October 1, 2012

Getting in the door

Filed under: Getting in the door, How to Say It, Job Search, Q&A, Readers' Forum

In the October 2, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks how to avoid HR and take a different route to “get in the door” at a target company:

I have tried a couple of times with different companies to avoid the human resources (HR) department, without success. The first company I called, I asked for the investor relation (IR) department, because I wanted to ask about some statements that were in the annual report. I had to leave a message. I didn’t receive a call back, so I then left a message for the public relations (PR) department. (No one answers their phones!)

A few weeks later, someone from IR called back. I asked my question, and they responded by asking me why I was asking. I told them I was looking for a job, and when I said that, I was told to go to the HR department, even though the question was a technical question about their products. No one from PR ever called back.

I realized that I had not exactly followed your directions, since you suggest asking for the Sales department. Today I tried calling another company in the same industry as the first. When I requested the Sales department, I was asked why. I mentioned that I wanted information about a couple products of theirs. They asked who I was, and I said I was a job seeker who wanted as much information as possible before the interview. Without another word, I was switched to the HR department, and listened to a recording telling me I should go to the website to apply.

How do I avoid the HR department? I would rather not be dishonest when asked why I am calling. Any help you could give would be appreciated.

My Advice

More than once, I’ve suggested that one way to “get in the door” at a target company is through the sales department. Let’s look at this approach again.

I frequently go to IR or PR to get info about companies. I’ve never been ignored. Investor Relations in particular always responds quickly. I guess I wonder what’s up at the company where you’re not getting calls back.

These alternate doors into a company that we’ve discussed before require some finesse. If you immediately disclose that you’re looking for a job, you’ll be dumped into HR, as you’ve learned.

Let’s discuss this method in a bit more detail. When you call the company’s main number, ask for the Sales department like this:

How to Say It
“I’d like to speak to someone who handles Colorado region sales please. I’m calling about your widget product line.”

If you specify your region and mention the product, they’re more likely to put you through to the right sales rep. If they “beat you up” with questions, just press right back:

How to Say It
“My name is John Smith and I’d like to talk with someone in Sales about your widget products.”

If they press you about where you work, tell the truth:

How to Say It
“Look, if I were a customer, I’d ask for the sales rep assigned to me. I’m not presently a customer and I’m not ready to disclose my company. Can you please put me through to Sales? Or just give me the CEO’s office.”

When you get a sales rep, inquire about the product and request up-to-date product details. This is key. It’s information you’d need to prepare for an interview. Once that’s done, ask for advice and insight about the company as a place to work, as we’ve discussed many times before. (How Can I Change Careers? includes the section, “A Good Network Is a Circle of Friends,” and covers this at length.)

But don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Until you’re talking one-on-one with the sales rep, do not disclose that you’re job hunting. Anyone else who answers the phone is going to do a mental calculation and try to route you to the “appropriate” department — not to the person you really want to talk with.

Of course, IR and PR are equally useful departments to talk with. Request appropriate information and web links from either office, then pause and ask for advice and insight about the company as a place to work. You may find yourself talking with an employee who is impressed at your approach, and who refers you to a manager in the department where you want to work. Of course, none of this is easy or quick. If it were, everyone would be doing it. You must prepare something to say in advance, to engage the person you talk to. Focus on their work, and on what they do before you start talking about yourself.

Someone’s going to read this and suggest that calling other departments in a company to research a job opportunity is a ruse — and that of course the IR or PR department is going to be upset that you are calling them rather than HR. All I can do is shake my head. Dedicated job hunting requires research and information gathering. All HR requires is your resume. Which approach do you think gives you an edge?

So in this case, the receptionist routed you to HR, which played you a recording that instructed you to apply on the website. That’s the corporate image IR and PR want to cultivate?

Is it any wonder I tell you to talk with anyone and everyone in the company — except HR?

There are other paths to the job you want. See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition).

How do you get in the door? Whom do you talk and what do you talk about? Is HR even necessary at this critical point in your job search?

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55 Comments on “Getting in the door”
By marybeth
October 7, 2012 at 3:44 pm

I read the Capelli article re the problem with the so-called “talent shortage”. Capelli applied for a job at his own company via the online/automated application and got rejected. He’s got a very senior position, and what it taught him was that if even he couldn’t get through the automated process implemented by HR to hire talent, then there’s a very big problem.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over yet expecting different results. You’d think that if companies are complaining about a talent shortage, it would occur to them to take a look at the process…especially with unemployment and underemployment still high.

By Kimberlee
October 7, 2012 at 4:09 pm

@marybeth, I completely agree. I think people on this thread are far too eager to say “HR people are awful! The ATS concept sucks!” when the issue is really that their settings on their ATS need to be adjusted. There’s not an inherent problem with an ATS, but if it’s filtering out applicants you want to hire, something about the process needs to change. And if you don’t have the resources to have people out in the field recruiting or having all your managers spending 20% of their time on recruiting, having a *good* ATS with reasonable filters is a good option.

By marybeth
October 8, 2012 at 7:14 pm

@kimberlee: for the most part, the people on this thread (myself included) are not too eager to say HR people are awful and the automated system sucks for the simple truth that the whole system does suck. I don’t know you personally or professionally, and I’m not about to paint everyone in HR with a broad brush, but people here are writing about their own personal experiences, and many of us have family and friends who have also experienced the same thing. A couple/few months ago Don Harkness (another frequent poster here) commented that there is plenty of blame to go around, and that in some companies, the problem could be solved if management would reassert their authority over the hiring process rather than leaving it to HR. People have a negative opinion and impression of HR for a reason, often a good reason. There are some HR folks who do take the time to respond to applicants, but many more never bother. Yes, I appreciate that everyone is busy. I used to run a graduate program at a large university, and I’d receive hundreds and thousands of inquiries, and I’d read and respond to each one, answering their questions, directing them to the website, sending out hardcopy fliers when requested for materials. The admission process was even more meticulous. The last year that I was there, there was some discussion re automating some portion or all of the admission process. I rejected it out-of-hand, despite being the only one in my dept., as did the admissions officer for the day programs, and as did the folks in other depts. who handled admissions for their programs. Sure, it would have been easy to buy a program and plug in the settings–a minimum score required on the GRE, minimum undergraduate GPA and if applicants don’t meet them, then 2.5 seconds later they get automatically rejected without my eyes and the eyes of the GPD or other faculty reviewing the file and documents (including personal statements, letters of recommendation, resumes and CVs). I can tell you that if the kind of system you so love in HR to automatically reject applicants for jobs had been in place for admissions in my old program, more than a good handful of students would never have made it past the computer’s screening. And those students turned out to be excellent students, great additions to the program, and now making good use of their degrees. Using an automated system is the lazy way, and in the long run you are only hurting the company. How do you know that of those applicants your computer system rejected, how many could have learned the jobs for which they applied, if given some training and mentoring? An employee benefits a company too. Computers and HR don’t see that, and that’s what has been lost. It is a shame. I only hope that more companies will realize just how ass-backwards your system is, and will put an end to it. Anything worth while is worth doing, and shunting people who may benefit the company to an automated system to be “processed” tells me a lot about the values of a company.

I respectfully disagree with you that having a good ATS with “reasonable” filters is a good option. I think it is a terrible option. If companies want good people and good talent (which in turn keeps the company profitable and helps it grow), then it should allocate some of those resources to recruiting and allocate time for its managers to do honest recruiting (not recruiting by posting job vacancies on your portal and then feeding those applications through an automated filtering system).

Kim, I’m with Nick and the others. I’m glad that you stuck with this discussion, but you haven’t persuaded me, and if anything, your comments have made me realize that HR is not acting in the company’s best interests. HR is acting in HR’s best interests (protecting their own status and jobs). It takes time to find good help (or good students), and that means human eyes should be reading applications (or transcripts and GRE score reports, letters of recommendation, etc.). The computer program will only scratch the surface; only a human being can dig deeper.

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