In the November 15, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter who tries to take a personal approach to an employer is told to “go tell it to our website” in order to comply with federal rules:

Nick, this is a new one to me. Do we really need to apply online for positions before contacting anyone in a company, “to be compliant with government programs?”

Is this true, or are they using a federal smokescreen here? I made a personal inquiry about a job through LinkedIn, and they sent me to their website to apply. Here is the reply I received:

“In order to be considered for any of our positions at [Fortune 100 company] it will be important to apply to the position. To be compliant with our Govt programs, a candidate has to apply to the positions to be considered. Also, if you are interested in moving forward, can you please send to me a copy of your resume and I will send it over to our hiring manager.

Mary [surname omitted]
[tel omitted]
[e-mail omitted]
Global Recruiting
BE VITAL in your career, Be seen for the talent you bring to your work. Explore opportunities within the [Company] Family of Companies”

When I did as I was told in the past and applied online at this company’s website, they immediately sent out a notice of rejection, thanking me for applying, saying they have no open positions at this time, and wishing me best of luck in my job search.

How do they expect to get good candidates?

My Advice

Many companies have policies requiring submission of an application online, even if they don’t cite federal law. (The feds require employers to document their compliance with equal opportunity hiring laws, and this may be why some companies like to have an online audit trail of applications.)

But what does this have to do with intelligent recruiting and hiring practices? Nothing at all. Employers can be total dumb-asses when it comes to hiring and recruiting, and still obey the law.

You’ve encountered a company recruiter who is more concerned about dotting i’s and crossing t’s than recruiting competitively. Telling you that the personal approach you took is inadequate, and to go fill out the online form, is not smart, competitive behavior. (I do give her credit for requesting your resume. But after you went to the trouble to make a personal contact, her suggestion is no more personal than filling out that online form.)

Even if this recruiter were to respond to you outside the confines of those online forms, she could still make sure that your application was properly documented — later. To answer your question, I don’t know how a company expects to attract “VITAL” candidates and to “see the talent you bring to your work” when the first order of business is to shunt them to the website, where applicants can do the HR staff’s adminstrative work — filling out forms and tracking applicants.

What you should do

Keep taking the personal approach. If you can make a good contact through LinkedIn, go for it — but don’t bother with contacts in the personnel department. Find a manager in the company who actually needs to hire someone. Establish mutual interest, and even get an interview if possible. If the discussion becomes serious, then you can submit the online stuff to satisfy the bureaucrats who had absolutely nothing to do with attracting you to the company. In the meantime, you’ve got the ball rolling with that hiring manager, ahead of your competition.

The personnel jockey who told you to go fill out the online form will be busy driving away good candidates — to her competitors.

Half-assed recruiting

Your experience isn’t unusual. Employers seem to have turned half-assed recruiting into a top-level strategy for turning away top talent. “Recruiting” has been reduced to running ads, telling people to fill out forms, and waiting for talent to show up. In New Jersey, lazy, mindless recruiting practices are getting companies busted for violating the law: See my blog posting, Employer Fined for Stupid Recruiting, about the first employer to be fined for posting a job that requires applicants “to be currently employed.”

I’ll keep saying it: Stories like this prove that the talent shortage is in the recruiting department and in the leadership of many companies. It’s why employers can’t find talent when we’re in the biggest talent glut in history. Goof-ball personnel jockeys send talent away, while foolhardy CEOs (see the aforementioned New Jersey story) would rather leave a job undone for three years than even consider jobless talent.

Did you go sour on an employer who wouldn’t give you the time of day after you went to the trouble to make a personal contact? Have you opened a door to introduce yourself to an employer, only to wonder, “Is there anybody in there?” What behavior do you see among employers that tells you they’re not doing this right?

: :

  1. Unfortunately, tracking applicants for compliance with federal equal opportunity laws does often mean asking everyone to apply online. However, in a good recruiting organization, that is an added step – not something that is done in lieu of good recruiting.

    What happened to you? Some possibilities could be:

    – The recruiter didn’t think you were a fit and didn’t want to tell you directly. A bad tactic because it turns the applicant off to the company. Better to say that you’re not a fit for this role. (Treating the applicant honestly and with respect so they have a good experience regardless of whether or not they are hired – novel idea?).
    – You may have applied for a role with a recruiting department that knows only how to “post and pray.” In this case, the recruiter doesn’t know what to do unless someone fabulous applies online. As Nick says, best to find a hiring manager who can tell the recruiting department he or she wants to interview you.
    – You could have mistakenly been ‘rejected’ by the recruiter or coordinator using the applicant tracking system (ATS). I’ve seen ATS’s implemented without training way too many times.

    There are many HR departmens who do a terrible job at recruiting – they become focused on selecting from the applicants as opposed to attracting the right talent in the first place. If you look under the hood, many of these departments are under resourced and under funded with no accountability for results. If you find yourself interested in a company where you are treated that poorly by the recruiting department, you might want to take a minute to find out why.

    It could be entirely the fault of the recruiting department, but it could also be a reflection of the company’s unwillingness to invest in talent which would be a good thing to know before going to work there.

  2. Unfortunately, how Mary dealt with it is *exactly* how it must be done to be properly in compliance with the law.

    Legally, as soon as a person has contacted Mary and discussed employment, that person has “applied”, and the demographic data must be collected for later reporting. In big organizations, Mary can’t just collect it and enter it herself, because that would allow the system to be gamed. Every large company has been sued one too many times to expose itself to the risk that a litigant can claim discrimination.

    So, Mary must funnel everyone through the system, particularly those being rejected, so that proper records of the rejection exist.

    It is unfortunate, and perhaps could have been handled a bit better, but is the reality of the Orwellian regulatory environment in place today.

  3. Great article Nick. I have to say, I have seen some bad recruiting. There is one company, which shall remain nameless, who will make you go to the website, and then send you an AUTO-RESPONDER e-mail telling you how busy they are, and how they will contact YOU if they need to. It’s astonishing.

    I make it a point not to even entertain working for companies like this. Just like I will never, ever respond to a guy on LinkedIn who says “Have __ openings in DFW area for qualified candidates”.

    How lazy can one get? If I saw one of my recruiters do that, they’d be fired immediately.

  4. The only thing I’d add, is that I understand why corporations need to collect their metrics. That can be done as Nick suggested, anytime down the road. It should get in the way of taking care of business.

  5. This is probably a rhetorical question, but don’t HR people ever have to look for jobs themselves? I wonder how they feel when they are treated the same way they have been treating their own candidates and if it ever inspires them to amend their behaviors.

  6. JW wrote:
    > This is probably a rhetorical question, but
    > don’t HR people ever have to look for jobs
    > themselves? I wonder how they feel when they
    > are treated the same way they have been
    > treating their own candidates and if it ever
    > inspires them to amend their behaviors.
    HR personnel are no different from anyone else, and how they feel has nothing to do with anything here: they don’t invent these procedures. When they go looking for a job they have to go through the same rigamarole as anyone else. I’m amazed at all the pissing-and-moaning that goes on here. Have you ever tried to hire someone? Do you know what happens once your ad is up? You get a megaton of stuff, that’s what. How can you expect a poor guy on the receiving end to plow through all of this, and not just, but with a personal touch, is mind boggling to me. Just get to the idea that, in general, you’re all dime a dozen. Start from that and build your approaches based on that unfortunate fact, then maybe you’ll get somewhere. And quit reading this site like it’s a scripture of some sort: it’s just a lot of fairly irresponsible blather that Nick manufactures for the sakes of PR. The main goal here is not to be informative but to please a certain group of readers so as to increase the use of this site. His criticisms are somewhat reasonable, but his positive suggestions are as idiotic as what he criticises.

  7. By Reader writes:

    “Do you know what happens once your ad is up? You get a megaton of stuff, that’s what. How can you expect a poor guy on the receiving end to plow through all of this, and not just, but with a personal touch, is mind boggling to me.”

    By Reader, if your ad is generating a “megaton of stuff” and it prevents you from responding personally to serious candidates, that is an issue right there! You are advertising in the wrong places. Perhaps place the ad within publications of the professional society representing the target hires. Referrals from respected employees, customers and others in your industry are also good sources of legitimate candidates. It doesn’t take that long to rid the stack of people without legitimate qualifications. Of those who do have qualifications, it would be wise to stay on good terms with them. Change how you recruit and you will not have these issues, nor will you see top talent as a “dime a dozen.” It is certainly not!

  8. The problem i see here is that the personal contact you made was with probably a recruiting clerk. It is unfortunate that companies are putting the least qualified people in their recruiting department on the front lines. Many are simply not allowed to and/or are not qualified to evaluate a candidate. They are told in no uncertain terms to refer any and all contacts to apply online for just the reason that Tom J has stated. When companies require, as many do, that all candidates apply online we suggest that you do exactly that. Ignore any automated response then take the next step and try to make a personal contact with someone in the company who, as Nick says, is not in the recruiting department. If you are told by someone else that you will have to apply online, tell them you have done that so your applcation is already on file through the proper channels and ask if you may forward a resume to them in the event that it doesn’t make it to them due to the fact that recruiting has indicated they are “very busy”

    Knowing that you have fulfilled what HR requires the hiring manager is many times more open to taking a look and starting a dialog. The wheels sometimes move more easily if the hiring manager can send an email to recruiting and request that a candidate already in the system be set up for an interview. Seems to prevent a lot of angst on the part of recruiting if they can go to the database and find that the candidate has indeed followed the protocol as has the hiring manager.

  9. Erika wrote:
    > It doesn’t take that long to rid the stack
    > of people without legitimate qualifications.
    I didn’t say anything about “people without legitimate qualifications” – they all more or less have legitimate qualifications. Hiring is a hellishly difficult, time-consuming, and soul-destroying task. My point was that people should appreciate this and act accordingly, rather than being discouraged and angry they’re not treated with a personal touch. They simply CANNOT do it this way. So, either you understand that and play along with this annoying “cattle-management” procedure, or find a way to bypass it. Either way, no need to piss and moan about it, at least not past a month or two upon joining workforce after graduation.

  10. @Reader:

    I don’t argue that finding people, especially the right people, is easy. But simply putting a random job ad on the big job boards opens the flood gates and makes more pain for everyone.

  11. @TalentLeader: Great observations. The fact that companies pay to have other companies do their recruiting, only to have candidates dissed and rejected for no good reason, tells us the system is badly broken.

    @Tom J: I understand that there are government requirements placed on employers, and these are onerous and don’t make much sense. But employers must face reality: They’re not competing with the government. They’re competing with other companies that put their reputations first, and handle regulatory obligations in a way that doesn’t interfere with recruiting. Yah, I know, it’s kooky that a company’s edge lies in dealing with the government effectively, so it can run its business properly. But any company that offers the excuse that “the government makes us do this,” is nonetheless losing good hires. Like Don Harkness says, paperwork second, competitive edge first. If I were a candidate, I’d walk away from Mary and her company, even if they called me back.

  12. @Brandon: It was only at the last minute that I decided to omit the name of the company in this story. I intended to publish it. But I did the smart thing and I slept on it… and decided to stick to my long-time policy: No company names when it doesn’t add anything to the point. (And I never print people’s names unless they tell me to.)

    You’d keel over if I told you who this company is. One of the most highly-rated companies on virtually every scale that matters to consumers and investors. But they’re hurting mostly themselves when they let the required procedures interfere with sound business practice. How you make applicants feel can destroy your organization from the outside when your reputation in your professional community goes under.

  13. @By Reader: Comments on a couple of your comments.

    Just get to the idea that, in general, you’re all dime a dozen. Start from that and build your approaches based on that unfortunate fact, then maybe you’ll get somewhere.

    Job hunters can’t “build an approach” to a rotten objective. It won’t stand up because the objective is broken. And no employer can hire effectively when it believes that “you’re all a dime a dozen.” You have my sympathies. I hear a very frustrated HR person behind your words. But nothing’s going to change unless you get out of the hell-hole that it seems you work in. I don’t think you really believe people are a dime a dozen — so reconsider telling people THEY should believe it.

    Hiring is a hellishly difficult, time-consuming, and soul-destroying task.

    Then you’re doing it wrong, and you’re doing it for the wrong company. If you’re so miserable handing hiring, my guess is it’s not you. It’s the way your company operates. The problem is that you tolerate it rather than move on. Hiring is a thrill. Sorting resumes that gush out of a fat job-board pipe is a miserable proposition. Stop doing it.

    My point was that people should appreciate this and act accordingly, rather than being discouraged and angry they’re not treated with a personal touch. They simply CANNOT do it this way.

    Yes, they can, and they do. I’ve been publishing Ask The Headhunter for 15 years. I’ll put my stack of thank-yous from my readers up against your stack of thank-yous from people you’ve processed any day. My way works. People like it more. Frustrated HR folks and frustrated job hunters have a hard time with it because IT’S HARD WORK. But so’s the great job a person wants — so start now, during the job search.

    “Understanding” and “playing along” with a broken-down recruiting/hiring system is not the solution. Rejecting that system and the companies that use it is the solution.

    There are employers who respect job candidates, and that view recruiting as much more than dealing with “a megaton of stuff.” Other employers aren’t worth interviewing with or working for. (Sure, that cuts down your options, but life is short. Why work for people who think you’re “a dime a dozen?”)

    If there’s “a megaton” coming in from the ads you posted, then STOP POSTING ADS. It’s that simple.

    But then you have to go out and actually recruit. And you have to tell your management team that THEY have go to out and recruit. And that’s the startling, frightening story. It means you may have to quit your job in a crappy company and go find one worth working for.

    Which is the message here to all job hunters. I don’t care about how ugly reality is in lousy companies. I care how wonderful the reality is that people create for themselves when they pursue something worthwhile.

    No one has to buy into the cattle management process. Everyone can go around. If I didn’t believe that, and if I didn’t know for a fact it can be done, I wouldn’t be doing this. As for those who participate here, it would be nice if everyone just knew the smart thing to do right off the bat. But most change and action starts with a bit of pissing and moaning. I don’t mind it, as long as it’s in the context of useful discussion. Which is mostly what we have here and I love it.

  14. @Dave: You said it, Brother.

  15. Of course, there is the possibility that the original poster was totally unqualified, or the department/area he was seeking was overstaffed.

    His “personal” outreach was to an HR drone. He hadn’t done his homework to figure why he was useful to somebody specific.

    Why the outrage he wasn’t hired? He hasn’t shown any special qualifications .

  16. Sadly this is my employer (I know from the tag line).  We do a great job with many things but missed the boat here.  My advice…network directly to the hiring managed or as close as possible. Networking with HR isn’t going to get the job done.

  17. Nick, another great post. You know and I know that isn’t a talent shortage…that’s a fiction created by HR to justify their jobs, otherwise CEOs might wise up to just how useless they are re hiring and get rid of them, or limit HR’s role to payroll and benefits. Talented people aren’t going to stroll into HR shouting “here I am, here I am”. They’re carefully doing background checks (researching) on companies too, and getting the HR run-around is a strike against the company.

    Nick, it never ceases to amaze me, the laziness of the whole thing. Yes, if HR posts a job, people will apply for it, but the issue is whether those people are the right fit for the job and company, and even if there are several Mr and Ms Rights, management has ceded its oversight of HR so they don’t know or care that HR is screening out excellent people with apps and by requiring that prospective employees meet all 90 criteria perfectly. Let’s bring common sense and humanity back to the job search and the staff search. Note to HR: don’t let a machine do your job for you. Management: don’t let HR take over this job–you know best what you need.

    And how about putting experienced people in HR and any other job that requires recruiting and screening? HR has resorted to stupid HR tricks by putting the least experienced people in a job that they are neither trained to do nor given any insight. Management needs to lower its expectations too, but not in the sense that they should hire lazy workers. Don’t look for the perfect match–look for a good enough match. Interview the Mr and Ms Almost-Perfects, and you might be surprised–these folks want to work, want to learn, want to stretch their wings. If you can give up the desire for someone who did exactly what the did at their last jobs or level, why should they work for you (excepting salary)? I don’t know about you, but I’d like to learn something NEW in a new job.

    And hire some of the unemployed and veterans already! The economy is lousy; stop blaming the unemployed for not having a job when it was management that decided to make the company go belly-up.

  18. What about employers who have employment agencies send in people (essentially a method of screening who they are getting, in other words skirting the Equal Opportunity laws,) then if they “want to” hire the person, they have them then file the on-line bullshite after the fact? That happens all the time.

  19. @Nic: Yes, this happens too. That’s why people sign on with temp/employment agencies. Sometimes those temp. jobs turn into full time, permanent jobs. This works best for the commitment-phobes because it gives the employer a look-see at the (temp.) employee and it gives the temp. a look-see at the employer (from the inside). If you’re a temp, you might get a job with an employer, but after doing the project, decide that you wouldn’t want to be regular staff. Or you might be such a good fit that your boss and colleagues encourage you to apply for jobs, and then you have an advantage over others because they know you, your work habits and ethic, and that you fit in. There’s less risk for both parties. That happened to me–I signed on with a temp agency, got sent to one of their clients (insurance co.), did well, so not only did they continue to find jobs for me, but when a full time vacancy occurred, my boss told me about it, encouraged me to apply, and I had the support of her and the others in the dept. I took that job, and would still be with that company if they hadn’t closed that office. It was good, steady work, I had a good boss, wonderful colleagues.

    Lots of jobs get filled with the people the hiring managers already had in mind, but to play the game, they go through the official posting and interviewing routine, even though none of the other applicants have a chance.

  20. I think Nick hits the nail on the head.

    When there’s [near] record levels of unemployment/underemployment and salary stagnation, you can’t tell me with a straight face that there’s a shortage of talent.

    A resume in a database may not do many people justice. For example, a lot of engineers I know are average writers. But they are good thinkers and profitable employees. The only problem is that they don’t stand out. This causes them to be viewed as “a dime a dozen” which is highly insulting.

  21. @Dave: If we put aside what’s insulting to candidates for a minute, think about what these practices mean to employers and to the entire country and economy.

    It’s a staggering realization: A lot of people are out of work because employers literally don’t know how to recruit and hire. Then they blame “the talent shortage!”

    Worse, the job boards jump in and tell employers they just need to sign up and keep scanning the data dump until something comes along that fits their query exactly… Hell, there are consultants that teach HR departments how to use keywords “properly” to aid the sorting.

    But no one stands up to point out that if those HR recruiters would get off their butts, get out from behind the PC, and go MEET people to recruit…

    Ouch. I think I just hurt myself. End of rant. Time to calm down. Burns me up.

  22. @Nick: Yes, it is circular reasoning at best, and serves as justification for HR to continue to sit on their duffs than actually look at the résumés submitted.

    I also blame automation. Too many times people (management, HR) think that automation is the answer to all of their prayers and problems. A machine does the work once the parameters are set, thus the company is able to eliminate jobs of people who would have read those documents and thus add to the company’s bottom line (profits from not having to pay those salaries). Automation is coming back to bite them on the a$$es because automation does not think. Once the parameters are set, it automatically weeds out and trashes anyone who doesn’t meet the criteria logged into the system. But if an actually human being (one who cares about the job) reads them, near matches (not 100%) may get reviewed and considered. A machine will never do that, and that is what is needed. I know there are lots of unemployed and underemployed people who could do the jobs if given the opportunity, some training, and some time. But what companies want is someone who can step in and do it without any training (hence having to meet each criterion). It is penny wise and pound foolish…and lunacy.

    Nick, it’s okay…I’m frustrated with the lunacy and stupidity too. I’d really like a decent job. And it seems that HR and many companies are doing everything they can to prevent hiring people. There isn’t a barrier they don’t like. You can’t fix stupid. The only consolation is that perhaps the market will redress the issue–a business that drives out and eliminates its best possible staff may not stay in business very long.

  23. Nick –

    I was curious who this company is. You taught me the value of working (at least a little) to get the company information that I want. I googled the tag line and got it on my first hit. It’s out there for the people who really want to know.

  24. There is no silver bullet to these issues. The reality is if you (“Job Hunter”) is Talented and have skills that employer needs, you will get the Personal Touch that you need. If you are not the right fit, there is no need for employer to provide any personal touch. I think what Mary did is correct!

    For once, she did ask for Resume and I think after reviewing resume or someone after reviewing resume decided the applicant is not a good fit. After that there is no need to respond. A silence is good enough way to recognize that you did not qualify.

    That being said, there can be improvements in recruiting procedures. However, I do not think that Companies are going out of business just by weak recruiting.

    Finally, as a job hopper ( Apply a lot and interview a lot, average 1.5 years at 1 position in last 6 years) and a new manager with responsibility to build a team, I can advise people one thing, if you have the RIGHT SKILLS for position, solid training in your field, you will be heard, if you do not have SKILLS, sorry but no one will give your personal touch. In last 2 weeks reading resumes of people, most of them went to trash because they did not have skills.

  25. I really think people need to stop blaming HR and any thing and every thing. Remember when you are pointing one finger at some one, three are pointing back.

    The reality is, we have way too many people who did not invest in themselves by learning and adopting new skills. My advice is do not waste a second, go and learn / acquire skills that pertain to you, get certifications or titles that are relevant to your field and trust me employers will listen.

    Take time to re-write your resume to custom fit for each job, that will beat any automation system. No HR department or person is looking to stop hiring you, it is really You who is stopping yourself from hiring. You need to work for it !

  26. @H Chaudhry

    The issue with certifications, classes, degrees, etc. is that many employers want many years of full-time professional experience in the skills they seek in addition to any training someone may have.

    I agree that it’s good to have some additional training though, but at what point does the time/expense investment make it worth it if you’re still going to be in the same position?