launching job applications hard enough to escape the black hole's pull
March 4, 2013 10:36 PM   Subscribe

When applying to a job that requires sending your application through a black-hole applicant tracking system, is it a great or terrible idea to also send a copy (cold-emailed) directly to a relevant person at the organization?

If workplace culture matters, in my case I'm talking almost exclusively about universities/government/nonprofits, not corporations.

I realized that the one time I ever even got a callback from a black-hole system job is when I did this (and I actually got the job), sending a copy of my application to the administrator of the department I would be working in. I have no idea if this is a coincidence or not.

I know that in an organization large enough to have an applicant tracking system, it's almost assured that HR, not the prospective supervisors/colleagues, will have the first pass. However, I also know that in such organizations, employees are sometimes skeptical about HR's judgement in determining who will be their next supervisee/coworker. Is it possible that if Relevant Non-HR Person receives an application personally and likes what they see, they might weigh in on it to HR? Or is this just going to piss people off? Or nothing to lose?

I have a datum of one (above) showing that it's possible to do this and get the job, but I have no idea if it had any actual positive effect in that instance.

(I should add that I'm not dumb, and wouldn't send an application to someone who's clearly a Ridiculously Important Person. This is always either the would-be direct supervisor and/or the apparent administrative/operations person of the relevant department/unit.)
posted by threeants to Work & Money (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I imagine that there are, doubtless, both individuals who would be totally engaged by this tack, and those who would be furiously enraged; but I'm trying to gauge if this is, in a job hunt's aggregate, a sound strategy.
posted by threeants at 10:41 PM on March 4, 2013

When we went through a job search at my department last year, we had dozens of people who did exactly this (out of hundreds of applicants overall). It was irritating at best and exhausting at worst, because -- being understaffed to begin with -- none of us had the time to deal with it. Additionally, it just felt inherently unfair to the applicants who did follow the directions on the website. (Indeed, our shorthand for people who did this was "another person who can't follow directions," as in "I heard from three people who can't follow directions before lunch today, and one of them demanded to know the name of my supervisor so she could have me fired for refusing to interview her on the phone then and there.")

For what it's worth, all of the applicants who we eventually called in (including the candidate who we hired) went through the appropriate channels. This is not to say that we totally trusted HR to sort the resumes exactly as we might have done ourselves, but rather that on a practical level, we didn't have the time or manpower to handle it otherwise.
posted by scody at 11:46 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just to clarify, since it seemed from your response that it might be unclear, I'm talking about sending the copy by email in addition to releasing it into the HR void.

(Your answer duly and appreciatively noted!)
posted by threeants at 11:55 PM on March 4, 2013

We weren't happy with getting emailed resumes, either, though they caused less stress than the callers; we just forwarded them right back to HR, sometimes with a canned response but sometimes without responding at all. (Some would email again a few days later asking why we hadn't responded yet. This did not help them.)

This might be different in other organizations or under different circumstances, but all it did was kind of make us feel under siege (exacerbated by the fact that a number of the people who called or emailed seemed either crazy or overly aggressive or both, which wound up making everyone who called or emailed seem suspect).

To be clear: we all felt incredibly sympathetic to everyone who did this (well, maybe not to the woman who threatened to have me fired); all of us in the office have family members or friends struggling to find work right now, and all of us have been in the same spot of trying to get a job in a highly competitive environment. But there was nothing we could really do about it; our own workloads didn't decrease while the job search was going on, and if we were going to look at one resume that came to us independently, we were going to have to look at ALL of them. And that's what HR is for.

Others might have completely different perspectives or advice, but that's been my experience. Sorry (and good luck).

(edited to add: just for clarification, this is a nonprofit/museum setting.)
posted by scody at 12:16 AM on March 5, 2013

If you're applying to universities, governments, and nonprofits, you should do everything by the book. You're dealing with an entrenched bureaucracy that has no incentive to make an exception for anyone.
posted by twblalock at 1:10 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I work for the U.S. government. If you're applying for government, yes and no - if you can figure out who the key hiring manager is, give them a call, have some legitimate questions to ask that give you the opportunity to talk briefly about your own suitability for the position. I am probably less likely to look at your resume if you send it to me unsolicited, but am curious, so I would probably look at it. Don't ask for anything (other than ideally a brief phone call to ask your burning questions).

From a utility standpoint, you emailing doesn't matter at all to me in the beginning. After the position closes, first you have to make our "cert list" (list of people who, at least according to the simplest understanding of the qualifications required for the job, qualify) before my panel can consider the candidates who made the list. If you're not on the list that HR provides me, I can't do anything about that. Next, we select people for phone interviews from our list. Being someone I'm at least acquainted with is positive at this point as well.

Overall, I'd do it, but focus on having some questions you want to ask about the job so you aren't just sending out your resumes, and don't ask for an interview. I think the most reasonable way to do it would be simply sending a brief email that in a sentence or two mentions some of your most desirable traits to the job while asking if there would be an opportunity to briefly speak to the hiring manager (and apologies if the recipient is not the hiring manager) to ask about X, Y and Z.

This should be obvious, but your questions should not relate to your prospective pay or benefits, complicated HR questions about eligibility or really anything about non-work stuff - come up with some questions that relate to the job's duties and your manifest suitability at carrying them out.
posted by arnicae at 3:29 AM on March 5, 2013

I'm job hunting now, and I have been doing this. After submitting through the web site I've been going to LinkedIn and if I can find the actual hiring manager, sending them an email. It's resulted an interview maybe 3 out of 10 tries, and those were all smaller companies. However, I'm in sales so routing around roadblocks to the decision maker is something I am supposed to do. Frankly, I'm a little surprised that the technique has not been more successful for me.
posted by COD at 5:49 AM on March 5, 2013

Because you are going through a filter it is vital that you customize you resume to hit as many keywords as possible. The example I use is that if you describe your work as "party planner" and they are looking for an "event coordinator" you will want to make your resume match. Don't lie. But do make it easy for the HR person to pick your resume to pass on.
posted by agatha_magatha at 6:02 AM on March 5, 2013

Cold-email will likely either get routed straight back to HR or trashed.

But use your network. I have more than once seen a colleague approach a manager with a resume in hand and say "I know threeants and he's a great candidate for your open position. I'm not sure if HR has forwarded you his materials yet, but here's a copy of his resume for you to review." In each case, the manager contacted HR and said "you should have this applicant on file. Please don't weed him out, I'd like him screened and forwarded back to me as a potential candidate." Of course there's no guarantee you'll get the job, but having someone on the inside make the connection will almost always get your foot in the door.
This is in higher education. YMMV in other industries.
posted by trivia genius at 9:06 AM on March 5, 2013

I work at a public university. I don't mind getting a resume directly from an applicant - in fact, on a few occasions it has helped me identify a candidate who didn't make it through the first HR screen - but I absolutely am not allowed to answer questions or have a phone conversation outside of the official HR process. We are required to conduct our searches so that every applicant in a particular phase gets the same amount and type of contact (so someone who didn't get the job can't complain that someone else got special treatment).

Also, anything beyond one check-in during the process is an infringement on my time. And emailing my boss because I didn't call you back (which has happened) gets you on a very, very special list.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 9:44 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

In private enterprise and corporations, this is a fine strategy.

In government, it's pointless.

I've applied for jobs with the government, even got information back occasionally, but even if I scored 114 points (out of a possible 100) the guy who got 115 got the job.

That's just how it works.

Keep applying, eventually, you'll be the one at the top of the list.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:24 AM on March 5, 2013

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