I have changed my approach to employers. I know I’m taking a risk, but I really believe what you teach, that succumbing to “the HR screen” almost always diminishes someone’s chances of getting in the door. Here’s what I did — a recent e-mail thread is below. If you print this, I’d love to hear from other readers about whether they’ve done something like this or whether they would. And if they’ve done it, what were the results? Whatever happens with getting interviews, I believe the added pay-off is that I’m saving myself from lots of wasted time. Thanks.

E-mail to employer:

getting in the doorHi, Manager,

Hope this message finds you well. Understand your department is looking for an energetic go-getter to join the team.

You’ll have to pardon my unorthodox approach to job hunting. I also dabbled in the library sciences for a time, which is how I got your contact information.

Good news for you: My career is focused on PR and internal/employee communications, working with high-tech companies like [company 1] and [company 2].

With regards to grabbing audiences by effective storytelling, I can do both in the written word (blogs) and via social media (Twitter). [links to specific posts omitted here]

If it’s not you, who is the hiring manager I should contact?

Best Regards,

[job seeker]

Employer’s response:

Hey [job seeker],

This isn’t a role in my team. The best way to route your resume to the right person is to apply via the careers section on [company].com.


[company manager]

Answer to employer:

Hi [manager],

Thanks for the quick response, but there’s no way I’ll apply through the HR portal — I’ll never stand a chance. That’s why I contacted you in the first place! Please see:

Ask the Headhunter – Go around HR to get the job

Best Regards,

[job seeker]

Nick’s Reply

Now you’ve done it! You’ve broken the rules and put yourself at risk of angering an employer! What insanity will job seekers reveal next?

I’m happy to put your questions up to the Ask The Headhunter community. We all get frustrated with the job application labyrinth, but most people enter blindfolded anyway. We also know few come back out with a job.

This reader doesn’t say what success they’ve had. I’m hoping we hear more either here in the discussion or via e-mail. If the latter, I promise to report back.

Is this insanity, or a smart job seeker’s last stand?

Dear readers: Have you ever done what this reader did? If not, would you? If you have resisted instructions to “apply through the machine” when you’re trying to deal directly with the hiring manager, how did you try to get in the door? What was the outcome?

: :

  1. Honestly, nothing lost there. If the manager is going to respond that way, there’s one of two reasons:
    1) They’re that ineffective of a leader and you don’t want to work for them.
    2) The company is so strict on their process that you have to adhere to it. This can be a nightmare to work for.

    • Completely agree. You can’t fix stupid, whether at the individual or corporate level. Better to know that now than after you’ve invested days, weeks, months, or years of your precious, irreplaceable life in an enterprise that is headed in the wrong direction.

  2. Kudos to the job seeker. This hiring insanity needs resistance from the rational.

  3. I’m a hiring manager. If you contact me directly and I am excited, I will contact my internal recruiter and say, “I want to consider this person.” You will still go through the system with one difference: My recruiter will now give you special attention. If I am not excited by what you offer I may not make as urgent a move. I work for a major company.

    • That’s good to hear. Glad you’re willing to give special attention over the others.

  4. After a good start,the writer falls down with their ‘Answer to employer’. They’ve allowed [company manager] to close the door by leaving that manager with a problem.

    Much better to say:

    “Thanks for the quick response, I understand this role isn’t on your team – are you able to point me towards someone who might know the hiring manager? There are a couple of questions I need to ask before applying.”

    • 100% agree. I also don’t think the OP was breaking any rules. Nothing wrong with boss hunting IMHO. As others have mentioned before it can be helpful if you have a contact within the company who might be able to give a little help or nudge to the hiring manager.

      I generally avoid applying to roles within companies where I have ZERO internal connection from my network. In my experience those blind applications go into a black hole never to be seen again. Many companies post jobs on the public boards because it’s a requirement they do so, and they have no intention of filling those roles externally.

    • @Cokaral: “There are a couple of questions I need to ask before applying.”

      I like that. Anything to encourage the listener to give you your next personal contact.

      You can take it another step. Do your homework and come up with a good question about some arcane aspect of the job you want; some issue the person you’re talking to probably doesn’t understand. You want to make it necessary for them to introduce you to someone who can answer the question. If you frame it correctly, that will be the actual hiring manager or someone on that team.

    • 100% agree.

      Assigning the manager “homework” with a link to another web site (even one as good as ask the headhunter) is not the formula for a continuing dialogue.

      Essentially the job Hunter “kissed off” the company just because his own initial approach was to the wrong manager.

      Approach is good; execution needs a little polishing up.

  5. For me the question is not to break the rules (which I will happily in a lot of situations if it makes sense) but to be pragmatic about them.

    I very often try to use my network so that they can give me a hand (or stab me in the back as the case may have been) ideally before or sometimes after applying and potentially/ideally be connected with the hiring manager. Then follow her or his instructions and if that requires applying through a given channel that’s perfectly fine for me ;-)

  6. Generally good direction. If you are higher up especially, you have to make a good contact.

    I suggest that you improve the grammar. That alone will make people look at you differently.

  7. The job seeker bumbled this, in the end making the goal “showing up” the manager wrongly contacted, versus “digging in” further – you know, put that “library sciences dabbling” to work. However the wrong manager’s information was obtained – LinkedIn, company web site, conference attendee lists, whatever – go to the well again and find other people worth contacting. Even a present or former employee with similar duties to the job posting. Swing the bat enough, and he or she will find someone who will help.

    The originally-contacted manager probably forgot the initial email in 30 seconds. Once the second email arrived, the manager might very well have contacted HR with the prospect’s name and email address and the guidance that the person was giving off “red flags.” Plus there’s the admission that “I’ll never stand a chance” if using the company’s normal process of hiring.

  8. As a senior engineer (not a manager) at a small company I consider it a subset of my job to be on the lookout for talent. I would be open to an unorthodox introduction, and if impressed I would send it to the best-fit manager. If they don’t have an opening today, we might cultivate the relationship at conferences, etc. and have an opening in the future. Or this person might land somewhere else in the industry and become a potential customer.

    However, this email reads as very ‘me-focused’ and generic. Maybe identifying details were removed, but based on this alone I would suspect that the sender sent ten of this same email this week – because they are special, not because they understand what the manager needs. Tell the HM why you felt it necessary to bypass the standard application process, and make it about them.

    In summary – Yes, I would do it as an applicant. Yes, I would be open to it. But it’s possible to rub the recipient the wrong way.

    • @Meg: You’ve bent and shaped the O.P.’s method into a better one. I, too, suspect the core of that e-mail has been used a few times! It’s all in how you present it.

  9. My take on this wording is it shows quite a bit of self-absorption on the part of the job seeker. They are all about themselves and it shows. It’s a turn-off to the hiring manager. That is what is wrong in my opinion.

    I don’t read any reasons why this company needs the email writer or would find advantage with them on the team. I’m surprised the hiring manager even replied but I hear a tinge of anger in the reply, maybe wanting to put this person down a peg. And the only way to do that is reply with such rejection and almost disdain.

  10. I did a similar version of this – I saw a job open, wrote a letter (included my resume) and mailed it to the CEO. CEO forwards it to manager. Got the interview. NB – the 1st question the manager asks me “how do you know the CEO?” (I don’t). That’s the power of mailing something. You stand out (no one gets mail anymore). I did decline the job offer because of fit.

    • @Thomas: Snail-mail stands out, I think because it triggers a different “cognitive script” in the manager, witness the assumption that you know the CEO. Nice work! (You’ve also shown that job applicants sometimes are the ones doing the rejecting!)

      • I learned from the best (aka your columns)!

      • Thank you! I learned from the best (aka your email newsletters)!

  11. I think the work-seeker’s approach is great!
    I don’t think they’re self absorbed, but focused on the themselves and the target manager.
    If the target manager is put off by this, they you wouldn’t want to work for them.

  12. I have done a modified version of this, but sadly without much success.

    I do actually go ahead and apply through the ATS or whatever, as any large/formal organization is going to need that box ticked for their file of info on you, and it shows that I respect the organization’s rules/requirements even if I also behave in a less-than-orthodox manner otherwise.

    I then email essentially my “cover letter” (Look how excited and enthusiastic I am about your organization/tasks! Don’tcha wanna hire me???) and attach my resume to the people I suspect might be or report to the hiring manager (if I can’t find out for certain via my kinda limited network).

    I mention that I have already applied, and attach the emailed application confirmation, but explain that I understand sometimes the system “loses” people, so I wanted to contact them directly.

    It has worked with people I indirectly knew (and it took them a lot of work to actually find me in their ATS), but it hasn’t worked with strangers.

    I think I’ll try the snailmail technique instead the next time I find something particularly appealing.

    • See if this idea would work for you: when you email or mail a letter to the VP in charge of the department (same idea applies when you email or mail a letter to the CEO – you want the VP to tell the manager to interview you):

      1) attach or print the reply you got from HR when you applied for the job online

      2) write “this is a follow up email (substitute the word letter for email if you’re following up by mail). Feel free to ignore.” <— psychology 101 – the person will either read it. Or ignore it. Most of the times? He/she will read it). I applied for the (insert the job you’ve applied for). I can help you by (use 3 or 5 bullet points <—- psychology 101 – odd bullet points stand out to the reader)

      3) finish with “If for some reason, you’re not open to exploring, that’s okay too.All I ask is that you let me know either way. I’ll respect it.”

      4) for both email and letter – include your email address, a link to your LinkedIn account (if you have a personal website, include it as well) <—- for letter, create a QR code, copy and paste it into your letter) and any other social media account (eg: if you’re using X and it’s focused on Y (Y = the stuff you’re interested in or industry you want to target) <—- for letter, include QR codes

      5) if you don’t receive a reply within a 1-2 weeks, follow up (do this 3x.- once a week. By phone, email, letter). No reply by week 3? Move to your next company

  13. P.S. – NICK! Welcome back and so glad you’re on the mend! :-)

  14. I don’t recruit, hire, or manage …

    … but if I did, and if a person who is looking for a position in my company or where I work or on a team that I was on, and they responded with, “Thanks for the quick response, but there’s no way I’ll apply through the HR portal — I’ll never stand a chance. That’s why I contacted you in the first place! Please see….”

    There is no way I would consider them, ever, not one in a million chance.

    I mean, seriously!!??

    Further, there is no way I would ever refer or recommend someone who had this attitude.

    But that’s just me … YMMV.

    I’m happy it works out for this person, but I think this approach would be DOA (Dead On Arrival) for most applicants.

    • I want to clarify my initial comment.

      I have been using, recommending, and teaching networking since 1978, and 100% endorse contacting folks as described here … but it is the wording that I’m objecting to.

      “but there’s no way I’ll apply through the HR portal” is a direct challenge to what the contacted person suggested, and sounds like a petulant child telling a parent, no, I won’t eat my vegetables and I’m not going to do what you told me to do.

      “that’s why I contacted you in the first place” sends the message that you (the person contacted) just don’t get it, are deficient, and didn’t do what I wanted you to, and thus I’m mad at you.

      Networking as suggested here, very good.

      The language, the wording used to respond to the person who was contacted by the job seeker, absolutely terrible.

  15. This may or may not help someone. It’s nice to know what’s happening on the other side when one applies for a job online.

    I used to be a VP, Research, for a small non-profit. When I posted a job, it had specific instructions – cover letter, resume. Also the name of the President and the company’s name.

    Oh how I wished someone would have used OP’s technique (the first email). Located the company’s website. Use the “Contact Us” form. Because I would have invited him/her to the interview. In a second.

    Instead, I had to wade through the resumes (I had to do my job as well). Taking 60 minutes during lunch, I used:

    1) the 6 second rule -> did you capture my attention in 6 seconds (it was rare that someone caught my attention in 6 seconds. Because I was quickly scanning the cover letter and resume

    2) see if the candidates followed the instructions -> no cover letter? Delete. Resume didn’t make sense? Delete <— I was ruthless. Didn’t include the President’s name in the cover letter? Delete

    3) for the candidates that met the criteria? Delete their name, address, phone number, email, school (university/college etc) before forwarding to the team to pick which candidates to invite for the interview (blind hiring)

    4) interview candidates

    5) offer job

  16. I believe the individual was very endearing to the hiring manager in there first email. Managers are looking for talent that can make their position and teams positions to grow and make the day-to-day easy to manage.

  17. Don’t rely on your resume!

    Common misperception:
    I’ve been applying to job postings for which I meet all the criteria, and I mean all of them. I figure that’s one way to beat my competition — to really stand out.
    This statement is a job hunt/application misconception, I want to be a ‘Tall Poppy’.
    You DON’T want to stand out.
    You want to MATCH what is required…and nothing else.
    You might think that including you are an Eagle Scout will be helpful – unless the interviewer had a problem with Boy Scouts…or never got their Eagle.
    You might think that completing six marathons shows tenacity and planning and will put you above the rest…unless the interviewer is 40 pounds overweight and despises fit individuals.
    You might think working for a competitor and being successful in the same position would help unless the interviewer would never hire a competitor’s employee…for whatever reason.
    The solution?
    1. Don’t use a full resume for your first application…you don’t know what is in it that will cause you to be winnowed out.
    2. Reply only to the requirements of the position in your response. Copy each requirement and just under that requirement reply with one or two sentences:
    If there are five requirements, reply to each with how you fit, no more than two sentences, one sentence is better. Use the same words, don’t try to impress with your vocabulary.
    If you exceed the requirement, don’t state that. For example:
    If the requirement is:
    “BA degree required.”
    Your appropriate response should be:
    “I have a Bachelors Degree in Business.”
    You DO NOT list that you also have a graduate degree.
    If the requirement is:
    “Five years of experience.”
    You reply
    “I have over five years of experience.”
    DO NOT reply “I have 30 years of experience.”
    If you have similar but not exact experience required you can use two sentences:
    “I do not have experience with .
    I do have experience with “yyy” which is very similar and will be able to become expert in .”
    Stop, do not add any additional skills, experience, education, etc. Just the requirements.
    Finish: something similar to: “It appears my experience matches your requirements and I am interested in .
    I was out of work for over a year after 9-11. I spent six months sending out my resume and got 4-6% response.
    I started using the process above, I got responses in the 80% range with much less work. I also applied to fewer jobs as when I came across two or more requirements I couldn’t meet I dropped that application.
    Since then I’ve used this and, when my consulting/salry rates were in the ‘normal’ range, I got a 90%+ response and was out of work for less than six weeks between jobs.
    Why did this work for me?
    Many times employers get many more applications than they can reasonably review. If your response is short, to the point and matches EVERY one of their requirements there is no reason why your application will be weeded out.
    Many employers use an HR person, who does NOT know the job terminology, to review the resumes, if your resume doesn’t appear to meet all the requirements, you will be weeded OUT. Applying with:
    BA degree required.
    I have a BA in Management.
    Experience with .
    I have experience with .
    Does several things:
    1. The reviewer has MUCH fewer paragraphs, sentences, words, bullet points to read. So, there is a better chance it will be read.
    2. The reviewer doesn’t have to translate your experience to match THEIR requirements, you have done that for them.
    3. If they are doing their due diligence and you state you have every requirement, they must pass your response along.
    Now, when they reply, you can adjust your resume to match their requirements more closely.
    The important key here is that you were likely NOT weeded out because of how well you felt you matched to the job as that you were weeded out because of something IN your resume. This process removes that possibility.
    When I had to fill a District HR position, we received 300 resumes. I still had a job to do along with working through three hundred resumes to pick three candidates. I read each resume until I came across something I didn’t like… miss-spelling, too much experience, wrong experience, poor punctuation, poor explanation of experience, anything else that caught my “ah, don’t like that”, I got down to 30 after spending less than a minute each on the other 270.
    Can you guarantee that something in your resume will NOT cause a ‘ah, don’t like that’? response?
    You can, by replying ONLY to the requirements.

  18. Wow — that’s a LOT of steps to play the resume/keyword game which is, as you point out, totally stacked against you.

    Better (more obvious) idea: Don’t play (the sucker). DON’T USE A RESUME!