are online application processes avoidable?

A reader writes:

Is there a way to get around what seems to be some very ridiculous online application processes? Redundant questions (like what grade school you attended, and major declared!) make me want to put a shoe through my computer screen. I’m applying for positions that demand skilled labor and have whipped up some pretty attention-getting letter and resume material (both verbally and visually). Having to turn this effort into plain text pasted into type fields ruins my layout efforts, breaks my heart, and not to mention, decimates all the work I did to try and stand out from the crowd.

But I never say die. I’ve dug around and have usually found the business email address of the company’s HR screener or even the likely person I’d be reporting to — and even from the companies that are working really hard to stay anonymous. I then send my stuff as an attachment in an email. I have a pretty good subject heading, and figured if I got this in my box I’d open it even out of curiosity. My rationale is that I’m hoping the strong content of my letter and resume will grab the person’s attention enough to want to just contact me themselves (or pass it on to HR) since this is who I’d likely be reporting to anyhow.

Is this kind of boldness (and what I like to think of as ambitiousness) in reality ruining any chance of getting contacted? 

In some cases, probably. In other cases, maybe not. Different companies work differently. At some places, if you don’t use the online application system (which they required you to use for a reason, such as that they can’t get you into their applicant tracking system otherwise), you’re not going to get considered. At other places, that may not matter so much.

But does this come across as particularly bold or ambitious? Candidly, not really; aggressive, yes, but that’s different from bold or ambitious. And you risk coming across as an “instructions don’t apply to me” type.

I’m further worried by your mention of “attention-getting” visuals and a curiosity-inducing subject-line. Sometimes these things can work, but when they don’t, they can be really bad. And the owners of the bad ones traditionally are poor judges of whether or not theirs fall in that category.

I get that you’re trying to stand out in a crowded field. But the better way to do that is by being a really strong candidate, and I get the sense that you might be putting more of an emphasis on gimmicks.

(And think about the type of manager who you’re self-selecting for by using this approach — one who responds to gimmicks over merit.)

If you really want to grab attention, find a connection to this job or company and have them personally recommend you to the person doing the hiring. That’s going to serve you a lot better than a notable subject line or a visually stunning resume.

{ 25 comments… read them below }

  1. Aubrey*


    Goofy subject lines and attention grabbing visuals are cheesy and irritating.

    Standing out at any time is tough. Standing out in this economy is even tougher. But you've got to rely on your experience and professionalism and that's about it. A pink perfumed resume a la Elle Woods is not going to cut it for an exhausted hiring manager who's sifting through hundreds of resumes for one open position.

  2. Anonymous*

    A few months I applied to a large employer via the online application. I then found the Hiring Manager's name on LinkedIn, figured out what his email address was, and emailed him a follow up.

    His response? "Thank you so much for your resume, I wish I had seen your resume. Unfortunately, we have filled the position."

    Another words, the HR people probably just picked out a handful of resumes for the interviews, and not mine. I think going around the online process is a good idea!

  3. Kara*

    8:42, maybe that's what it meant or maybe the hiring manager was just being polite and you're reading too much into one sentence! Or maybe they'd filled it before you even applied.

  4. Sabrina*

    I left an employer of 10 years about 2 years ago. In the last 6 months, I've been trying to get back in. I know *lots* of people there including the hiring manager for a position I applied for. It made zero difference. I didn't even get to the interview stage. I applied online, got to the phone screen stage, and for some reason, no further. I have no idea why. In that instance, that's how that company works. All the hiring manager could tell me was to apply online. It doesn't matter that I have a ton of contacts in that company, that I knew the hiring manager personally, or that I was a good employee for TEN years, for whatever reason (and I still haven't got a clue) I didn't get an interview. So sometimes those efforts will work, and sometimes it doesn't matter what or who you know, if HR doesn't like how you dot your I's you're going nowhere.

  5. Rebecca*

    I've been looking for a job since I graduated in December, and finally about two weeks ago found the "ideal" position. The posting indicated an online application and I completed it. However, I noticed the company's corporate office was out of state, so I did some homework, and sent a printed copy of my resume to the local office, thinking it might be a good idea to try and get one in the hands of the actual hiring manager.

    Did it work? Well, I had an interview today and while I don't know for sure the mailed resume made the difference, it was the copy the hiring manager referred to in the interview.

    I guess I would never bypass the online app, but supplementing it doesn't seem too aggressive, especially by mail.

    Am I wrong?

  6. Anonymous*

    My point is that at these large companies, it seems that the Hiring Manager is NOT the one searching through the online database of applicants. The HR rep is. That is why direct email to the hiring manager is always a good way to supplement and/or get your resume seen.

  7. Anonymous*

    I do agree that the online applications are pains and quite useless. I always ask the computer screen "Why do I have to retype this in this box? Isn't someone going to read the resume I have to attach at the end?" Of course, my computer refuses to answer me and keeps demanding for more info, including typing out every job I've had as a new entry.

    Bypassing it? I don't know. AAM hit the nail on the head with the "instructions are beneath me" reference. I don't see a problem in supplementing it, especially if you have contacts already on the inside. I've done that (results to be determined).

    Why does this letter irritate Erica? I do think the OP should've asked before having done these things (I've noticed that pattern; people do and then ask if it's okay).

  8. Anonymous*

    Digressing a little bit:

    I am a HR person working for a large company and I keep getting resumes to my email ID, which can be found in my LinkedIn.

    I always, always, request people to apply via the online system. Just because I am in HR it does not mean that I am in recruiting. If you had taken a minute to read my LinkedIn profile, you would have found that even though I work in HR by name, I am as away from the function as I could be.

    Expecting someone whom you do not personally know to figure out who is the hiring manager for the position that you are applying and then forward your resume to him/her is presumptuous.

    On sending the resume directly to the hiring manager:

    When I used to work as a HR person supporting the Hiring Manager, all resumes which were sent to him/her invariably came to me via a fyi. And I would always check with the candidate ( if the resume looked strong – not gimmicky; not visually attesting; but strong ) – that he or she had applied via the online system if the job was posted there.

    Now, for some specific jobs we directly deploy external headhunters, so in that case you do not have to fill up our online form, but what the headhunter requires to do.

    And anon 08:42, please do not read so much into the hiring managers reply. He may just be being polite. It, however, would be good for you develop your contact with him so that you can use him as an 'in' to the company. If he genuinely thought you were a good candidate, he will be open to building connections with you and referring you to his colleagues.

  9. Anonymous*

    I've emailed a hiring manager before AND applied for the position online. It resulted in a quickly scheduled interview.

    In my email I said I applied online (which I did a few days before) and thought I was a great fit and wanted to make sure my resume got seen ( I then attached my resume). I got a response saying thanks and noticed they forwarded it to HR. HR then contacted me to schedule an interview within a couple hours.

    I found out another person applied for the same position online and was called in weeks later.

    I say try it- you just never know. But make sure you apply online as well so you do show you stick to the rules.

  10. Jeff Puckett*

    Given how easy it is to email resumes on monster, careerbuilder, dice, etc., taleo (perhaps the most prevalent on-line application system) is the bane of my existence when applying online. If I click a link and see the 10 page form come up, I get very very discouraged, to the point that I don't want to take the time. With all other jobs it takes 2 clicks.

    I'm not concerned with how my resume looks as much as the time I'm wasting compared to applying to other jobs. taleo basically wants my entire life history. Argh.

  11. Anonymous*

    I agree with contacting the hiring manager. I've gotten one job and one offer only because I did this. The people in HR doing the screening are extremely literal; they don't understand when degree x is interchangable with degree y, and what types of experience can substitute for each other; if you don't have the requirements _exactly_ as they appear on their guidelines, your resume is passed over.

    Just recently, I contacted a hiring manager and he was very interested in me and had to specifically go to HR and say "where is this person's resume?"; they were not going to allow him to interview me. Even after they passed my electronic application along they fought him as he tried to make me an offer because I have a degree in sociology instead of statistics. They refused to deviate from their job description enough to understand that for this job those backgrounds were interchangable, even when the hiring manager told them I was the best candidate.

    So, yes, do go to the hiring manager, particularly when your qualifications/experience are slightly different from what's in the ad.

  12. Amy*

    If a company has invested in an online ATS, it's going to be required of every applicant to go in and create a profile, etc. That said, it is tough to stand out in the online list of applicants that shows up on HR's end. Elaborate formatting of a resume isn't what's going to give you an edge (unless you're in graphic design or some related field). In fact, many job advice articles advise applicants to have a "plain text" version for those copy and paste situations, so that any change to your formatting is minimal. As someone who works in HR in our ATS every day, the candidates who stand out to me are the ones who actually complete the online application carefully and thoughtfully. No typos, no using all lower case letters, no skipping punctuation. I don't think people understand that what they put into a company's ATS reflects on them just as much as a resume does. You're not sending a text to your BFF – you're applying to a job!

    On the flip side, I only recently rejoined the workforce after 10 months of unemployment. It did get annoying to have to keep re-entering all my information for every job I applied to. I understand what the OP is going through! I'm not just the cold, heartless HR person that HR is portrayed to be! :-)

  13. Anonymous*

    STRONGLY agree with Jeff Puckett on Taleo – it's mind-boggling that a monstrosity like that has been adopted by so many companies. Taleo must have the best marketing and sales people IN THE WORLD, because it's certainly not the user interface and technical design that make it so popular. I've actually passed over companies that use Taleo when job-searching, but I can afford to be picky (I don't have money, I'm just good at what I do).

    Moral of the story for hiring folks: Even in the current market, a convoluted and time-consuming application system may drive away the best candidates before you even know who they are.

  14. Anonymous*

    It�s not just a case of �the rules are beneath me� as AAM suggests, but also �I�m not able to follow the rules or the instructions�. I work in HR at my organization and am the individual who is responsible for posting all jobs to the various external locations. In each of the job postings there is a specific individual identified as the point of contact for that position as well as a method of contact. The contact individual is never myself, yet I still receive cover letters and resumes directed to me for the various job postings. To me that means that the person sending the resume isn�t able to properly read the description, identify the contact person and method of contact and apply as requested. It means they either think they don�t have to follow the instructions, or more likely, didn�t bother to read them well enough. Does my organization really need to interview someone that can�t even follow the basic application instructions?

    Follow the instructions listed for applying to the position. Make sure you fill out all the forms and send in all the paperwork requested. Make sure you don�t have any typos in your resume or cover letter. After you�ve done all of that feel free to follow up if you want, but don�t assume that just because you send an email to some HR rep or even the hiring manager that�s going to get you placed at the head of the pack. I do know that continuously receiving emails or phone calls from someone who keeps demanding the status of their application or asking about when they�ll be interviewed tends to piss people off and makes your odds of getting the interview pretty slim. There�s 500 other applicants out there that are able to follow the instructions and have just as good of a resume.

  15. Anonymous*

    Seriously? If you feel the application process or questions are ridiculous, move on to another company.

    Skirting the process for the OP sullies the playing field for all applicants, puts the company at risk legally, could cause internal conflict and hurt our reputation. But is the OP concerned about fallout? Nope. Not only is this irritating it's a time waster all around.

    I guess this letter gets under my skin because there's so many qualified folks looking for work I know I'm passing up good talent even when I have an offer out.

    I understand the OP's need to stand out. But avoiding the application process because they don't want to answer questions? I'm constantly amazed at what people won't do when they claim they need a job.

  16. LW*

    I couldn't keep reading the question when I had to stop and decipher what the reader meant about "redundant." I think they meant ridiculous or pointless, but not redundant. I think standing out is important, but making sure you are using words correctly in cover letters and resumes is more important.

  17. Charles*

    The frustration of the OP and many others looking for work seems to be lost on those who say "well you seem to think that rules aren't made for you." While that might be the case for some folks, it isn't the case for all those who try to "get around" the application process.

    If those of us who are looking for work knew for certain that we would be given a "fair" chance maybe we wouldn't mind spending precious time filling out the organization's insane online form.

    But it seems to me that many organizations don't even look at most of the applications (really, does anyone spend time going thorough ALL the applications? I sincererly doubt it); I have seen many recruiters/hiring managers who will just go to the database and pull off "ten or so" and contact those "lottery winnners" while the rest of us job applicants wonder what black-hole in cyberspace our resume and application fell into.

    So, yea continue to make "snap" judgements about job seekers and hope that you are never in that situation.

    (P.S. – I cannot wait until the midterm elections and then maybe this job market will get better!)

  18. ML*

    I was hired just a couple of months ago at a well-known Fortune 500 tech firm.

    Through my network, I was introduced to the hiring manager and managed to set up a direct interview with him within days. We hit it off, and after that he told me to apply online through their corporate hiring web site. Within that same week, HR called me in for my formal on-site interviews–and less than a week after that, I was given the job offer.

    So my vote definitely goes to reaching out directly to the hiring manager. If the manager is such a stickler for procedures rather than focusing on his real goal (hiring the best person for the job), then perhaps you may not want to work for such an inflexible boss anyway. Of course, it's more effective to reach out through your network rather than a cold call.

  19. ChezMJ*

    I have a question for the others who commented. I work for a recruiting software company and I have an idea that I'd like feedback on. Read the experience below and tell me if you think it would change your perception.

    I go to a career site for ACME Corporation since I'm looking for a sales job. Rather than search for sales jobs there is a simple form to register on their site to be considered for career opportunities. The form asks me for my name, phone, email, optional resume upload/attachment, my location of interest, and my area of interest (drop down menus or check box lists). I click submit. That took 30 seconds.

    The next thing I get is an email response from a recruiter thanking me for my interest in sales at ACME Corporation. The recruiter also asks me to click on a link to answer some more questions regarding my sales experience. I click on that link and I'm taken to a web form with a series of 5-10 questions to answer, most of which are multiple choice vs. paragraph text (yrs of experience, avg. deal size at previous job, sales training courses taken, etc.). That takes me about 1.5-2 mins to complete.

    Once I submit that, I now get one of 3 emails back 1)an email with a link to a specific sales job in my market for which I'm asked to apply 2) an email that says thanks but we don't have any sales openings right now but we want to keep your information so we can notify you of new sales jobs when they open OR 3) an email that says thanks but we're really looking for candidates with X number of years exp. with avg. deal size of Y, etc. – i.e. feedback on why the job or ACME Corp isn't a good fit.

    Is that a much different, and better, experience from what I'm hearing here? I know it doesn't mean you get to the hiring manager but at least you didn't invest so much time up front to sink into a black hole (and maybe you'll feel better about the company's brand as a result?).

  20. Charles*

    AAM; my apologies if you think that my rant was directed at you personally, it was not. I am sure that you are professional enough to do the job properly, as are many others.

    However, I have done nothing but contract assignments for the last couple of years (and nothing for over 19 months now.) At a couple of those contract assignments I would watch as the managers did exactly as I said – post a job online, then randomly pick only 10 or so responses to review.

    At the one place I offered to help the manager use the search filters to help search all the resumes (or at least a good part) But he said no, his method works okay.

    While I can certainly understand that no one can realistically search all of the hundreds of resumes received I think it is somewhat wrong for managers/recruiters who get upset when someone tries to go around this kind of insane hiring system. (I sometimes feel that winning the lottery has better odds!)

    That was my point, nothing personal. So, my apologies if anyone was offended.

  21. Jim J*

    I'd like to share a little dirty secret with all of you. The on-line process was invented to eliminate paper cuts for the HR people. Now they can happily go about their lives, without worrying about opening gosh darned envelopes. Remember Newman? "The mail never stops!" Now, thanks [but no thanks] to the internet, that's been taken care of. Here's another little secret — the only way to get hired these days is to now someone on the inside. If you're just a random person off the street, guess what, you can say all the right words and make all the right moves, you ain't getting the job. I'm in the same boat with all of you myself, so don't shoot the messenger. Some day the on-line process will be exposed for its uselessness, I just hope it's not too late for us.

  22. Anonymous*

    From Serggio Lama

    It may be useful to ask ourselves a few questions:
    1. Are HR people competent enough in the specific technical field to be able to identify a transferable experience and evaluate it without being a specialist in that field?
    2. Do the checklists, that HR supposedly use for the primary selection, allow them at all to take in consideration such transferable experience?
    3. Is this possible to take in consideration and evaluate transferable experience at all with computer software for automatic CV scanning (which is probably the purpose of such time consuming and contra-intuitive software like the champion of the non-sense Taleo, because what else can be the point to fill-in all these pages with useless details on your whole life, if you will have to attach your resume at the end so and so?)
    4. Isn't it perfectly justified to take at random some '10 or so' from the pile of 'Exact match' CVs and throwing the rest, including the 'Partial match' and 'No match' CVs, based on the simple 'Yas/No' checklist of the on-line questionnaire? Whatever the recruiters pretend, will anybody read your CV at all, if you are eliminated from the beginning because in one box of the checklist, a human or a software has checked NO? Or may we doubt on that?
    5. It is obvious, that the hiring manager or the project leader, being specialists in the field, are much better placed to evaluate the competence of the candidates, but can we believe that HR will let them do so and thus show that there is no need of HR? HR people also need to protect their jobs and pension plans, so will they allow anybody to step in their field of competences? From the comments of the recruiters above we see how they defend themselves to do a great job and try to create a feeling of culpability in job seekers, who object to spend 45 min to fill-in useless and endless on-line forms on several sites per day, just to see most of them freeze in the middle of the procedure and restart the whole process for a certain number of times. If we trust them, then it seems that the black hole, where CVs disappear, is an invention of unqualified and lazy job-seekers and doesn't exist in real life?
    Let's be realistic. The law of Peter and the law of Parkinson have shown quite some time ago how bureaucracy develops, grows and justifies its own growth. We can't change that, it is an objective process.
    For me the conclusion is, yes, go directly to the hiring manager. At least you have a chance to talk to a technically qualified person.
    Even if he doesn't manage to impose his opinion to HR, he may become a reference and a source of useful information and coaching if you maintain the relation with him

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