In the November 4, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker’s mail to a hiring manager winds up routed to HR:


What if the hiring manager forces you to deal with the personnel department?

My friend’s mom works at the company where I want to work. She came through with the name of the hiring manager for the job I want. I’ve learned from your articles that it’s best to go straight to the manager. So, I wrote a good letter demonstrating how the strong points of my background would make me the right person for the position and sent it to the manager. Now I find out the manager just passed it on to the recruiter for review!

So, what do you do when the hiring manager forces you through the recruiter?

Nick’s Reply

passing-along-the-resumeEvery time I hear that someone had a friend “get me a manager’s name” I want to laugh uncontrollably.

You went to a lot of trouble to develop a good inside contact, but then you squandered it. No offense, but I’ve got to say this: You’re acting like just another job candidate, and the manager is treating you that way.

When you get a personal referral to a hiring manager, you don’t write a letter. You use that referral to establish a more personal level of contact.

(For an example, see How to get the hiring manager’s attention.)

You would have gotten the most mileage out of this by having your friend’s mother actually go talk to the manager. She should just poke her head in the manager’s door and make a clear referral:

How to Say It

“I heard you’re looking for someone to do XYZ, and I thought I might be able to help you out. There’s someone you should talk to who would be great at this job. His name is… Would you be interested in talking with him?”

This is a preemptive reference. If your friend’s mom isn’t willing to go the extra mile to help you, then you’re wasting your time and hers, too. To boost the mom’s willingness to help, first get your friend to introduce you to her mom. Make it personal.

Here’s the key to this approach: There is no resume. Offering the manager a resume — or even a letter — is the best way to make him ignore you. (And that’s exactly what happened.) If you ever want to recommend someone to a manager, tease the manager. You read that correctly. Tease. It’s what every advertisement does to make you want to try or buy a product. Make the manager crave an introduction.

If the manager is interested, what your friend’s mom says next is crucial.

How to Say It

“He’s being pursued by a couple of companies and you’d have to move quickly if you want to interview him. If you’d like, I’d be glad to invite him over for lunch in the cafeteria and you could drop by to meet him.”

This builds the tease to a higher level. It forces the manager to make a choice immediately. Does he want to meet an in-demand job seeker, or not? Does he want to beat his competitors to the punch, or not? This is how to Get past the guard.

One way or the other, you’ll know immediately. Inserting a letter or resume into this process merely drags it out. But you want a clear indication now about whether the manager is really interested. So, force the manager to take an action now. Having lunch is an action. Passing your resume on to HR is a cop-out for you, your friend’s mom, and the manager.

If your friend’s mom’s pitch works, and you get to talk to the manager, here’s how to get an in-person meeting.

How to Say It

“My name is John Jones. Ellen Smith suggested I give you a call, after she explained that you’re facing some challenges with doing X,Y,Z. I’ve put together a brief business plan. If you have a few minutes to meet, I’d like to show you how I could tackle those challenges and related problems you’re facing, to help make your business more successful.”

Reprinted from “Pest or manager’s dream?” (pp. 18-19) in the PDF book, Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3, Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition).

If the manager doesn’t invite you in after that, then anything else you do will be a waste of time because the manager simply doesn’t get it. In another section of the same book (“Drop the ads and pick up the phone,” pp. 9-11), a successful job seeker tells how she got an interview without providing a resume at all.

It’s very common for a manager to route all resumes to HR. Here you had a great inside contact, but you still relied on an impersonal approach that made it easy for the manager to ignore you. If your contact had gone a step further, you’d be talking directly to the manager (whether in the cafeteria or on the phone) while your competition wallowed in that stack of resumes on HR’s desk.

What should you do now? Ask your friend’s mother — do this yourself, not through your friend — to go tell the manager he’s going to miss out on a great candidate. “I suggest you call him directly yourself as soon as possible. He’s in demand and won’t be around by the time HR calls him. I’m not sure he’d even talk with HR at this point in his job search — I believe he’s got offers.”

Yes, this is assertive. It requires a strong referral, or the referral is worthless. (Most referrals, like the one you’re using, are weak.) In the meantime, move on to something else while you wait. But please: Do this differently next time. Don’t send letters or resumes. Call. Job seekers who rely on documents usually see those documents routed around while the assertive applicants are having interviews.

Of course, it could be that this particular manager just won’t talk to candidates until they go through HR. I’d think twice about working for such a manager. (See The manager’s #1 job.)

How do you get in the door? Have you learned the art of teasing managers, or do you let managers tease you by “passing your resume along to HR?”

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  1. This is exactly right.

    Sadly, almost everyone (candidates, managers, employed referrals) lives in fear of HR and its processes and accepts the status quo– that HR has all the power (and we have to kiss their ring), even though HR often knows nothing about what makes a candidate qualified and the manager knows a heck of lot more.

    Talent shortage? Go figure…

  2. You’ve just pinpointed the problem not just with referrals but with networking in general: namely, that you don’t control the actions of your third party when you’re not around, nor their motivations. The “simple” actions you call for on the part of the friend’s mother, when graded on a curve, would be truly extraordinary actions, almost bordering on heroic in the scheme of things, so downtrodden and eye-glazed is everyone with the way the hiring bureaucracy works. And in truth, I doubt if the mother has that much insight into your writer to go to bat for him that way. The HR recruiters and other authorities at that worksplace probably radiate vibes that they aren’t to be trifled with or bothered with “off the street” tips from amateurs like your mother. (You think I’m exaggerating? You can think that at your peril.)
    It all reminds me of a personal finance coach I know who thought a prospect owed him a personal appointment referral to someone else all because he “passed his resume” on to a black hole of a recruiting department somewhere. The assymetry in this quid pro quo makes the mind reel. Worse, the finance coach’s sales coach didn’t see the problem either, thinking the finance client prospect was ungrateful.
    We all have a long way to go and part to play in righting this capsized ship called “referrals” and hiring.

  3. “a successful job seeker tells how she got an interview without providing a resume at all.”

    This is exactly how I got my current job. It’s been over 7 years since I first contacted my current boss to meet and discuss the open position. I politely asked if we could meet for 15 minutes or so to discuss the position and what he was looking for in a candidate. I did not bring anything to the meeting except my confidence, honesty and being prepared to any question asked of me. I told him I didn’t want to waste his time or mine if he felt I was not qualified for the position. This was even after I went over what my skills were and were I felt I was weak. The position focused on frequent use of SQL, which I had very limited experience in at the time. I honestly told him I did not have a lot of experience using SQL, but was confident I could quickly get up to speed, due to my aptitude and willingness to seek out the information and knowledge on my own. The meeting lasted almost an hour and before I left his office, he told me I should apply for the position. Basically, I interviewed for the position before even applying for it.

    One of the things that are so important is to have confidence in your ability and be honest about what you bring to the table. Apply for jobs you can actually do. No one will know everything about a dong a job, but you have to be able to do a good amount of the work starting day one. Your relationship is going to be with him/her and not HR. Let him/her know that not only can you do the job but that you will be a person he/she can count on. I know I’ve shown that to my boss and he’s recognized in in multiple ways over the years. Most recently a 10% pay raise.

    ~Best wishes on finding the job that you enjoy doing each day.

  4. @Peter: Thanks for posting your story. What others might miss is that (I’m guessing) you selected this job and manager carefully. You were not going in blind. You had done your homework, so you were prepared to have an intelligent discussion about his work/business.

    So much of this is about carefully selecting your target. If you do that right, then the idea of having such an unscripted talk, without a resume, is almost natural rather than frightening. Yet, look at how many jobs a person will typically apply for right off the bat, “just because they’re there.” And that’s where failure begins.

    My compliments on how you do it. It works.

  5. I’m sure there are lots of places where this technique is successful, but be aware that that’s not everywhere… and that you’re selecting for the type of workplace you’re getting into by using this (or any) technique. Ultimately, the problem with this is the problem with almost any set of job-search advice… Nick is advocating a system that HE feels brings HIM the best candidates. I have zero confidence that this system would bring me good candidates, and in fact feel it would bring candidates with specific traits I dislike and would not want to work with.

    Nick seems pretty convinced that if your workplace doesn’t go for this, it’s probably not somewhere you want to work. Which is undoubtedly true for many. But to me, this is advocating situations where managers make split-second choices in a high-pressure, salesy situation. Where they hire exclusively from their network (which is a great way to select for white males from specific backgrounds).

    And do you really want to have a conversation with your friend’s mom where you tell them to be super salesy FOR you?

    There is a lot of good stuff in here, particularly about building REAL professional networks. And managers need to be building those networks and keeping a candidate pipeline. But the scenario Nick paints with this ridiculous sales technique would be such a distasteful scenario to me that it would reflect badly on the candidate (if I felt the candidate had put my co-worker up to it).

    If you really don’t want to work for someone that would rather figure out if they want to talk to you from your cover letter, resume, and connections than be given the hard sell, then we’re probably not a good match for one another anyway. Just be really thoughtful about whether that’s an entire demographic of managers that you really want to dismiss from your search.

  6. Great advice, Nick. As I was reading the letter, when I got to the part where the candidate stated that he wrote a letter, I wondered “why didn’t he pick up the phone and call the hiring manager?” Granted, there is no guarantee that the hiring manager would have been available, or returned his phone call, but a call is more personal than a letter. Better still would have been for the candidate’s inside contact to make a referral so that when the candidate telephoned the hiring manager, the hiring manager would not let it go to vm or would return the call. One of my bosses at my last job never answered his phone. He only returned calls if he wished, and calls from random people got routed to others in the dept. Some used to get mad that someone else was calling them back rather than the big muckety-muck, but that was the boss’ decision.

    There is no guarantee that the inside contact has any relationship with hiring manager in this case either. Maybe she knows who the hiring manager is because she knows the hierarchy and knows whose name is linked with the job vacancy. If she doesn’t know the hiring manager, then there’s no reason he would take a referral from her seriously. But if she works in the same dept. or has some interaction with this hiring manager, and if he values her, then that is a different story.

    I’ve been routed to HR even after a direct referral (my contact telephoned the hiring manager to recommend me) and after I spoke with the hiring manager. The response: “This sounds great, but you’ll have to go through HR first.” (This came after we’d talked for an hour and the hiring manager told me he was interested.) At that point, I knew he either wasn’t serious about filling the vacancy or he had turned over all hiring authority to HR. I thanked him for his time and wished him luck in filling the vacancy. Our mutual contact tells me that the job is still vacant despite posting it and getting temps when the need is so great. HR then rules out the temps, and they’re back to square one.

  7. @Marybeth, sending all information through HR doesn’t mean that a hiring manager has abdicated hiring authority to HR. HR serves the function of capturing all that info in its DB so that there is an audit trail to the hire, and so that they know that information is being saved in case of an EEOC lawsuit (I’ve learned firsthand that many people don’t save important paper or electronic files, even if they’re told by an official document retention and destruction policy to do so).

    My point is just that you don’t know what the case is from the outside (and your mutual contact might not know what the case is either, if they are not directly involved in this hiring process). Having a position open for a long time isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes finding the right person takes a long time, and temps are fine to cover in the meantime. It could mean they are really bad at hiring and have a job description where it is impossible to meet the qualifications. Or it could be that they are looking for more than a warm body and will take however long they want to find the right person. One of those is a place I’d definitely want to work, and the other is not. “Going through HR” might simply mean that they need to have your resume on file, and that HR has no formal hiring authority. It might mean that HR is an unruly tyrant at that place. But you simply do not know from the outside, and pretending that you do smears an awful lot of good workplaces with the same “they suck” brush as a lot of bad workplaces.

  8. I’ve used Nick’s approach three times. It’s worked all three times.

    I’ve recommended it three dozen times, and I doubt any of those on the receiving end ever gave it a fair shot. I’m always amazed (and disheartened) by the extent of the fear on the part of otherwise talented people to deviate from a path that is so well-trod that some of them were out of work for months.

    I don’t think of HR as the enemy. I don’t think of HR at all. If I can connect with a boss and convince him that I can make him more profitable, HR should become little more than an administrative conduit. If HR’s veto power extends beyond the results of legitimate background checks, and into areas that ought to reside with the departmental or divisional manager, that company is giving me an early hint that my boss may not have the juice he or she will need to green-light some of my initiatives. I’m always grateful for the insight.

  9. @Kimberly: I wasn’t very clear in my previous post. If I talk to the hiring manager and he’s interested in hiring me, but then tells me that I have to go through HR, then he has turned over his authority to hire to HR. But if he says to HR “I’m hiring Kimberly, please call her to set up a time for her to come in so she can fill out any paperwork required for onboarding (so she can get paid and so benefits start accruing), then that is different.

    With my current job, that is what happened. The current dean knew of a job vacancy and that I was looking for work. She also knew that I had experience in libraries. She talked me up to the dept. head, and when she agreed to talk to me, called me to come down for an interview. HR was not involved at all at this point, and the vacancy was not even posted officially. The dept. head decided to hire me, and only then did I go to HR to fill out the onboarding paperwork. When I was interviewed, I submitted no résumé or cover letter. That is the kind of referral that Nick was talking about in this week’s q & a. My dealings with HR came AFTER I was hired, and they didn’t raise a fuss. The hiring manager’s decision trumps their processes because HR doesn’t know what the library or the registrar’s office or academic advising needs. In the other case I mentioned, the hiring manager was interested in hiring me, but then turned it over to HR, telling me that he could only make the offer official once I filled out the online application and got screened by HR. They use an ATS, so even with hiring manager’s okay, I might not (probably wouldn’t) make it through their online minefield called an online application form. That’s what I find frustrating, silly, and downright stupid about the process, and that is what seems to be more about guarding turf than actually getting someone hired.

  10. I just wanted to say the picture above will live in my dreams.

  11. On referrals. I’m an in-house recruiter and at times get referrals from employees (we don’t have a paid referral program). I also was a hiring manager for 30+ years. File it under nice to know employee referrals aren’t that common, whether there’s a paid referral program or not.
    Definitely the person who wrote in, had a real plus to work with.
    From a recruiting standpoint, whether you’re a hiring manager or HR…there are referrals and there are referrals.
    As a rule we give a high priority to any referral from an employee, regardless of fit. We want to encourage employees to make them, and if they do we want them to know their effort and opinion matters.
    But how excited we get about them is guided by the following considerations: most to least interesting
    Most/1) You personally know them AND their work/performance
    2) You personally know them but don’t have any insights on their work/performance
    3) You know of them (friend of a friend, friend of family etc)
    4) You don’t know them..(met them at the gym and kindly brought in their resume)
    In the scenario the person didn’t really put the contact in play. And as Nick point out that would have been the approach to take and further to position the contact (if so willing) to get them to at least a #2 priority referral.
    In other words, meet the referral, and sell them on yourself, make them a believer. While they likely never saw you work, you can reach a 1.5 level if you get them on your job hunting bus.
    And give them your resume, and have them “walk” it to the hiring manager AND the recruiter. The key is to get on the same page as to the message(s) you want that person to deliver as per Nick’s examples.
    in other words turn that contact into an advocate, a sales person for you. equip them to speak of you with conviction. If they are reluctant..well you didn’t have that much of a connection to work with, & nothing to lose to do much of what was done, except not a letter or resume, a call, personal email.
    As Nick said, you can take another shot at it, after meeting the person and hopefully send that contact back, to stick their head in the door with an opening statement “I wanted to follow up on Sally’s letter..

  12. For over 20 years I got work, contracts, projects, by the methods you describe, bit not everything has changed.
    As one manager who wanted to hire me put it: “There’s a new policy, HR have hijacked the agenda, its more than my job is worth to try and hire you bypassing them”.

    I saw this come about. I had been working in internal audit clearing Sarbanes Oxley material, a position i got by referral, and at the end of the assignment the audit manager wanted me to transfer to IT security. The manager there wanted someone with audit experience because of the new regulations coming into play. But HR said no, it had to be advertised. So the manager wrote a requirement that matched the resume I submitted …. and nothing happened. The best we could figure was that the young people in HR decided that someone with my experience would be too expensive. of course they never asked what my rates were. They never contacted me at all. When the manager asked for my submittal HR said “no we can’t do that”.

    In the years since I’ve seen your examples of HR being the _preventor_ rather than the expeditor so many times. They are not subject matter experts in anything except HR — if that.

  13. Nick –

    Good, solid, helpful advice.


    I would not encourage the friend’s mother to make statements about other companies being interested in the job seeker, or intimating that there were other offers being made, unless that were actually the case.

    The only thing worse than embellishing a situation, is getting caught doing it . . . and more often than not, we do get caught.

  14. Good morning! Here was the way I got my job: my computer wasn’t right, so I went to the place figuring to use a computer there. I wandered down the hall & met a very nice woman. We chatted a bit & then she told me she was the manager. I got the job. Thank you for all the tips Nick & bloggers. ?

  15. One thing worth mentioning: many employers have a referral bonus for getting someone on board.

    What people do not realize is that they are leaving money on the table – sometimes substantial.

  16. @Kimberlee, Esq.

    Where are these firms that hire exclusively white males of which you speak?

    As a white male Vietnam-era veteran, I can tell you that it is a clear, undeniable (if anecdotal) fact that for the 36 years since I left the Corps, I have never been anyone’s preferred candidate simply based on race or Veterans status. It is also a fact that I am nobody’s affirmative action (OK, diversity is the PC term) candidate.

    Where I get hired is when the hiring manager wants somebody to show up, hit their mark, say their lines, and move as much workload out the door / off the desk in 8 hours as is possible.

    More and more I’m liking “resume on a business card”. If someone is interested in, say, your 18 years experience as a swamp drainer & alligator wrestler, that is all the information he really needs to walk you down to HR to get on boarded.

  17. @ L.T. (Semper Fi) Kimberly.
    Kimberly .I was a manager in high tech for decades and while nowhere is pure hi-tech leans to meritocracies, working to ruthless schedules. You couldn’t afford to bypass brainpower for some select group, at least in the companies I worked for.
    I was in management when affirmative action came into play. For good reasons. And it helped throw a body block on discriminating tastes.
    I’ve been a recruiter for 10 more…and a good recruiter/recruiting firm will fire clients who play that game. Not only is it illegal, it’s bad business to limit your search pool.

  18. I think this question highlights the biggest problem modern jobseekers have: companies that cannot interview or think independently of their HR processes. At the same time it is absolutely pointless for the majority of jobseekers to apply through normal channels. Eventually the “weeding out” of entire sections of the job force who simply cant overcome this stumbling block is going to come home to roost all over the western world where HR companies and HR departments who job match proliferate. But not in my lifetime. And I may add – do you really want your Mum asking for a favour? Have some guts and phone up the boss yourself.

  19. I have to shave for this second interview process .. and when I get the job no beard or nothing allowed