In the September 14, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

I know that a local company has new positions in the works, but I can’t get anyone to talk to me. The personnel office doesn’t return calls and I don’t know how to reach the manager. Is my only alternative to send a resume and hope it is seen by the district manager? 

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

No, don’t give up yet. Call the company’s sales department—those calls always get connected. Ask for advice.

Sales reps are usually talkative as long as you don’t waste their time. Be polite and be respectful. Learn all you can, then ask for a referral. “I don’t want to apply for a job until I learn more about the operation. I’d really like to have this kind of discussion with someone who works in the department I’d be applying to. Can you recommend someone—other than the personnel office—who might talk with me? I’d be beholden to you.”

In the newsletter I explain what to say to the manager when you finally make contact. (For detailed advice about how to give managers what they’re looking for, see the section titled Put a Free Sample in Your Resume in the Answer Kit: How Can I Change Careers?) But the main message is to contact people peripheral to the hiring manager to establish direct contact. In other words, to get introduced. Don’t waste your time with the personnel office or with a blind resume.

Never send a blind resume. Make a good contact and get introduced to the manager. Most important: Have something useful to say.

Approaching the hiring manager through the sales department is not a ruse; it’s honest, but it’s also clever. It’s just one legitimate method for sidestepping the HR office to talk to the hiring authority. I’m sure you know other ways to do it.

Got tips? That’s what this edition of the blog is about: Your suggestions and stories about how to get the hiring manager’s attention. Please post them!


  1. Great advise going through sales. Also a lot of sales people will recognize you’re selling too & will empathize & help. If the person’s interested in this company they seemingly see some common ground, so before you contact sales, see if you can bring something to the table to give to the sales person, a lead, a contact, useful information.
    It sounds like the person may know the name(s) of the managers. If not try to learn them from research. If not title may work. Don’t blow off good old fashioned snail mail. It’s so rarely used these days that a personal letter stands out like a fire alarm. It gets attention

  2. Another technique is to use LinkedIn. One can search on LinkedIn for people in their network that work at the company. They can ask to be introduced through a connection to an employee and reach out for informational interviews. They can also see if any alumni of their alma mater work there as alumni are more inclined to help out fellow graduates. They can do an Advanced People Search on LinkedIn to search for alumni at the company.

  3. I once just called reception and asked for the name of the department manager, he passed me over to the hiring manager and I had an interview that week. Right place at the right time? I would have never had a chance with the traditional HR channels

  4. @Mike: Getting to the manager is almost always a matter of tenacity and discretion. Keep looking for angles and connections, but ALWAYS be low key and polite. Never pushy or insistent. Make friends.

    And realize that if the manager really doesn’t want to talk to people who are interested in the position, he or she is likely not worth working for. Ask yourself, why would any manager not want to talk to a motivated candidate, and why would the manager want to relinquish control over candidate selection to HR?

  5. One of our clients recently secured a new position. When I congratulated him, he said ‘I was just in the right place at the right time.’ But anyone who gets a job is in the right place at the right time. The secret is to be in as many places as possible at the same time. Translation: known to as many people as possible in the company/industry/world where you want to work. My boss likes to say ‘It’s not what you know; it’s not who you know; it’s who knows *you*.

  6. I agree with networking since that’s what has worked for me. Getting to know as many people as possible, be they in your industry or not, makes no difference. Regarding my current job it was a colleague that I used to help from an IT point of view and he used to help me with understanding financial issues pertaining to my work. We got along very well. He recommended me to a friend of his who owns an employment agency. I agree: ‘It’s not what you know; it’s not who you know; it’s who knows *you*” at least in my case. It’s also important to help others along the way as well. Don’t sit and wait to be helped.

  7. Unfortunately, not all industries have a sales department. I work in the upstream oil industry and know of a job opening at one of my employer’s competitors that I would be well suited for. I am being bombarded with calls from headhunters hoping to place me in the job, but after recently being turned down by a good company because I “was just to expensive to hire with the extra commission” I am avoiding using placement firms. I tried the website, but found the forms not only daunting, but the website was actually returning functional errors in the application section. I called HR, was transferred to voicemail, and have never received a call back. I have a job, and am now skeptical that I would even want to work for this company, even if I could reach them. This absurd firewall to keep good applicants away from HR simply makes no sense, and I see it as an indicator that they are so inept that I would not be happy there. There comes a point where the extra effort required may be an indication that it isn’t a good company to work for anyway.

  8. correction: that should read “too expensive”

  9. though not clear what profession kind of position the person was talking about & the example of calling sales was that an example. It doesn’t make that much of a difference. You can call any department and likely to get good information of who to really call.
    Nick touched on the core suggestion in the newsletter, to do what the person wants in a “now” situation the person needs to act like a recruiter & use their tools. I believe Nick may have a treatise on this in the archives.
    And it won’t hurt to drop some negative assumptions
    If you’d like to talk to the hiring manager:
    0. Never lie or use artifices.
    0.a Be ready & able to write things down. Don’t do this from a moving vehicle
    0.b of course you’ll go over the website with a fine tooth comb. Get sales info, it’s likely down loadable. look for sales personnel names, emails, generic contact emails for reasons below
    1. Don’t guide or subscribe to all the horror stories about gate keepers, rebuffs etc. Just Use Mike’s advise. Call and ask for the head of that department. Of course better if you know the name. If you don’t know the name you have a preliminary mission, find it out. You’ll be pleasantly surprised about how many people will put you through. Notice you didn’t mention you were a job hunter. If they ask tell them. Yes you may get shunted off to HR, but not always.
    1a. If you get “sent” to the H Mgr, expect 9 out of 10 you’ll get a voice message. Frustrating perhaps, but 9/10 the person will give their name, and very likely a cell #. Bingo
    1b. Think ahead and leave a concise clear message who you are, what you want, & a value proposition. tell them you’ll call back at such a time & day. And do it, be prepare to repeat this process.
    1c. Go back to the main #. & in most cases the person who took your call. Thank him/her, tell them you left a voice message and could you have the person’s email. And if the h mgr didn’t structure a voice msg that gave the name or it’s not clear, tell the person just that and ask for the name and correct spelling. You will again be surprised at how many times the person will comply. in other cases they’ll either really not know, or are forbidden to give it out
    1b_1. This is why you network and research. Do some of the latter and find out that company’s email address formal or just try them.e.g 1st name.last or org or whatever. can’t write a book on it, but be creative, google the company, look for job postings that show the company’s @ etc.
    1c. Then effect this cycle. call, email follow up, call follow up, email follow up….to a point. let some time pass repeat the process. think positive meaning just busy ness, & at some time Nick’s point kicks in. As to busy ness, call very early or very late, when the workaholics are likely ot pick up the phoen themselves. Don’t fret about not connecting with a h Mgr who doesn’t see the value of someone interested in working for him/her and their company. But I can tell you persistence does win, and it is valued. I kept after one company for a couple of months about every other day doing this. until the guy took the call. He told me it was because I was persistent and he respected persistence.
    1c_1. The other reason is because he saw that I understood them. That’s because as a recruiter I sent him a sanitized resume of someone who was dead on what they do for a living. In your case think about it. You can’t lead a horse to water etc, but you can salt the oats. Do something beyond being a supplecant that says you understand their business and the hiring managers profession and/or pain. Attach an article, pony up a good idea of what you’d do if you were working there, spark some curiosity. If you do you’ll differentiate yourself for certain, as everyone else the person’s hearing from including the HR flow isn’t doing anything but wanting something FROM the hiring manager. They’re likely not offering anything but a resume.
    2. If you’ve not taken this route, then invoke Nick’s suggestion. Call sales. for all the reasons he mentioned. Don’t assume they shunt you over to HR. you may be pleasantly surprised that someone will simply give you the info you want, names rank #’s emails. Try to call managers for reasons below, but take whomeever
    2.a: Sales was a suggestion. Call any department and ask for info. ditto on the help & calling managers
    3. HR; if you get shunted off to HR, don’t just assume this is bad, especially if it’s the only direction you’ve got. Before being passed along, get the name of the HR manager, and find out if there’s an internal recruiter or not. Get that name.
    3.a. repeat the contact cycle above. call, msg, email, call, msg, email. Except, if you’ve gone a route prior you will be or should attempt to be different from 99% of other people trying to get a rise out of HR. Your are going to be positioned to say in this cycle So & So from Sales, from Engineering, from XYZ referred me to you. as i said preferably a manager. and you use that name in your email subject, voice mail lead in
    3.a.1. check out the careers section of the site if something like that exists. Aside from yourself do you know anyone who fits some role they are looking for. You mentioned positions plural. now again play recruiter. anyone you know would fit anything this company is looking for? let them know about it. see if they’d like to explore it. the gist of it is, see if you can come bearing gifts. someone they should know about. At some point in your effort you will find a place to offer this piece of information.
    3.b. HR is a broad and general term which may vary from company to company given size and people. As a recruiter I did well NOT avoiding HR but trying to set up a collaborative role. Many are WAY oversubscribed. And it’s likely an advantage if they are, so if you do a lot of their work for them regarding yourself, they begin to listen. organize your application such that it’s virtually ready to hand off to a H Mgr with minimal work on their part. you can turn an overworked HR team into an advantage.
    4. Gatekeepers. There are recruiters whose great pride and joy is getting around gatekeepers. Which they do with BS, or out and out lies and misrepresentation. Don’t do that. Be honest and respect their jobs. They aren’t doing it to be mean, they’re doing it because it’s their job. They’ll tell you they won’t put you through to the H Mgr, or whomever and likely will be the 1st one to send you to HR. Tell they just what you’ve told Nick, you’re a job hunter, you’d like to talk to the boss etc. I’ve done well more than once by simply asking the gatekeeper if I could send my resume to him/her and ask her if he/she would use their judgement as to who should see it (meaning the boss) or if a peer to the h mgr to the h mgr’s gatekeeper. whatever. They are charged to protect the gate of their boss but not the world so if they send you to HR ask for details, names etc. get the contact info of other gatekeepers if you can. The great truth in company life is the admin network is very strong. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of it, and that goes for insiders and outsiders. Thank them. Ask if you can call them back in a week or so. Grow an advocate(s)

    If you can’t get names from within the company, get them outside. From the chamber of commerce, from the rotary,

    If you’re aggressive and the company is small the bad news is people could get annoyed with you as they compare notes. the good news and the company is small people will compare notes and get the sense you are persistent, really are interested in them/the company.
    and you’d better be, as this takes a lot of effort that transcends merely getting a job. If you’ve gotten any traction with anyone, guess what? you’ve just successfully networked. If you don’t get a job, and like the company, about once a quarter check in, and keep sending small reminders to the folks there.