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The Zen Of Job Hunting: How to get past HR obstacles

In the January 30, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to overcome a mountain of job hunting obstacles controlled by HR.

Question

job huntingJob hunting has become incredibly frustrating. I have always said HR should never screen candidates, but it is reality and I have to face it. I am looking for a job and can’t get past the initial screening. People hiring for jobs I have done won’t talk to me. I just started using Jobscan to try to get through the initial screening. The word-match is ridiculous, but again it is reality.

Why do companies still rely on HR to scan resumes? It has never been a good idea and now with software to do word matches, it is even worse. Any great ideas on how to change the corporate mentality so top management will tell hiring managers they need to screen the resumes themselves?

If the hiring managers say they are too busy, that tells me they are not good at their jobs or don’t know what they want and are unable to produce good job descriptions. I find they also screen for academic background and professional licenses when those are not needed. For example, I am not a CPA, but have an MBA. Unless I am signing off an audit, it should not matter. I have cleaned up many messes from CPAs who could not function in an operating company.

Any ideas on how to change hiring mindsets?

Nick’s Reply

Why do people persist in trying to change other people’s mindsets? Change your own mindset. That in turn will allow you to change your behavior. Only your own behavior is going to enable you to change the outcome of your job hunting efforts.

I agree with everything you say, except that you “have to face it.” (See Why HR should get out of the hiring business and The manager’s #1 job.) You don’t have to face the obstacles HR throws up at you.

“You have to face it” is a great fallacy that the HR profession and the employment industry (Indeed, LinkedIn, etc.) market and sell to us every day. It’s bunk, yet some of the smartest people still accept it.

There is no mountain when you’re job hunting.

There is no way to beat a system that is designed to make managers avoid talking to the people they need to hire. But don’t let that stop you.

There’s an old Zen koan: A novice goes to the master and says, “Master, I have tried to climb the mountain. It is too big. I have tried to go around the mountain. It is too wide. What shall I do?”

The master says, “Grasshopper (it’s always Grasshopper, right?), there is no mountain.”

Understanding this is the start of changing yourself.

Reject what you know is wrong.

When you cannot change the job hunting system, reject the system. Realize that the silly methods employers use to isolate managers from you is nothing more than a consensus of HR people who are wrong.

The system hurts you only if you accept and acknowledge it. You don’t have to accept the system. The stunning truth is that this silly system hurts employers, too. It results in enormous, unacceptable rejection rates in recruiting and hiring. When HR rejects so many people, somebody’s doing it wrong!

Stop expending energy on HR, screenings and obstacles. Invest all your time in finding, getting introduced to, and talking with managers. Don’t be intimidated by this. It’s a challenge like any other challenge you’ve faced in your work.

Focus on the right objective.

Remember that HR doesn’t hire anyone. It processes applicants. Only managers hire. So, focus on the correct objective — the hiring manager — even if HR warns you not to. This means you must change your objective, which means changing your mindset.

Throw out your old job hunting playbook. (And forget about using Jobscan to diddle your resume!) If you have to get to the manager (and you do), what are the steps? Work it out. It’s no bigger a challenge than anything else you’ve faced in your work. The nice thing is, you’ll encounter virtually no competition because everyone else is standing in line at HR’s door!

This article may help you develop your own methods: Skip The Resume: Triangulate to get in the door.

This extreme example may help you change your mindset: 71 Years Old: Got in the door at 63 and just got a raise! (Let Stephanie Hunter be your guide!)

Don’t worry about the job hunting mountain.

People in power depend on us to believe they control everything and that we cannot control anything. I think such brainwashing is the real source of your job hunting frustration.

Please: Accept the fact that all your other observations are correct. Don’t fight your own good judgment. Instead, act on it. Don’t worry about “changing hiring mindsets.” Don’t let HR screen you. Approach managers from directions that do not involve “the mountain.”

Don’t worry about HR. Let HR worry about you.

What obstacles keep you from talking directly to hiring managers? How do you get to the hiring manager?

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19 Comments
  1. This advice sounds good, but is commonly impossible to do. I am applying to jobs all over the country (cause there are no jobs in my field anywhere near me). I work the limited network that I have, but that is not doing anything. Most job postings are so vague that it is impossible to know who the hiring manager is, or even what group the job is in. Companies commonly do not have publicly available employee directories anyhow. If I had the connections to know who the hiring manager is for all the jobs I apply to across all the companies, I would not have any issues finding a job anyhow. The hard truth is that “go to the hiring manager” is good advice for those who can. The rest of us are just screwed.

    • @MollyG – Finding companies that may have an opportunity, whether or not they are actually recruiting, can be a time consuming challenge. However, following a process to accomplish that gives you the opportunity to by-pass HR screens.

      First, read the link that Nick included to the story of the 71 year old who found current job at age 63. There are suggestions in that story and associated comments about ways to find companies and hiring managers that don’t depend totally on whatever limited network you may have personally.

      An approach I’ve found that works in locating companies is to make friends with the research librarians at the public library. A university library is even better, but access to university libraries may be limited if a person isn’t a student or on the university staff. There are a couple of large scale online databases that allow searching for companies using multiple selection factors, such as Zip Code, SIC Code, type of company location (Private, Public, or Corporate Offices), revenue (even for private companies), number of employees, and much more. The database I used in a job search about 6 years ago provided full contact information, often including names and email addresses and/or telephone numbers for company officers. I don’t remember the database I used, but I’ve contacted the person who clued me into it to see if they can give me the name again.

      You can also get information on publicly traded companies from exchange websites and the OTC. These websites usually allow filtering the listings by industry sector and level of capitalization, as well as other factors. There are also listings such as the annual INC 5000 listing that can be searched.

      Once you have narrowed the list down to the companies you want to target, the rest is internet searches to find names of managers employed in your field at that company. Search the trade periodicals for the company’s industry, in addition to searching the websites for newspapers in the company’s areas. Invariably information will pop-up. Sometimes it nothing more than a person’s name and employer mentioned in a story about an event or social organization or charity in that area. Not only does that get you the name of the person, but it also gives you the kind of information useful as an ice-breaker.

      Then, follow the advice Nick has provided in previous postings about the best approach to use in a cold or warm first contact with a person to ask about job opportunities.

      It does get results, although it is also hard work.

      • Wow! It is very generous of you to provide such practical, in-depth advice. Whether or not “Molly G” sees or acts upon the methodology you outlined, other readers of ATH certainly will.

      • @Richard Archer: I love it when anyone plugs research (aka, reference) librarians! Great tips all around!

        • I’m married to a librarian – their research skills are underutilized these days. They begin where Google leaves off, and they are aware of other resources as well (like databases and non-computerized information).

          • @Kevin: What people don’t realize is that having access to a database (e.g., even Google) is not the same as being trained in how to exploit databases (and other sources) fully.

            Thank heaven for reference librarians!

            • I was fortunate enough in my first week at university to attend a presentation by the chief librarian on how to use the library as a research tool. “Fortunate”? “Sensible!”.

              Out of an intake of a however many hundred there were only SIX of us at that presentation.

              What I learnt there was invaluable to my degree.
              As for finding a job, well that’s something else entirely.

      • What Richard is talking about maybe the Reference USA/Reference Canada databases which does have all the features mentioned. It is put out by the Info Group and should be available in almost any municipal library.

      • I agree with your recommendation for researching to find potential target employers. However, I would not limit initiating cold or warm contacts to companies that have current open positions that are a good match for your skills and interests. The best way to transform a cold contact into a warm introduction is to establish a relationship. You can do this based on mutual interests and common goals whether there is a posted job or not. In fact, by developing a relationship with a hiring manager or employee or someone able to influence the hiring authority before the company has a need, you gain a competitive advantage as a prospective inside referral once there is a posting or better yet, you have the first chance to explore possible opportunities ( and avoiding HR’s mediation/screening/elimination) including creating a new role just for you or making it possible for the hiring manager to restructure the team in order to hire you. A focus exclusive on existing vacancies eliminates the hidden or unadvertised job market which represents about 80% of all hiring activity.
        Further, it’s better if you don’t start a conversation asking about job opportunities. You don’t want to shut the discussion down if there is no immediate opening. Secondly, by asking directly, you are putting the employer’s representative or your contact on the spot and sometimes individuals feel uncomfortable when they know you need a job and they can’t help you find one. The idea is to concentrate on networking, building relationships with decision makers so you get on their radar for future opportunities as well as a potential resource if they have a current need. Nick has covered this in other posts but it is worth repeating here. I tell my clients, it is not what you know or even who you know, but who knows, likes and REMEMBERS you. You may want a new job now, but in the future your connections are like “career insurance.” If you have the right connections, they will inform you of opportunities whether or not you are actively seeking a different role.

    • I have been an Investment Professional since August 1974 when I switched career fields from being a Systems Analyst and programmer. Prior to August 1974 I had five years experience as a Programmer/Analyst while being a Systems Analyst/Project Manager for a Staff Intelligence Officer. I became a 2LT December 1968, a Major 1972

      I have NEVER entered a new position by way of the Human Resources Department. I always find the hiring manager and apply directly. If I have to interact only with the HR Department I simply do not EVER go through the HR Department. My contact with the HR department always begins after I have the job offer and they complete the application process and explain the company’s benefits packages.

  2. Another excellent article – thank you Nick! I always appreciate your take on things and being able to share this with our students.

    Best,
    ~Elaine

  3. Interesting variation on the job solicitation:

    Perhaps a different take. Responded to a Zip recruiter ad that went to a HH. HH got back to me with the job description, location of his client, etc.

    Submitted my CV. The client company seemed interested and contacted the HH. The HH contacted me and said they were interested and wanted to set up a screening call. The curious point was/is that it was NOT with any type of HR representative. Instead, the screen was with the actual hiring manager.

    The call was originally scheduled for one hour and went two which I took/take as a good sign. While the manager’s interviewing skills were somewhat disjointed, I was very encouraged by the fact that the screen went as long as it did.

    Here’s where this could be something of a change in methodology; the hiring company was a specialty materials division of a Fortune 50 company that was spun off in October 2016 and is now a stand-alone of only 1,250 people with HQ in NJ and manufacturing plants in PA and VA and an R & D site in China. From what I’ve been told, their company culture is a radical departure from their former parent.

    I did well enough in the screen that I’ve been invited in for a face to face. Curiouser and curiouser as Alice said, the HR rep chat will not be first thing after I walk in the door. It’s somewhere in the middle of the pack of people I’ll meet.

    Does anyone think this unusal or a possible change in methods or is it just an anomaly?

    • @Bravo: Judging from reports from job hunters in general, it’s an anomaly. But you’ve found a manager and company that handle applicants personally. Go with it!

  4. @Bravo 6 Actual

    Congratulations on a good job search. What you describe is how all the companies (all tech) did interviewing. The HR slot was only to discuss benefits and maybe get the form filled out for companies that used one. The last place I worked, HR was not involved in the interview process at all except to set it up. So you seem to be talking to someone who does it right.
    Your company sounds like the ones I’ve worked for, where the job requirements are so specialized that HR doesn’t even pretend to screen for them.
    It might not be a change – they may always have recruited in this way. But you can thank your lucky stars.

  5. My question is: If you know that The Company is recruiting the wrong way, why would you want to work there? Unless you are there for the narrow focus of forcing recruiting out of HR and back to hiring managers, it seems like “Poor Recruiting Practices” would only be the tip of the iceberg.

  6. Most large companies are not directly accessible in person, however, finding the name of the hiring manager on their website can be an option for presenting yourself and circumventing the roadblock (HR). Via email or phone, energy spent doing this may be much more productive than falling victim to HR’s dithering. It takes more effort but chances are it’s likely to offer a better outcome which has been my past experience.

  7. I have two iconic companies who contacted me in the past week – a recruiter who is an employee of said company. I have applied to neither one. They are very eager to talk to me via phone.

    These are opportunities I don’t want to ignore, but at the same time, things are going very well in my current job.

    I feel like someone is trying to pay me for my body (or at least my brain). The pay would be great, and the hours long.

    Bottom line: I don’t want to leave my job. Yet these are the kinds of companies such that when they call, you answer.

    Just say the word and I will tell them to go pound salt.

  8. And we reach the only value of LinkedIn

    A giant free Contact book for professionals and managers.

    It’s not a :

    recruiting tool
    Business advice tool
    Hiring tool
    Source of knowledge

    Advice to Molly

    You will always find the sales manager of a decent company in linked in. Contact, Call, ask for name of hiring manager in your area. We in Sales live on networking and referrals and always want to help bring in good people

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