Avoiding the “Black Hole of HR”
April 6, 2010 at 6:48 am
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.
Entry filed under: Advice for Job Seekers. Tags: follow-up, job-seekers, LinkedIn, networking, time-management.