Should One Approach HR Managers for a Job?

HR departments.  Will they hurt you or help you in your quest for a new position?  Are they nothing more than evil gatekeepers, sadistically shooting down the resumes of candidates without rhyme or reason?  Or are they instead misunderstood martyrs, merely taking the heat for the flaky behavior, bad decisions, and confusing directives passed down to them from higher up in the org chart?

Obviously, the answer lies somewhere between these extremes, and a lot depends on the individual HR professional in question — as well as the culture of the company to which they report.  But if you want an inside look at how things often work in HR, in a hiring regard, take a look at the great article you’ll find here, written by Chris Russell of the excellent Secrets of the Job Hunt blog.

Chris whipped up this article last week, based on candid interviews with a sampling of HR managers, asking them to specifically comment on whether it’s appropriate in today’s world — and productive — for a job seeker to contact the HR departments at companies that interest them, in order to solicit their help in exploring opportunities.

I highly encourage you to read this article in full, at the link above, but Chris was also kind enough to give me permission to reprint a few snippets of the conversation from the piece.  Here are a few direct quotes from the article that I think sum up the general gist of what the HR leaders had to say on the subject:

“As a candidate approaching an HR Manager, you have to be what they want, when they want it.”

“I don’t recommend they approach the HR Manager directly. They should apply directly via the company’s preferred way of receiving applications or reach out to the appropriate recruiter at the company. If they do contact the HR Manager or anyone else at the company out of the blue they could be hurting their chances of getting hired.”

“They need to follow protocol for each company. They may ruin any chances of getting an interview if they try to side step the policy.”

“Many of us will delete candidates who are bold enough to try and make contact. We are so busy protecting ourselves against being approached by someone who wants to get past the electronic hurdles that have been put up to keep the have-nots out.”

“As an HR Manager I’d say: Don’t call me. Don’t email me. Don’t snail mail me. Come to the door and ask for me. Its the only way to keep me from using the ‘delete’ button.”

“I think the answer for this one is to get into the STAFFING organization, not Human Resources…unless you are an employee and have a personnel issue, HR is not the right tree to be barking up.”

“Much as I hate not thinking “outside the box”, I have to agree that contacting HR directly, depending on the situation, can be detrimental to being considered at all .. especially on-line .. since most sites specifically state NOT to contact the company or HR directly.”

“Another thing to keep in mind as an applicant is that there are reasons why a specific company protocol is in place (filling out an online application, etc). Calling repeatedly, filling out multiple applications for the same position, etc do not improve your chances, in most cases, it hinders them.”

While on one hand, I realize the above perspectives don’t represent the most positive news job hunters have ever heard, at the same time, I salute these HR professionals for having the guts to “tell it like it is” instead of sugercoating the issue and leading job hunters astray with yet another batch of inaccurate, politically-correct information.  As the old saying goes, “don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

And they’re telling us how the game is played these days.  Don’t bother bugging HR, outside of special situations.  They’re not usually going to be the right people to help you.

So while this collection of 8-10 HR pros obviously can’t speak for an entire industry, and I’d certainly be open to posting some rebuttal views on the subject, I think many folks in transition would be wise to take the above words to heart and apply them to their search strategy.  Respect and follow the hiring process that companies spell out.  Be crystal-clear on how you meet the requirements of the job in question.  Seek out conversations with recruiters and hiring managers, not necessarily the HR staff, when you’re doing proactive prospecting at various companies that interest you.

Remember, there are hundreds of other creative ways that motivated job hunters can track down and create work opportunities.  But at least with regard to this one possibility, of banging on the door of the HR department, we’ve now got some hard evidence that this option may be an extremely low-return strategy…


6 Responses to “Should One Approach HR Managers for a Job?”

  1. Sidney: Thanks for your question and unfortunately, HR Managers seem split on this issue — with some welcoming contact and some not wanting it whatsoever — so it’s a gamble as to which approach to use. If it were me, I’d probably just follow directions and submit my resume for the position without contacting HR unless 1) I truly have an important, legitimate question about the job that isn’t clear from the job description; or 2) I can track down a “friend of a friend” who knows the HR Professional or somebody else working for the organization, so that I’m contacting the organization through a warm referral instead of just reaching out to them in “cold” fashion. But in most cases, no, I wouldn’t attempt to contact the HR person directly since it won’t usually get you very far and might (per the opinion expressed in my article) serve to annoy the person to some degree. Hope that helps, at least a little!

  2. I know I am a little late to the party, In your opinion if the HR manager posts the ad on the university career website and ask to directly send applications to their emails, is it safe to assume they will be open to candidates who directly contact them to learn more about the position.

  3. Scott: Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I was hoping an HR person would chime in with a more receptive stance on the issue! Glad to see that you’d welcome some calls, here and there, from job hunters who are willing to take the initiative to get in touch…

  4. As a HR professional myself with over 10+ years in the industry, I am a little shocked at what this sampling of 8-10 other HR professionals think. Recruiting is very much an art, not a science…trying to match not only the knowledge, skills and abilities of the candidate to the job requirements is not only nearly impossible after reading a piece of paper and 1 or 2 “interviews”, but then you got to match the personality of the new person to the culture of the organization. Real professional recruiters know this (not the dozens of agency recruiters that are really just in sales). Being a generalist, I get to understand as much as I can about the hiring manager’s needs (not the requirements stated in a job description) and encourage those candidates that reach out to find more about the job. I don’t work for a big organization and I’m also on the less conservative West Coast so I might be in the “minority”, there are several reasons why I think contacting Human Resources IS a good ideal:
    1. Demonstrates initiative (maybe one of those needed traits of the job not necessarily posted in the recruiting ad)
    2. Another “touch point” to the candidate to determine if there is a skills match
    3. Mention any particularities of the job (i.e. travel 10% may be noted in the recruitment posting, which the candidate accepts, but actually that 10% requires weekends, which the candidate is reluctant).
    4. Learn the culture or style of the company (some candidates do not work well with very structured, top-down leadership for example).

    These are just a few that I can think of immediately. True, I wouldn’t want to receive dozens of phone calls every day, especially since I have other duties or I have a recruiter that screens the calls. However, in this tough job market for candidates, those that reach out to me would come to the top of the list…not delete! I do want them to ALSO follow the job application procedure as noted in the recruitment posting. THAT PROCEDURE IS THERE FOR A REASON! I am hoping there are (many?!) other HR professionals that have same/similar thoughts on this subject as I do!

  5. I work in HR, and my recommendation to all job hunters is to figure out who the managers are in the area you want to work, then direct contact them. Circumvent HR and the staffing function, if you can. Of course they’ll tell you not to. But I can’t tell you how many managers will say (off the record) that HR/Staffing doesn’t understand their jobs, their requirements and aren’t all that helpful to them. Obviously there are companies where this is not the case. At our company, the managers do their own hiring and HR is only peripherally involved. It works well.

  6. Richrd Mcleland Wieser February 23, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    WOW! How timely is this. Last night I spent some time searching for contacts at a large company so as to by-pass the faceless online application. Included in my search were HR staffers. Glad i did not send any mail out.

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