Question

For 30+ years I’ve been going around HR when looking for a job and I will continue to do so. I want to talk directly to the hiring manager, or no dice. I am just curious how things get done on your end, because I think many people attempt this but fail. They bypass HR because of all the red tape and lack of feedback or communication, but then the hiring manager will re-direct them back to HR. In your experience, do you find that hiring managers are beholden to HR, despite your best efforts to short-circuit the process?

Nick’s Reply

go around hrIt’s a good thing to encounter a spineless hiring manager who allows HR to run roughshod over the best candidates. Those are the easy ones. You know not to pursue a job with managers like that. Move on.

I’m hardly the only headhunter who will go around HR and make it his business to deal directly with the hiring authority. If HR gets in the way too much, I’ll move on to another client. I’d still “do business” with that company, but instead of placing people there, I’ll recruit people out. (My policy is to never recruit from any company that’s my client. It’s unethical and it’s bad business.)

Who controls candidate selection and hiring?

I’ve found that when a hiring manager allows HR to control recruiting and hiring, I’m going to wind up wasting my time — and so will my candidates. A new hire does not report to HR. They report to the hiring authority or manager. If that manager is too weak to assert control over a critical function like candidate selection and hiring, they’re not worth working for, or the company itself is unworthy because it lets HR run the show. HR’s job is to process the “paperwork,” not to decide who is qualified for a job, or who gets hired.

In companies where HR makes decisions about candidates and jobs, you will need to go around HR simply because HR is not qualified to judge you — unless perhaps you’re applying for a job in HR.

Many, many hiring managers insist on personally controlling candidate selection and hiring. These managers will insulate the candidate (and the headhunter, if one is involved) from HR. They go to bat to get the hires they want simply because they can move more quickly than HR in companies competing for the same candidates. That’s a manager you should want to work for.

Go around HR

I know hiring managers who go around HR and hand-walk job offers to the CFO to get the offer signed and the hire done expeditiously. HR finds out later. It’s the smart manager who understands filling a job quickly and accurately is the fastest way to business success. And it’s your best bet to get hired. Don’t get bogged down with HR while your competition is talking directly with the manager.

If a hiring manager doesn’t control candidate selection and hiring, what do they control as a manager? If you encounter a weak hiring manager, consider moving on because you’re not being hired by the authority who owns the job. You’re being processed by clerks who understand little, if anything, about the job — or about you.

One last thing. You didn’t ask, but here’s How to get to the hiring manager if you haven’t already.

Do you find that HR keeps you away from the hiring manager? How do you deal with that? If you’re a hiring manager, do you defer to HR on candidate selection and hiring, or do you take the lead?

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17 Comments
  1. I’m a hiring manager. In my company, we have recruiters who are separate from HR. The recruiters will provide us with a pool of candidates. One time, a particular person was recommended to me – I gave that information to the recruiters who put that candidate through the process. I ended hiring that person although they turned us down. So if I have an open position, and I think you are a good fit, it is at that time I will put you through the process of getting hired.
    My methods are a little contrarian. Instead of asking a bunch of silly questions (such as, “Can you describe Ohm’s Law?” – which if somebody couldn’t, they wouldn’t be talking to me in the first place), I start with the question, “How did you get interested in this field?” The conversation that follows reveals all that I need to know. I look to see that a person is knowledgable, of course, but more importantly that they have the enthusiasm and the willingness to adapt to change and develop new skills on a continuing basis. We just have a conversation about the work.
    Suffice it to say that I have had candidates who were kind of lukewarm – I turned them down.

  2. Love your ‘time to play hardball’ to secure human interaction with the hiring manager who has the real need to sustain the company.

    I’ve got a wicked description for HR in addition to paper pushers: Entitled Smiling Assasins. Cold hearted folks playing out their need to control the job candidates universal rights to earn a living.

  3. 1000% right, I’ve gone through this for decades,avd nie it’s these Brobdingnagian TA teams that work on volume,not relationships.
    That said,a weak HR team is equally heinous.
    Look no further than the recent case of Geoff Morrell, ex Disney
    Someone in the C suite decided that his relocation expenses if $500K were justified.
    A strong HR team would never have let that happen. Highly unlikely.
    They serve an important function, but are often their own worst enemy

  4. Nick — I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore (youtube.com/watch?v=cMhrpapLTZM).

    In 1978, I was taught a job-search method termed Networking plus Informational Interviewing (N+II), based on the method that you’re promoting here, which is to avoid HR, directly interact with Hiring Managers (HMs) and people who would be supervising our role, concentrate primarily on networking while only applying to specific jobs that match us and need what we have to offer, and was illustrated in What Color Is Your Parachute? (see, e.g., page 12 in the 2020 edition).

    But I’m afraid that the era of N+II and what you’re advocating for here may be coming to a close.

    The issue is the legitimate need for unbiased, non-discriminatory hiring and the need for employers to conform to the laws enforced by the EEOC through the OFCCP: “Applicants, employees and former employees are protected from employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), national origin, age (40 or older), disability and genetic information (including family medical history)” (eeoc.gov/employers/small-business/3-who-protected-employment-discrimination).

    “Back in my day” employers could hire, or not hire, pretty much anyone they wanted to, using any criteria they wanted to, even with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended) being in effect.

    Today, the government is, I believe, more intensely involved in the hiring process, and people who have been discriminated against are more prone to sue, than ever before.

    And the entire hiring and getting hired process, in addition to the above, seems to have been systematized and digitized at almost every level. It’s really hard for an individual HM to rage against the system and to hire “the old way.”

    Thus, and I could be wrong (and sincerely hope I am), I think the age of HMs finding their preferred candidate, getting on the phone, and telling HR to “hire this person,” if not already gone, is about to end in the near future.

    • I think the real approach, based on my experience in a 10,000 person company, is that if a Hiring Manager has a good candidate, invariably they need to get “into the HR Applicant Tracking system du jour” and then the hiring manager can arrange an initialinterview/meeting which is the whole point of reaching the hiring manager.

    • Chris: I acknowledge the EEO laws and their validity, but I don’t see any conflict. A job applicant can submit an application to the machine but is also free to approach the hiring manager. Anyone is free to do either. A manager’s job is to hire the best candidate for the job. HR’s job is to fulfill the EEO requirements. Those tasks can work in parallel or totally separate from one another.

      Another job of the manager is to actively recruit the best people they can find. I don’t believe it is inherently discriminatory to recruit in a narrow, highly targeted pool of people who are best suited to the work. To show inappropriate discrimination, we’d have to show the manager intentionally ignored or rejected some people because they are members of a defined class. Keep in mind that discrimination has another, more ancient meaning — “discerning.” If you’re hiring the person best suited for the job, you are a discerning manager. Meanwhile, HR may be drowning in candidates not suited to the job but who enable HR to check the EEO boxes.

      I’m not playing at semantics. If anything, I’m advocating that protected classes of people learn how to go directly to the manager — to stand out so the manager can readily discriminate between them and less motivated candidates of any stripe.

      I understand your concern that the “systematized and digitized” process makes it more difficult for managers to find the best candidate without relying on “the database.” But that’s always been a challenge.

      Wikipedia: “Discrimination is the act of making unjustified distinctions between people based on the groups, classes, or other categories to which they belong or are perceived to belong.”

      Key: “‘unjustified” and excluding people based on defined criteria.

      I think the best managers will always seek out the best candidates who can do the job — and candidates who can get themselves directly in front of that manager will always have an edge. A cynical observer might point out that in the meantime, HR can run a parallel process that checks off the boxes, while the world waits for the law to account for who is the best candidate to do the work… along with making sure every protected class gets a chance.

      If I were a protected class, I’d get on with learning how to stand out from ALL competitors — by finding good ways to get to the manager first.

      • HR is guilty of their own discrimination against good candidates, as I mentioned in my comment above.

      • Giving and holding you tight (for 30 seconds) with a huge warm virtual hug to your reply above. Your truthful words are forever etched within.

        Who trains these HR or recruiters to window dress like a TikTok star and brews mean spirited, manipulative, exercise on every prejudicial bias based simply on looks?
        Hiring discrimination persist. HR & recruiters will hire someone who looks and talks like them.

        The perception of value with constant fear mongering, are swept into the “Ghetto’ departments. Examples: Accounting departments: 99% Chinese Americans, White Manager
        Frontliners: Latina or other brown skin or poor white
        In the healthcare: Caregivers: African American or Filipina or poor white or a young LBGQT
        Sales: All White, one ‘diversity’ token thrown with unrealistic expectations & excluded from
        crucial department information
        IT: Asian Indians, Russian or Eastern European born.
        Suburban and Rural Clinics: Imported & Medical BOARD Certified Doctors from India, Philippines
        who work until exhausted!

        Thank you for listening.

        • I applied to the maintenance position at a large automotive manufacturer with about 30 other candidates about 20 yrs ago and was told in no uncertain terms that if the applicant wasn’t a minority female they wouldn’t get hired. If the minority applicant couldn’t pass the entrance exam, the company would help them pass it and teach them basic reading and math skills. The reason was because there are Federal hiring quotas and the company wants to keep the Federal contracts. I knew some of the maintenance managers and they told me the new hires were so lacking in basic skills and common sense sometimes being dangerous to themselves and others, and the rest of the team wouldn’t associate with them. But the company couldn’t terminate them and the union was forced to stand with them by the Federal Government.

          • “May a contractor set quotas as a way to meet its affirmative action obligations?
            No, OFCCP regulations do not permit quotas, preferences, or set asides. They are strictly forbidden. Placement goals (under Executive Order 11246), utilization goals (under Section 503), and hiring benchmarks (under VEVRAA) are not to be interpreted as a ceiling or floor for the employment of particular groups of persons but, rather, should serve as a benchmark against which the contractor measures the representation of persons within its workforce. Placement goals, utilization goals, and hiring benchmarks are not rigid or inflexible quotas to be met but, rather, standards of measurement of how a contractor is fulfilling its affirmative action obligations.”
            dol.gov/agencies/ofccp/faqs/AAFAQs#:~:text=No%2C%20OFCCP%20regulations%20do%20not,%2C%20preferences%2C%20or%20set%20asides.

      • Hey Nick —

        Thanks for the reply, and for the thoughts, and certainly want to agree with you.

        You are 100% “on the money” when you write, “If I were a protected class, I’d get on with learning how to stand out from ALL competitors — by finding good ways to get to the manager first.”

        • @Chris: Having said all that, I believe there is a lot of bias in hiring. Your larger point is not lost.

          While a lot of people would point to this or that group as the perpetrator or the victim, depending on who’s doing the recruiting everyone’s guilty. I wish employers and recruiters would get better at understanding what a job requires, the recruiting for THAT — and showing job seekers exactly what it takes to win the job.

          And the only real solution for bringing more “diversity” into whatever field we’re talking about is — to quote Charles Dickens — EDUCATION. (Lack of education has been a problem in every society since before Dickens!)

          • Thank you so much for this reply.

            You write, “… everyone’s guilty.”

            Yes, we’re all guilty, because, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

            The answer, certainly education, and more, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12)

            Such an effective solution to bias and discrimination … except for our evil hearts.

  5. Using an old saw that there’s 3 kinds of managers,
    1. Those that make things happen
    2. Those that Watch things happen
    3. Those that wonder what happens

    Applied to recruiting needs.
    #1 Does not wait until they need someone & recruit.
    They are aggressive networkers, who place a high
    priority on staffing and are always recruiting. Are not
    dependent on HR sourcing, & have grown their own.

    Their networking is internal as well as external and definitely includes HR & the finance crowd. They don’t end run HR, they absorb HR resources & effectively bolt it on to their shops. For example, they make sure that their HR rep & /or recruiter is inside their head and clearly knows how they recruit, how they recognize potential & what interests the HM. And when potential is Identified how to sell them on coming aboard and cut red tape to a minimun and get it done. Relative to this topic, if a candidate takes the lead & “gets to” a hiring manager, there really is no end run, as the manager & HR have already worked out that process. Think about it. It’s free headcount.

    #2 Is pretty much the norm. They’re likely not good at, nor that interested in networking. They wait for a need then engage the system. They play by the rules, with applicants who also wait for a job need & then play by the rules. This doesn’t mean they won’t be good to work for, or HR will call the shots. The optimum word is “wait” .If you find them before the rules say they can play, they most likely will empathize & send your resume to HR. And wait for the system to wake up. Their HR contact will likewise be babysitting the manager, also
    playing by the rules and wait for a green light to recruit.

    #3 Most likely, this manager is an example of taking a
    subject matter expert in their field and making them a
    manager. Their priority isn’t people, it’s a given technology. They don’t like to recruit, procrastinate until
    a need has morphed into a crises and then be forced to
    act. Some unlucky HR sod will be assigned to “support
    them” which can mean serve as a scapegoat for missed
    recruiting needs. You can end run HR to this person all
    you want but you’ll likely hit the same lethargy HR does
    when they try to make something happen.

    Of course the above is simplified. There’s overlaps in
    behaviors and needs. Again before you make an end
    run some research and networking on your own may
    give you insights on what kind of manager you may be
    dealing with. Ditto HR. Sometimes you may find that it’s the HR rep you want to connect to, not the HM. The HR rep can steer you to who you really should meet.

    How a company & especially how a manager recruits
    gives you valuable insights on how they truely value
    people.

    Efforts to find and connect to a HM is an example of taking initative. And related follow ups an example of
    how you’d do your job. If someone’s nose gets out of
    joint because you try, you’ve found a shortsighted crew and walk away with a smile on your face.

    Here’s where that old saying “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” comes into play. Very likely you won’t have to walk away. But just ask for forgiveness when you meet with your targeted HM

    • @Don: That’s a useful taxonomy. I wonder how many managers see themselves honestly?

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