Avoiding the “Black Hole of HR”

April 6, 2010 at 6:48 am 30 comments

Does the following scenario sound familiar? You spot an online job posting that looks like a perfect fit for your background and experience. You click “apply” and are led through a series of time-consuming screens asking for detailed information about yourself. You fill out their online application form, which includes an exhaustive work and salary history. You attach a formatted word version of your résumé, which you’ve already spent countless hours working on and perfecting. You create and include a killer cover letter tailored to that specific position, using all the buzz words and phrases in their job description, and pointing out how you have all of their listed requirements. Then you hit “submit” … and sit back and wait … and wait … and wait. And then – NOTHING! No emails, no phone calls, and usually not even an acknowledgment that your submission was received – just silence.

In the Recruiting world, we often refer to this as sending your résumé into the “Black Hole of HR.” Your application has been sucked into the Human Resources vortex, never to be seen or heard from again! The sad fact is, most online submissions go totally unanswered. That’s why savvy job searchers do not rely on simply applying to online job postings, but rather spend most of their time networking, finding ways to go around HR, and talking with actual decision-makers at their target companies. [For details on how to network your way to a job, read “How to Network: A Step-by-Step Guide for Job Searching.”]

Now don’t get me wrong … I have nothing against HR people in general. In fact, over my many years as a recruiter I’ve successfully partnered with many HR professionals. Today, some of my best networking partners are Directors of HR or Talent Acquisition at large companies. In fact, in a broad sense, recruiters and staffing companies are part of the HR world. The problem, from a job-seeker’s point of view, is that many of those online applications go directly to overworked and overwhelmed HR screeners who simply don’t have the time to respond to the tidal wave of applications that they receive for every job posting in today’s candidate-flooded market. I’ve heard tales of literally hundreds and hundreds of résumés arriving on HR desks after only a day or two of a new job being posted.

Recently, I attended a talk by a Vice President of Human Resources from a Fortune 500 company who was addressing a group of job-seekers. He told a surprising little anecdote. He said that his son just graduated from college, and asked him for advice on the best way to find a job in such an ultra-challenging market. His father told him: “Just make sure you go around HR!”  This from a VP of HR!

Too many job-seekers spend the majority of their precious time searching for and responding to internet job postings – which are basically direct pipelines to the HR departments of companies. The truth is that this is one of the least productive uses of your time, and has an extremely low success rate. Online job boards are merely an updated version of the old classified ads in the newspaper, which are even less likely to get you anywhere in today’s internet-centric world. Oh sure, every once in a while responding to an online job posting scores someone an interview, or in some cases even an actual job. It does happen … albeit infrequently. So I’m not suggesting that you totally ignore this method of job searching. Simply limit the time you spend on it to around 10% of your total job-searching time. [Read “Time Management: Recipe for a Well-Balanced Job Search”  for a guide to prioritizing your time.]

So let’s say you actually do spot that perfect job online. What should you do? By all means, go ahead and apply. However, what other steps can you take to avoid simply ending up in the “Black Hole of HR?” Here are a few suggestions:

Look for a Contact Name on the Job Posting
If there’s a person’s name, an email address, or a contact phone number on the job posting, send that person an email (separate from your online submission.) The body of the email should be your cover letter, and you should attach a word version of your résumé. Wait a day or two, and then CALL THAT PERSON! If there’s no phone number given, call the main number of the company and simply ask for that person by name. If you end up in their voicemail, leave a message (with your “Elevator Pitch“) expressing your interest in their position. If you don’t get a response, call again in 2 or 3 days. Personally, I’d try leaving voicemails 3 times before giving up. You would be amazed at how few people actually call to follow up after submitting an online application. Doing so will immediately put you ahead of your competition.

If there’s No Name Listed, Call the Company And Ask For One!
Most job posting do not actually list a contact name. In that case, call the main number of the company, and simply ask for the name of the person who oversees the position you are applying for. If possible, get their email address and phone extension. Then do the email and follow-up phone routine described above. If you are directed to an HR person, you can certainly follow that path … however an even better approach would be to identify the actual decision-maker at the company who oversees the position (usually NOT an HR person.) Emailing and phoning that decision-maker is WAY more effective. That person might re-direct you to HR … and that’s OK. At least you’ve distinguished yourself from the crowd, and made contact with the person who will eventually decide who to hire. And when you do go back to HR, you can now say: “I spoke with So-And-So about his open position, and he suggested that I call you to follow-up.  How much do you want to bet that using the person’s name when making the call back to HR will get you more attention.

Check LinkedIn for Other Employees at the Company
Do an advanced search on LinkedIn for local people who work at the same company you are applying to. Specify people who are in the same area or department, or who share similar job titles. You might identify peers … or even decision-makers overseeing the position you are applying to. Reach out to those people, and see if any of them would be willing to talk with you on the phone … or even meet with you informally. [For more specifics on how to approach those new potential contacts, read “Targeted Networking: How to Effectively Reach Out.”] See if you can learn any inside information from those people – e.g. names of decision-makers, information on the open position, the company culture, etc. The best case scenario would be that you might just gain a new ally on the inside who could actually take your résumé directly to the decision-maker and give you a personal recommendation!

The bottom line is that if you ever expect an online application to lead to an interview (and eventually a job!) you need to differentiate yourself from the crowd. The best way to do that is to go beyond the online posting and try to reach out to actual people who work at the company who are in positions to help you. Hopefully, these suggestions will give you some ideas on how to do just that.

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Entry filed under: Advice for Job Seekers. Tags: , , , , .

“In Transition” and Other Awkward Euphemisms Using Social Media to Enhance Job-Searching

30 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ben Padilla  |  April 6, 2010 at 8:55 am

    Would you rather talk to a machine or a warm human being that can give you an offer? It’s always best to just find the job post on the website, then network thru your personal contacts via a phone conversation. Your personal phone calls to your contacts can give you not only the names you need to “get around HR”, but also give you a “heads up” on how to contact the company for the job post.

    Reply
  • 2. Barbara  |  April 6, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Hi Michael,

    Enjoyed your ‘musings’…excellent advice (and I love the cartoon as well). I’ve read most of your postings today for the first time. Keep up the great work.

    Barbara

    Reply
  • 3. Tom  |  April 6, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Michael, I appreciate the points you highlight. Job seekers need to plan their assault on a company or position and be persistent in carrying out the plan. I love the following quote which applies here: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    Reply
  • 4. Staci Foss  |  April 6, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    Good post, Michael. I have found that a lot of companies are “outsourcing” the resume screening process so that HR only sees a handful of qualified resumes, instead of wading through scores or hundreds of unqualified resumes. Careerbuilder even offers this option. This seems to make the process more efficient and the HR professional more effective. Personally, I start all my searches through networking or LinkedIn before I go to the job boards. That makes ME more efficient and effective!

    Reply
  • 5. The Recruit4U Guy  |  April 6, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Michael,
    Great article. As the former Director of Employment for a large healthcare system I can’t count how many times I heard this! “The dreaded blackhole in HR”… Now on this side of the fence, I am constantly educating candidates on ways to get noticed at the side door and move away from the traditional “banging on the front door”. Today there are too many in the herd. You need to be resourceful, treat your job search like a job, network face-to-face, LI, Facebook, Twitter and find someone who can open that side door. Also they need to be ready to defend their actions about “going around the HR” door. Corporate recruiters do not like it when a hiring manager sends them a qualified resume and asks “why haven’t you guys sent me this candidate”… it always made for interesting banter back and fourth watching my recruiters answer why they overlooked that candidate. What I always responded with was “maybe it is your own fault, you didn’t take the time to really understand what the hiring manager was looking for!”… great material thank you for sharing!!
    Steve

    Reply
  • 6. Wired4success  |  April 6, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    Great article! Wish I’d read this 7 months ago rather than find out about the black hole myself!!! When I realized it, I did things differently especially as most web postings do not have a contact name/number!

    I finally found a job through a staffing company. Most companies are budget conscious so I would suggest that job seekers remain open to relocation, long term contracts or contract to hire positions. Find out if your target companies use placement agencies and go through them directly.

    And Oh BTW Mike, in a lighter mood, “Location closed” “package out” are all valid reasons for leaving a job. Trust me, I should know, I have been laid off THREE times in 12 years! One company moved to NJ, another to NE, came in one morning and found out the other filed bankruptcy. So, please turn in your Laptops::) I live in IL. I am confident there is a greater divine purpose in this somewhere!!!

    Reply
  • 7. Kristen Fife  |  April 6, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    Michael,
    As a recruiter with both agency and corporate experience, one thing you may or may not be aware of is the impact OFCCP is having on US Recruiting practices. OFCCP strictures have mandated best practices for a very high number of organizations in the US, and many other companies have adopted the same best practices to deal with the sheer volume and influx of resumes.

    If you are unaware of OFCCP as it pertains to recruiting, in a nutshell it is this: a company must have a single repeatable recruiting process for all positions that ensures that *all qualified candidates* are considered for any open position. The caveat to this is that *all qualified candidates* are considered. And *only* qualified candidates are considered. Recruiters identify qualified candidates based on resumes, job descriptions and keyword searches (Boolean logic). If a candidate’s resume doesn’t match the job description, then they aren’t even in the running for the position.

    The Best Practice/process most organizations have adopted is to manage all their recruiting via their external career site. The fines are quite heavy for non-compliance, including loss of major contracts and revenue if an audit reveals non-compliance and repeated offenses. So before you advise candidates to go “around” HR/Recruiting, perhaps making sure that candidates understand why processes and practices are in place would be a better first step in understanding the “black hole”.

    Reply
  • 8. Joan Cascio  |  April 6, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    Michael
    I love the article and right on! One who has been in HR, Staffing and Recruiting for over 19 years (thus, before the internet) I also hear the complaining from good candidates about this issue. But, I must say…. you forgot one of the most important steps of advice to give candidates. You should have listed a No 4 on the list. Develop a relationship with a good recruiter. Not just one who can hurry and beat the race to submit you into a client or vendor portal, but one who really has relationships with a company or the company you are interested in. Some of us may still even MPC a candidate, which seems to be a lost talent these days. I would also like to reverse the article you wrote and ask: How to avoid HR and the black hole if you are the recruiter… even when you are approved to work with them and have a Agreement. The black hole database and “oh, we already have that person” – but we have never called them… and yes, they are a great fit for our open role but you get no credit is getting really old. Good thing? The industry is picking up, I have been totally swamped since approximately Fall and still going at it full speed… but would like to hear from others on how they deal with the HR Dept and the database rules when a candidate was submitted but never contacted? Be safe,

    Reply
    • 9. Michael Spiro  |  April 6, 2010 at 8:20 pm

      Joan:

      Thanks for the comments! You may want to check out the blog posting I wrote a few weeks ago called “The Real Truth About Working With Recruiters.” In that article, I did advise job-seekers to get on the radar of recruiters in their industry niche … but only as a very small part of their overall job-search strategy. Let’s face it – as good as we many think we are, only a very small percentage of job-seekers will find their next job through a recruiter.

      And yes, I’ve certainly been in your shoes and experienced the Black Hole from a recruiters point of view!

      -Michael

      Reply
  • 10. Ray Ostanek  |  April 6, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Michael:

    Very little new thinking in this posting. While contacts with key influencers and hiring managers are certainly crucial to an effective search, most outside of HR have a vastly overinflated opinion of their ability to make objective and legal selections. Capable HR staff can keep the focus on making the right selection for the organization amidst the competing and often conflicting interests. (Recruiters are not always altruistic.)

    Let me ask a simple question: now that we have diminished HR’s role, are firms truly making better selections?

    Reply
    • 11. Michael Spiro  |  April 6, 2010 at 10:36 pm

      Ray:

      Clearly you are writing from the point of view of an HR Manager. I think you missed the point of my blog. I’m not trying to diminish the role of HR, nor am I trying to promote the use of recruiting firms – I never suggested that at all. I’m simply trying to give job-seekers a way to increase their odds of advancing past that initial screening stage – the “Black Hole” – where the majority of applicants get eliminated (sometimes rightfully so, and other times for the wrong reasons … or no good reason at all.) Developing relationships with “key influencers and hiring managers” inside a company can rarely hurt one’s chances – and can often help a potential candidate land an interview that they might not have otherwise had. In the final analysis, if they are not a fit for the job, they won’t get hired. However, if they are a fit … well then what’s the harm in using every available method to gain access to the decision-makers?

      – Michael

      Reply
  • 12. Terry  |  April 6, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    I can’t agree with you more! As a former hiring manager, I always made it a point to respond to EVERY applicant. Not doing so is rude and lends a bad name to the business/organization they represent.

    Hopefully soon CEO’s and business owners will understand this and bring back the loyal, experienced and trusted professionals that made their business strong before the economic downturn.

    Reply
  • 13. Lori  |  April 6, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    Hi Michael,

    Great article & insight! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in that bottomless HR Black Hole.

    I have found that calling the company after after I’ve sent a resume, does give me a connection by putting a ‘voice’ to my resume. Granted sometimes you may be given the ‘we’ll contact you if interested’ response, but other times you can make a great direct contact.

    Networking of course is the number one method for job-hunting, but one should utilize all methods, especially in this market!

    Reply
  • 14. Oscar Arciniegas  |  April 7, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Great Article! I took some of these identical steps to acquire the position that I have now.

    Reply
  • 15. Dorina Grossu  |  April 7, 2010 at 9:12 am

    As a business rule, when something as HR on-line recruiting system does not work it should be either terminated or replaced with something that works.
    The job market is competitive but many companies are still looking for talent which they can not find at all!
    Where are the true problems?
    If we look at previous centuries discoveries, some inventors did not even have degrees yet they made major scientific contributions than most MBA’s, engineers etc. are making on these days.
    As a society, what do we miss?

    Reply
  • 16. Girish  |  April 9, 2010 at 12:52 am

    Dear Michael,

    I think every job seeker has experienced such a phenomenon! When I was on the look out for a job myself, I had posted my CV on a dozen such corporate portals – only to know through my personal contacts these were just fictional positions posted by eager employers to build their own database of resumes’!

    God Help HR

    Reply
  • 17. Allan Cohn  |  April 9, 2010 at 10:15 am

    Great article.

    Reply
  • 18. Jennifer Robbins  |  April 11, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    I’ve often wondered if I was wasting my time with the “black hole” applications! I have not had that much success identifiying the contact person, other than the HR Director. I contacted that person directly figuring that was one step better than the black hole?

    Reply
  • 19. Edith Reese  |  April 11, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    I was going through one of my group e-mails and happened upon one of your blog articles. I read it, printed it out, then clicked another, and another. You make a lot of sense. What is more, you make me feel encouraged to keep on trying in this tough market. I have been out of a job since January, and there are as many people giving advice as there are stars in the sky. Your brand of advice is encouraging; if I need to change something, I don’t feel like I am beaten over the head with it. (There is one particularly obnoxious post out there right now titled “Its Not the Economy, Its You.” This is from a recruiter, and although the intention may be to get job seekers to put forth more efforts or change ineffective techniques, the title incites depression!) Thanks. I am looking forward to receiving future posts.

    Reply
  • 20. Joe Benz, SPHR  |  April 12, 2010 at 8:58 am

    I want to let you know how much I appreciate your blog, “Recruiter Musings.” Currently, I work at a government job service center, and your blog is the only source (from a “job search expert”) I feel comfortable forwarding (while always giving you credit and mentioning your blog) to our job seekers. Having worked in staffing and selection for 10 years (including as an executive search consultant, “in-house” recruiter and HR manager), I think 99% of these self-proclaimed “job search experts” don’t know what they are talking about. Thus, I really appreciate the quality, practicality and frankness of your blog postings.

    Reply
  • 21. Paul Sears  |  April 14, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Hello Michael,
    This is to request your permission to re-print your article “Avoiding the Black Hole of HR” in a newsletter for job hunters which I put out at the Minneapolis WorkForce Center, called the “Career Connection.”

    If you would like to receive a free subscription to our newsletter (it is hard copy only) I would be glad to oblige! I’d just need your US postal address.

    Best Regards,
    Paul Sears
    Employment Counselor, Minneapolis WorkForce Center
    (612) 821-4008

    Reply
  • 22. Orin Albrecht  |  April 19, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    Hi Michael.

    This is a great article….

    Once again networking proves to be king when it comes to job searching. This article clearly demonstrates that, and I’m thankful you posted it.

    Best Regards,

    Orin Albrecht

    “Analyzing the world one map at a time”

    Reply
  • 23. paulamarks  |  June 9, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    I mostly agree with what Michael has written.Also keep in mind a resume is a visual tool which is why it’s important to use the space wisely and make it easy for the reader to quickly assess your background and experience.
    Resumes are also a good way to evaluate writing skills and vocabulary

    Reply
  • 24. Fonda  |  June 14, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Michael – with experience as both corporate and agency recruiting you article hits home with me. There isn’t enough time in the day to read through every resume received and the cover letter. If the resume meets the requirement, then I go back and read the cover letter. Also, if the resume is longer than the candidates years of experience – it’s deleted.

    Reply
  • 25. Traci  |  July 14, 2010 at 8:50 am

    Michael,
    I’ve enjoyed reading your posts because they offer very practical advice for job-seekers. However, can you offer any insight on why companies would bother with online postings if: a) they know the are going to receive tons of unqualified applicants; b) there’s going to be an HR black hole; and c) there are so many other ways to source for the best talent, such as through networking? The process you described above seems like such a waste of time for both the company and the applicants.

    Reply
    • 26. Michael Spiro  |  July 14, 2010 at 10:03 am

      Traci:
      Most company recruiters and HR people don’t have the time, training or inclination to get creative and source candidates through networking, cold calling, social networks and other non-traditional means. Simply posting their open positions on the standard online job boards is perceived by them as the quickest and easiest way to fill their pipeline with resumes that they can then present to their hiring managers. Their “talent pool” consists only of job-seekers who answer their ads. Never mind that most of those people are not the most qualified candidates! They’re under too much pressure to produce a lot of candidates quickly for a huge number of open job requisitions to do anything else. Oh, and they would never admit that a “Black Hole of HR” even exists! From their point of view, not responding to all but a select few applicants is just the way business gets done.
      – Michael

      Reply
  • 27. TrudyS  |  July 14, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    I have also often found that they have an org policy that forces them to send out job announcements – even if they already know they have a qualified internal candidate that they plan on hiring. They are simply ‘going through the motions’ that are required by their organization. This is especially rife in the government sector. So frustrating and disheartening for applicants.

    Reply
  • 28. Jon  |  December 12, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    I have tired ‘pounding the pavement’ and have also been told to apply online… which leads to nothing. Everyone says to ‘network’, but All you get from people is a lot of false promises of “send me your resume and I’ll talk to someone” or something of the sort which leads to NOTHING.

    I have tired to go around HR at my current company and all it did was piss off HR and they blocked me from getting any consideration for position(s) (that’s right, a few were available at the time), and going on their shit list since they have to ‘release’ you to interview for other positions.

    Reply
    • 29. Carl D.  |  September 10, 2014 at 2:00 pm

      I like your response to the idea of what networking can give a job seeker. Your info regarding the false promises of “send me your resume and I’ll talk to someone” has always led to Nothing. I have gotten about 80% of my office jobs that I have had through Temporary agencies. 0% through networking described above, and the 20% thru going to the company for basically job fillers (retail, fast food, etc). The other problem I have is relying on Zero experience in networking high company officials for jobs, like hiring managers and the like. How does one network company high officials for jobs, when he, himself, is not a high company official himself. It’s the recruiter for the agency is who should you TRY to rely on for a place to use your background and experience that, for the most part, fits the job that the company is offering. I have yet to see the job duties that I have done be expressed in every job offer. Most of the time, the offer has responsibilities that I never experienced or does not have responsibilities that I have experienced. My latest job’s responsibilities have not come up on any offers exactly as the responsibilities that I have done in THAT job.

      Reply
      • 30. Michael Spiro  |  September 10, 2014 at 7:39 pm

        There’s not much anyone can do to help you if you simply don’t have the skills or required experience that match any of the multitude of jobs that are out there. Perhaps you should get some new training or further education to make yourself more marketable.

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Michael Spiro

About the Author:

Michael Spiro has been a 3rd-Party Recruiter and Account Executive for over 15 years. He is currently the Director of Recruiting / NE Ohio Region for Experis Finance, a dedicated business unit of ManpowerGroup. Other recent positions include President of Midas Recruiting, a boutique head-hunting firm, Director of Talent at Patina Solutions, and Executive Recruiting positions with two of the largest search firms in North America. Before his career in the staffing industry, Michael was a manager in a large non-profit social-services organization. And in a former life, Michael was active in the entertainment industry, with extensive road-warrior experience as a touring performer (singer-songwriter / guitarist / comedian) and as a recording artist, producer and booking agent.  [More...]

Index (by Topic):

Résumés & Cover Letters:
 The "T" Cover Letter - The
         Only Type Worth Sending

 The Brutal Truth on How
         Résumés Get Eliminated

 Explaining Short Job Stints
         and Employment Gaps

 The Résumé Test &
         Checklist: Does Yours
         Pass?

 Beating the Résumé-
         Elimination Game: Where
         Do Recruiters' Eyes Go?

 The Truth About Lying on
         Résumés

Networking:
 How to Network: A
         Step-by-Step Guide for
         Job Searching

 Looking for Networking in
         All the Wrong Places

 Targeted Networking: How
         to Effectively Reach Out

 The Art of Giving: the Key to
         Effective Networking

Interviewing:
 Face-to-Face Interviews:
         Secrets, Tricks and Tips

 Phone Interviews: Secrets,
         Tricks and Tips

 Skype Interview Tips ...
         Welcome to the Future!

 Nuggets: A Secret
         Interviewing Technique

 Answering the Dreaded
         Salary Question

 20 Surefire Ways to Blow
         an Interview

 "So, Do You Have Any
         Questions?" Nailing the
         Interview Closer

 Cool InfoGraphic: "What
         You Wish You'd Known
         Before Your Job
         Interview"

Age Discrimination:
 Age Discrimination: Secret
         Conversations Revealed

 Age Discrimination:
         Exposing Inconvenient
         Truths

 Are You "Overqualified?"
         Handling the Age Issue

 Baby Boomers to the
         Rescue! An Idea Whose
         Time Has Come ...

 Overcoming Job-Search
         Obstacles and
         Redefining Your Career
         After 50

 Advice for Recent Grads
         and Career-Changers

Switching Jobs:
 The Proper Way to
         Quit a Job

 Counteroffers: Just Say No!

General Job-Seeking Info:
 The Real Truth About
         Working with Recruiters

 Contract/Consulting Jobs
         Explained ... Available in
         3 Different Flavors

►  What Recruiters Say
         vs. What Job-Seekers
         Hear

►  The Dirty Truth About
         Misleading Unemployment
         Statistics

►  Let the Jobs Find You:
         Making Yourself More
         "Searchable"

 "Help ... I Need a Job!" A
         9-Step Guide for Newly
         Minted Job-Seekers

 Avoiding the "Black Hole
         of HR"

 Is Your Elevator Pitch
         Taking You UP
         or DOWN?

 Time Management: Recipe          for a Well-Balanced Job          Search
 Getting Un-Stuck from your
         Rut!

 The Double-Whammy of
         Rejection and Isolation

 "Unemployed Need Not
         Apply" - Working Around
         This Scary Message

 Using Social Media to
         Enhance Job-Searching

 Warning: That Rant You
         Posted Just Went Viral!

 The Golden Rule for
         Business: Never Burn
         Bridges

 The Power of a Positive
         Attitude

 Why Job Hunting is a
         Consultative Sales
         Position

 Top 10 Most Helpful Things
         for Job Seekers

 Top 10 Most Annoying
         Things for Job Seekers

 New Year's Resolutions for
         Unemployed Job-
         Seekers

Job-Seeking Humor:
 Comic Relief: Volume 1
 Comic Relief: Volume 2
 Comic Relief: Volume 3
 Comic Relief: Volume 4
 Comic Relief: Volume 5
 Comic Relief: Volume 6
 "In Transition" and Other
         Awkward Euphemisms

 Candidates Gone Wild:
         Recruiter Horror Stories

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