should I go around HR and apply with the hiring manager directly?

A reader writes:

I’m currently interviewing and have gotten many of my interviews through reaching out directly to department heads as opposed to HR. However, sometimes after these directors/VP’s email me back saying they’ve forwarded along my resume to HR, it goes no further.

I like being proactive and it seemed to make sense to me, cutting out the middleman. However, I don’t want to offend anyone or burn bridges with these companies. Should I re-think my approach? Is it wrong to reach out to department heads regarding a position instead of human resources?

Well, if an employer provides specific instructions about how to apply, that’s how they want you to apply and they have reasons for that.

Deciding not to follow those instructions and to instead reach out to the hiring manager directly will mostly (not always, but mostly) annoy those hiring managers, who will wonder why you think those instructions apply to everyone but you.

And yeah, I know that there’s a bunch of advice out there about how you should always go around HR and apply to the hiring manager directly. The problem with that advice is this: The vast majority of candidates who are applying aren’t going to be ones that truly excite the hiring manager. And statistically speaking, you’re likely to be in that majority. So more often than not, the hiring manager is just going to forward your application on to HR to be processed like all the others (or will just tell you to apply that way yourself) —  and often this is going to be mildly annoying to them. So now you’ve wasted that effort, come across as if you think you’re a special snowflake, and maybe associated some annoyance with your name.

Now, here’s the tricky part of this: While this is annoying if you’re most candidates, it’s a little different if you’re a truly great candidate. In that case, doing this can actually be helpful in some (but not all) cases. If the hiring manager opens your materials and sees that you’re a truly fantastic candidate, she might pass them on to HR with a note saying that you look worth interviewing … and that might prompt HR to put you in the interview pile when maybe they otherwise wouldn’t have. However, note that this scenario relies on having an incompetent HR department who otherwise wouldn’t have spotted this unusually great candidate — and that’s pretty uncommon. It does happen (particularly in fields where HR has no clue about the substance of the work of the job they’re hiring for), but it’s not happening the majority of the time. So, for this to work to your advantage, you have to (a) be an unusually strong candidate (and again, by definition, most people are not), and (b) be applying somewhere with incompetent screeners.

And that of course is what makes this so tricky. Tons of people think they’re amazingly strong candidates when they’re not, and candidates also tend to overestimate the likelihood of incompetent screeners. As a result, you get loads of people thinking “oh, I’m in the category of people for whom this makes sense” when in fact they are not … and so hiring managers get a bunch of these emails and are generally annoyed that people aren’t just following the damn application instructions. And that, in turn, leads to this: Since the majority of these “ignore the directions and email directly” people aren’t actually great candidates, it gets associated in many hiring managers’ minds with mediocre applicants. So now when they see those emails, they’re already biased against you — because in their experience, the people who do this aren’t people they’re going to be excited about anyway. And so you’re joining a club you probably don’t want to join — the “slightly aggressive candidates who think they’re stronger than they are” club.

However … there’s one exception to everything I said above: when you know the hiring manager personally or have a connection who does. When that’s the case, emailing the hiring manager directly will come across totally differently, and can be really helpful to do. Even if you’re not a top-5% candidate, if you’re at least reasonably qualified and you have a personal connection, the hiring manager might handle your application differently if she knows you or you’re referred by someone she knows. So in those cases, it’s worth reaching out directly.

In the other cases, follow the directions. Write an unusually awesome cover letter, and that’s going to help you way more than randomly trying to circumvent directions.

{ 113 comments… read them below }

  1. YALM*

    Noooo! Please don’t bug me! We have recruiters for reasons.

    Also, how do you know who I am? I am not the only manager with this title who manages people who do what my people do. The job opening may be in a different group or department or business unit.

    Unless you know me, or a peer or friend offers to bring me your resume, apply through HR. Please. I beg you.

  2. Allison (not AAM!)*

    The few times I did that during my job search, I did apply online as requested, but then reached out to friends who work there or the hiring manager directly, saying, among my other accolades, that I did just apply for X position and why I thought I’d be a good fit. I then asked if they’d consider helping get my resume in front of the right people.

    Some of the companies that I applied to actually paid their employees for referrals, so that was always an incentive in a few cases. In other cases, I actually had trusted friends call me back and in strictest confidence would tell me no, you really don’t want that position because… (insane expectations, no security, etc). So I definitely recommend playing by their rules, but use any connections or resources that you have available!

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      I do this as a job seeker too. It’s much different than a cold solicitation. You’re using your network.

      I would never reach out to the manager if I didn’t know them OR if I didn’t know someone who was in the position to broker an introduction. And as a manager, ignore resumes sent directly to me by people who I don’t know. I don’t have time, for one, and for two, I don’t know who you are or anything about you other than you were able to find me instead of finding the online app. Some people may find that hungry and ambitious. I, like AAM, find it someone who doesn’t follow directions.

  3. AnotherAlison*

    Seems like there could be a lot of wasted effort searching out the department heads. LinkedIn profiles aren’t always correct (i.e. you find the guy who held the position 4 years ago and never updated his LI profile, while the real guy isn’t even on LI.) Company websites don’t normally have this information. I also think you could easily be wrong – we have mechanical engineering positions in more than one department, so emailing the ME department head is just going to make more work for her if she’s not the hiring manager.

    If you already know the department head’s name because you have a mutual connection, then it falls under the exception Alison noted in her response.

    1. Koko*

      It also occurs to me that the director/VP may be too high in the org chart to get involved in the early stages of hiring. At my org, the hiring manager and HR coordinate in the early stages (with HR doing initial resume screening and hiring manager selecting candidates to advance from HR’s pool). The director isn’t brought in until it’s time to interview a short-list of 1-2 finalists who have already been interviewed and the hiring manager is close to ready to make an offer. The VP doesn’t get involved in hiring unless it’s for directors!

  4. Lamington*

    i would say to use your connections wisely and not use the terms connections loosely. I won’t recommend you if i don’t know you or know someone that does. i had people approach me and ask them to refer them to a job because we went to the same school and i have no idea who they are.

    In some cases even with connections, you might still not have a chance. My mentor tried approaching a svp using me as common link and he tersely told her to talk to her admin and apply online.

    1. Mep*

      I agree. A few years ago, I’ve had job connections, but many of them just didn’t work out.

      I over heard my sister complaining about being a connection to her friend for a job. My sister didn’t like the fact that she was being used as a job connection to pass on her friend’s resume. I want to assume that her friend directly gave my sister her resume and told her to pass it on to possible employers.

      I’ve also seen some friends seem quite uncomfortable to be a possible connection to a job.

      So, word of advice, ask before sending a resume to a connection (or at least let them know that you’re looking) or drop the idea of asking them if they look very uncomfortable.

  5. some1*

    “I like being proactive and it seemed to make sense to me, cutting out the middleman”

    This isn’t really your call to make, though. Employers have recruiters for a reason, as Yalm points out.

    It’d be like if you hired a realtor to sell your house and I wanted to buy it. If we were friends or had a friend in common, you probably wouldn’t mind if I reached out to you personally about buying your house, but if you didn’t know me at all you’d probably be annoyed because one of the reasons you hired a realtor would be so she could screen offers for you.

      1. Michele*

        I agree!

        I am in the process of looking for a new position and the last position did not work out. They re-orged the department instead of hiring for the position. I noticed that they had the same position in a different department available so I reached out to the recruiter to let her know I was interested. I also asked how she would like me to proceed. Apply on-line or was a phone call/e-mail enough. She called me back immediately and said she would alert the recruiter and the hiring manager for the position but to also make sure I applied on-line at some point this week! You have to follow the rules no matter how silly they may seem to you!

    1. Bwmn*

      Excellent example – also because if someone you didn’t know approached you and offered a significant amount over the asking price that would be worth them bypassing the relator.

  6. HR Manager*

    This is one of those ubiquitous advices that I always see around, but never understood who came up with it, or why it’s lasted so long. About as useful as the “always call and follow-up on your resume that you’ve submitted” advice.

    Once hired, an employee will need to rely on HR at some point. If you’re starting that relationship off with a “you offer no value in this process” attitude or perspective, I don’t see how that is ever helpful.

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      Every place I’ve ever worked (as long as it’s been > 250 employees) has had a separate recruiting department within HR. Is that unusual?

      1. LBK*

        I don’t have a whole lot of experience with this but that’s how it works at my organization – hiring is a subset of HR, the people who do that have nothing to do with anything else HR handles. I can’t think of any reason I would need to contact the recruiter that hired me ever again.

        1. Barney Stinson*

          Until you want to go for an internal posting. Chances are high that the recruiter will be handling those as well. In sum: be nice to recruiters.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        We do, but we also do our own initial screening for most jobs because we know so much more what we need from a candidate than our recruiters do. We will give them ten or so resumes to start with and then give them more as needed.

      3. HR Manager*

        Not unusual. Bigger company with bigger HR can afford to have dedicated recruiters. I’ve been a dedicated recruiter and now as a generalist/manager. I don’t know about your companies, but in every company I’ve worked for, we all talk!

        1. GrumpyBoss*

          Just curious. I think it’s a good rule of thumb to not start a new relationship with an employer by alienating people – recruiters or otherwise!

          I recently started a new job where I beat the crap out of the recruiter over a salary negotiation. We were arguing over $2500 and I just wanted to win at that point. Short sighted of me because I was on my new job for 1 week (and $2500 richer thankyouverymuch) when I had to backfill an open req. and guess who my assigned recruiter was? I was very embarrassed.

          Lesson learned!

            1. Negotiator*

              the gold digger s right… never wrong to negotiate hard for what you want during the hiring process–particularly for salary. You may or many not win, but it is your job to get the most you can. The employer is doing the same for her side. That’s the game.

        2. Juli G.*

          Absolutely. My recruiter and I (I’m in a generalist role) have a biweekly formal meeting but usually touch base 1-3 a week outside of that, depending on number of openings.

          And there’s another person that does onboarding. For some reason, a few people think they can be jerks to that person. That is not a good idea either.

  7. Rat Racer*

    It is tricky though because so many of the companies I have worked for had *completely* incompetent HR departments. It was well known that the only way for an external candidate to get an interview was to know someone on the inside. (And yet, when I was trying to fill a position on my team at said company, the resumes HR sent to me were so off-base that it seemed like they were pulling random candidates out of a pile).

    The bright side, per Alison’s advice, is that these days, it’s getting easier and easier to know somebody who knows somebody at and leverage those connections to get a foot in the door. It’s easier with large companies, and fortunately, my previous company had 65,000 employees, so there were lots of doors to squeeze one’s foot into.

    1. cuppa*

      I think you make a really good point here. But the problem I have are the people I don’t know trying to leverage these connections before they have even made them. I totally agree that you should contact someone as an fyi if you know them. But after you have followed the application instructions correctly.

  8. AVP*

    This also drives me crazy because I have all of the electronic applications that come in routed through a certain email address, which is different from my regular address. They’re all in one place and formatted the same way, and that makes them really easy to sort through and simple to find what I’m looking for. If you’re the one person who sent their application in in a different way, it’s easier to get lost in the everyday shuffle and not make it into the screening group at all. (And good heavens, do not try to fax me your resume, there is approximately a 0% chance I’m going to scan it in and add it to the queue.)

    I’ll overlook this, of course, if I know you or you come referred through a good contact, but in general it’s not the best way to get attention.

  9. Hooptie*

    I’ve had a couple of applicants do this, and while they met the minimum requirements for the position I felt that not following the application process and instructions disqualified them as candidates.

    Since any resumes have to go to HR, I forwarded those to my recruiter with instructions to send the ‘no, thanks’ letter. Coming directly to me rather than following the process is a red flag that an applicant won’t follow instructions well, may be needy, may not listen, or may be pushy. Why spend my interview time on a risk like that when I have tons of other just-as-good candidates who followed the process?

    1. BRR*

      This is how I always feel about it.

      This advice is sometimes explained saying that this way it doesn’t get lost in the HR black hole. Other times they say the employer will be impressed by your initiative and creative thinking. The former I can understand. The later is a face palm.

      1. Seal*

        Same here. I am not impressed by someone who cannot or will not follow simple instructions, or thinks the rules don’t apply to them.

        1. Dani*

          Absolutely THIS. Not being able to follow simple instructions is a great way to land in my “nope” pile.

          If you can’t follow easy instructions for applying for the job, I don’t have much confidence you’ll be great at following instructions on the job.

          1. YALM*

            Agreed. And I keep the resumes in my Nope pile, along with notes about why they’re in the Nope pile, for future reference. When the resume comes in again for the next opening, I can say Nope again!

      2. PEBCAK*

        You know what shows initiative and creative thinking? Networking and otherwise making yourself known in your industry, so that wen you are job searching, you DO know the hiring manager.

        You know what does not show initiative and creative thinking? Sending your resume and cover letter to a slightly different email address.

    2. SouthernBelle*

      When I was working at LastCompany, I would place tons of ads for seasonal employees, requesting that they follow my very simple process. However, the owner of the company had a different hiring philosophy (which didn’t amount to much more than a warm body is better than nothing) and would receive applications from seemingly every Tom, Dick and Harry who had an ounce of education – and then hire them! Needless to say, those who circumvented the process got hired but NEVER lasted. All that to say, I have a healthy respect for HR processes even if I know some of them are faulty… and I wish others did as well.

    3. KarenT*

      Totally agree. And like Alison mentions, I’ve never seen a resume come in this way that was noteworthy (of course excluding connections/recommendations). Showing me you think the rules don’t apply to you is a huge, huge turn off.

  10. ZSD*

    I read the headline and actually expected to see, “This post originally appeared in 2010,” below it.

  11. Mints*

    Yeah, I monitor the job posting for our internship and and I collect all the resumes, rename them to something consistent, and put them on the shared folder, where someone else screens them. (We have an HR department, but the intern screening is done by a couple people who would work with the interns). When candidates email me or anyone else, it gets forwarded to me, and the exact same process happens. There’s no benefit at all.

  12. Lily in NYC*

    Great response from Alison. I feel exactly what she wrote when I get a resume directly from a candidate. What bugs me more are the referrals that aren’t really referrals. Is it just me? Do other people get shady referrals? As in, the candidate saw a coworker speak on a panel and they shook hands and said hello. And then I get a resume emailed from this random person telling me that “XX” referred them. Do they not think I’m going to figure out it’s only a tenuous connection? Do they not realize I actually speak to my coworkers on a daily basis and am going to ask if they referred someone? I’m surprised how often it happens.

    1. Tina*

      One time a co-worker came in to my office in disbelief, having just reviewed the resume of someone who said that I referred them. The person had few if any qualifications and the resume itself was in rough shape. She couldn’t imagine that I would refer this person – and I didn’t. I had shared the job posting on a mutual LI group, and had never even heard of the person! Some people do use the word “referred” very loosely.

    2. PizzaSquared*

      At large companies I’ve worked at, the process has accounted for this. When you submit the referral, there’s a way to tell how you know the person, including something like “met at a conference” or “friend of a friend,” basically explicitly saying you haven’t worked for them and aren’t really vouching for them. At least in those companies you still get a referral bonus if they’re hired, so it’s worth submitting them, and no one is mislead by what it’s about. One of the reasons we go to conferences is to recruit.

      1. Tina*

        For whatever reason with our system (whether it’s technical or established by HR, I’m not sure), the hiring department only sees the cover letter and resume, not the whole application. This person actually wrote in his cover letter that I referred him, when I simply shared the posting with a large group (I was a colleague in the dept, not in a recruiting function). I try to be careful about the word “referred” in a job search situation, because it’s often interpreted to mean “recommended,” which is how my colleague took it. As Lily mentioned, I’m puzzled that many people don’t seem to think we talk or do follow-up with our colleagues in those situations.

  13. Tiff*

    I broke this rule before. I saw a position I thought I was perfect for, applied using the regular channels, but also FedEx’d my resume, cover letter and printed application to the Director of the agency. In many places that would have backfired. Fortunately for me, the Director looked at my materials and hand-delivered them to the hiring manager. I got the job, and I’m still there.

    I know that for most people the job search is about finding work (does the job pay? perfect fit!) but sometimes, there’s room for like-minded people to find each other. The part of my personality that urged me to send my resume directly really resonated with the company’s culture.

    1. ADE*

      I appreciate this because I did something similar and it worked for me — twice.

      In my case, 1) I was asking for something realistic towards my skillset, 2) I was inquiring about something that didn’t exist (an internship) and wasn’t advertised on their website, and 3) I was asing people who don’t usually get hounded for internship requests.

      In my job application process I followed all the rules, including submitting docs through the central systems and then announcing to a friend that I had applied for the opening. Thanks AAM for leaving me this tip — I left no expectation on behalf of my friends to refer me up, and those who did say they were going to drop off my resume or made me e-mail introductions did so at jobs that didn’t pan out.

  14. Paid $850 for this type of service*

    I am in a situation of wanting to start a career doing X, and there is a huge barrier to becoming an X without previous X experience. To broaden my approach, I paid $850 for an all-inclusive job search with someone who specializes in X. It includes a revamped resume (I have to admit looks amazing), interview coaching over the phone, and essentially, a huge excel file with names and email address of hiring managers for position X at different companies (she has collected via linkedin, guessing, and a few years of client feedback of which email address work or not). So far, I’ve emailed 40 people and have gotten 6 responses which say “no we don’t have a position X available right now” or “you can submit your resume online.”

    I have been getting more of a response with the bottom-up networking that I had already been doing, so I regret paying for the full service instead of just the resume and maybe 1 hour of interview coaching. However, it’s been so difficult to break into this role that I was desperate and wanted to see if her approach worked!

    1. CTO*

      Yeah, the “networking” part sounds like a scam. Spending the time to find and make actual connections in the field via informational interviews, internships, etc. will be so much more effective than cold-calling(emailing) a bunch of companies from her “proprietary” list.

      Sorry it’s been such a hard time breaking into the field. Hope something comes along soon!

      1. Paid $850 for this type of service*

        It seems like the consensus is to NOT bypass HR and not NOT “cold call” when interested in a position. However, what is the view when inquiring about a position in general (ie. hidden jobs) and marketing yourself to be considered in the future?

    2. Esra*

      Is X a pretty senior position? 850$ seems like a lot to just break into an industry.

      1. Paid $850 for this type of service*

        Nope. Just someone who used to work as a recruiter, but now has their own business of selling this “technique” and list of contacts. Part of the selling point is that the position pays ~$110K, so you would recoup the cost quickly…

    3. Stephanie*

      Hmm, you’re her client, so seems like you should get what you want out the service. What if you worked with her to craft a strategy for more the bottom-up networking you’ve been doing or just stick to interview or cover letter prep?

      1. Paid $850 for this type of service*

        I think I’m already pretty good at bottom-up networking. This type of networking as gotten me to various stages of HR screen, phone interview, and 1 in-person interview. The problem has been my lack of previous X experience. Most people I’ve talked to just keep at it until they get “lucky” and someone gives them a chance.

        Yes I could also stick to just interview and cover letter prep, but I hate that I wasted so much money! It would’ve been $350 for resume, and $75/hr for other coaching!

  15. PizzaSquared*

    What about the situation where the job listing is on LinkedIn and the recruiter’s info is right there? I’ve never posted a job on LinkedIn, but I believe they can choose to show or not show that, because only some listings have it. So if they choose to show it, I’d think they’re ok being contacted (especially if they have their email address on their public LinkedIn profile, as many do). I have taken that as an invitation to contact the recruiter directly, though it’s always in the context of wanting more information or asking a specific legitimate question. And in upwards of 3/4 of the cases, it has turned into at least a good phone call with the recruiter, discussing my qualifications, what I’m looking for and what they need.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s a recruiter, not the hiring manager, so it’s a little different. Recruiter basically = HR. (Hiring manager is the person the position will report to — which I say because some people misunderstand the term and think it’s the manager of hiring.) In the post, I’m talking about bypassing HR/recruiters and going straight to the hiring manager.

      1. PizzaSquared*

        Thanks. Yeah, I saw the distinction, but to some degree it’s still “going outside the hiring process” because there’s usually an “apply” button there.

        1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

          If the job is posted on LinkedIn and it gives you the option to apply from LinkedIn, then that’s still part of the process. Many of the jobs posted on LinkedIn direct you to go to the company’s website to apply, or send an email to a specific person, or fax it to a certain number. Companies have to activate the “Apply” button, so if they did it, they’re saying “here’s a viable way of applying for this job.”

  16. Jubilance*

    I’ve always disliked working with recruiters, both as a candidate and also as someone with an open position, because it was my experience that recruiters knew absolutely NOTHING about the skills that were needed in my previous industry.

    For example, my first job out of grad school, the title was Chemical Engineer, but the work was really for a Chemist. The company didn’t have a Chemist title so HR listed it as the next closest thing in their minds. Well Chemistry and Chemical Engineering may seem like they would be similar, but most chemical engineers don’t want to work in a lab doing chemical analysis, cause that’s not engineering. And that’s why it took them a year to fill the position – they kept listing it as an engineering position and engineers would apply, and then realize it wasn’t engineering at all.

    I’ve also been caught in recruiters filtering me out based on criteria that really don’t matter, after the hiring manager asked me to apply because they knew my background and experience. It’s frustrating when you know you can do a position, and the hiring manager knows it, but the recruiter disqualifies you because your experience is in Dark Chocolate Teapots while they want someone with Milk Chocolate Teapot experience.

    I’m sure there are great recruiters out there who understand the technical nuances of the area they are recruiting in, but I haven’t encountered any. In fact, when I was looking to change careers I wanted to go into recruiting specifically because I have the technical background as well as experience in a recruiting agency…but I still couldn’t get hired :-(

    1. Lora*

      + 1 entire internet.

      There do exist recruiters who specialize in certain technical fields, but they are mostly in tech-heavy regions–Boston, San Francisco, San Diego.

      A couple of my friends are generic HR people who do recruiting for large and diverse organizations (e.g. at a university) and they sometimes call me with questions about how to deal with a tech-y job posting and what would be an appropriate salary range for this region, what other skills might be applicable, etc. Please, HR people, please–get STEM-specific people to help with this.

    2. AVP*

      This is so confusing to me, probably because I’ve always worked at smaller companies. But why didn’t someone just….explain it to the HR person? And ask them to fix it?

      1. AnotherAlison*

        If it’s anything like my industry, it is not easy to explain it. Every department and job function has its own jargon, on top of the overall industry jargon. We have company dictionaries and training sessions, but that doesn’t help when we have something like SoftwareX modeling package and the candidate’s resume only says SoftwareY AND they don’t make it clear that it is a modeling package. Every person in that technical function might know about X, Y, and Z software products, but the HR person only knows the one we use. Over time, it gets figured out, but a lot of our HR people have never worked in my field (energy) and turnover is high.

        1. Windchime*

          Yeah. For instance, Java and C++ and C# all sound like different things ( because they are!), but for the purposes of my department, they are close enough that the right candidate could easily learn the one we want if they have either of the others. A recruiter may not know or understand that, and reject candidates who don’t specifically have C#.

      2. Jubilance*

        Granted I’m getting this story secondhand, but I was told it took a year to fix due to huge company bureaucracy and also because for the first six months, HR refused to believe that they didn’t have a grasp on the skills needed for the position.

        As for explaining, I don’t know how much of that happened…but I assume it wasn’t that much.

      3. LBK*

        It’s very different in large companies where the disconnect between the hiring manager and the recruiter is much larger and the job pool is also probably much larger. If your whole company is only 20 people, you probably only have 1-2 open positions at a time. In my org, each recruiter is probably working to fill 20-30 positions at a time, and I would say that’s a conservative estimate, so the time they have for a discussion with a manager about how to hire for a position is very limited.

    3. Anonalicious*

      I run into this a lot working in healthcare. We have recruiters for clinical positions and physicians, who sometimes lack the knowledge to hire other, still very important jobs, like IT jobs, quality analysts, etc. because it’s outside their usual sphere. So it becomes difficult to get good candidates when they don’t really understand what we are looking for.

      1. Mimi*

        Then why not meet with/call the recruiter to specify what it is you’re looking for?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Sometimes it’s not black and white; it can be more nuanced and can take an experienced person working in that field to spot it. (This is especially true with I.T., I think.)

    4. Stephanie*

      Well Chemistry and Chemical Engineering may seem like they would be similar, but most chemical engineers don’t want to work in a lab doing chemical analysis, cause that’s not engineering.

      I started out as a chemical engineering major. I spent a summer working in a chemistry lab doing food science research. Interesting and my PI was great, but I quickly realized I didn’t want to be behind the bench for a career.

      1. Jubilance*

        Funny, I had the exact opposite experience. I also started out as a chemical engineering major, but my first internship was in a polymer chemistry lab. When I got to my first ChemE course, I realized I didn’t care how much what coming out of the reactor at time t, I wanted to know what was coming out, the reaction taking place, etc. I switched my major to chemistry & didn’t look back. And then my first job title was Chemical Engineer…so I went full circle :-)

        1. Stephanie*

          Ha, I took my first ChemE course and realized I cared more about how the reactor worked (versus what or how much product was coming out), so I switched to mechanical engineering.

  17. Jaimie*

    I think it depends on how it’s done. In general, I don’t want to hear directly from candidates, and recently we had a candiate who, upon being rejected for a job by HR, emailed several very senior people within our organization. She was completely unqualified, and the whole thing made her look not just unqualified but also crazy. The first email she sent was funny. Then it started getting pretty creepy– give up, already.

    On the other hand, someone contacted me over LinkedIn recently in a way which really expressed why she wanted a job that I was hiring for and also explained how she figured out I was the hiring manager. I did give her a call and we had a nice conversation. Even though she’s not a good fit for my group, I liked her approach and I was happy to give her some feedback.

    1. KarenT*

      Wow–I seriously wonder how she thought that was going to play out.

      I’ve never had that happen to me, but I did have a candidate for a position I was hiring for be rejected by HR (they do an initial screen). He somehow found out I was the hiring manager, and emailed me outraged about our incompetent HR manager and how dare she reject him since he was so well qualified. I looked at his resume and all I could say in response was, “Nope, the system works!”

      1. Jaimie*

        The email stated that the recruiter had indicated that she was unqualified, but if someone would just read her resume, they would see that she was actually a perfect fit. It was very aggressive, and her resume was pages and pages long. She had summer internships on there from 2006 and 2007 (just a hint, no longer relevant).

  18. cuppa*

    This annoys me to no end. I regularly have around 100 applicants when I post a position, and each time I usually get 10-20 people who contact me directly instead of through HR. Imagine if I had 100 people do this!
    I think the part that bugs me most about this is that it seems to be the only bit of job advice that people follow religiously, and for many of these candidates, they seem to equate showing up/contacting the hiring manager outside of Recruiting as an automatic reason to get hired or get an interview. It is as if their skills and abilities don’t matter if they show “interest” or “gumption” or whatever.
    Also annoying are the people who do apply through the correct channels but then contact me to “follow up”. Calling me multiple times after I told you I would contact you if I wanted you to come in for an interview is really going to annoy me, and then you are definitely on my blacklist. A candidate during my last position called me three times after I told her I would contact her!

    1. Stephanie*

      Thing I don’t get about the follow-up advice (I haven’t used it, don’t worry!) is what you’re even supposed to say when the HR person or hiring manager does answer. I never hear a specific script to go with that advice.

      1. Stephanie*

        To clarify: not asking so I can use that piece of advice. I mean, I don’t what the purpose of following up on your application is supposed to do when HR (or whoever) will just say “Yup…we got it.”

        1. OhNo*

          It sounds like that the old advice of saying that you will call to schedule your interview. So maybe all those people are saying, “Hey, I sent you my application. So when do you want me to come in to interview?”

          But yeah, I don’t get it either. I could kind of understand calling if you were asking about the timeline or something, but even then it is a heck of a stretch to justify that when all you’ve done is submit an application. What are those people thinking?

          1. cuppa*

            I have seen those people, too. They call and say, “I’m free next Thursday for an interview!” That gets a big fat nope from me.

        2. cuppa*

          I have found that a lot of people think the same way, and then have nothing to say on the phone. All they know is that they’re supposed to “follow up” so they say, “I’m just calling to follow up.”
          I will say that I have brought in two people who called after applying. But, they called, introduced themselves, spoke about their skills, told me they’d be a great fit, and they were. It ultimately didn’t have anything to do with the fact that they followed up, and so sometimes I worry that I have accidentally reinforced that advice.

      2. the gold digger*

        a specific script

        Maybe the same conversation you have with the guy you met on a blind date who says, “I’ll call you.”

        And then he doesn’t, but he said he would call, so you call him. Because he said he would call. Right?

        That never ended well for me.

    2. Anon Y Mis*

      Related example of how to annoy hiring manager/committees:
      *Interview for a position
      *Get a specific timeline for when we will move forward with next phase
      *Decides not to wait for said timeline to follow up, AND instead of contacting the actual hiring dept and his previous point person, contacts a higher-up in the organization (whom he had previously had an informational meeting with and did not have direct hiring authority) to ask about his status for the job

      It made us feel like he was trying to coerce/manipulate us into hiring him, and confirmed our initial impressions that he wasn’t the best fit.

  19. Allison*

    From a hiring perspective, if you go rogue in the hiring process, the hiring manager may wonder when else you might disregard procedure. Might you go behind his or her back at some point?

    Also, one of the reasons companies want you to apply online rather than directly is they want to track the source of their applications. If they shell out for an account on, say, CareerBuilder, they want to know if that’s a good investment, and they do this by tracking the number of applications, the number of applications that actually lead to interviews, and perhaps most importantly, how many people they’re actually hiring from CB. Posting a job on a website costs money, and companies generally don’t like to waste money on stuff that doesn’t deliver results.

    1. Stephanie*

      I’d also guess the online applications help if the company needs to track demographics for EEO/EOE reasons.

  20. Lynn*

    I got a job a few years back doing both: I applied through the paired HR channels and I contacted the hiring manager directly. She was someone I knew personally (albeit the connection was about 8 years cold) and had a positive professional relationship.

    I emailed the hiring manager to let her know I was applying, along with attaching my cover letter and resume. I clearly stated I had also submitted through HR and I just wanted to give her a heads up.

    I believe this definitely helped my candidacy as I was technically over-qualified and ended up getting the job over 100 other candidates.

  21. Julie*

    This has truly been an eye opener for me. I truly believed I was showing initiative but now I can see the hiring manager’s perspective. Thanks to Allison who published my question and thank you to everyone who posted their own take on this issue.

    1. HR “Gumption”*

      I was recruiting some commercial sales positions this past winter and twice the VP came to me asking for submitted information on candidates that contacted him directly. Both times I was in a mad scramble to locate only to find nothing, they hadn’t sent anything first.
      This torqued my screw for a couple of reasons- First, I pride myself on tracking submitted materials and communicating with the hiring managers. Second, this pulled me and the hiring manager away from more important and relevant tasks for absolutely no gain.

  22. embarrassed*

    Oh, my, I did this several years ago when I started on my first real job search (had been working for years, always got jobs through contacts, had never actually had to search). I thought my qualifications were great and if only the hiring manager knew I was out there, they’d want me. Well, I still think my qualifications are good, but I am super embarrassed that I did this. And, as a hiring manager myself, I am pretty sure I would be annoyed at someone who did not follow the requested process. I would truly die of shame if I ever came face to face with those hiring managers I emailed directly. Ugh …

  23. NavyLT*

    Speaking as someone who is totally removed from the corporate job search world, it seems to me that taking initiative would generally be a good thing, unless there are existing instructions about how to submit an application. I don’t get why people think it’s a good idea to blow off specific instructions. As AAM said, you are statistically unlikely to be that special of a snowflake that you can bypass the application route that everyone else has to use.

  24. Maggie*

    I just did this a month ago and successfully landed an interview.

    And dayuuuum, there are a lot of recruiters reading this site; I had no idea!

    1. YALM*

      *throws wadded up resume*

      There’s always one or two who have to do things backwards just to keep job hunters confused and uncertain about which advice to follow. Sigh.

      Just the same, congrats on landing an interview.

      1. Maggie*

        I think that’s the point of the comment section, no? To share their experiences?

        1. YALM*

          Yes, of course, share experiences. My previous comment was made in a lighthearted vein that acknowledges reality. It should not be read as the rantings of a cranky old manager who wants to rule the world and enforce the One True Path or anything.

  25. Clarissa*

    On one hand, I would say go over the HR’s head if you think you would have a better chance. However, on the other hand, I agree with the answer that was provided to you because you never know that if you did go over the HR’s head that this would really mess things up for you.

  26. Sophia*

    Just have to say this matches my company SO WELL. Our HR department is notorious for not moving on amazing/perfect/great candidates because the candidate is missing 2 months of experience etc. If you have some connection to the hiring manager, it is soooo worth reaching out to them at my company.

    I know a couple people at my company who have been hired after they went around HR to the hiring manager and the hiring manager went back to HR and said they wanted the candidate moved forward, or they would hold the position until the candidate got the required amount of experience etc.

    1. Sophia*

      Oh and our HR department doesn’t notify candidates at all after they apply.

      So yea… it happens a lot that someone is just short a month or two of the 3, 4, or 5 years required and their resume gets thrown out. And they never know it unless they already know the hiring manager.

  27. Al*

    I apply through the usual and required channels and then follow-up with a decision-maker, sometimes. This might strike some recruiters as irritating, but I also think it’s important to not personalise it. Sometimes I will follow up to express my interest in and suitability for the role. If an expression of polite interest puts someone off me for good, perhaps we are not a professional match.

    If you don’t like the fact that some candidates – the good, the bad and the ugly – may contact you , if you can’t deal with that and filter appropriately, if the occasional off-the-cuff, weird letter or email riles you then…

    ….then maybe you should get off your high horse and consider another profession.

    I also see it from the side of the Average Jane Jobseeker who spends loads of time tailoring applications: all to be met with static silence, rejection, unprofessional recruiters, rude interviewers, and unacknowledged correspondence re: thank-you’s and requests for feedback etc. .

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think you’re misunderstanding what people are saying here. It’s not that hiring managers “can’t deal” with the fact that some candidates contact them; it’s that when candidates do, it often reflects poorly on them for the reasons described in the post. That’s a very different thing, and it’s something that you as a candidate should want to avoid.

      1. Al*

        Okay, thanks Alison. No, I get you. I may have gone rogue briefly, but I still do think that sometimes hiring managers and HR reps can be judgmental and let it get to their heads if they feel slight annoyance from an otherwise decent candidate. I’ve read through the post, and all the comments. Some of the comments seem to reflect this mentality.

        On the sole basis someone takes the time to reach out, does not mean that it should go to the auto-no pile. If we’re talking sending a CV with your experience and education written in blood, waiting outside someone’s place of work, mailing foodstuffs and incessant emailing and facebook friending …yeah, that will and should reflect upon one poorly.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      LOL. I deleted most of what I wrote because it was super bitchy. I’ll just say this: smugness is not appealing and believe me, it comes through in those annoying follow-up emails you send.

      1. Al*

        Well, yeah. I understand your point if someone’s email is nasty and arrogant. But if it’s short and requesting a status update in a reasonable way and when there is cause to do so, surely it’s harmless?

        1. cuppa*

          It’s not that it’s unreasonable or harmless. Most people wouldn’t hold it against you. But keep in mind that I routinely get over 100 applicants per position and I am not in recruiting or HR. My hiring timeline changes from day to day and has always ended up being longer than I would hope for or expect. A lot of times I don’t have much to say when people follow up, and I just don’t have time to follow up with everyone (and I especially don’t when people follow up multiple times).
          I realize that it seems like it’s a good thing to do, and I’m not necessarily arguing with that. But I think that this advice has been panned out so much that it has, for a lot of people, turned into a bad and annoying thing. I don’t hold it against candidates who are well-qualified, and follow up appropriately. But I think if you are going to go outside the norm, you have to live with the possibility that someone might be annoyed, and/or you might not get a response.

          1. Al*

            Sorry -I’m Profound too. I understand what you and Lily are saying, and will think about my approach in the future. But it’s sad something a lot of people feel to be instinctually mannerable can put someone off! But I get what you are saying.

        2. Lily in NYC*

          Here’s what I’d like to know: why is it ok for you to do and not for the other 500 applicants? There is a process in place for a reason. Think about it this way: right now I am doing the initial screening for 4 open positions. Estimate 500 applications for each position (and that’s a low estimate). 30-50 out of those 500 will somehow find my email address and email me at least once. Multiply that by 4 jobs and that’s 120 – 200 people expecting special treatment because they are “taking initiative”. I am not even a hiring manager – it’s just part of my normal duties so I have a regular job to do on top of all of this resume screening. Meaning I do not have time to dig up your application, see if you are in the running and then email you and everyone else back. And it has nothing to do with sitting on a high horse; that is why my original comment was bitchy – your tone rubbed me the wrong way and shows that you are only looking at it from your point of view.

          1. Profound Chicklet*

            Okay. Again, Of course, some people will reach out. It’s business. Expect it and by all means, ignore your 30-50 unsolicited messages.

            My point is, don’t personalise it. Things are tough and frustrating for people who are unemployed and truly have the short straw. There are lots of people who would kill to be in your position, going to work on a daily basis and deleting a few hundred emails, if it means a paycheck. I’m not trying to attack you, or dismiss your point of view, I’m just saying, it’s not really about you, your workload and how you feel.

            1. +1*

              Overall, I think both parties have to be empathetic and understanding of each other. However, in a situation where one person is employed and the other is desperately trying to find work, I would hope that the HR person/recruiter/hiring manager can be the “bigger” person and be the more empathetic one…

  28. no prior work experience*

    So I don’t get this at all. If its your job to look at candidates, why would it be annoying if a candidate contacted you directly? I mean if they took out the time to find your contact info, and were ballsy enough to practically hand deliver their application to you, don’t you think they might really want the job? You talk about standing out from the crowd and being seen but when there’s this obvious and reasonably effective way of reaching the person you’re trying to reach, its deemed annoying. In the answer you say “do it if you’re not a mediocre candidate” how would you know this if you’re not obviously biased and placing yourself in the category of what you call “a special snowflake”? Are you saying candidates that follow the directions are generally below average and more than likely wont be considered for the job?
    I’ve heard straight from an HR’s mouth (my friends aunt) that she discriminates against potential applicants for unfair reasons like being over qualified, ethic names, or ‘too young’ for the job even though their over 16, the required age to work at the business she works at. I asked my friend about this after I over heard his aunt talking and he said that she’s only hired her children since she’s had the job. You even say in your answer THAT IF YOU KNOW THE HR PERSONALLY OR IF YOU’RE RELATED TO THEM, DOING THIS IS FINE. Now how is that fair to those 500+ unemployed applicants who spend day after day looking for jobs and being turned away because they don’t have the connection?
    Yesterday I called a local grocery store to ask if they were hiring, they told me no, I thanked them for their time and hung up. Literally 30 minutes later, I had my sister call and ask if they were hiring just to see what would happen and they told her that they had a few positions open. I’m not sure if they didn’t like the tone or my voice or if they just randomly just tell applicants they’re hiring or not based on the time of day, but this type of treatment is why EVERYONE is having a hard time. I mean really, how does it benefit you as an manager to turn away what could be your hardest working employee because they contacted you directly and it slightly annoyed you? what kind of tyrannical “holier than thou” attitude is that?
    I’m not saying that your methods wont work but I would rather have someone be bluntly honest with me and tell me that even if you work your hardest there’s still the high possibility someone will get the job less qualified than you are because of their social status. To say otherwise, you’re either living in a fantasy world, or you’re actively deceiving people by telling them what they want to hear.

  29. Rod*

    Companies created this situation themselves. Here’s the harsh reality: playing by the rules and submitting your application to HR almost never results in an interview. Why? Because when companies post jobs on the Internet, there are not just hundreds but THOUSANDS of applicants. First you must get through an algorithm looking for keywords. Then you must get past shortstaffed HR departments who spend 6 seconds or less reviewing your resume. Once the HR manager flags 10 applications worthy of sending to the hiring manager, the thousands of other applications go unread. You may be the most qualified applicant for the job, but if your resume doesn’t happen to be toward the top of the stack, you will never get noticed. Bottom line: you have a much better chance of having your application looked at by a human being by sending it to the hiring manager — the person who requested that the job be filled in the first place. If the manager really wants to find the best candidate, he/she shouldn’t be annoyed when someone takes the initiative — especially when it’s a proven fact that most companies hire someone who has already made a connection with said company. Want people to follow your rules? Then follow them yourself, and don’t be lazy about the hiring process. Do your homework and hire people based on their abilities, not because one of your friends recommended them or they happened to hit 9 out of 10 keywords on their resume. Otherwise, you can continue to expect unsolicited applications from job seekers who are tired of sending their applications into HR black holes.

  30. Sidney Lawson*

    If the hiring manager instructed to apply directly to them on a university website, is it safe for me to contact them to find out more about the position itself.

  31. Jim Graves*

    I honestly do understand everything you guys are saying and I know you sincerely have a very difficult time with the thousands of applicants and hiring managers, etc etc so I do sympathize. That said….I read comment after comment about “process”, the main people in life who obsess about being as bureaucratic as possible are HR. Those comments make it sound like the MOST IMPORTANT thing in the process is YOU and your AUTHORITY….when the MOST IMPORTANT thing is FILLING THE JOB with the BEST CANDIDATE and you should ideally do that however you are able to accomplish it. Lastly, if you know my resume will end up in 5643 others, do you really want to hire me if I’m passively accepting my fate of unemployment? You should want someone who strives to succeed and wants to do well, especially if they have the background needed. It’s the JOB you are trying to FILL, not YOU that is most vital thing in the process. Nothing personal, just had to say it. The rest of your posts are fantastic, have a good day.

  32. cale*

    So if it is annoying to some submit a resume via blackhole app first and include a link or screenshot of your app confirmation with your email so they can more easily look you up in their blackhole database. That did not need a bunch of paragraphs did it.

  33. Stevie Wonders*

    Given the perennial complaints about applicant tracking systems or non-technical reviewers throwing out candidates because they don’t know that different industry standard acronyms refer to the same thing, or trivial deficiencies as Sophia noted above, not convinced contacting hiring manager is such a terrible idea. Being screened by someone who has no idea what your work entails seems absurd, and probable contributor to the alleged talent shortage, especially in the tech arena.

  34. Sam*

    I’ve read through all the comments on here, and I’m now even more frustrated with the hiring process. Many recruiters and hiring managers on here say they’ll automatically write someone off for not “playing by the rules.” Do you even know what it’s like to be desperate for a job, and how hard it is to be your “perfect” candidate? You want the perfect cover letter, resume, interview questions, look, etc. or else one won’t make the cut. With the lack of good jobs, it’s hard live up to your standards.

    To hear HR and hiring managers complain that a candidate’s email is a waste their time really angers me, too. How about all the candidates time that you waste? You want to an original cover letter even though half the time you never read them. You also post fake positions that are for internal candidates without notifying external candidates that they have no shot at all. I could go on, but the point is that it’s maddening to hear HR/hiring mangers complain about candidates not respecting their time when they’re just as guilty.

    Next time you receive an email from a candidate, instead of getting annoyed, remember that’s a person who probably tailored their cover letter and resume to your company but for whatever reason got weeded out. Also, that don’t have an inside connection, so they’re looking for some way to get noticed because they really want to work for your company!

  35. Rita*


    I’m in a bit of unique situation. I’m currently interviewing for a company, but the thing is I’ve interviewed with them three times for various positions. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to the company as “X.” I started off interviewing for a Exec. Assistant position for one department and I was rejected. However, they said I was good fit for the company. Then HR was kind enough to ask me what other positions I’m interested in and would forward my resume to the hiring managers. As a result, I was fortunate enough to interview for other positions within the company. I’m still waiting to hear back about the results from my most recent interview with them. In the meantime, I’m still job hunting as usual. Then on “X’s” website I noticed another position I was interested in. I want to contact HR and notify them that I’m also interested in this position since they’ve been so helpful in forwarding my resume for other positions within “X.” But, I’m not sure if this considered inappropriate or too pushy since I’m still waiting to hear back about my last interview. I could apply the normal way through their website and follow the regular process, but I’ve been in contact with HR due to my multiple interviews. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to ask if they could forward my information one more time so I can avoid my resume being in a pile with a thousand other resumes? At the same time, I don’t want to come off as desperate.

    Any advice on the best way to proceed?


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