We recently heard from a reader who saw a job posting that warned, “No phone calls, please!”

In this week’s newsletter (October 27, 2009) another reader runs into the same warning, but the story has another twist. (What is it with employers who don’t want to talk to job applicants, anyway?)

I found the job of my dreams posted in an industry newsletter. The posting says to apply via indeed.com, where a more complete job description can be found. I researched and found the name of the executive that position reports directly to and I also found her on LinkedIn. Do I send a message via LinkedIn? The posting does specify “No calls, please,” so I don’t want to get black-balled before I even apply.

On the one hand, we have a smart, motivated job hunter — the kind of out-of-the-box thinker companies claim they love. On the other hand, we have an HR department so goofy that it directs job hunters to a 3rd-party job board to apply for a job at the company… while the company’s managers are available on LinkedIn.

What would you do?


  1. I almost always agree with Nick’s advice, but in this case I want to point out that companies make these requests because we get flooded by hundreds of job applicants who are NOT qualified for the job, and if they’re all calling me, the hiring manager, I can’t get my work done. If I was only getting calls from great candidates, that would be fantastic. But telling people it’s okay to ignore instructions about not calling means that I get bombarded by the many, many unqualified candidates out there. I’m talking dozens and dozens of phone calls, with few if any of them from candidates I’m excited about.

    I would much rather see someone’s materials first before I decide if I want to get on the phone with them.

  2. @Ask A Manager: Hmmm. A company runs an ad, inviting thousands of people to apply for a job. Then the company/managers can’t deal with the responses. Is there something wrong with this picture? Yah, there is. Please remember: The job hunter doesn’t start this juggernaut rolling. The employer does.

    If you don’t want people to contact you about a job, then don’t advertise a job. Recruit differently. If you want ONLY the best, “most right” candidates, then don’t throw chum on the waters blindly.

    How’s that for something to think about?

  3. I would first try to find another connection on LinkedIn if possible, who may be able to introduce you to the hiring manager on LinkedIn.

    If that isn’t possible, I would email the hiring manager, and say something along the lines of, “I realize that there are a lot of people looking for work right now, so your company is likely going to receive a plethora of resumes in response to your recent posting for a JOB TITLE on Indeed.com. I know that the majority of those resumes are going to be from “C” candidates. I also know that, sadly, some “A” candidates are too often easily dismissed because of poorly designed resume screening computer programs, or an HR employee having a bad day. I don’t want that to be the case here. So, while I did send my resume and cover letter to your HR department through the Indeed.com site, I have also attached them to this email.” Continue with why you would like to speak with them directly.

  4. Nick, I think I disagree with part of your premise there. I can indeed deal with the influx of applicants — but I’m going to deal with it in the structure that I’ve found helps me best identify the strongest candidates. For me, that’s looking at written materials first, before I get on the phone with someone.

    That’s worked for me. I’ve hired great candidates. Perhaps it doesn’t work for everyone, but I think that it’s worth understanding that there are some great hiring managers out there who have legit reasons for not wanting calls until they ask for them.

  5. And this is why a majority of your job search should not be spent responding to job ads. You will be treated like a number, not an expert in your field. You don’t have a lot of time to waste in job boards so use your time wisely to develop key relationships with people in your field. If responding to job ads and being a good ole traditional job seeker works for you and makes you sleep better at night, then more power to you. For me personally, I will continue to network who matter in the work I want to do and do the job to win the job. Thanks!

  6. Jason hits the home run here. An honest, straight-forward inquiry to the decision maker while showing respect to the (*stifle laughter here*) process the company’s HR department has established. If the decision maker chooses to deflect you back to HR, then they aren’t much of a decision maker, are they?

  7. Yet again, another Stupid Hiring Trick. It’s like saying, “We have a job opening. Now, try to hit the bullseye while blindfolded! And don’t call us! We want to hear from you, but not directly!”
    How is this helping anybody? If this is a professional-level job, then it should be advertised in professional publications aimed at the right market. Putting these openings on job boards is asking for trouble.
    Jason is right. Used your Linked In connection to help introduce you to the hiring manager, if you can.

  8. Etta, I don’t use job boards; I do use professional pubs aimed at the target market. And yet I still get flooded with unqualified candidates. There are also some gems in there, which I why I continue to use them. But if everyone called, I’d get no work done because I’d spend all day taking calls from candidates, 90% of whom aren’t rock stars. (And I’m the hiring manager, not HR, so spending the day talking to random candidates isn’t feasible on my end.) Hence, written materials first.

  9. I’ll also add — I think Nick’s advice is aimed at rock star candidates. But not all his readers are rock stars. And so it would lead to unqualified candidates being really aggressive about pitching themselves for jobs they’re not the right match for. (I agree that if you’re a rock star, there are different ways to go about it.)

  10. @Ask A Manager: This is an important dialogue, and there is no simple answer. We need to reconsider how we recruit.

    The problem is caused by the process, not by job applicants. When companies flood the market with job postings, everyone “wants an edge.” Calling you (the proverbial manager, not AAM personally) turns into a new tactic in the battle to survive the job wars. Job hunters have been trained (brainwashed, in my opinion) to respond the way they do. The troublespot is in your HR department, which uses recruiting methods that tacitly encourage the behavior you have a problem with.

    The rock star issue is separate. Are you saying you don’t mind hearing from rock stars if they call you?

    **And so it would lead to unqualified candidates being really aggressive about pitching themselves for jobs they’re not the right match for.**

    Aggressively calling and harassing managers is stupid. Intelligently calling managers with information a manager needs – that’s something different. I don’t think you need to be a rock star to make a call that a manager wants to hear.

  11. What if you suck on paper? *lol*

    Here’s my situation: I was on the fast-track to becoming a camp director, but life took a quick turn. I fell in love with a man who had to immigrate to the US, learn the language, get settled in to our country and in order to get the support I needed, moved close to my family. I took a “safe” job where I knew my work and time was fairly flexible, but then I got stuck. It’s been 5 years now since I left the job that had me on a path to my career dreams and goals, and so my resume and work experience don’t capture who I really am, what I want to do, and what I’m capable of accomplishing. Chances are that I wouldn’t look like a rockstar on paper, and I’m afraid that if I spice up the resume too much, I’ll get tossed out on my bum when I have to come clean and say that “yes, I was a secretary for 5 years, but that’s not what I SHOULD have been.”

    So, my contribution to this discussion: What if you don’t look like a rockstar on paper? What if it’s been half a decade since you’re last job of substance? What if you KNOW you can do the job as described, but it still says “no calls please”? AND, you have no connection to the Hiring Manager on any social networking site?

  12. I can provide an answer to the first couple of Julia’s questions, at least. (Nick’s answer would be different because he doesn’t like résumés anyway.)

    When applying for any job, you should be tailoring a custom résumé and cover letter for that application. So you edit and arrange the info in the résumé to put the best face on your qualifications and experience for the job, and then do more positive spin-doctoring in the cover letter. For instance, you could try to make the 5-year secretary gig sound significant by playing up the responsibilities, challenges, achievements etc. You’ll also want to give more space in the résumé to the previous jobs (the ones that were paving your way to the dream job), and also play them up in your cover letter.

  13. Look at the “contact settings” in the executive’s profile on LinkedIn.com. If the executive is open to “job inquiries”, then IMHO it is OK to send a message through LinkedIn.

  14. Nick, you asked: “The rock star issue is separate. Are you saying you don’t mind hearing from rock stars if they call you?”

    Well, in some hypothetical ideal universe, if there were a way to only get phone calls from the rock stars, sure, that’s great. But the problem is, of course, that a lot of really unqualified people think they’re a perfect match, which means that if I open myself up to phone calls, I’m going to get flooded. And spend a lot of time with candidates who I would know up front weren’t right if I could see their written materials first.

  15. @Richard Hill: Wouldn’t it be better then, to reserach the company and use the cover letter to explain how and why you could do the job, rather than trying to pimp your past jobs into something they were not?

    @AaM&Nick: I think AaM makes a very valid point here: If we skip the HR and resume bureaucracy, and people instead should call the hiring manager directly to talk shop; how can we ensure that he/she isn’t drowned in people who think they are good candidates, but aren’t? How to separate the qualified and good candidates from the rest? This is difficult, because if your lines/email/snailmail is open, the decision to call is left with the candidates themselves – they must themselves decide whether they qualify. In a perfect world, all people had enough insight in themselvses to do so, but the world isn’t perfect. So, how to compensate for peoples lack og self insight?

    One way could be to explicitly state qualifications on website, ads etc, and say that “you must be able to do this and this”. The risk then is that you become so specific and narrow that you miss good candidates who do not fill all criteria.

    Another way is to put out some exercises on the website. E.g. suggest a business plan, show how you would do some programmin, how would you interpret this seismic section (I’m a geologist) etc. (Make sure to state that that work remains the intellectual property of the candidate!). Thus, you would get a fairly objective means of evaluation, and only those candidates who bother to actually do the work will call.


  16. I am big on phone calls, making and promptly returning them. If a company wants no calls? Then in a curt way directs me to a job board? They can go to Hell. No job is worth bending to the level of stupidity over.

  17. @Ask A Manager: Let’s spin this onto a “sub topic:” What percentage of a manager’s time would you say s/he should spend each week on recruiting tasks? (Not hiring or interviewing, but recruiting.)

  18. @Karsten: Now we’re getting somewhere!

    **how can we ensure that he/she isn’t drowned in people who think they are good candidates, but aren’t?**

    Easy. Stop posting cattle calls on job boards, including the company’s own. Why is this idea so shocking? Because the world truly is brainwashed. Isn’t it pretty idiotic to believe that some data base “algorithm” is going to sort the people for you? NONE CAN. If they did, we wouldn’t have this problem, would we. I rest my case. Online job postings cost far more in processing overhead than they are worth. My two bits.


    ***One way could be to explicitly state qualifications on website, ads etc, and say that “you must be able to do this and this”.**

    Yes! And,

    **Another way is to put out some exercises on the website.**

    Yes! The guy who first thought of using an online data base to recruit wasn’t so stupid. BUT he was merely using a data base as a substitute for the printed classified ad. He never claimed it was any more than that. BUT the world has accepted “data base algorithms” as a suitable substitute for manager’s judgments.

    THAT is why managers feel harassed by all those phone calls. Lousy conclusion from a weak premise. THE DATA BASE IS NOT A GOOD SUBSTITUTE FOR ACCURATE RECRUITING.

  19. @Karsten

    “@Richard Hill: Wouldn’t it be better then, to reserach the company and use the cover letter to explain how and why you could do the job, rather than trying to pimp your past jobs into something they were not?”

    It goes without saying that you should research the company offering the position and use your cover letter to promote your suitability for it. You should also tailor your résumé to highlight how your experience and qualifications make you a good candidate. I would not suggest “trying to pimp your past jobs into something they were not”; but any given job is susceptible to being spun different ways, depending on how you want it perceived by your audience (the hiring manager). Every job has its responsibilities, challenges, small victories: highlight those that are relevant to the job you’re seeking.

  20. What percentage of a manager’s time would you say s/he should spend each week on recruiting tasks? (Not hiring or interviewing, but recruiting.) That really depends on company need, that stated, I think a top drawer “manager” always has a constant lead on talent, if he/she finds the need occurs the source is there. The database bit is a joke to me, for all reasons others have already explained.

  21. OK, Richard, then I think we agree!

  22. @Nick:

    I agree that getting rid of the ads would be very useful, and so would all the stupid careers sections of websites: They are usually full of bragging about how ethical, work-life balancing, fantastic and employee-empowering the company is; and in the end you must either send in an open application or fill out a gargantuan scheme with stupid questions. (“How would you do the job” rarely is among the questions).

    However, even if there was only a phone number and an email address, companies could still drown in applications. So, how should companies act to ensure that the candidates sort themselves; leaving bad candidates out and still be open to good candidates?

    One way would be for the company to hide all contact information and only leave it for the most dedicated to dig it up, but that may be a barrier to some candidates who are good workers, but not necessarily good detectives with big balls.

    Another is to put out various exercies candidates could do. However, such exercises would have to catch all useful candidates. Only in my field, there would have to be exercises on sedimentology, sequence stratigraphy, geophysics, extension tectonics, compression tectonics etc etc – and that’s just the geosciences part of the oil business! I fear that such exercises would either be too restricted/narrow, or they would have to be som many that the purpose of relieving the manager of work would not be fullfilled. It would actually be easier just to invite people to talk shop for ffive minutes, get a picture of them and invite the best for interviews.

  23. You nailed the whole damn thing down Nick in the last sentence, ” It would actually be easier just to invite people to talk shop for five minutes, get a picture of them and invite the best for interviews.” That is the long and short of the bottom line of what is required, the problem is most of the people that would have to do such a thing, are not capable.

  24. Back to the question, what would I do?

    Because is the job of my dream I would try my best.

    1st I’ll do my research about the company, the job, the hiring manager. I’d try to get my best possible guess at what are they looking for, what problems they have, what are they trying to achieve. I’ll see what the hiring manager style is. Is she active in Linkedin or other forums/blogs/networks? Does she appear as open to messages.

    I would certainly look at the best way to contact her. Can I get introduced by someone we both know? do we share membership of a group? And then I’d send a message / email with information relevant to the role. I’d show her how I have done it or how I would do it. I would ask questions and for advice. Offer to have an informal discussion, to do the job for free. Point her to my recommendations in Linkedin, to my activity there.

    And I’ll submit everything also to the job board (if they let me)

    As some one that has been a hiring manager I don’t see how this approach can harm. The worst case scenario is that she completely relies on HR and my contact does not have a positive influence in the process. But again, if I get to the interview, all my research and work will show up.

    I also agree with AaM, phone calls can be very annoying, and you are betting your chances. What if you are the 10th call in the day the hiring manager is preparing for a board meeting? But sending a lot of relevant information helps everyone. When hiring I have always loved the moment when I find that some one has put the extra effort to prepare and impress.

    So, yes contact her but follow the rules, no phone calls and apply through the job board.

  25. I haven’t seen any real world examples here, so most of this discussion is non-responsive. Here is a real world example:

    I found a job listing for a position in a small company that was an excellent match for me. The web site also listed the principals of the company. Checked the principals on LinkedIn and found that one of them and I shared a (relevant) contact. So I introduced myself to the principal via LinkedIn, referencing the contact. A few days later I was contacted by the HR department and got a phone screen. Didn’t get me an interview, but it also didn’t go into a black hole.

  26. In sales the first round filter is called qualifying. Wouldn’t it be great if a written job solicitation could be expressed so clearly that readers could legitimately self-qualify before applying, saving everyone time?

    “Why do so many candidates apply for jobs for which they’re not qualified?” An answer might be found in that question’s corollary: “How many listings describe the ideal candidate rather than the skillset of the candidate most likely to be retained, given the budget for the position?” I see a symbiotic relationship here.

    Empty rhetoric that glows about workplace environment and the importance of people, etc. is just fluffy clutter. Its mirror image is the smarmiage used by candidates “seeking a career opportunity that helps me grow in my career so I can provide value to the company by offering solutions to our valued clients”.

    The most effective written communications realistically appraise skills in categories of clearly stated requirements vs. desired, and accurately put forth the position’s potential liabilities, e.g. 50% travel, etc. In contrast, vague descriptions that aren’t quantifiable (“strong people skills”, “highly motivated”) will result in a stack of resumes that are equally vague in their compatibility with the position.

  27. Re: Phil’s Comments

    Unqualified candidates apply for jobs in the hope that no qualified candidates will be found and the employer will opt to hire a trainable candidate with the right attitude and loads of potential, instead of leaving the position unfilled.

    If there are minimum requirements for the position that are non-negotiable (for good reason) state them up front and make it clear that only qualified candidates will be considered.

    Employers also need to be open to shifting job openings and descriptions to accomodate well-qualified candidates, as long as doing so can be justified for business reasons. My office workplace now has higher level job titles and responsibilities on average than it used to – because the nature of the work has changed.

  28. Re: Lynne’s comment

    You make a valid point, state clearly the minimum requirements and hold firm to them, rejecting all those that do not qualify. The problem is today everyone has been led to believe they are special (which they are not,) and that rules to not apply to them. It is time that changes.