “go around HR” are not even close to qualified for said position. The fact is, as a quality HR person, I know what my company and department managers need in successful employees. I am not perfect, but I know better than any outside applicant and effectively identfy good and poor matches.

    I empathize with the frustration job seekers feel during the hiring process, but unless you are desperate or 100% positive you know the company is receptive to hiring people not through HR, you are probably greatly hurting your long term employment prospects at that company.

    Comment by JustGeorge | March 3, 2010 | Reply

    • JustGeorge –

      The moment I posted my message to job seekers about “Stop Wasting Your Time Applying for Jobs Through the HR Department,“ I began waiting for a contrary opinions from HR people. That’s fine. Thanks for speaking up.

      I understand where you are coming from. I believe it is a very reasonable position for you to take. If I had your job, I would want job seekers to go through my HR Department, too. I will even enhance your position by saying that in many organizations, particularly larger ones, the HR Department has been officially designated by top level management as the “owner” of the recruiting and screening processes.

      However, the recommendation I give job seekers to go around the HR Department is supported by the following:

      * Survey Results – Over the years, there have a variety of people who have taken surveys of job seekers to determine what method led to them landing a job. The survey results consistently indicate that an appreciably greater portion of jobs are found by contacting the Hiring Manager directly through networking than going through the HR Department.

      * Other HR People – HR people who have told me face to face and to a room of 150+ CVJS members that they are OK if a job seeker goes around them and contacts the Hiring Manager directly. They say they have trained their hiring managers to forward job seekers to the HR Department, they know they will eventually find out about a job seeker one way or the other, and see the tactic by a job seeker as a sign of initiative.

      * Feedback from Job Seekers – Job seekers give me feedback that they get interviews more often if they approach the Hiring Manager first. This is largely because there’s only a 1 chance in 20 of a job seeker getting a face-to-face interview by first applying through the HR Department. (These numbers are published by a variety of people who have taken surveys. This is also what I find when I ask for a hand survey when I speak to a room full of job seekers. I find that only about 10% of the job seekers out there who are getting an interview more than 1 time in 20.) There are a variety of reasons for this poor result, one, as you point out, is that there are too many job seekers who submit their resume for jobs they don’t qualify for, thus clogging up the system for Hiring Managers, HR people, and qualified job seekers. But regardless of the reason, that’s the reality of the situation.

      * Standard Negotiations Tactic – Recommendations from basically every negotiations advisor and negotiations book out there say a person should try to negotiate with the person in the other party’s organization who makes the decision, rather than an intermediary. In the job search, it’s virtually always the Hiring Manager and not the HR Department who makes the decision who will be hired.

      I also advise job seekers that they need to be concerned about potentially working for an employer which holds it against them for showing initiative by first contacting a Hiring Manager directly when they haven’t been told not to.

      Will a job seeker be successful going around the HR Department and contacting the Hiring Manager directly every time? No, and maybe not even a majority of time. Will some HR people get upset because a job seeker does an end run around them? Sure. I’ve heard such stories of HR people who took retribution against job seekers who did an end run around them.

      I can’t dispute your position, how Hiring Managers in your company feel about job seekers contacting them directly, or the general culture in which you work. However, when I consider all the possible cases, circumstances, and employers out there, I have concluded that the bottom line is that job seekers should play the odds that are in their favor and will land a job sooner than later by attempting to first contact the Hiring Manager directly.

      Comment by Jim Grant | March 4, 2010 | Reply

  2. What should i do in this situation…

    I applied through teh HR Dept. and my resume was interesting enough that the HR person called and phone interviewed me. I sent a nice thank you letter for her interest in me and for her time to speak with me. I reiterated my interest in the job and reminded her that the 3 major roles and responsibilities of the job that she told me about were indeed a great match to my qualifications and experience. I did not hear from her for four days and called and asked for an update. She said that the hiring manager has my information, but she thought the hiring manager has not had the time to look at it. I once again reiterated my interest before hanging up and she promised to get back to me soon. Can i now go arund the HR person and try to get directly to the hiring manager (I know the name of the hirng manager). I thought of sending another thank you note by e-mail to the HR person, thanking her of rthe update and getting into more detail, albeit brief, about how my skills match so well to those 3 major aspects of the job, and then “close” the e-mail by requesting an interview to more fully discuss everything. Would it be best to just keep in touch with the HR person only, or should I cc the hirng manager on such an e-mail? Or would they both think I am being too pushy, and that would blow my chances?

    Thanks (in advance) for your advice.

    Comment by Steve | September 16, 2011 | Reply

    • Steve, while it is helpful to know that the HR person forwarded your resume to the Hiring Manager (HM), an even more important thing to know is “DId the HR person recommend to the HM to bring you in for an interview?” If you contact the HR person again (and I don’t recommend that), come right out and ask the question. – - – Ask the question any time you talk to an HR person.

      In regard to your question, “Is it too late to contact the HM directly?” It is never too late. I would suggest that you do so, even now, unless you’ve been warned that you will be disqualified if you do. – - – Even then, consider contacting the HM. – - – The ground rule here is really simple. You always want to be dealing with the primary party, not an intermediary. That goes for any type of your person business, not just during your job search. Why? It is much easier for an intermediary to blow you off.

      By the way, the best way to contact the HM is to have someone else do it on your behalf. It is commonly challenging to find someone who is in a position to do so. But, how about one of your references. Have one of them contact the HM, speak up on your behalf, and ask the HM to take your call when it comes.

      If you end up contacting the HM yourself, here are the best ways to do so (in order of most to least effective):
      * Face-to-face
      * Phone-to-phone
      * By email
      * Send paper.

      Regardless, there’s no point now to ask the HR person for an interview. It is out of his/her hands.

      Jim

      Comment by Jim Grant | September 16, 2011 | Reply

  3. So, Jim, I sent an e-maill with my resume to the hiring maanger and then followed up by phone. She said she is inetrested in my qualifications and so i asked for an inetrview. But she gave me a similar song and dance (that they are getting through the first round of interviews, blah, blah, blah). And also b/c of her schedule, she said I need to discuss shceduling an interview with the HR person (th one i originally spoke to). I don’t get how they are interested in my qualifications, but they won’t grant me an interview. Very frustrating! Any suggestions?

    Comment by Steve | September 26, 2011 | Reply

  4. Jim, I gotta wonder about your advice now. The HR Manager just told me that even though I was highly qualified for the position, the hiring manager was irked that I contacted her directly and did not follow their recruiting procedure. She said they are all busy and they did not understand why I circumvented the process. So basically by following your advice, I blew my chances. Let this be a caution to anyone else…follow the advice of JustGeorge who posted his reply to this thread and said that as an HR manger he recommends against going directly to hiring managers. Do not take Jim Grant’s advice in these situations. Thanks for nothing Jim. – Steve

    Comment by Steve | September 26, 2011 | Reply

    • Before you read this, I suggest that you read my original posting on this topic and prior exchanges between Steve and me. As you will see, he is quite upset with me and feels that he lost a job opportunity because he took my advice about contacting Hiring Managers directly and avoid applying for jobs through the HR Department.

      My original thought was to respond to Steve privately, but I decided it would be valuable for other readers to understand what can happen when applying for a job.

      I also want to encourage people to comment with opinions different than mine. We may have different views at a general or high level of discussion, but I think the best way to handle job search related issues is buried in the details – - – and the details only come out through ongoing dialogue.

      I’m not wavering on the advice I gave in my original posting on this subject. The reason I advise job seekers to avoid applying for jobs through the HR Department is because the surveys say you’ve only got 1 chance in 20 of getting an interview that way. Why is that? Because the poor HR people are so overloaded with resumes, they are able to spend only 10-30 seconds reviewing each one and making a decision whether to call the person for an interview. How do I know? That’s what they tell me. One HR recruiter actually bragged to me that she averaged only 8 seconds in making the decision.

      If you contact the Hiring Manager directly you can potentially increase the frequency you get a face-to-face interview to perhaps 3 in 20 or 5 in 20. Any sales person or any professional negotiator will always tell you that you will have more success dealing directly with the person who can make the decision, rather than going through an intermediary.

      Some organizations and/or specific Hiring Managers you encounter have to play everything “by the book.” So, you will have to, also. However, some organizations and/or specific Hiring Managers have jobs for which they need people who are innovative, aggressive, can think outside the box, will not be hindered by strict policies and, hence, they are looking for those characteristics when recruiting / interviewing. They will give extra credit for job seekers who will contact them directly.

      I worked for a large company in which all job applicants were to be routed through the HR Department. Corporate-wide, it was well known that the HR Department was the owner of the recruiting process. The Hiring Managers were all trained to refer job seekers who contacted them to the HR Department. However, most recruiters in the HR Department did not get ruffled when a job seeker went around them. They recognized that some of their jobs required aggressive people and they’d find out about all job seekers eventually, anyway.

      So, when you contact a Hiring Manager directly and he/she tells you that you have to go through the HR Department, I suggest you say “I will certainly adhere to whatever recruiting procedures you have. However, I am quite well qualified for the job. I’ve done xxxxxxxxxx, xxxxxxxxxx, and xxxxxxxxxx. I’d like to meet with you to elaborate how I can help you and your company. Would you be able to meet next Tuesday or Wednesday morning?” If are then told, “No, you will need to go through HR first,” politely say, “Fine, I will do so now. Thank you for chatting for a few minutes.”

      If a Hiring Manager or an organization gets upset with you with that approach, I’d suggest that you seriously ask yourself whether that is the type of person or organization that you want to work for. It may be or you may be desperate for a job, but then again, maybe you would do better in a more flexible situation.

      So, Steve, I feel badly that things didn’t turn out well for you on that job opportunity. I can only hope that you have better success than the average job seeker by going through the HR Department.

      Comment by Jim Grant | September 28, 2011 | Reply

      • I believe that “Just George” and ” Steve” are the same person. I followed most of the advice provided while implementing my own stratagies and found success. I do agree that every employer won’t be on board but still give it a try. Good advice

        Comment by Nina | March 7, 2012

  5. Nna, congratulations on finding success. I can assure you that Steve and JustGeorge are not the same person. I am Steve, and I am only one person (i.e., I am not JustGeorge).

    Comment by Steve | March 7, 2012 | Reply

  6. ya jim i am agry on your comments but stil there is question mark nfor those who suffered this type of case.

    Comment by arun awari | September 28, 2012 | Reply

  7. “Stop Wasting Your Time Applying for Job Through the HR
    Department Jim Grant’s Blog” was indeed a wonderful post and I actually was pretty pleased to locate the blog. Thanks for your time-Francis

    Comment by http://tinyurl.com/ugggfrank44968 | January 9, 2013 | Reply

  8. Wow… What a taste of the real world. Love the outcome of this forum. Nothing like reading real life situations.

    Comment by Aurielle L Granger | March 11, 2013 | Reply

  9. I completely agree with this article. Over the years, I have applied to HR for hundreds of positions that I’m well qualified for with zero bang for my buck. Every time I skirt HR, I get an interview and the job Here’s a recent example: I applied for a position in January, nothing. 4 days ago (Sat), I applied again and also sent an email to the director of the department, on Monday, the Director forwarded my resume to the HR Manager, thanked me for my interest, and said I should be contacted soon for an interview. This industry is a niche, there aren’t many in the field and I have over 8 years of experience and collaborated with the director in the past. Shame on HR for missing the boat on this one; however, I’m sad to say, I’m not surprised.

    Comment by Kim | March 12, 2013 | Reply

  10. Hi Jim: I would appreciate your advice – I know that you recommend meeting with the Hiring Manager in rather than HR, but here is my one shot at getting into a large organization: There is a project management job posted – I want the job. I contacted a friend of mine. He is a top executive and I have never asked anything of him before. He could not identify the internal hiring manager so instead finally just gave me the contact info for the head of HR. The admin for the head of HR was very accommodating and I have an hour, face-to-face meeting coming up with the head of HR. How do you recommend I approach the meeting? My concerns are this: I am attempting to change over to the business side (attorney for 20 years with project management experience to now, a formal project management opportunity); I don’t know if the job is still posted; I know that this is my one shot to get into the organization. – Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

    Comment by HGW | April 9, 2013 | Reply

    • HGW – You made an attempt to identify and contact the Hiring Manager, so kudos to you. It’s frequently challenging to do so and when you aren’t able to do so, you end up going through HR which is where you are now.

      Before directly addressing your concern on this, I want to comment on a couple statements you made in your post that confused me somewhat. In your second sentence, you say, “There is a project management position posted” and later on you say, “I don’t know if the job is still posted.” Your near-conflicting statements suggest to me that you may not know why the head a HR wants to talk to you. Maybe he/she intends to talk to you about some other job within the organization. Perhaps this is all clear to you and you just didn’t mention it in your post, but when arranging / accepting meetings be sure you understand what the other party thinks is the pretext for the meeting. – - – Your statements also raise the question whether the head of HR realizes that, despite your background as an attorney, you are attempting to change over to the business side. These two issues I raise are not critical. However, I point them out so that you are not surprised that the meeting takes an entirely different course than you anticipate.

      I understand that your concern to be that you have 20 years of experience as an attorney and now you want to change over to the business side. In and of itself, there’s no reason to be concerned about that. While you didn’t explicitly say, I presume you’re concerned with how do you convince an employer that you can handle the business side. Fundamentally, you are talking about a career change. The standard response from job seeker counselors is that you need to be able to communicate your “transferable” skills. Those are the skills, experiences, training that you had in your previous jobs that you will be able to “transfer” to and handle a different kind of job. You need to be able to communicate your “transferable” skills verbally during interviews. You also should likely be using a “functional” resume, rather than the far more common “chronological” resume. So, right now, sit down and make a list of your “transferable” skills and then read it 5-30 minutes before you go into the interview with the head of HR. – - – The good news is that you indicated that during your 20 years as an attorney that you did project management work. So, elaborate on that during the interview. Also, don’t tell the head of HR that you want to make a career change. That might be perceived as too extreme by the head of HR. You want to talk about moving from legal work to more business-oriented work as though it will be an easy and smooth transition.

      There are a couple other things that you said in your post I want to comment on. First, you said, “Here is my one shot at getting into a large organization.” That strikes me as a tad too pessimistic. I don’t know where you live, but I’d have to assume that there are other large organizations that you could approach. Don’t wait for them to advertise a job that you want. Start contacting them now. – - – Even if there aren’t any other large organizations relatively close to you, there’s always the chance the employer you have an upcoming interview with does or will have other opportunities you might be interested in. – - – As I said in a paragraph above, the head of HR may surprise you as to what he/she wants to talk to you about.

      But those thoughts raise another question for you. What’s more important to you? Getting into a large organization or to change from legal work to work more business-oriented? You may end up having to make a decision one way or the other. Or, maybe they offer you a job as an attorney which requires project management tasks. Maybe that will turn out to be acceptable to you, if you strike up an agreement with the employer that in a year or two you will get moved out an the legal roll and into a job in another department that will require a much large portion of your time doing more business-oriented work.

      Finally, you indicated you contacted a friend who was a top executive. You said, “I have never asked anything of him before.” There’s nothing wrong with asking friends to help you out on more than one occasion or several occasions. That’s what friends are for. That’s one of the great advantages of networking. Besides, I’m sure you would offer to reciprocate to anyone who helped you during your job search. Never feel sheepish about asking for help.

      I hope you find some of my comments helpful and that things turn our great at your upcoming interview.

      Jim

      Comment by Jim Grant | April 9, 2013 | Reply

  11. Heya i am for the first time here. I came across
    this board and I find It truly useful & it helped me out a lot.
    I hope to give something back and help others like you helped me.

    Comment by click here | August 15, 2013 | Reply


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