can you contact a hiring manager with questions before applying for a job?

I’m traveling to do some book promotion this week, so I’m running some reprints this week. This was originally published in 2012.

A reader writes:

Is it ever advisable to reach out to a hiring manager before applying to a position? For example, if you’re hoping for clarification of what they’re looking for in a candidate or something along those lines.  Is that okay or is it a bit obnoxious when you’re trying to get through piles of applications?

It varies, but in most cases, you’re better off just applying.

First, they’ve really told you what they intend to tell you about the job in the job posting. Yes, job postings aren’t always clear (sometimes far from it), but that’s what they’ve put out there to communicate with applicants. If other people are able to get the basics from it, you risk looking like you need hand-holding if you can’t. (And in my experience, when I’ve had candidates reach out to me with questions before applying, it’s nearly always just a rehash of what was in the posting, which leaves me wondering why they felt the need for special contact.)

Second, employers are fielding hundreds of applicants. It’s not realistic to talk with all these people, or even with half of them … and the vast, vast majority of them are going to be screened out in the initial resume review. So most hiring managers would rather get a look at your resume first before deciding if it makes sense to talk further. (And in my experience, the candidates who reach out before applying are rarely the strongest ones. That might just be the odds — since most candidates aren’t the strongest ones — or it might say something about the resourcefulness/confidence/self-sufficiency of the candidates who are the strongest. I’m not sure which it is.)

That said, there are some hiring managers who who talk briefly with people who reach out, particularly for certain jobs. I’m often happy to talk briefly with prospective candidates for senior or hard-to-fill jobs before they apply, because an especially important part of the hiring process with those  jobs is locating the right people and getting them in the candidate pool. But I want them to send me their resume first, so I have a sense of whether they’re likely to be competitive or not before I agree to do it. (And even in these cases, I’ve found that my observation above still holds true: The strongest candidates rarely bother with this; they just cut to the chase and apply. And so years of observing that means that I’ve always got some skepticism when someone reaches out with pre-application questions.)

Anyway … you might be thinking that it’s unreasonable to expect you to put time into writing a cover letter and perhaps filling out a time-consuming application if you can’t even get some basic questions answered first to determine your initial interest in the job. And maybe it is — but most hiring managers are busy people, they know that they’re going to reject 80% of applicants as soon as they skim their materials and so the odds are high that you’re in that group, and they know that if even a small fraction of applicants reached out for personal attention before applying, they’d be swamped.

Fair or unfair, that’s the reality.

So what’s the upshot? I’d say that it’s this: Reach out only if you really have to, and use a high bar for how you’re defining “have to.” If you’re just interested in learning more but figure you’re going to apply regardless, skip the call or email and just apply. If you’re not sure you’re qualified, well, that’s why we have the application process, so just apply. In most cases, just apply.

By the way, one exception to this is if you have a connection to the hiring manager. In that case, you’re not a stranger cold-calling or cold-emailing; you’re one contact reaching out to another, and that gives you an in that isn’t subject to everything above.

{ 106 comments… read them below }

  1. Mediamaven

    As an employer, this is a huge pet peeve of mine when trying to fill a position. Typically, someone will send me a note on Linkedin asking for more information about the role, and typically not demonstrating any respectful interesting the position or the company. When applying through Indeed, that’s often what in place of a cover letter! It’s bizarre. I won’t answer and I won’t consider them.

  2. Roscoe

    This would definitely be one of those where I’d probably opt not to do it, unless it was like a Taleo application that was going to take hours to complete, those things are too big of time sucks to do without fully understanding the job. Otherwise, I would take the time to do a decent (maybe not completely custom) cover letter and send my resume.

    1. Ego Chamber

      “unless it was like a Taleo application”

      This right here. Usually I won’t bother applying to jobs that don’t bother to put very basic information in their job posting (what do you pay? what does “part time” mean to you—is that 30 hours/week or 10?) but when I’m desperate for something/anything, I’ll call the company and ask, because I’m not going to go through another whole interview process to end with “We pay $10/hr and you’ll get an average of 15 hours/week (over 4 days, obvi).” (I’m going back to school because I don’t want to live like this forever. I’m 34. I’m too old for this shit.)

    2. CoveredInBees

      I hate those Taleo applications so much. They’re never well-used. The applications are always super generic so they ask for things that are entirely unrelated to the position. Also, I realize that each company has their own Taleo account but can’t there be a way for applicants to have a *single* Taleo account to autofill in the stuff that is the same every time. I’m applying for jobs that require a graduate degree and professional certifications, do I really have to keep filling in my high school’s phone number?

  3. EmilyG

    I think this is a great example of why networking is helpful. If you have questions about an organization or a position that you’re curious about but your questions don’t rise to that level of contacting the hiring manager… it sure is handy if you know someone else where who you can ask in a more casual way.

  4. owlie

    Unfortunately I think this works *just* often enough that it will persist (job strategy evolution or something)…I remember in graduate school there were profs who were known not to bother reading applications for their teaching assistants but would respond to emailed advance contact by selecting those emailers for the positions. In that world, they were bestowing ~$40K based on gumption.

        1. Ray Gillette

          I emailed an old professor asking how to apply for adjunct roles and…turned out he was in charge. My first thought was, “Well, that’s a confusing lesson.”

  5. KHB

    Is there any way to effectively reach out when the job ad is really, truly vague and awful? I remember a number of years ago trying to decide whether to apply for a job where the only listed qualifications were a particular degree (which I had) and fluency in English (this was for a job in the US). There was no hint of how they’d be evaluating candidates beyond those two criteria.

    This wasn’t some fly-by-night, incompetent organization, either. It was a prestigious job with a well-established scholarly nonprofit. I was meeting with a career counselor at the time, and I remember asking her how on earth to present myself as an appealing candidate when I didn’t know what they were looking for. I don’t remember what she answered.

    1. Turquoisecow

      I probably wouldn’t bother applying at that point. A poorly constructed job ad means, to me, that they’re not a very organized company, unable to clearly articulate what they want. If they can’t tell me, as an applicant, what they want from me, I’m frankly not confident they’d be able to explain what they want to an employee, and that’s just a recipe for disaster.

      1. Willis

        This. Or if I really needed a job, I’d just send a resume and short/non-tailored cover letter and not spend a lot of time on it.

      2. Ali G

        Yeah this screams “let’s get a butt in the seat and then figure it out/give them all the crap work we don’t want to do.”

      3. Falling Diphthong

        Yes, this sounds like kicking the tires to see what’s out there, but with no more defined vision of the role than “like, a person…. they should speak English.”

      4. KHB

        I understand that it’s tempting to say that, but as I tried to say in my second paragraph, I really don’t think that was the case here. They’ve been employing whole teams of people to do essentially this same job for decades, and (from what I can tell from the outside looking in, at least) they’re very good at it.

        Maybe you’re right and a sloppy job ad is inevitably a sign of even more chaos lurking beneath the surface. But I can’t help but wonder if sometimes a sloppy job ad is just a sloppy job ad – because somebody had a bad day or made a mistake or wasn’t thinking things through, or because the ad was edited by somebody in HR who didn’t know what they were doing, or whatever.

        1. myswtghst

          In a situation like that, I’d try to do some due diligence first (see if there’s anyone in my network who works / worked there and could provide insight, poke around on LinkedIn/other job sites to see if there is a better posting somewhere else with more details, check out the company’s public-facing website, etc…). If they’ve been around and employing people in that type of role for decades, you might even be able to find an old job posting with more requirements, or you could look for current/former employees on LinkedIn to see how they describe(d) the role.

          If I did all that and I still felt like I didn’t have enough information, I would probably just personalize my application materials to the best of my ability, based on what I did find on the company’s public website, any industry knowledge I have, and what I expect they’d be looking for in that role, then submit and hope for the best.

          With a job ad that generic, I’d hesitate to contact the recruiter/hiring manager, because there’s a chance they’re already being bombarded with requests for more information, and as a result might not even see my inquiry. And in the end, if I did decide to contact them, I’d try to do it via email, and limit it to either asking for a more detailed job description if one is available, or asking 2-3 specific questions they can answer in writing without expending a ton of effort.

        2. TootsNYC

          They’ve been employing whole teams of people to do essentially this same job for decades,

          Then they’re expecting to hire someone who has enough contact with their company to have an idea of what the job duties would be, and what skills or achievements would be good.

          So networking is what works here. And, a certain amount of “pretending” (If I were a teapot engineer, what would I do, and what skills/experiences would be helpful?).

    2. Minocho

      I had the funniest experience with this through a recruiter.

      I was unhappy in my current position, and determined there was no point in trying to succeed there anymore, and began an aggressive job search so I could give notice. I’d worked through this recruiter before, and though she didn’t find me my previous position, she was clear and easy to work with.

      She came to me a little nervously. She and her husband specialized in tech / IT jobs, and as a relatively rare female software developer, I’m guessing she thought I’d have more people skills than average (I consider myself socially to be pretty inept, but I have been working on improving my social skills). She said “So, my husband and I can’t get a clear understanding of this position. The owner contacted us, but won’t allow us to directly talk to his head of IT. He’s looking to fill three IT positions, and when we asked to speak to the manager, he would only allow us to ask him questions. He will then solicit answers from his head of IT, and then the owner will pass those answers to us. Frankly, at this point the answers we’re getting to our questions in our attempts to understand the position are contradictory or incomprehensible. He is offering a good salary, so I was wondering if you’d be willing to go in to an interview, understanding that you’ll have to help understand what the position will entail. Obviously, we’re not sure exactly how good a fit you are right now.”

      I was very motivated to find a new job, so I agreed to go to the interview and see what I could figure out about the position.

      The interview was with the owner only. I asked questions about what technology they used. “Only the best and most up to date!” What I could expect a typical day to look like. “We don’t have any typical days!” What my day to day duties and expectations would be. “Whatever needs to be done!” Etc. Etc. When I tried to get specific, he’s brush those specifics off as unimportant. When I tried to get a broad view, his company was too hip, happening, fresh and bleeding edge to be categorized in any way. The only thing I was able to determine about the position was it seemed it would include physically setting up servers, desktops and office cabling and wiring…while wearing full professional wear.

      I went back to the recruiter and explained that they didn’t know what they wanted, and anyone they put there would have to be the owners best buddy in order to succeed – because as far as I could determine, the job description was make the owner happy. I was also categorically uninterested in the position. They thanked me for my time and attempt to understand the position, and I thought that was that.

      A few days later, I got an offer from them, and I reiterated to the recruiter that I was uninterested in pursuing the position. Evidently the owner was very upset to hear this, and demanded an explanation. The recruiter explained that I didn’t feel that the position was defined, and he was very upset to hear that, as he thought the position’s requirements and expectations had been very clear, especially after the “grilling” I gave him. The recruiter told me this while laughing about it a little with me. She and her husband had decided that while more customers are usually a good thing, some customers can’t pay you enough to make it worth dealing with them. This would be one of those customers.

      I just don’t get people, sometimes.

    3. smoke tree

      The one time I did email to ask for more detail, the posting was missing some really fundamental stuff–whether it was full or part-time, which city it was in, what level of experience it required, etc. Based on the field and organization, there wasn’t really a simple way to figure it out. Even so, I don’t think I would do the same thing anymore.

  6. Liz

    The one time I did this, it was because the posting said “Spanish skills preferred” and I wasn’t sure if that meant “you really shouldn’t bother applying for this if you don’t have Spanish skills.” I didn’t want to waste either my time or theirs if that was the case.

    1. Tau

      I didn’t want to waste either my time or theirs if that was the case.

      I totally get where you’re coming from, but the thing is that by making that inquiry, you probably are wasting their time. Even if it does turn out Spanish skills are required and you’d have no chance, you’re still probably wasting more of their time than if you just went and applied, because like Alison said they’ll have a streamlined process in place for filtering out applications that don’t fit what they need, whereas now someone needs to read your e-mail and respond to it outside the normal channels.

      You are, of course, saving your time by avoiding needing to fill out a whole application and write a cover letter if it turns out you don’t have a required skill. And I can totally see why it’d seem fair enough to say “if the HM spends these five minutes answering my e-mail, I could save myself X hours of work applying.” But can you see why the hiring manager might not look all too kindly on that calculation?

      1. Ego Chamber

        I mostly agree with you, since “preferred” should never mean “don’t even bother if you don’t have X skill” (that’s what the word “required” means), but if there’s something legitimately confusing in a job posting I’m interested in—like a skill being listed as preferred and also as required in the same posting—then I’ll call and ask.

        Yes, this is prioritizing my time over the hiring manager’s, but the hiring manager had the option to save both our time and failed, so this seems fair to me (and if they decide to discount my application at this point, that’s also fair.

        1. Turkletina

          I once went to an interview after applying for a job with “Spanish skills preferred”. (I do have Spanish skills, but I’m not fluent.) Turns out they were looking for a translator in addition to all the duties they listed in the job add. The interview was half in Spanish, included a translation exercise, and was a complete waste of their time and mine.

    2. aubrey

      I’ve posted ads like this and for me it meant ‘if a person who speaks Spanish and a person who doesn’t are equally qualified, I’ll probably pick the Spanish speaker’. But as a non-Spanish speaker, your chances really depend on how many Spanish speakers apply and if they’re amazing or mediocre (in my case the only people with my ‘preferred’ qualification were weak in my ‘required’ qualifications and didn’t get the job). So I wouldn’t be able to answer your question until I saw the other applicants, by which time it might be too late for you to apply.

      Just curious – does anyone have better wording for something like this which is really preferred but not required, to avoid people having this question? I don’t want to lose out on good applicants or get lots of applicant questions – but if people do have Spanish skills (or whatever), I want them to emphasize that in their application.

      1. Let's Talk About Splett

        I actually think it’s pretty clear the way it’s phrased, but to do a posting with columns like, “Must Have” with the non-negotiable qualifications and a separate column for “Preferred Qualifications” might make more sense visually.

        1. Safetykats

          Yes, the use of the word preferred (as opposed to the word required) is completely clear – no clarification needed. This is one of those situations where calling to ask really shows that you didn’t read the posting carefully, or are someone who is going to need a lot of hand-holding. If I was the hiring manager, that call would make you less likely to be hired.

      2. BRR

        My employer goes with “proficiency in Spanish a plus but not required.” I don’t really know if there is a better way to phrase it unless you use your first paragraph. We also will use stronger language if a second language is more beneficial or required for a role.

      3. Someone else

        I think you’re phrasing it correctly for what you mean. The problem is that even reasonable, logical, paying attention candidates who know what you said and understand it to mean what you meant have probably run into enough potential employers who say “preferred” but mean “required”, that it’s not that your phrasing is ambiguous, it’s that they been conditioned out of trusting it to mean what it says. The best you can probably do is put somethings as “required” and others as “preferred but not required” and hope for the best.

      4. TardyTardis

        I worked at a tax office, and I speak Peggy Hill Spanish, and can ask and understand answers to a few basic questions, but we had one client that was really sharp, worked part-time and spoke excellent Spanish, and I told her ‘if you want to go to tax class and get through the state test, the boss here will likely offer you bags of candy to apply’, because we had some Hispanic clients who didn’t speak English at all. Most of them had relatives to interpret, but some didn’t, and we couldn’t help them.

    3. nep

      To me ‘Spanish skills preferred’ would mean not having Spanish wouldn’t necessarily be a deal-breaker if you are a fantastic candidate, meeting or surpassing all the other qualifications; ‘Spanish skills required’ would mean don’t apply unless you are fairly proficient in the language.

    4. marmalade

      Not really seeing the ambiguity here … if Spanish skills were required rather than preferred, then surely they would have just said so?

  7. The flying piglet

    Is the advice the same for jobs that aren’t in one’s country of residence? For example, I got rejected for a job simply because I didn’t realize they were not prepared to interview overseas candidates.

    1. Jennifer Thneed

      Yes, it still applies.

      Address this in your cover letter and explain how you’re totally eager to move to their area. Then let them make their decision without remembering that you were the one pestering them with advance emails.

      1. Logan

        > Address this in your cover letter and explain how you’re totally eager to move to their area. Then let them make their decision

        Except that it appears the company had already made their decision, and wouldn’t have looked at the cover letter.

        In that rare situation, especially if the job starts off with an online application (which can filter out qualified candidates if one clicks on the wrong thing), I’d be tempted to try and network or find a way to contact the hiring people directly, if I thought that I was well qualified and deserved a chance. I have applied internationally and it worked (to be fair, I knew someone who worked there, so the networking was very straight-forward), and I also found out later that some jobs were open to internationals while others said that they were but only locals were ever hired (personal preference of the hiring person). But it probably depends on one’s industry, as mine is fairly small and networking is probably more useful than most.

  8. Grouchy 2 cents

    Hiring managers could also put a bit of work into the posting to avoid needing to answer questions. Too many postings have massive misspellings (assitant is a constant), are clearly cut and pasted from…somewhere; which would be fine except they’ve only pasted part of the description twice, or you can see that half of the sentences got cut off, or they will post paragraphs that are clearly from an internal memo (have Sally pick up task A so new person can do B and C). They’ll list 18 requirements and then have a sentence that starts with “Applicants must have” and a blank space following that. Or they’ll say apply online but not give the right URL (or any link at all).

    The single best thing a hiring manager could do when listing a position? Add a bloody salary range! So so many of the listings I see only have the line: “competitive salary commensurate with experience”. That’s not helpful. I would think listing salary ranges would save the hiring manager time too – without knowing I err on the side of applying for the position. If I know the range isn’t compatible with my ask (i.e. way too low) I won’t bother applying.

    1. A Kate

      I think “salary commensurate with experience” is the “references available upon request” for employers.

      1. TootsNYC

        actually, I think it’s worse!

        When I say “references available on request,” it means I have them, but I’m not going to bother you now. (Though, it’s also a stupid sentence and a waste of a line on a resumé, because it’s obvious.)

    2. Roja

      Seriously. I wonder if hiring managers realize just how much goodwill they get when they craft a decent job posting. It doesn’t have to be the best ever, just decent, with actual information in it.

      I’m a dance teacher, so the vast majority of lower-level hirings IME are word of mouth. But for the rare job posting, sometimes studios will put sentences like, “Looking for someone to teach ballet classes,” and that’s all they put. Okay, but what style of ballet (or is that even important)? How old are the students? Are we talking two hours of class on Mondays or an almost full-time position? It doesn’t even take that much more effort to write, “Looking for a ballet teacher to teach approximately 20 hours a week Monday-Thursday evenings to advanced students 12+, Vaganova syllabus.” Still one sentence, but one that communicates (very) valuable information!

    3. Mel

      I am looking for a part time job right now, and I would be so happy if hiring managers would put an hours per week range. Do you consider PT to be 35hr/week or 10? Or, like one job I saw do you consider 4 hours per day 6 days a week to be what you want?
      More info is always appreciated!

      1. That Would Be a Good Band Name

        On the flip side of that, I once drove an hour to interview for a job that was over in 5 minutes because it was a part-time position and I needed full-time. No idea why someone wouldn’t say that in the ad or mention it when scheduling the interview at least!

        1. Beth Jacobs

          So ridiculous. And candidates looking for part-time aren’t going to apply to a position that doesn’t specify it, because fulltime is default in professional jobs. Wondered how long it took them to figure it out?

      2. Ego Chamber

        Completely agree. Also, a bit of understanding about how money and scheduling works for PT employees would be fucking fantastic. I just interviewed last week for a job that stated in the posting it was $12/hr, 14 hours/week. Bit of a commute, but I could make that works 2 days a week and work another job around it. Except they wanted someone who could work 2 hours/day during M-F, and 4 hours on Saturday to catch up from the rest of the week.

        I would have loved that to be included in the posting, but apparently they weren’t getting as many applicants when they did that (yeah, I asked about it in the interview because I wouldn’t be able to work that schedule around another job anyway).

        1. King Friday XIII

          Two hours a day? Good lord, where do they think they’re going to find THAT unicorn?

    4. Where's the Le-Toose?

      Of course, you’re assuming the hiring manager has any control over the job posting! I’m a hiring manager for a government agency and I have no say in how the posting reads. 100% of that function is done by our HR department. I don’t get to proofread it, ask for changes, or anything else.

      Also, all applicants think they should be at the top of the range, so while a range is beneficial for you, for 10 other applicants who may not be the most experienced, they have this unreasonable expectation about what salary they will be offered because of the range.

      1. Grouchy 2 cents

        Naturally most candidates want to be at the top of the range, that’s human nature. But when listings don’t have a range what they’re telling me is that is that they want to low-ball applicants. Especially now that many states can’t ask for salary history they’re hoping that a candidate will give THEM a range that is way lower than their budget. (Particularly true for admin jobs where the salary ranges are difficult to pin down industry-wide. In my area admin salaries can start at minimum wage and go up to 6 figures depending on company and title.)At least with a range or even the phrase up to $X from the company you can get a feeling of where they are before you apply.

    5. KayEss

      I’m mid-interview process for a job that was posted with two sentences about the job duties, one of which was “expect other duties as assigned.” Big unnecessary infodump about the company, and then incredibly (I would say sketchily) vague about the job itself.

      The first interview clarified that the job is roughly what I expected… but it turns out they use a wildly different set-up and process from industry standard, including an off-putting job title, and I don’t think I like it. They also made me take both a personality screening AND what was basically an intelligence test. I’m 50-50 at the moment on whether the place is an elaborate scam/cult. Unfortunately I really need a job, and I agreed to the follow-up interview before they sprung the bizarre tests on me.

    6. marmalade

      I agree on the salary range! It’s so infuriating that people generally don’t list one.
      I guess I can’t assume that the reason an employee doesn’t post a salary range is to lowball people, because it’s just so common … but honestly, I always suspect this. Because if you’re paying market rate, why not just say so? I also think it helps perpetuate salary inequality across gender/ethnicity/etc lines.

  9. J.B.

    Application systems are frustrating, also the many times I thought I lined up well with job description and never got a call back…but would trying to call the hiring manager have helped or even saved me any time? Nope.

  10. A.N. O'Nyme

    “which leaves me wondering why they felt the need for special contact” they’re being MEMORABELE by showing GUMPTION.

  11. Lilo

    Semi-related on the gumption note… a few weeks back I saw a post on linkedin where a guy shared a post about what’s wrong with the hiring process today.

    One of his comments was a rant about how these awful hiring people treat every applicant as a number rather than a person. Tells a story about how he FLEW to the company’s office and tried to submit his paper application and talk with the hiring manager. He was flabbergasted when the receptionist told him he had to apply through the proper online channel and refused to let him see the hiring manager without an appointment.

    He was FUMING that after taking a plane ride to get there (no one asked him to?) and they won’t even accommodate an unexpected meeting. I was saddened to see others in the comments section agreeeinf with him :(

    The sad thing is he was older so he had likely years of work experience. I think some people just do not get how inconsiderate of others’ time that is.

    1. Falling Diphthong

      That example and the comments is why Alison, a seasoned manager and hirer, exists–to tell people that “I ignore instructions! I trample boundaries! I demand that you see my individual humanity!” are not appealing qualities in a new accountant.

    2. A.N. O'Nyme

      Classic mistake. Should’ve brought chocolate and a framed picture of himself, they’d have hired him on the spot.

    3. myswtghst

      It blows my mind sometimes that people clearly understand that there are many applicants for one job (which is why they want to “stand out!”), but can’t carry that logic even one step further to the realization that this means some poor hiring manager is already overwhelmed with applicants and will most likely stick with the ones who don’t try to take up even more of their already limited time.

    4. nep

      All these gimmicks simply scream: ‘I can’t stand out based on excellent performance and rich work experience, so I’ll pull some lame stunt.’

      1. Ego Chamber

        *stands on hiring managers front lawn in the rain, boombox held overhead playing the jingle from the company’s first commercial*

  12. Cat H (UK)

    In fairness, I wouldn’t do this when I know who the company is or it’s posted direct, but if it’s posted by a recruitment consultant, I will give them a call. Mostly to find out who the company is – I don’t want to send them my CV if the company isn’t one I’d want to work for. I also don’t like that sometimes they do it just to get as many CVs as they can to add to their system for a later date and different role.

    1. KX

      I’ve contacted recruiters before. For example, one posting I saw was for a job “in the Greater City Area.” That could be ten miles from me, or it could be 45 miles from me, so I emailed and asked what part of town. I got a prompt reply, and that was that. I think that was fair. If I knew the company name from a listing I wouldn’t have had to ask.

      1. myswtghst

        To me, this is one situation where contacting the recruiter makes perfect sense. It’s a quick question, the answer is important but cannot be found in the job posting, and you’re looking for a 1-sentence email in response.

      2. TootsNYC

        also, I think contacting a recruiter has a little more leeway than the hiring manager. Especially for something like that, or “is part-time 4 hours for 6 days, or 8 hours for 3?”

  13. Em

    I agree that generally contacting hiring managers before applying is not advisable. I did it once with success in a very specific instance – a graduate research assistant position that requested a code sample. It was a position where there were going to be very few candidates due to the timing of the posting, required qualifications, and school limitation. Since all my previous work was proprietary, I was going to have put some effort into just doing the application. I wanted to make sure I provided what she was looking for, since it wasn’t clear what skills she wanted to see. She appreciated that I’d reached out and later told me that she didn’t think she was going to get anyone who could do it and had just posted it because it was easier than arguing with the PI about whether they could find someone.

    The other situation when it might be appropriate is with university recruiting – some companies (e.g., Deloitte) prefer students reach out to their campus recruiter before applying. But, a regular corporate job where the application asks for a cover letter and resume? Just send it in. Or don’t send it in, if the posting is that vague. If they can’t write a job description, that does not bode well for them giving their employees clear direction.

  14. callie1

    Is it okay to contact the hiring manager just to request a salary range before applying? Most job postings don’t even mention salary, let alone a salary range. The salary range varies a lot, for admin. assistants in particular, and really depends upon the company. I spent an hour filling out an application, only to find out during a phone interview this particular company barely paid minimum wage (even though it required a college degree). A waste of everyone’s time.

    1. Evil HR Person

      I would say that’s on them. I would call their HR – if they have one, though I doubt it if they’re paying so low AND asking for a college degree. The reason I don’t post the salary range is because I get MORE unqualified candidates if I do than if I don’t post it. I don’t know what it is about putting those numbers that attracts so many people who really cannot do the job. If I got more candidates that CAN do the job by posting the numbers, then I would – but I’ve found that the opposite is true…

      1. callie1

        Evil HR- Sadly it was their HR I was interviewing with. No idea why they felt a college degree was required…and for that kind of pay.

        Its interesting you get less qualified candidates when salary is posted. I wonder if most applicants see the salary range and don’t bother to read the actual job description to confirm they are qualified.

      2. That Would Be a Good Band Name

        I’m going to guess that there are plenty of people who have, let’s say, poured tea before in a highly supervised minimum wage or just above environment but had a job title of “Tea Pouring Admin”. So if you advertise for a Teapots Admin that pays very well, they see “tea” and “admin” and they see $$$$ and figure it’s worth a shot. Where if you don’t post the salary, they don’t bother because they don’t realize how much more money it pays than what they currently make so they don’t apply for something that looks sorta-the-same-but-not-really.

      3. Ego Chamber

        “The reason I don’t post the salary range is because I get MORE unqualified candidates if I do than if I don’t post it.”

        Do you pay below your typical industry’s rate? That’s the only reason I can think of for qualified candidates to self-select out of applying for your company.

        I do everything I can to avoid applying for jobs that don’t list the salary, especially if they require unique qualifications (degree or 5+ years experience)/aren’t entry level, because literally every time I’ve done it it’s been a huge waste of my time due to the very low salary offer.

        1. Safetykats

          My guess is that getting more unqualified applicants is part and parcel of getting more applicants. If 80% of applicants are not qualified (and in my org it’s more like 90+%) and posting a salary (and we pay well) gets you 5x as many applicants, you have many more unqualified applicants for someone to weed through.

          Sometimes we post salary and sometimes we don’t. Often, we post salary grade – particularly for more senior positions. If you don’t know what the salary grade means interns of dollars, you most likely don’t have the experience we want anyway. We do tend to post salary range for college-hire and lower level positions, where applicants won’t have that background knowledge.

      4. I Coulda Been a Lawyer ;)

        I once called an employer bc the minimum wage 4 hours/day job in the mailroom required a masters degree, and I thought it might be a cut/paste error. It wasn’t. They required ALL employees to have at least a masters. They are no longer in business.

    2. Penny

      It is really common in my field not to list the salary in a job ad and I share your frustrations. I’ve even been on interviews where they wouldn’t tell me a range until I told THEM my preferred range.

    3. Mediamaven

      No. Do not do that. Terrible that your time was wasted but that doesn’t send the right first impression.

    4. BRR

      Unfortunately it’s not okay (and it’s dumb employers don’t include a salary range in every posting). You should rarely reach out to companies you’re applying to and it’s very prevalent to not include salary.

  15. Evil HR Person

    Not the same, but related: I reached out to an applicant to see if he’d be available for an interview for the Llama Wrangler position. In the job posting, I 100% explicitly said that the job required extensive travel and overnight stays. Twice. The guy emailed me back asking for information about how much travel and if he was going to work outside, because he wanted to work in an office… you know, because we keep llamas safely INSIDE?! Nowhere in the job posting did it say that this was a job that would be performed in the office. In fact, it explicitly said “this job is performed outside in harsh weather conditions, WHERE LLAMAS LIVE.”

    1. Relentlessly Socratic

      Dear E. HR Person,
      I have no llama experience, but have highly transferable cat herding skills. Please I would like to wrangle adorable llamas.
      Attached please find etc etc.
      Sincerely,
      Dr. Socratic

      1. Evil HR Person

        It boggles the mind. He replied to the ad and had Llama Wrangling experience. I just don’t understand what king of llama wrangling occurs indoors….

        Cat herding, on the other hand, *could potentially be done indoors :-)

        1. SusanIvanova

          Rather like the recent letter about the contractor on a digital content team who didn’t want to do anything on computers.

    2. Safetykats

      I honestly think we see a lot of these applications from people who don’t really want a job. They have been laid off, and are sending out the minimum number of applications they must to keep their unemployment. They don’t really want to be bothered by interviewing, so they purposely alter their (sometimes well qualified) application to leave off key things – like years of experience and any and all dates – so that we will screen them out. I used to send HR running after these people (when they looked otherwise well qualified) in case it was an oversight that they failed to list any college degree, but I don’t do that any more. It’s a waste of HR’s time and mine.

  16. Kate

    I feel that in the U.K. I see very very frequently in job ads a line like ‘please call Sandra Bobson on 345568 for an informal chat about the position’. I always wonder when I see this come up here, is it actually different here than in the US? Or do they in fact not want you to phone them even when they suggest it?

    1. Beth Jacobs

      That’s interesting! I’m based in continental Europe so I can’t give any good advice, but I do find it perplexing.

      I’ve sometimes (but still quite rarely) seen it for blue collar and service jobs. There, I’m guessing that they are expecting candidates who might be great at the job, but not necessarily able to convey that through a resume and cover letter. But I haven’t really seen it for office jobs (where the application process also screens professional communication skills and the cover letter is an informal writing sample) and wonder what are the employers trying to achieve?

      I’d take them at their word, but it just seems like they’re making their jobs unnecessarily harder. An experienced recruiter can screen out an unqualified candidate by resume in under 30 seconds, so why waste five minutes on a phone call? I guess it might be useful for a position that involves cold calling… but what else?

      1. Kate

        So they can answer the candidates’ questions? Encourage good ones to apply? Tell people who don’t meet some big requirement not to bother? It seems completely sensible to me, it’s just a little confusing that it’s apparently completely verboten in the US

      2. Mary

        The big one is “I meet all the requirements except number 3 – would you still welcome an application from me?” I’ve had answers go both ways on that, and I’ve got jobs where I didn’t have “experience of X” but I was strong enough in another area that they picked me. Of course that’s what a person spec is for, but writing a person spec isn’t an exact science and it’s very useful to be able to think through things like “how important is X in relation to Y?” with a real person rather than someone you’re imagining.

        In my experience, you’ll get a small number of enquiries which are more or less time-wastey, and you can probably deal with them pretty quickly and put them off applying, and several serious ones where it’s very useful to be able to give them more background about the position and the team. I applied for a managerial position two months ago where I chatted to the hiring manager for about 45 minutes. It didn’t change much about my application, but it meant I was much better prepared for the interview and that’s a benefit to the interview panel.

    2. Rebeck

      I can’t speak to the UK, but I do think this is a cultural difference in Australia. Enquiries are pretty much expected here, at least in library jobs and possibly more broadly within government hiring. My current workplace was giving staffing updates and noted the number of enquiries in terms of there being good interest in the position.

    3. Mary

      Yes, it is different in the UK! Most companies won’t do this if they’re expecting hundreds of applications or recruiting hundreds of people – like a grazduate scheme or something – bug as you say, it’s pretty normal for a job ad to have a contact person for more information and it definitely won’t be held against you if you phone them to have a chat beforehand.

      (I’m a UK careers adviser.)

      1. Kate

        Good to know, thanks! I thought it was fine and normal, but reading here every day that it’s the most monstrously rude thing you can do started to make me doubt myself.

  17. Transgendered Panda

    When I am posting for a position, I make it very clear : apply this way only, no drop-ins, phone calls. There’s always a candidate that will show up or call. I take this as an indication that they will not follow clear directions, and take that into consideration.

  18. GirlwithaPearl

    I am hiring for a very coveted role in my (niche) field right now, and the amount of people requesting extra information or – worse yet – transparently “connecting on Linkedin with some “ooh we have mutual friends” bullshit only to then send another message a day later “oh I applied!” is so freaking annoying. That manipulation is a dealbreaker for me.

    1. AudreyParker

      I was recently taken to task in a conversation with a couple of recruiters/advisors for NOT connecting with hiring managers when applying! This seems to be very common advice that I run into, but I’ve never come up with a non-weird way to do it, so not been added to my repertoire. Unless there’s a really obvious reason (that I never encounter), the whole thing seems very disingenuous. I was thinking maybe my avoidance was one reason my search hasn’t been going well, so glad to hear that at least it isn’t universally helping people’s chances!

  19. Bookworm

    I once tried contacting a hiring manager via Facebook and that didn’t really lead anywhere. Now that I’m older and wiser I agree with the others: if you’ve already got some sort of connection then that’s the best way to go. Otherwise it’s just annoying for them.

  20. Willis

    I’d also say that if an applicant has a question they feel they must ask, put the question in the initial email. I may have accidentally left some important thing (location, hours per week for a part time position, etc.) out of the job ad. But I’d be much more likely to respond to a potential applicant who clearly states their question up front than someone who “would love to set up a time to talk by phone so they could learn more about the position.” No thanks.

  21. banana&tanger

    Granted I was applying for a non-fed government job for which I had the very specific experience and was looking to move to the very remote location, but I submitted my app via the website and sent my resume and letter to the hiring manager via email. He called me 30 min later. And they paid my relocation expenses a few weeks later. I’d had poor experiences with online submissions and automated rejections, and didn’t want to risk it. Three years, a promotion, and a career instead of a job later … I’m glad I sent that email.

  22. Kelly

    What about contacting if one has a “technical” question about completing the application? For example, if one is unsure about how to answer a particular question or has an unusual situation that the form cannot accommodate? (Examples are I’ve asked a manager beforehand whether or not a childhood name change needs to be listed when they asked for other names you’ve used, and I once had a friend that could not complete the online form because one of the contacts had a foreign phone number that could not be inputted because the form’s phone number field assumed a North American format number.)

  23. 2015Royals

    I say it depends on the situation. If it is an internal position at a company you already work for, heck ya send a note letting them know you are interested and ask if they can provide any additional information that might not be in the job posting. The company I work for has extremely generic postings for all positions, and I can tell you a business analyst in one area is not doing what a business analyst does in another area.

    If its an external company you are applying to, I only reach out to the hiring manager if I am being referred by someone who already works there and the manager is expecting to hear from me.

  24. Sci fi chicka

    Hope this is not too late for the thread. What do you recommend if you are very interested in working for a company but the job is not quite what you are looking for? More like a “hey love the company, have ties to the area, and if and when you could use someone with skills…” because I do want to send in my CV. I did not want to just do it to the positions they currently have because I am over qualified (would havthey but would like to be in the file (it is somewhat specialized and leadership). I don’t want to be the dork who applies and wastes their time.

  25. Someone who tries her best

    Question: What if the application requires a form that is not linked or otherwise referenced in the application materials? (Happening right now to my son, who is being asked to supply a form that he doesn’t have, hasn’t heard of, and is not linked or provided.)

    1. Aisling

      I’d contact them. That’s not a contact that would be made just for the reason of making contact, which is what this post is saying would be wasting time. If you’re having technical difficulties in completing the application because they didn’t include all the materials, contact them.

  26. Dr. Penguin

    I am currently the hiring manager in this situation, for a job requiring a Ph.D. The same applicant has now called me *twice* with “just some questions about the position.” However, when I answer her questions with things like, “yes, your degree is in a sufficiently related field” she goes into interview mode and starts telling me all about said degree and all the amazing work she has done that is so related to this position. In the second call I had to straight-up tell her that this was not an interview and if she didn’t have any more specific questions she should let me get back to work.

    If she had just applied without calling, she would likely have been considered. Now, however, I am 100% positive that she is not a good fit for the position, which requires people skills and independent decision-making.

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