If your collection of auto-rejection emails from prospective employers is growing by the week, you may start to wonder whether you should bypass the traditional HR apparatus and contact hiring managers directly.
“If you can avoid HR, you definitely should,” advised Lee Miller, a former chief human resources officer and author of “UP Influence, Power and the U Perspective: The Art of Getting What You Want.” “You’ll not only face more competition but more rejection if you start in HR, because they take a check-the-box approach to screening.”
If you’re worried that trying to sidestep HR will end up with your blackballed, here are some things you should know:
Most companies really don’t care if you avoid HR. In fact, many employers offer referral bonuses and involve current tech employees in the recruiting process just to encourage networking and referrals. Even if you’ve applied in the past and received an auto rejection from HR, you have nothing to lose by contacting the hiring manager directly.
Chances are good that the hiring manager never saw your résumé, explained Wayne Spivak, a veteran executive and former CIO who now works as a consultant. You were probably rejected because your résumé didn’t contain the right keywords, or maybe the successful candidate gained a competitive advantage by going straight to the hiring manager.
Spivak added: “If you’re really intrigued by a company, I would continue to pursue the hiring manager until you hear a definitive ‘no.’”
If the manager asks whether you’ve applied before, explain that your online application fell into the abyss. Based on what you’ve learned about the department’s needs, you decided to contact him or her directly because you feel that you are the best person for the position. If push comes to shove, fill out any standard application forms, but continue to pursue a relationship with the hiring manager. There’s no “law” that says you can’t work the hiring manager and HR simultaneously.
Remember, managers are busy, and they have no desire to read dozens of résumés; they would rather hire the first qualified professional they meet.
Cut to the Chase
Your initial outreach needs to focus on what you can do for the department and company. Therefore, it’s better to target opportunities that align with your technical strengths and passions when contacting the hiring manager.
“There’s a certain amount of ego involved in hiring, so managers like it when a candidate demonstrates enthusiasm and a desire to work for him and the company,” Lee said. “The key is to tailor your approach and pitch toward the manager’s situation and what they care about.”
In a short email, explain who you are and why you are contacting them, then follow-up via phone. Here’s an example:
“I’m a seasoned, InfoSec-trained developer and expert in defensive design who has utilized state-of-the art capabilities for authentication and authorization, applied cryptography, security vulnerabilities and remediation to analyze software designs, identify and resolve security issues.
I’ve been following your success at XYZ Company for some time and decided to contact you after reading about your need for a developer to play a strategic role in building secure web-scale software.”
If you can’t find the name of the relevant hiring manager online, take a slightly different approach. Research the company and send a short paragraph and some samples of your work (or a link to your portfolio) to the CIO or even the founder or CEO, Spivak said.
Executives are always on the lookout for top talent, so they are usually more than willing to pass along your information. Follow your résumé as it progresses down the chain of command.
Overall, the best way to grab the attention of a hiring manager is to find a mutual connection (usually someone who works at the company) and get a recommendation or referral from them. The more people you have vouching for you, the more your reputation grows, and the easier it is to bypass HR and end up dealing with the hiring manager directly.