Help me get past HR
June 20, 2011 11:15 AM   Subscribe

Job seeking: How do I get past HR and reach the decision makers?

I am used to applying for and getting jobs with very small nonprofits where there wasn't much of a hiring process. An applicant would just apply, the hiring manager would decide who they wanted to interview and those folks would get called in. I'm now looking at jobs with some larger entities like hospitals, universities and city parks and recreation departments and I'm having a hard time getting past the HR gatekeepers. I saw a past AskMe thread about trying to get past Yahoo's HR and contacting the department head (presumably the person who would be doing the hiring?) directly -- but, what do you say to get them to take the call and want to talk to you? I would think it would be tremendously annoying to get these calls when you have an HR department that is supposed to be filtering for you. Is an email better? I feel like I need a reason to contact them other than -- "hey, look at me! I at least took the initiative to try to contact you directly!" How do I get noticed and get to the decision makers?
posted by fieldtrip to Work & Money (7 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
You don't. That's why big companies have hiring managers.

However, you might be able to get around that if -- and only if -- you have a legitimate intermediary point of contact with the department head. I don't mean a third-degree LinkedIn, or that you went to the same school. I mean like you know someone well enough that he or she would be comfortable recommending you to a person that he or she knows well enough to recommend someone to.

If you don't have that, then your resume will vanish into the Recycle Bin or you will get a cut-and-paste reply that says "Talk to HR."
posted by Etrigan at 11:22 AM on June 20, 2011

I agree with the previous post, and actually had a very similar experience with a job (and I got hired for it!) The key for me was networking, I found a recruiter who regularly refers people to this particular company. I took advantage of this previous relationship to market myself to the recruiter, who got me in touch with the head of the department.

I'm in the design field, and decided that the best way to advertise myself would be by showing the head examples of successful past work. I e-mailed him saying something like this:

"Dear Head of Dept,

I am an admirer of your organization and its great work...blah blah blah.

I was curious if you would be open to a lunch date and giving me some advice on past work? I'll be happy to get your lunch in exchange for feedback. Sincerely, E"

We met for lunch, he loved my work, and mentioned that his company was hiring.

1 Month later, I have an official start date this Friday.

Hope that helps!
posted by Emmmmmmmism at 11:34 AM on June 20, 2011

Best answer: I work at a large university. The way to get past the HR system here (except, alas, for the apparently-eternal hiring freeze) is to make sure that your resume matches the job requirements. Someone can forward his or her resume to me, certainly, but all I can do is tell them to route their application through the HR system. If it doesn't get through the HR system, the person cannot be hired, no matter how much we may like them. (Although usually the ability to get through the HR screening is a pretty good metric for certain skills.)

Around here, HR exists to sift out the applicants who do not indicate that they can perform the required parts of the job - secretaries who can't use Word, web content people who don't know CSS, postdocs who have experience in a totally unrelated field, etc etc. Job postings have two main parts - required skills and preferred skills. HR does not evaluate the "preferred" section, but the resume must indicate that the applicant has all the skills in the "required" section. HR is not allowed to be flexible on this either - which is actually good, since it prevents privileging, say, a random college graduate with no secretarial experience and a fancy degree over someone with relevant experience and a different social/class background.

In general, I've found that carefully seeding resumes with language from the job posting is critical. (I've helped various friends revise their resumes for nonprofit positions, and since nonprofits seem to be a little more casual about resumes simply being more formal and mirroring the language of the posting set my friends apart and helped them get hired.)
posted by Frowner at 11:54 AM on June 20, 2011 [9 favorites]

Ugh. I empathize. I had to take over as the Employment Manager (while I also did my own job) for a subsidiary of an enormous, well-known corporation for almost 12 weeks while two of my colleagues (the manager and the person who would usually relieve her) went on maternity leaves around the same time. Let me explain how this whole thing worked there and how it might be working where you are trying to apply.

(Also, what kind of job are you applying for and at what level? That also makes a difference.)

Picture the understaffed HR hiring department of corporation XYZ. On one hand, you have HR executives insisting to hiring managers that they go through the HR department so all candidates can be tracked and tabulated for EEOC reporting purposes (the best of intentions) and so favoritism and strange dealings can be held in check (a good thing). This also often applies to potential internal transfers, and that means that, even though a hiring manager may have identified someone internally to take a position, they are required to submit and post a job order internally AND externally so that all candidates can fairly apply (also the best of intentions). So you--the HR manager--are immediately flooded with resumes and candidates, potentially more than you or your department can reasonably review and process.

On the other hand, picture a hiring manager who potentially does not like to interview people, or has been warned about "going around" HR, or is just busy because he/she has an open position that they are trying to cover on top of their regular job. They either prefer all candidates go through HR so they don't have to deal with filtering out hiring prospects, or are required to do so.

So, there are you, the potential candidate, frustrated and pounding on the castle door of corporation XYZ, scanning the walls for a foothold, wondering how in the world you can possibly breach this fortress.

Two potential strategies:

1) Make sure your cover letter and resume are efficiently tailored to match the language and requirements of the posted position as much as possible. It's been said before and I'll say it again for good reason: When an understaffed hiring executive is charged with filing 20 jobs from a thousand submitted resumes/applications, they often sit with a stack (a HUGE stack) of these things in front of them. They proceed through the stack and try to filter out those who should be looked at in a second cut from those who should be dismissed out of hand efficiently. Many times, fair or not to the candidates, they rely on a set of decision-making filters for this. Does the resume mention a specific set of terms or experiences that were required in the job description? Any strange anomalies? Misspellings? They are trying to sort a tower of resumes into 10-20 resumes that will get a second closer look. YOU can make things easier for them by addressing very specifically how your experiences match their requirements in how you format your resume and with what you choose to include in your cover letter.

2) Networking, something I've always despised when it is inauthentic and insincere, yet which can absolutely give you an advantage as HR people and hiring managers want a way to close this job out quickly and efficiently so they often fall back on the very human desire to "go with who they know." Do informational interviews LONG before you actually need an offer or a position is available. Figure out which companies you'd like to work for or whose career you'd eventually enjoy, and approach investigating them as a journalist would for a story. Not with the intent of having them offer you a job, but as means of gathering information for yourself and for getting them familiar with you. I often require my own university students to conduct informational interviews or to use me as their excuse calling. "My college professor has asked us to find out more about careers in [your most exciting field or department] and I was wondering if you could answer a few questions for me about your own career path for an assignment? I'd be happy to buy you a coffee and I won't take more than 30 minutes of your time." The student is sent to ask a set of 4-5 questions to the professional about their career path and their current job, but is warned NOT to ask for anything else. Period. No requests for a job. Nothing. If the person being interviewed asks about the student's own plans, they can answer. Most of the students who choose to do this assignment eventually get one or more internship or job offers out of this exercise, either from that professional or someone else who knows them. Maybe not right away, but when a position becomes available, someone says, "Hey, remember [that student] who interviewed me about a career at [corporation XYZ]? I wonder if they would like to apply for this?"

It is not easy, especially in a tough job economy, not to take your inability to get in front of a hiring manager personally. Don't take it personally, and don't always assume that it means you are not qualified. When I did that stint I mentioned above, it was 1993 and the last time that the unemployment rate was close to being this high. A lot of really great people weren't working during that time.
posted by jeanmari at 11:59 AM on June 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

I am in the same situation as frowner: unless your resume and letter describe explicitly how you meet the job requirements, I can't hire you, no matter how wonderful you are or with whom you are networked. Period.

And, networking (awful word for a pretty benign activity) is easy if you are genuinely engaged in a field and/or a community of practitioners. There's plenty to talk about, you know people in common, etc. But it's hard and painful when there isn't anything shared beyond wanting a job. So I very much agree with the advice to make the connections early and nurture them over time; by the time a position is advertised it is usually too late. If I really want someone I will write the position to fit them, and I know this is not unusual.
posted by Forktine at 1:30 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I work in research at a large hospital and we're in a situation much like Frowner's, but with one critical difference. Although HR does do the first-pass screening and they're basically keyword-matching, we can request specific candidates be passed up to us as well, if we know by name who to request. So if you wanted a job in my group, your best bet would be to apply with a carefully tailored resume but then also contact us directly and send another copy of your resume. If we like the looks of you, we'll ask HR to fish you out of the pile.

Otherwise, HR only sends us five or six candidates at a time, so you could have a fantastic resume, but if you weren't in the first six and didn't bring yourself to our attention separately, we're off interviewing and quite possibly hiring one of them, and we'll never even know your resume existed.

In our case, the direct call or email would go to my supervisor, and I think she'd prefer an email, resume attached, cover letter as the body of the email. If you did that, you'd be guaranteed she or I would at least glance over your resume, which is more than you'd be guaranteed if you were waiting around for HR to decide they like your keywords.
posted by Stacey at 2:32 PM on June 20, 2011

Do some research on using networking to get interviews. This is the exact scenario that makes it so necessary. Hiring managers have only the resume and a list of requirements to work with. If you can find a contact, and show that you have something extra to bring to the position, then you have a better chance. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 9:13 AM on June 21, 2011

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