should I go around HR and contact the hiring manager directly?

A reader writes:

I’m currently job searching and when I learn about an opening, I’ll often reach 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 cutting out the middleman seemed to make sense to me. 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 HR?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 123 comments… read them below }

  1. Evil HR Person

    And, honestly, don’t call HR either. We are swamped and your name is not likely to suddenly jump to the top of the pile if you were not a strong candidate to begin with. If you were a strong candidate, it won’t hurt your chances – not with HR, anyway – but you just cost us 5 minutes (times however many applicants decide to call us) that we could have otherwise used to talk to the hiring manager about you. If you were meant for the job, you WILL be contacted. This is doubly true if you’re calling a company with an HR department of one, where we have to be recruiter, benefits administrator, strategic partner, business partner… and the list goes on.

    AND… I’m adding this for those of us who have to recruit and have federal contracts in the US: we have to show where each applicant came from (website, newspaper, etc.), their ethnicity, and their gender to the Dept of Labor if they come calling. There’s no way to effectively keep track of this if you circumvent our established application procedures – which is a huge no-no! So save us the headache and don’t apply directly through the hiring manager.

    1. Alli525

      I work in Communications, not the HR department, and someone called our office last week asking why no one had called her back. It baffles the mind that some people can be so obtuse about how hiring works.

      1. fposte

        Honestly, I think it’s a pretty misty mystery until you get a decent whack of experience or spend a lot of time reading AAM.

      2. Antilles

        It baffles the mind that some people can be so obtuse about how hiring works.
        I don’t think so, actually. Think about this: If you’ve never been heavily involved in the process of actually hiring someone, then where are you getting your information about how companies hire from?
        >Your friends? Honest and trustworthy, but unless they’ve hired people, you’re mostly just getting anecdotes about what worked for them.
        >Your parents? I’m sure they’re great people, but things have changed drastically even in the past 5-10 years so their advice is almost certainly outdated.
        >Advice on the internet? Definitely falls under that old adage of “90% of everything is trash”. A lot of places are also more tilted towards “drawing eyeballs” rather than “effective advice”.
        >Recruiters? They should know how to hire, right? Well, you’d think so…but a lot of them haven’t ever actually been on that side of the desk. Just look at the AAM archives and you’ll realize how many have no idea what’s going on.
        >Career consultants? Hoo boy. Even if they’re legitimately trying to help (not a given), how do you know they actually know anything? Also have a clear incentive to do something no matter what – even if you showed up with the greatest resume in history, they’d need to change it up to justify their fee.

        1. Antilles

          Note: Just to be clear, AAM is definitely in the 10% of the job-search advice Internet that’s *not* trash…but if you were just randomly searching for job search advice, you’re just as likely to end up at Bob’s House of Gumption Advice* as here.
          *Sample suggestion: Next time it’s raining, show up in the parking lot with an umbrella. Every time someone pulls into the parking lot, run up their car to escort them into the office. This clearly shows that you are an intelligent problem-solver who is ready for anything. Say something like “I’m so dedicated to this job, not even Zeus himself with all his lightning can stop me!”

          1. Hills to Die on

            I agree with her advice, but there may be another exception…sales. I’m not in sales, but my husband has hired many people for sales positions. We were talking about this post and he said it would absolutely be a plus if someone reached out to him directly. It shows that they know how to get around roadblocks and know how to go straight to the decision maker. Not sure how many other sales people would feel this way but I thought it was an interesting perspective.

            1. Antilles

              @Hills: That’s interesting and also a classic example of what I meant about “advice from friends” being very anecdotal. In sales, your husband’s stance seems completely reasonable – the entire industry revolves around being relentlessly willing to go around and try to finagle your way into the right person.
              But in the vast majority of industries, that isn’t the way it works, so your (non-sales) friends/family who are trying to get hiring advice by asking around are going to get information from him that doesn’t really serve/help their specific needs. Even if your husband caveats his advice with “well, I know this might not be true everywhere, but in my industry…”, someone without much experience/knowledge about hiring won’t really have a frame of reference to evaluate how much credibility to give to that sort of advice.

            2. Observer

              This is not only unique to sales, but I suspect unique to certain types of sales positions. In many positions going around the normal processes for sales winds up getting you put in the “DO NOT TALK TO THEM” list.

              In my place, the only times that any sales person has managed to get something out of the boss after bypassing normal channels has been if they already have a relationship with him. Those channels exist for a reason and people who waste his time bypassing them don’t do too well.

        2. Leela

          +1. There’s a ton of garbage information floating around and people have no way of knowing if it’s garbage. If they read that “you need to stand out and contact the HM directly” that’s now something they have to worry about, even if it’s terrible advice. Do they risk not getting the role for not contacting the HM, or not getting it because they did? Now multiply that times 100 because there are 100 or more “do this/don’t do this” dichotomies floating around that people have to worry about.

          1. Luna

            Exactly, and this is especially true for workers who came of age so to speak during the recession. It was desperate times so there was so much garbage advice about the need to stand out and get someone’s attention. It’s probably not as bad now for younger workers but still hard to know which advice is good vs. which is garbage. And most parents definitely do not understand modern job searching.

              1. Luna

                Ha sorry, I guess I shouldn’t make blanket statements like that! :) I’m thinking of people in my parents generation, who according to my parents used to find jobs by looking in the local newspaper and mail in their resumes! Definitely different from today’s world.

                1. Autumnheart

                  I was getting that advice from my parents 18 years ago during the dot-bomb/9-11 recession, and it was crap advice back then! For crying out loud, I could hypothetically have a kid going to college by now who could still getting that same advice!

                  I will say that I got my first web design job back in 1996 by looking in the classifieds and mailing my resume, and I suspect that was literally the last time that ever happened.

                2. PhyllisB

                  Luna, I knew what you meant. I was just trying to inject a bit of humor. It is true most people my age do give terrible job-hunting advice.
                  I tried my best to talk my son-in-law out of putting an objective statement on his resume. He dug in, and insisted that he “had to” because his grand-father (who is around my age) told him to, and who told him “that’s the only way to get anyone to pay attention to you.” Shudder. The only reasons I give (relatively) good advice is 1. I went back to school in my forties and got updated info. Well, that was over 20 years ago, so…2. I read a lot of career books and articles because it’s an area that interests me, and 3. The most important reason is, I discovered AAM and take to heart what’s written here. My kids know I would never steer them wrong, and if I don’t know for certain, I tell them, let me go check the AAM archives and I can usually find the answer for them.

            1. CoveredInBees

              Especially if that person is my father-in-law who works in an area so hyper-niche that you’re essentially placed through a central organization and the only job search book he’s ever read might as well have been called “Gumption: A Love Story.” But, yeah, tell me again about pestering hiring managers all day long when I put out more applications in a day than he does in a job search cycle. Neither I nor the HMs have time for that.

          2. Mike C.

            And let’s be honest here, there’s going to be a non-zero number of workplaces that see bad advice, presume that’s how they need to act, and then perpetuate it.

        3. Evil HR Person

          I’m with you on this – even the articles geared toward HR professionals are giving said professionals bad advice! I wouldn’t say this if I hadn’t read it with my own eyes. It was truly baffling.

      3. Emily K

        I am one of my employer’s public personalities, which means my name is often attached to announcements made on behalf of my employer. My communications with the public are entirely one-way – we have a separate customer service department to handle inquiries from the public. My email address and phone number are not listed online anywhere because answering public inquiries is not part of my job.

        Occasionally, I will get a response by email to an announcement that had my name attached to it, where the sender has guessed several common corporate email configurations (last.first, flast, first, etc) to try to reach me at my unlisted email address. I’ve also (less commonly) had people call the corporate office and manage to get the receptionist to put them through to my office line instead of calling the customer service number.

        These people are responding to statements made by my employer and want a response from my employer – I, a mid-level comms person, have little to no say in the content of those statements. I do not direct my employer’s activities, but people think because they get an email signed by “me” that they can take up their grievances with me directly.

        In either case all I do is forward the voicemail/email to our customer service team to handle the response, so all they’ve done is waste their own time, both trying to find my email/phone number and also the time that elapses when I have to middle-man the email – and unlike customer service, I go on vacation or travel for multi-day-long meetings sometimes and don’t clean out my inbox until I get back.

        But on a personal level, I am always incensed that someone has tried to circumvent the proper channels. I feel like trying to guess my unlisted email address is not much different than trying to guess the combination on a lock. If you were meant to know the combination, I would have given it to you myself.

        1. pleaset

          ” I do not direct my employer’s activities, but people think because they get an email signed by “me” that they can take up their grievances with me directly.”

          This seems pretty reasonable to me. I don’t think outsiders should have to understand the inner workings of any organization. If someone’s name is on something, it seems legit to contact that person. Maybe they won’t have the answers, but they’ll know someone who does.

          Now, if there is very clear info associated with the outgoing communication one a way to contact your company, then yes, I get it. But if the choice is the person with their name on something or a universal web form, I think choosing you is reasonable. The other way is reasonable also.

          I am also a communications person, and when people do this I just pass them on to an appropriate person. I don’t get mad about it.

          1. CoveredInBees

            It seems like these aren’t direct communications, but general announcements or statements. If the customer service number info is given in these communications, it is even more annoying that people are ignoring explicit information on whom to contact.

          2. MCMonkeyBean

            Yeah, if your name is signed to the communication you can’t really blame people for assuming you had some say in it.

    2. Drago Cucina

      I’m not supposed to argue with you that you really do want to skip the interview process and just hire me? Huh? (Can you tell this recently happened to me?)

      1. Specialk9

        Fyi, thanks for the Spellman Files rec, I got it on audiobook from the library and it’s really enjoyable.

    3. WalkedInYourShoes

      I agree with Evil HR Person. I am in talent acquisition and can multi-task really well. Many applicants do not realize that recruiters have hundreds or maybe even thousands of applicants for a role. Many do not have a recruiting coordinator or sourcer to alleviate the pressures of sourcing and scheduling. They also have to meet and greet the onsite candidates as well and conducting phone interviews. With that said, all these need to be tracked for compliance especially if building a team working closely in the federal space, contractors, and sub-contractors. There is a policy, process, and procedure to ensure that applicants are treated equal for the opportunity or open role.

      Recently, I had a candidate email the entire marketing team, Chief BigWig, and my manager to say that he has not heard back. To say the least, this candidate did not look into his junk folder for any communication; and did not reflect positively on him.

      Like AAM and other posters mentioned in other feeds, once you have applied, interviewed, sent a thank-you email. Forget about it and move on. The more you have in the pipeline, the more you will be focused on a great opportunity that is right for you.

      Alexander Graham Bell said, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

      1. CoveredInBees

        I like that quotation!

        I’ve definitely been guilty of that but I just sulked and sometimes complained to my partner/friend. Eventually, I figured out that assuming all of my applications were just going off into the ether made the whole experience easier.

    4. John

      Holy crap, what a load of UTTER BALONEY!!!!! Yes, don’t go around HR, just dutifully passively wait for a response as you get processed with the other 1000’s of applicants. Sure. Truly, that will get you the job. What a great strategy. That is exactly the reason why you SHOULD contact the Hiring manager directly if you really want the job, hurr durr. You literally have nothing the lose. The hiring manager is the one that makes the decision, not the HR department. That whole thing with federal contracts…more utter baloney. And do you know how many companies have incompetent screeners? Phone screeners are notoriously incompetent.

  2. Bea

    Viewing HR as the middleman is the biggest issue here. HR isn’t a middleman who is going to get a cut of the proceeds and therefore if you cut them out you’re suddenly saving money/energy or looking savvy. Going directly to a manager makes you look out of touch. We wouldn’t even forward your resume, directions are clear to go through HR.

    As HR, I also sit in on interviews and weigh in. Even if your qualifications are impressive, the personality clash would rule you out of our set up. It’s about respecting everyone in the organization.

    Would you dodge an EA and ask the COO to set up an appointment? You’ll usually be told to schedule with their assistant.

    Tail feathers ruffled so hard by this question. I’ve had people assume I’m not important enough and seen the response from the bosses, it’s never in favor of skipping steps in the process that means they do more work. Their job is to delegate after all.

    1. Kittymommy

      This so much. There’s something that comes across as super rude and dismissive of what they think hr does. Instead of being a “go getter” it shows a lack of knowledge/understanding of what offices do and division of responsibilities.

    2. Semi-regular

      Not only all of what you said, but maintaining application documents is part of how companies stay in compliance with EEOC and other employment laws, so going around the process makes it harder to do.

    3. Le Sigh

      The other thing is, if you have a decent hiring team, HR isn’t a middleman. It’s saving the hiring manager time. The hiring manager presumably has a lot of daily and weekly duties they still have to carry out, in addition to filling the open position. An effective HR or recruiting team is there to do the front-end work and streamline the process. Otherwise, hiring can slow to a crawl when hiring managers have to juggle all of the hiring/screening work and their regular duties.

      When I last hired, I got 150+ applications. If all of them went around HR to avoid the red tape, and it had all been left to me, I would have been buried.

      1. Bea

        I think that’s often forgotten. “Hiring Manager” usually means Department Manager who is filling an opening.

        You’re down a body…your work is probably increasing. So HR is there to streamline for you to avoid you spending all that extra time weeding through a stack of applications.

      2. HR Evil Uncle

        Exactly! Not only that but it’s often also my roll to make sure we’re following through the hiring process in a timely manner. So often I have to “poke” a hiring manager for follow up so we don’t lose candidates.

      3. designbot

        Yeah, and the response of this in a successful scenario is… that the hiring manager forwards your resume to HR! That indicates that HR is not in fact the middleman, but rather that both of these components are necessary, and you deciding that they should see your stuff in a different order than we’ve decided we should is not endearing, it’s entitled.

  3. Tangerina

    HR here… yeah, please don’t do that (unless, as Alison says, you know the person. That can be different).

    We don’t make applying and getting a job difficult on purpose. In fact, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to make it easier for you. We want applying to be as low effort as possible to attract top talent. But there are rules and actual laws that govern how we do things. Doing things outside the process we’ve set up can make it very difficult for us to comply with laws and reporting requirements.

    1. Washi

      Even when this isn’t true and you do have to jump through silly hoops as an applicant…it still doesn’t benefit you to circumvent the process. It just makes you seem like someone who can’t follow directions. If you end up working there, that’s when, as I did, you can politely note that having to record responses to questions in a video application is probably turning off good applicants.

    1. Bea

      Preach.

      I’ve been in wholesaling so long… No. No. No. You can’t buy direct. No. You can’t have wholesale pricing. How sweet, you want “to buy multiple!” items…are you looking for 500? Oh, you want 6. No.

      Middlemen are why I haven’t ran away to live in a remote cave with bears.

  4. AnotherAlison

    The flip side is your connection who does not reach out and instead submits their resume and application through the normal channels, and perhaps lets you know as an afterthought when it is too late. It seems like some recent grads have had the follow-the-rules routine drilled into them too much, and they don’t use their connections when they do have them.

    1. The Cleaner

      I think this is a blessing in disguise, though. If the applicant can’t navigate that situation appropriately, they likely won’t be a great match for our team regardless of their connection.

      1. AnotherAlison

        Good point! I tend to look at it from the side of this type of applicant behavior causing me a headache because I generally like to help people, but you’re right, it could alternatively be considered as self-selecting out of the job.

    2. Nanani

      If it’s too late, then presumably a better candidate was found, and pulling on connections would have made it worse all around by getting a weaker fit in the job.

      Maybe rules and systems really are better than “”networking””

    3. Teaistician

      I would say another flip side is an example I have. Colleague already knew the hiring manager and discussed the position of teaologist and hiring manager is ecstatic for colleague to apply. Colleague applies through formal channels and HR does not forward the resume because colleague’s degree is in teaistics (which is a very closely related field to teaology). Thankfully colleague followed up with hiring manager who was able to rectify what happened. This makes me question some HR departments.

  5. LENENE

    I would even argue not to do it if you know the hiring manager through someone. In that case, I would send the application to HR, and have the friend/colleague send the hiring manager an email recommending you. In that case, the hiring manager can then go to HR and ask them to put you through. Or, maybe the hiring manager will tell the friend to have you send it to them directly. But anything else can come off as really presumptuous.

    1. Ali G

      Exactly. I have 2 recent examples of this. I saw a job advertised for and organization I know very well. I submitted my application via the (extremely cumbersome) online platform, and then I emailed my best contact at the org and let her know I applied and was very excited about the potential opportunity. I have a phone screen with HR tomorrow.
      Similarly there is another job open at a different org and I had a question as to whether I should apply. I reached out to a colleague who works with the hiring manager of the position and he got me set up for a call to talk to the hiring manager before I apply to make sure we aren’t collectively wasting time (technically the position is in a satellite office 2 hours away, but I am like 15 min from the HQ so I want to be sure some remote work is available before I apply because I am not commuting 2 hours each way 5 days a week). Even if the hiring manager agrees I could apply, I will still do it through the HR process and then just let her know I did it.

    2. Bea

      This is the way to properly use connections. If you know someone who works there or ac friend of a friend, you clue them in that you applied.

      Then if the hiring manager wants to, they ask HR if they received the application. HR looks and by golly they sure did. Then the HM asks if they’re a qualified candidate, HR can then let them know “they are, they’re in the pool to go to the next round” or “they’re not exactly what we’re looking for…you want to chance it anyways?”

      I’ve had people who know people before. The bristling from the manager when they hear “so and so said they know you and to patch them right through!” is almost enough to cut through me halfway across the room.

      You can’t assume knowing someone is enough to have them allow you to skip steps, let alone use you as their leap into a job.

      1. Amylou

        Aaarrrrggghh, yes, the people that say “He knows me, just put me through.” So annoying. What part of “No I can’t put you through to the CEO if you don’t tell me your name or what you’re calling about” is so hard to understand?

        Plenty of other execs/high-ups who called politely told me their names and why they wanted to speak to him…

    3. Wine not Whine

      +100, Lenene.

      On the rare occasion there’s been an opening in my company that I thought would suit one of my friends, I’ve sent my friend the posting *with the link to apply for it* and asked them to let me know when they’ve applied. If/when they do, I’ll then drop a note to our (tiny, overworked) HR department with my own comments.

      If, however, the friend sends their cover/resume to *me* instead of going through the link…well, they’ve just proven that they’re not willing to follow directions, and I’m not going to use up my (let’s face it, minimal) credit with HR by forwarding their info outside of the proper procedure.

  6. Thor

    Is it possible that the letter writer is talking about when they learn about unadvertised openings, so there isn’t instructions on how to apply?

    1. Bea

      Then you should email your contact asking how their hiring process works.

      Sometimes companies have to look in house first so that’s why it’s not posted. Then the job they’re filling isn’t the job you got a heads up about!

  7. JenP

    Best part is when a person wants to do this but doesn’t know the actual hiring manager, so they instead think “ok, I’ll email someone in HR directly instead of doing the automated application tool”. Except the person they email has absolutely nothing to do with hiring. I work in HR analytics as a database architect, yet I’ve gotten one or two resumes sent to me.

  8. Gumption

    The directors/VPs are sometimes actually emailing back? I’m impressed. At a sufficiently busy firm, where there are billable hours targets to hit, that email will be devoured by the inbox. When I was at the engineering firm, the engineers had a 90% billable goal and I am quite certain that unless they actually knew the person, the email would be ignored in the name of “Must meet deadlines” and if they answered at all, it would be too late. Even when I had walk-ins, I would show it to the director, who would glance at it and say, sorry, no time, or put it on a corner of his desk to be ignored.

    The “middle man” is there to do the legwork in the early stages so that the department head can do his job.

    1. Opting for the Sidelines

      +1 as an engineer. If I ever received unsolicited resumes, I just forwarded them on to HR. Even the ones that were solicited still went to HR.

      1. Opting for the Sidelines

        BTW, unsolicited resumes were sent to HR WITHOUT READING. So if you thought that I had the time to even skim your resume to see if you were impressive or not, and your gumption paid off, that’s a big NOPE.

        Solicited resumes did get a review. But still went to HR (with comments).

    2. Bea

      OMG A light went on in my head over why certain clients are so salty when I have to talk to them because their company’s AP is a damn mess (aka letting invoices and requests about them rot). They suddenly have time when the account is locked for nonpayment and they need something though.

      Seriously it puts my annoyance into perspective. I’m still not amused that they can’t be bothered to foster a vendor relationship but it makes it less frustrating having a bit of reasoning.

  9. Allison

    I work in corporate talent acquisition, which is the branch of HR that deals with sourcing, recruiting, and filling open jobs – including sorting through resumes and figuring out who gets an interview. If you just contact “HR,” you may get someone who mostly deals in benefits of people who already work at the company, and they’re usually swamped, so they don’t have time to pause their work, go figure out which recruiter is working on the role, and bug them about whether they saw your resume.

    There were a couple of occasions where someone would contact me, the sourcer, to follow up on their application, and I’d bug the recruiter and they’d be like “oh yeah, I do like this person, I’ll give them a call” but that was rare and I don’t think anyone actually got hired as a result. And most often, the response was “yeah, I saw them, they’re not qualified because ____” (and then I’d ask why they didn’t get a rejection email . . . recruiters, man).

    Now, the reality is that the hiring manager will only know about the candidates who’ve passed the phone screen. Sometimes they’ll be consulted on candidates before anyone is contacted, especially in high level searches, but still, if a candidate for a role contacts the hiring manager, they’re not gonna recognize the name either way, and the reason why TA (or HR) is handling the applications is because the hiring manager still has to do their actual job (especially if they’re managing an understaffed team) and doesn’t have time to field those applications, inquiries*, or followups themselves.

    *you know, that thing where you message someone saying you’re interested in the job but “have a few questions” or request they look at your profile but refuse to fill out an actual application when directed to do so. The wooorst.

  10. Leela

    As a former recruiter, please don’t do this! (exception is Alison’s point here: “However … there’s one exception to everything I said above: when you know the hiring manager personally or have a connection who does. “)

    I assure you Hiring Managers are very irritated by any “notice me!” behavior beyond having a knockout resume/cover letter. You are likely not even close to the only person who would try this route, let alone the only person who would try other routes beyond using the application process they’ve asked for (we’ve had people come in and hand us resumes with a box of chocolates for us, people corner us at events we host or attend when it’s not a job fair, people guessing at the e-mails of employees by trying firstname.lastname@company,com, firstnamelastinitial@company.com) and it’s almost always a neon “I don’t follow instructions” sign and makes the Hiring Manager and HR feel like this person will be difficult/overestimate their value, even if their intention isn’t that at all.

    Hard agree with Alison that people tend to overestimate their skills, usually when we had openings we’d get a pool of 100+ unqualified/baffling candidates (why is the VR of purchasing applying for our entry level IT position with nothing in the cover letter about looking for a career move…?) and a pool of 10 or so strong/semi-strong candidates. If I have a pool of 10 strong candidates, even if you’re among them I’m going to choose people who didn’t try to circumvent our process to work with unless they are truly a knock-out, stellar candidate that I think we’d be devastated to miss, and those candidates are very very few and far between. Most people are pretty darn good/could do the job well, but ultimately not rare enough that I couldn’t find someone else like them at the interview stage (you become a lot less replaceable with training/company-specific knowledge)

    1. Allison

      And I want to clarify, because this isn’t obvious to young job seekers (or older people with limited job seeking experience because they were fortunate to stay with their former employer for a long time), having a “knockout resume” doesn’t just mean a resume that says “I’m smart and awesome and you should hire me because I can do anything I set my mind to!” it clearly communicates that you have the background and skills that the job requires. If you’re not a match for the job, it won’t matter how generally “awesome” you are because there will be other applicants who do match what the team is looking for.

    2. Couldn't agree more

      I am a hiring manager. I get extremely annoyed by the “resourceful” people who manage to track down my name and reach out via LinkedIn or email. As Alison has said many times, we (the company) provide information on how to apply and you’re just showing me that you either cannot follow directions or that you don’t believe the rules apply to you. I had one applicant who seemed very early-career apply the nroaml route and then send me a LinkedIn invitation to connect, saying she would like to “network with me about the opening”. Another candidate requested to “schedule an informational interview about the position” when it is clear they are a candidate and not a junior person seeking career advice. I don’t know why this irks me so much, but I’m definitely in the group of hiring managers for whom this is Not a Good Idea.

      1. Leela

        Nooooo to “network about the opening”! I’m not very senior in my current role (career shift in the last few years) but would happily LI juniors to network in GENERAL, but specifically for a role?

        I’m already overwhelmed by the hypothetical “did HR see me yet? Did the like me? I haven’t heard anything; where are you in the process? Oh I didn’t get it? WHY NOT! Hey it’s been a month just seeing if you have any other postings I’d be a good fit for?”-type messages I’d assume are coming my way

  11. irene adler

    Not disagreeing. Seems to me the best way is to follow the procedure and not be antagonistic. That’s what I would want (and expect) if I were doing the hiring. In some ways it is wise to “put yourself in the employer’s shoes…” and think about how your actions will affect those on the receiving end of them.

    I read James Caan’s Get the Job You Really Want a while ago. He spends a fair amount of time explaining how & why one must bypass HR. Doesn’t paint them in a kindly light either. I gather that it just doesn’t occur to him how aggravating it must be to have candidates not following the procedure. Just bad advice if you ask me.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar

      A hiring manager once told me he didn’t see why a candidate – a former co-worker of his- couldn’t bypass our application process. He could vouch for the person’s experience and fit, after all, and it was demeaning for the guy to actually apply for a job ‘at his level.’ He could or would not understand that we had to be compliant with our own AAP and also the OFCCP. It was his job and he could hire whoever he wanted, however he wanted. Finally, I said, ‘Okay, you convinced me. Compliance with policies is optional. I’ll tell Jim he can ignore any of your policies he doesn’t like and he can also ignore processes with other departments, including your internal customers.’ Ooh, if looks could kill…it was risky for me to do that but I was and still am tired of everyone assuming they know more about HR processes than HR does.

      1. irene adler

        If HR was truly not needed, or were detrimental to the company, owners would be rid of them in an instant.

  12. Pedro

    The answer is in the question: “these directors/VP’s email me back saying they’ve forwarded along my resume to HR”. They answer that because that’s what they actually do. Recruiting in a medium or large organization is a full-time job. Internal recruiters are there to do this job and let the other managers take care of their own responsibilities. So, as a manager, when I receive an application directly, I forward it to HR without even looking at it.

    1. Penny

      You are being kind to do that much. If they send it to you when the instructions are to send it to HR or apply via a Web form, I’m not sure I’d even forward it. Unlikely to be a good candidate if they cannot follow instructions.

  13. Abaxsc

    Hiring manager at a university/medical facility that is the largest employer in the area. We are not allowed to consider applications that do not come from HR.

  14. Triplestep

    I had to laugh at the part of Alison’s answer that says its unlikely to have an “incompetent HR department”. Not if you read any career- or job search-oriented blog! Look at the Linkedin message boards, or any Friday open thread here where recruiting has been talked about; you’ll see people piling on to say that they’ve had horrible recruiting experiences. From recruiters expressing initial interest then not calling back, to candidates taking time off for an interview that gets cancelled at the last minute, to the most common complaint of all: getting ghosted after an in-person interview for which you’ve prepped, taken time off, and gotten your hopes up over.

    And that’s all *IF* you can get your application materials past an ATS!

    I would never suggest that someone try to go around the system, mainly because I think you need to show you know how to follow directions. But until the above (and other) issues are not so common, I think HR recruiters are going to have to live with the notion that even really qualified candidates see them as a barrier in their job search.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Those are examples of rudeness, which is absolutely a problem but isn’t the same thing as “incompetent at assessing someone’s match with a job.” There are HR and recruiting people who are bad at that too, but it’s waaayyyy less common.

      1. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow

        I think that is true for HR professionals, however, there are many organizations who’s HR is run by someone who isn’t a trained professional. Especially when it comes to smaller organizations.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          In those cases, though, you usually have hiring managers have some involvement in the screening process, even if it’s just to direct the screener about what to look for.

      2. Triplestep

        True, those are examples of rudeness, but rudeness is a certain kind of incompetence. And I think it’s easy for job-seekers to draw the conclusion that one kind of incompetence is indicative of an overall incompetence. We are not privy to a recruiter’s ability to assess someone’s match to the job, but we are well-versed in being treated badly so that’s what we’re going on. Honestly, the first few responses here from HR people surprise me in their indignation.

        Anecdotally, in the four searches for which I am currently a candidate (technically three now since I turned one offer down) I have encountered exactly zero HR people. Hiring managers are starting to reach out on their own – two of them found me on Linkedin – so we job-seekers are not the only ones who see HR as being able to lift right out of this equation.

    2. irene adler

      Yeah, reading Liz Ryan for a while gives one the idea that the entire HR system is broken. One is doomed if they follow the procedure and apply as requested by the company.

      But then, I’ve applied to many, many jobs where my skills align with the job description and….nothing but crickets. After 3 years of this, I’m beginning to think there’s some sort of conspiracy against me. But that would require many various HR depts to actually know about me. I’m sure they do not.

      1. Jen

        I would say to apply as requested, but then check out LinkedIn and see if you or a connection knows someone at the company. Sometimes if there are a lot of really qualified candidates it makes it harder to stand out, but I always at least phone screen a candidate who is referred by an employee and meet the job qualifications.

      2. Emily K

        In all seriousness, it’s (probably) the economy. There just aren’t enough jobs out there. On my end, pretty much every job we post yields more than enough people whose skills align to fill an interview schedule. Especially at entry to mid-level, we’re usually using cover letters to try to distinguish the “very best” from the “best” pool because the “best” pool is too many people to interview. A lot of people apply with matching skills but they just don’t stand out as much as some of the other candidates, who in another bygone time would have been applying for much higher-level roles, but nowadays competition is so fierce that everyone is aiming downward, so if you want to make a lateral move you might be competing with people a full pay grade above/3-5 years’ experience more than you.

      3. 2horseygirls

        She seems to have made a path for herself by stating that going around HR is the smart and resourceful way to get a job. Kind of surprised that she has not been called out by her former colleagues.

        1. KC

          She’s also selling her own brand of job seeking advice. She’s invested in telling people the system is broken, but she can teach you how to fix it (for a price).

          I’ve had job seekers try her techniques on me and let’s just say it did not go over well for them.

      4. Cochrane

        I’ve read Nick Corcodilos (Ask a Headhunter) for many years who had always advocated going around HR to get to a hiring manager, contending that HR is a gatekeeper that blocks qualified applicants because they don’t know much (if anything) about the jobs they’re hiring for.

        I can see both sides of the coin: frustrated job seekers who follow directions with nothing to show for it while the savvy HR-dodger has worked their way into the managers office and is making deals versus the overworked HR wonks who are subject to the Gumptioners who rely on sales gimmicks to try to get an edge, only to waste people’s time in the process.

        My bottom line is: unless you’re a real rock star that can justify going around HR, get in line like everybody else.

      1. Duffman

        Pretty much. If you’ve had a “good HR experience,” in most cases you didn’t notice HR’s involvement. And sadly people don’t usually write good reviews on things unless something is over-the-top good.

    3. HR Evil Uncle

      Yeah, I follow a few blogs, sometimes even post to them. The majority of HR complaints have actually nothing to do with HR. So many think HR does all the interviews, makes the hiring decisions and writes the scripts for bad interview questions.

  15. LBG

    “Does this person follow directions?” If you don’t follow directions and submit a complete package, I won’t consider you. It is a detailed-oriented job, and it requires that you follow my directions. If you can’t bother to do it when you are applying, what are the chances you’ll be supervisable in the future?

    I had one co-worker complain to me because I didn’t hire his friend. She didn’t submit a complete package, and what she did submit didn’t follow directions (writing samples had to be recent/relevant/no more than 10 pages – hers failed every measure). I had 97 packages, and first and easiest cut is always “Did they follow directions and submit a complete package?” It isn’t rocket science.

    1. irene adler

      Good point.
      It would scare me, as a hiring manager, to have to hire someone who clearly did not follow hiring process instructions. Most likely they aren’t interested in following my instructions either. Can’t have that.

  16. straws

    If instructions exist, follow the instructions. Anything else will flag you as someone who can’t follow instructions. The only exception I can think of would be to reach out to a connection, if you have one, at the company, but how your information is passed on should be dictated by that person and their knowledge of the company’s practices.

  17. KK

    I would eliminate any candidate who decided to cut out the middle man. The middle man is there as part of the process and to discount them as unnecessary strikes as as 1) entitled and 2) can’t follow instructions.

    1. BethRA

      This. Honestly, even if someone does seem like a reasonably strong candidate, not following our application instructions is going to be a red flag and get them sent to the “nope” pile.

    2. SheLooksFamiliar

      Here’s the thing, though. HR isn’t the middleman, HR is the process owner. Distinction with a difference!

      You won’t ever hear me say the application process is perfect or glamorous – there’s plenty of room for improvement. But I tell job seekers all the time to just PLEASE apply to the job as soon as they can, and then see if they know someone/can be introduced to someone who can be their ambassador with HR.

  18. AnonResearchManager

    The “slightly aggressive candidates who think they’re stronger than they are club” sounds like it would make a great psych research study! I find cognitive bias, especially self-awareness in people (or lack there of…here’s looking at you Dunning-Kruger and Imposter Syndrome) completely fascinating.

  19. Jen

    I am in HR and I have a candidate who calls me at least once a week to inquire about openings. She is looking for a job that is highly unlikely to ever become available here as we are a small company and only have one person in the role and she has been in the role forever. I’ve told her this numerous times and she always responds with “I just want to make sure you don’t forget about me” – seriously, I will not forget her, but even if we had an opening she is sufficiently annoying enough that she has already been marked “do not hire” in our ATS. Also, the other day I had a guy simply show up and convinced the receptionist that he had an appointment with the hiring manager who was on vacation that day so she calls me and asks me if I know anything about this guy since I do the interview scheduling… I’d never heard of him, so I came up to see what was going on… turns out he made it all up, thought he was showing gumption or something. Sad thing is that in both of these cases, candidates had strong resumes and likely would be contacted for an interview if there was a suitable opening but in case #1 she annoyed me to death and #2 the hiring manager was so put off that he wanted nothing to do with the gumption-showing candidate.

    1. Couldn't agree more

      Showing up at the office claiming an appointment would be grounds for disqualification from the process. And, very creepy.

      1. Jen

        Yes, it was extremely creepy actually! Also, this was not an entry-level candidate who got some bad advice from his college career adviser and just didn’t know better… this was an experienced professional with many years of industry experience. Then whole time I was chatting with him at our front desk, he had this really unsettling grin. It could have been “this is a bad idea… so embarrassing… never taking job-seeking advice from grandpa again” but not taking any chances!

  20. Erin

    I will say in my field (academic science) if you are looking for a job out of grad school or a second post-doc position absolutely email professors directly. I don’t know a single person who got a post doc by going through a job posting or by going through HR. This is also true for office work. If you know the person who will be making the decisions email them directly. The online applications are next to useless for getting your CV seen.

    A tenure track professor position is different, and in those cases you would go through the department in question.

  21. FinanceGuy

    I got an interview with my current firm by directly messaging the hiring manager. To demonstrate that I knew the hiring process, I stated that I had applied directly through HR but I also wanted to reach out directly because I found the position so interesting. As it turned out, HR had not selected me for an interview but the manager was impressed with my experience and after several additional interviews and a case study, I was offered the position.

    1. Evil HR Person

      There is a few ways this can happen and only you can figure out which one applies: 1) your resume didn’t match the job description online; 2) the job description was not accurate and/or HR and the hiring manager were not in sync about the position; 3) HR was not very diligently looking through resumes. It happens… But it’s not the rule.

  22. MFer

    If there are instructions on how to apply and someone doesn’t follow them (sends them to the wrong person, doesn’t include the requested materials, etc.) I will not even entertain their application. If you can’t follow very simple, precise instructions when you want a job from us, why would I expect you to follow instructions when I am paying you?

  23. Jen

    Our company’s job postings are very thorough and include the work hours, salary, and any other important info such as whether or not it can be remote… I have to say that the people who try to “go around the system” and reach out to me directly, typically haven’t read the job desc. Just yesterday I had a very overqualified candidate send me a resume via e-mail and asked if I could call him as he had a couple of quick questions before deciding whether or not to submit a resume. I had a free moment so I gave him a call and his question was the salary which is clearly stated at the top of the job posting. Then he balked at the comp… well that is because you are WAY overqualified for the job. If a job requires 1 year of experience and no degree and you have 30 years of experience and a masters, then yeah I am going to take a wild guess and say that the comp may not be in alignment. I have to say though what I do like is when someone applies and then follows up with a quick note on LinkedIn. It prompts me to take a quick glance at their profile which can strengthen their candidacy if they have a great profile that clearly showcases their skills and experience.

  24. SusanIvanova

    I fell into the “know the hiring manager personally” bucket – not just the manager, but the VP and half the team, at one of the Silicon Valley megacorps. That sort of thing happens when you’ve got 25 years of specialized experience.

    And I still went through the process of filling out the online form – granted, it was after the phone screen, but before the onsite interview.

  25. JSwift

    I was looking for a job at a specific company and found the head of recruiting on LinkedIn. I checked to see who we had in common and read her profile overview. In the overview specifically she gave her email and told people to contact he, no mention of sending a resume, just to contact her. I sent an email with a link to my profile, not attaching my resume, and never heard back. Instead I get a form email from the ATS saying I wasn’t what they were looking for in that position.

    That’s fine if I’m not the right candidate, but why put your email on your profile then never answer a candidate when they reach out directly? I find that incredibly rude.

    1. Triplestep

      The only time I reached out to someone at a company was after applying to a job on Linkedin that had the “Contact the job poster” feature. I clicked on the HR Recruiter’s profile and was greeted by a sub-title that said to “Contact her!” And that she was “Looking for top talent!”

      The only reason I did contact her was that my skills and experience matched the job qualifications 100%. I literally checked every box down to proficiency in an obscure computer program which was listed under “preferred” qualifications.

      No reply.

      1. JSwift

        Exactly. If recruiters don’t want people to reach out, they need to remove that option from their profiles.

        I’ve also seen that in hiring managers’ profiles and get mixed responses. Nothing quite like getting ghosted by someone who solicits contact by sharing their email address on LinkedIn.

  26. Security SemiPro

    “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)”

    I’m in the strict minority that would rather be reached out to when I’m hiring. My HR department is continually incapable of appropriately screening candidates. After missing some really great candidates while getting forwarded the resume with a guy’s picture on it where he rated his professional skills like it was yelp, I’ve gotten to the point that I ask to be sent the entire stream and my team and I will screen it ourselves once a week. Security can be very weird though – the formal educational supports are of variable quality (from excellent to useless) and the informal self taught stuff is similarly nuanced. So its not just looking for someone with a specific degree, its looking for degrees from specific programs, or a collection of degrees, or interests and backgrounds that combine to demonstrate a set of skills. As the industry matures there will hopefully be clearer screening measures that I can train my recruiters on, for now I try to have a network to draw from and rely on getting emails directly.

    1. always in email jail

      I’ve always done my own screening as well, which is why I’m so particular about people applying through the portal. I don’t have time to do my “day job”, screen applicants, AND field “gumption” phone calls/emails. However, I’ve always been hiring for government positions, so folks HAVE to apply through formal channels. I will read/respect an email from a colleague letting me know someone they recommend and have experience working with has applied, though.

      1. Security SemiPro

        My HR loses candidates. I don’t know what goes on in there, but they’ve lost resumes where I finally asked the candidate to send me the email confirmation that they applied using the recruiting portal so I can try to hunt down their file. Recruiting had no record of them.

        I love my company, but recruiting is a bit of a mess here.

  27. Clementine

    I can say that it is not true in all cases that “just” submitting a resume via the proper channels gives you the best way in. I’m not in HR, but our team has been trying to hire people in senior professional roles. The best way in is for me (or another team member) to meet you (virtually or in-person), have you submit a resume to me, and then I refer you on our employee portal, and I also send it along to my manager and tell him about it. Then we get in touch with recruiting and get a phone screen. Even without the sending it to a hiring manager step, people who are referred are more likely to get a phone screen.
    So in many cases, I suspect your best hope is to get in touch with someone on that team you want to join, and get your resume across that way. I know this messes with the hierarchical arrangement of how things are supposed to go, and it’s not true everywhere, but it’s true some places.

    1. Bea

      The flip side is you have to know all this before handing a resume over.

      I’m recalling the previous post who had psychopaths trying to use her side gig and husband to get their resume in the mix :(

  28. always in email jail

    My hiring experience is on the government side of things, where you should DEFINITELY follow the directions given for how to apply. Sometimes applicants get very angry they weren’t chosen for an interview, and they FOIA the hiring process. If you’ve reached out to me behind the scenes and I encourage you to apply, or I fwd your resume to HR with “wow, we should interview this person!” then guess what? I didn’t follow protocol and the entire hiring process is in jeopardy. So please, just follow instructions.
    As others have mentioned, if you DO know someone, you should apply through normal channels and shoot them a quick email letting them know that you applied. Then they can work some behind-the-scenes *in person* magic if they’re so inclined.

  29. Polymer Phil

    If you’re in a technical field, the ‘”gumption” advice that’s regularly derided on here can be the way to go. All HR can do is blindly match some keywords. I’ve found HR to be more of a hindrance than a help when I’ve been involved in the hiring process in the past. That said, entry-level job seekers should not attempt to contact hiring managers; I’ve only done this in carefully chosen cases (and gotten jobs that way more than once).
    I’m amazed at how many people are shocked and offended that some applicants have a low opinion of HR and see them as a middleman to be circumvented. There are plenty of competent HR people out there, but there’s also no shortage of inept ones.

  30. Bryce

    My experience with applying for jobs where I’ve known someone has worked like this: They send me a link to the job posting and invite me to apply. They instruct me to fill in the “how did you hear about this job?” by saying that they referred me.

    That way, I’m “in the system” which means several things:

    1. It is duly noted that I was referring by someone, which marks my application for special consideration.

    2. If hired, the referrer will receive any bonus money for doing so. Unless you apply that way, the referrer might not be paid.

    3. The company can better track how new hires find jobs. This can help HR and hiring managers determine the best ways to reach out; for example, that LinkedIn postings or postings on professional societies’ job boards are where most applicants find their jobs, and thus it makes the most sense to post jobs there versus, say, Twitter or Facebook. Face it: if you have limited time and money, you want to get the best bang for your bucks here.

    I’ll second what’s already been said about following directions, and add that I got an interview once because I was one of only a few who did so.

    Finally, at the risk of sounding like your mom, gimmicks are no substitute for substance. And there is one thing worse than not getting the job: getting the job, finding out after the fact that it’s a bad fit for your skills and personality, clashing with your boss and coworkers, being miserable and doing bad work, ending up getting fired, and having to explain that in interviews after that.

  31. M Harvey

    I typically do both: I submit the application exactly how they want it submitted, and then if I’m able to identify the specific hiring manager, I email him/her my materials with a short note. “Hello Mr. Jones, in addition to applying for the XXX position to your online HR portal [or in addition to whatever they’ve asked candidates to do], I’m attaching my resume here for your review.” This shows that I’ve followed the rules, yet I’m not asking Mr. Jones to forward it on to HR. I’ve never heard, as stated in this post, that many below-par candidates contact a manager directly, though that may well be. Still, I’ve received a good number of interviews (and job offers) doing it this way over the years; it seems to work for me.

  32. Artemesia

    Every job I got in my career I got because someone advocated for me. On one occasion I got a brush off and a job offer in the same mail — one in response from a query and the other when someone contacted the hiring manager recommending me.

    So while cold calling hiring managers is likely to annoy and be ineffectual I think it is really important if you possibly can to have someone who knows your work and the hiring manager or someone close to her to put in a good word.

  33. In HR for a lOOOOng time

    Go directly to the hiring manager every time you can (via email or LinkedIn, not through stalking). I say this as someone who has had a life-long career in HR. There’s a lot of only so-so recruiting that happens (people share horror stories here all the time). There are also companies that try to hire for 900 different positions using 2 recruiters. Finding a job is a numbers game, so this is just one way to improve your odds. If the manager is really interested in you, HR can capture you in our tracking for compliance purposes separately (but if you’ve already officially applied, you’ll already be captured).

    1. John

      Yes, agreed. Go directly to the hiring manager. It’s worked for me and my friends. Honestly, I just see alot of HR people defending “their system” because deep down they know that its inherently flawed. Look, I’m not saying HR isnt needed; it absolutely is. But its kind of a necessary evil, in the sense that candidates that are really, really good and want the job can separate themselves from the pack by going directly to the hiring manager. People like go-getters; why sit in the system like everyone else when you can show your gumption, your drive, and contact the hiring manager directly?

      It really makes no sense to wait in line like everyone else. With no risk, comes no reward. Phone screeners are notoriously incompetent, especially in young startups, and if you stumble upon a screener who is incompetent, or having a bad day, or who you don’t vibe with, chances are you could be a strong candidate and you’ll still be filtered out. Plus, we all know that internal recruiters will sometimes put you on their list just to fill their calendar when they already have someone else in mind.

      If a candidate really gets eliminated because they had the initiative to contact the hiring manager, then that company only wants lemmings that will follow directions to a T and who can’t think for themselves. Which probably tells me its a mediocre company in the first place and shouldn’t be applied to anyway. So for me – who wants to work for great companies – contacting the hiring manager is a great way to weed out bad companies with bad policies.

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